Everything is a Remix Remastered

by Kirby Ferguson

For the first time, the whole series as a single video in HD.

In the five years since the series launched, Everything is a Remix has been viewed over two million times and produced a popular TED Talk. Amazingly, Remix continues to change the way people think about creativity, originality, and copyright.

To celebrate the five year anniversary, I've polished up the original four parts and merged them into a single video. For the first time now, the whole series is available as a single video with proper transitions all the way through, unified styling, and remixed and remastered audio. Part One has been entirely rebuilt in HD.

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Remix. To combine or edit existing materials to produce something new

The term remix originally applied to music. It rose to prominence late last century during the heyday of hip-hop, the first musical form to incorporate sampling from existing recordings.

Early example: the Sugarhill Gang samples the bass riff from Chic’s “Good Times” in the 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight”.

Rapper’s Delight
The Sugarhill Gang

Good Times

Since then that same bassline has been sampled dozens of times.

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash
Grandmaster Flash

Everything’s Gonna be Alright
Father MC

It’s All Good
Will Smith

Gabriel O Pensador

Skip ahead to the present and anybody can remix anything — music, video, photos, whatever — and distribute it globally pretty much instantly.

You don’t need expensive tools, you don’t need a distributor, you don’t even need skills. Remixing is a folk art — anybody can do it. Yet these techniques — copying materials, transforming them, combining them — are the same ones used at any level of creation. You might even say: everything is a remix.

To explain, let’s start in England in 1968.

Part One: The Song Remains the Same

Jimmy Page recruits John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and John Bonham to form Zed Zeppelin. They play extremely loud blues music that soon will be known as—

Wait, let’s start in Paris in 1961.

William Burroughs coins the term “heavy metal” in the novel “The Soft Machine,” a book composed using the cut-up technique, taking existing writing and literally chopping it up and rearranging it. So in 1961 William Burroughs not only invents the term “heavy metal,” the brand of music Zeppelin and a few other groups would pioneer, he also produces an early remix.

Back to Zeppelin.

By the mid-1970s Led Zeppelin are the biggest touring rock band in America, yet many critics and peers label them as… rip-offs. The case goes like this.

The opening and closing sections of “Bring it on Home” are lifted from a tune by Willie Dixon entitled — not coincidentally — “Bring it on Home.”

Bring it on Home
(Page, Plant)

Bring it on Home
Performed by Sonny Boy Williamson

“The Lemon Song” lifts numerous lyrics from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”

The Lemon Song
(Page, Plant)

Killing Floor

“Black Mountain Side” lifts its melody from “Blackwaterside,” a traditional arranged by Bert Jansch.

Black Mountain Side

(Traditional, Arranged Jansch)

“Dazed and Confused” features different lyrics but is clearly an uncredited cover of the same-titled song by Jake Holmes. Oddly enough, Holmes files suit over forty years later in 2010.

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

And the big one, “Stairway to Heaven” pulls its opening from Spirit’s “Taurus.” The estate of songwriter Randy California files suit in 2014.

Stairway to Heaven
(Page, Plant)


Zeppelin clearly copied a lot of amount of other people’s material, but that alone, isn’t unusual. Only two things distinguished Zeppelin from their peers.

Firstly, when Zeppelin used someone else’s material, they didn’t attribute songwriting to the original artist. Most British blues groups were recording lots of covers, but unlike Zeppelin, they didn’t claim to have written them.

Secondly, Led Zeppelin didn’t modify their versions enough to claim they were original. Many bands knock-off acts that came before them, but they tend to emulate the general sound rather than specific lyrics or melodies. Zeppelin copied without making fundamental changes.

So, these two things

Covers: performances of other people’s material

And knock-offs: copies that stay within legal boundaries

These are long-standing examples of legal remixing. This stuff accounts for almost everything the entertainment industry produces, and that’s where we’re headed in part two.



Wait, one last thing. In the wake of their enormous success, Led Zeppelin went from the copier to the copied. First in the 70s with groups like Aerosmith, Heart and Boston, then during the eighties heavy metal craze, and on into the era of sampling. Here’s the beats from “When the Levee Breaks” getting sampled and remixed.

When the Levee Breaks
Led Zeppelin

Rhymin’ and Stealin’
Beastie Boys

Return to Innocence

Lyrical Gangbang
Dr. Dre