The Popular Turns Personal: Crafting the Remix

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

Craft consumption, as articulated by Colin Campbell (new window), refers to an activity in which the consumer of a good is also the producer of the good or when consumption is a prerequisite for further production. Usually, the consumer brings "skill, knowledge, judgement and passion [to the transaction] while being motivated by a desire for self-expression."1

This kind of description has normally been applied almost exclusively to handicraft production– knitting, sewing, or home improvement projects– however, it also serves as a helpful analogy for remix culture.

Consumption in the Web 2.0 era ought to be understood in the same way as consuming yarn for a knitting project. We buy the materials, yarn or an MP3, and the tools to create with that material, knitting needles or a computer and software.

Of course, the problem now is that the sunk costs for producing a new Jay-Z album or a blockbuster flm are much higher than the cost of producing yarn or fabric. However, the tight control of content that the RIAA and MPAA exert over their product after consumption is an anomaly.

I can think of no other product that a company retains control over after the consumer pays for it. Despite massive financial problems, Ford does not prevent modifications to "their" cars, nor do architects retain control over a building after it has been built. In fact, there is a whole industry built around remodeling.

If we ignore, for a moment, the file sharing component of remix culture
and focus only on what is essentially combining materials that a DJ
already owns, the copyright battles between record companies, artists,
and remixers become nearly absurd. The documentary Good Copy, Bad Copy (new window) does an excellent job articulating the difference between alteration, "stealing," and appropriation.

It is time for record companies to look at remixing as a business model– rather than fight to retain control of the product after the moment of exchange. They should encourage interaction with the product and sell the tools for this new kind of consumption: software, how-to manuels, cheap(er) licenses for songs.

On the consumer side, craft consumption is a useful model for the creation of user generated content. Campbell asserts that craft activity exists at the intersection of folk knowledge with fashion and high art.

Remix know-how and skill exist at the group or individual level but most remixers use pop culture as their starting point. All the record industry can provide now is the raw material for their audience’s increasingly "crafty" consumption.

Contemporary craft consumption allows a product to "become [the consumer’s]" and thus "marked off from its numerous manufactured identical twins… uniqueness is achieved through the work undertaken by the consumer once the apparently finished product is in their posession."2

I believe that remix culture allows consumers to take the mass-produced pop song and weave it into a personalized and coherent system of images, music, and performance.

The popular becomes personal; the produced is reproduced. This phenomenon is not new. Instead of sewing fabric, individuals stitch together music and video. Trying to fight craft consumption is a loosing battle; as long as the tools and materials are available, people will make alterations to personalize a mass-produced product.


1 Colin Campbell, "The Craft Consumer: Culture, Craft and Consumption in a Postmodern Society," Journal of Consumer Culture 5.1 (2005): 23.

2 Campbell 32.