Why your content isn’t as original as you think, and why that’s ok
“No matter how far you go, you will reflect me” – Lupe Fiasco
What does it mean to be original in a world where everything has been said twice?
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9
That little gem comes from the Old Testament, so if they believed over 2,000 years ago that we had done everything, how do we have a world filled to the brim with “newness”? It’s because we learned to embrace the art of the remix.
I’m a huge hip-hop fan, a genre born from sampling several different styles and patchworking them together into something entirely new and unique. 1970s New York City was a rough place racked by crime, poverty, and corruption. Schools had no budget for art or music classes, and poor kids couldn’t afford guitars or drum sets like the rock generation before them, so they found other ways to express themselves. They remixed. People love a good remix.
Remixing shows us that limitations are a creative buoy, not a burden, and our content is better when we recognize our influences. Austin Kleon puts it beautifully in his New York Times Bestseller, Steal Like an Artist:
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”
Check out Kleon’s TEDx Talk on Stealing Like an Artist
“Ain’t no future in your frontin” – MC Breed
You can’t truly be original without paying homage to your inspiration.
When Kleon says, “Steal,” he doesn’t mean plagiarize. Derivative work, no matter how good, without credit to the inspiration only drives people away. The remix is a delicate balance of taking an idea that resonates with you and applying it to a new problem or adding a unique point of view. The difference between a good remix and a bad one is subtle but important.
A good remix contains three key elements:
- It respects the original influence
- It adds authentic perspective and new ideas
- It inspires action
Every second of the day, we are influenced by the world around us. Since birth, we have intertwined the perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and creations of others with our own, yet we are wholly original.
As content creators, we must rid ourselves of this idea that borrowing from others is a sin and see it as the natural evolution of the human sharing economy. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing from the things we love, as long as we show respect to the source. Remixing is about admiration and confidence.
“It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” ― Jean-Luc Godard
Remixing weaves a unique perspective into familiar ideas—creating something new.
Since everything has already been said, we are forced to recycle ideas. However, recycling an idea is a far cry from outright mimicry. Remixing weaves a unique perspective into familiar ideas—creating something new. And great remixing, doesn’t arbitrarily interject one’s perspective. Rather with some thoughtfulness it transcends novelty—creating something fresh.
Run DMC did not simply stumble into the success that came from their remix of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way. Understanding the roots of hip-hop, the shifting trends in alternative rock, and the similarities between the target audiences, Run DMC already knew why Aerosmith fans would be willing to give them a listen. Despite the seeming polarity in life experiences, cultures, and tastes, the result was one of the best remixes ever. The rappers didn’t change their sound or look. They remained true to who they were as artists, but they did flex a bit to truly mesh with the rock accompaniment. Remixing is about blending, but it’s also about connecting. And the world is more connected now than ever.
The internet has given us all access to the entirety of human knowledge, and as a marketer that is the most exciting thing I can imagine. This 21st century Rosetta Stone gives us access to any audience’s lexicon and translates it into a relatable experience; and experience is what drives decision making. Even experiences are being remixed with AI, VR, and other tech getting better every day.
The digital economy is making remixing more crucial than ever. In The Inevitable, author Kevin Kelly dedicates a whole section to the remix and how it is reshaping our world:
“The entire economy is tipping away from atoms and towards bits. It’s moving away from ownership and towards access. It’s tilting away from the value of copies and towards the value of the network. It’s heading towards the inevitability of constant, relentless, and increasing remixing.”
Recently we have seen the blockchain conversation shift to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are digital collectibles or, as I see it, the digital remix of baseball cards, Funko Pops, and Beanie Babies. I think Kelly is on to something. Experiences are replacing ownership, and every experience is a remix.
“My whole thing is to inspire, to better people, to better myself forever.” – Kendrick Lamar
Authenticity inspires action; action inspires remixing.
When it comes to creative endeavors remixing is how you show authenticity, the most valuable commodity in today’s world. We are inundated with manufactured scenes on social media and corporate scripts we can recite in our sleep; people are longing to see something that comes from the heart. When we connect with something, we want to share it with others, and that energy comes through our creations.
Many early remixers did it as a way of seeing themselves in the work. They remixed to include themselves in history, to claim what they loved for the first time. Suppose people can see an idea’s lineage and connect to the past thinkers, writers, philosophers, emcees, etc., who have built upon the central concept. It lends more credence to your outlook and shows that you have done the research required to intelligently expound on the idea. It becomes easier for your audience to connect with/relate to seemingly disparate ideas, and further validates their own participation. They see themselves as the next link in this proverbial chain.
Many believe a marketer’s job is to persuade, but that’s an antiquated notion. Successful marketing isn’t about persuasion, it’s about connection. Remixing is about getting in the game and being a part of something as a fan, contributor, believer, and innovator. Remixing is about bridging the past and present to influence the future.
If you want to be original, embrace the remix.