which take annual abuse for making “out-of-touch” choices. But at this year’s ceremony, held on February 25, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) will present a new award – Remixer of the Year – that actually has the music industry humming a happy tune.
Remixers take an existing song, usually one that the record label hopes will be a hit, and reconstruct it for a different audience – say, for a hip-hop or soul crowd. For example, by isolating the vocal and guitar, then adding more bass and rapid-fire percussion to the recent Rolling Stones single “Anybody Seen My Baby?” nominee Armand Van Helden turned rockers Mick and Keith into maestros of the dance floor. “We believe remixing is a specific craft that deserves recognition,” says Michael Greene, the president of NARAS.
Great remixers (this year’s nominees include Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Mousse T., Todd Terry, and Van Helden) have as unique a musical touch as the producers who craft the original songs. “Remixers have certain sonic calling cards,” says Bob Merlis, a senior VP for Warner Bros. Music. While one may specialize in stripping the song to a sparse vocal and drumbeat, another may pump in wall-to-wall techno beats and synthesizers. “When we make a remix,” says Merlis, “it’s not just, ‘Let’s send this out to Fotomat and get a blow-up of it.’ It’s ‘Let’s get this guy to put his special stamp on it.’”
During the past decade, creating soul, dance and techno versions of songs has become almost as integral a part of a band’s record release as touring. The reason: Remixing allows the label to market the band to a wider range of audiences. For example, the release of a dance version of Loreena McKennitt’s single “Mummer’s Dance” brought new attention to the Canadian chanteuse’s Warner Bros. album, “The Book of Secrets.” (It’s currently #27 on the Billboard chart.) “Since the ’80s,” says New York Times pop critic Jon Pareles, “remixes have been really important to get people to hear records they wouldn’t otherwise listen to.”
Although remixing has been around since the disco era, the Grammy committee only seriously began considering the field during the past four years, says Greene. The NARAS trustees don’t add a category until they’re sure that the musical genre will continue to grow. Greene says this award (along with new “Dance” and “Rock en Español” prizes) shows that NARAS has “a progressive bunch of trustees.” Pareles, on the other hand, thinks it’s a little late to use the term “progressive.” “This is typical Grammy slowness,” he says. “But better late than never.”
The “Remixer of the Year” award is proving to be a popular one, but if history has taught the Grammy committee anything, it’s that somebody somewhere won’t like it. “I don’t think there’s anything that will keep the Grammys from being a whipping boy,” says Greene. “They’ll be second-guessed from now till eternity.”