Remix Culture: Rethinking What We Call Original Content


Star Wars, “Stairway to Heaven,” and the Apple Macintosh — what do they have in common?  They’re creative and cultural works of genius that have shaped and defined generations.

We might also think that they’re original works born of a lightning-in-a-bottle, “aha!” moment of creation by the lone inventor.  In fact, each one of these is a copy, combination, transformation, or remix of previous works presented as something new.

Star Wars was based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “Stairway to Heaven” pulls its opening from Spirit’s “Taures,” and the Macintosh’s GUI and mouse came from Xerox.

The Age Of The Remix

Remixing is defined as the act of rearranging, combining, editorializing, and adding originals to create something entirely new. From Malcolm Gladwell to Lawrence Lessig to WIRED and countless others — it’s said that we live in the age of the remix.  To borrow a phrase from this wonderful documentary on the subject, “Everything is a Remix.

Thousands of examples from our cultural collective validate this very point. Seventy-four of the last 100 top grossing films were sequels, adaptations, or remakes. Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” samples the bass riff from Chic’s “Good Times,” pop-art from Shepard Fairey stylized images of Obama and Andre the Giant, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is a pastiche of elements from hundreds of other films, and so on. To borrow a quote from Isaac Newton that was borrowed from Bernard of Chartres, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

What Is Original & Does It Even Matter?

Works of art, culture, invention, and creation are informed and inspired by things that we experience in the world around us. The question becomes what is original, and does it even matter?  Some say that original content creation is the only winning formula for brands and marketers — I’d challenge that assumption, and use the remix concept as a way to expand how we think of original content. Not only is remixing content equal to other processes of creation, but it can also have the added benefit of drawing on emotions and associations to enrich a message or point of view. 

In a world of infinite options, there is incredible value in thoughtfully assembling and editorializing the work product of others in order to contextualize it for our audiences. One example of modern merchandising (the bringing together of commerce as content and experience) is what Mickey Drexler, the turnaround agent and CEO of J.Crew, has done.

He has an uncanny ability to tap into existing and yet-to-be formed cultural sentiments by bringing together objects he’s created and curated as a unique experience; see the J.Crew Liquor store in Tribeca as an example. Drexler merchandises objects of commerce in the same way that an effective content marketer can merchandise objects of content to achieve commerce.

Embrace Cultural Shifts

As digital content marketers, we want to embrace the fundamental shifts in the way audiences are consuming different content formats on different platforms. We don’t have to shy away from strategies and tactics that we’ve been wrongly told are inauthentic so long as our end product is something new, adds value, and is worth sharing or talking about. In this example, Hubspot assembled source material from captivating presenters and editorialized it with new perspective and opinion. That post received over 11K social shares.

One of my favorite quotes is famously associated with Steve Jobs, but it’s also attributed to Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, and T.S. Eliot: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” To my mind, what they were really saying is that a mark of greatness is not directly copying someone else’s work, but rather being inspired by great things, and combining/transforming them into something entirely new.

What inspires you, and how will you make something original out of it?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column


About The Author: serves as the Director of Sales Strategy & Operations at Fullscreen, the leading YouTube network for creators and brands, where he leads strategy and operations across sales, marketing, account management, and ad products.

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  • Cory Grassell

    I agree that, in the entertainment world, we’re seeing the decline of original content. It’s adapted content, at best. And the continued rise of movie remakes, reality shows and short-lived sitcoms with rehashed plots proves that our creative-writing prowess is declining. But on the Web, I’m leaning slightly the other way. We live in a world of user-generated content, and the Web is an endless portal of new, authentic ideas and content. Just my opinion, though.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    “being inspired by great things, and combining/transforming them into something entirely new.”

    Even the greatest stories follow a formula that we’ve been using to tell stories since the dawn of man. What makes great stories great is that it uses a new point of view and takes readers/viewers on a different path. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a good point but you do have to be willing to have your own approach to it.

  • Matt Jessell

    Good thoughts, Cory. I agree — we do see interesting things bubbling up from around the web. As a creator and content marketer I would love to see more of that.


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