This is part four of the Boston Music Tech Fest series. Check out parts one, two and three to learn more about Anthony de Ritis’ Devolution, Aaron Einbond’s nature-based sheet music and Daniel Adler-Golden’s online music community GroupTones.

Wayne Marshall (@wayneandwax) – The Echo Nest / Harvard – Art of YouTube Musicology: The Montage is the Method

Marshall is an ethnomusicologist: he studies the effects of music on culture, biology or cognitive functions instead of just the aural component. His talk focused on the idea of “participatory culture” in the age of YouTube and how it can be studied through “mashups”.

Marshall was struck by all the videos that people put up of themselves just singing along to music for the hell of it, putting new spins on music, merely covering the music or doing whatever it is they want to the song.  He came up with the idea to take all these disparate YouTube videos and embed them into Abelton Live to create a mashup of all the different versions of a single song to create something entirely new and yet altogether familiar.

He made sure to shift the key of all the videos so that they would sound coherent and spliced them up so that the different YouTube videos play along with different sections of the song that they are contributing to. This technique creates a cohesive yet unique sounding version of the original song. It’s a difficult thing to describe without simply seeing it in action. This Call Me Maybe MashUp Montage by one of his former students is a stellar example.

As Marshall showed us the video he casually dropped a comment that gave me chills: “it’s as though, everyone collectively is singing along.” With just an Internet connection and a shared love for music, people separated by great distances now seemed so close and so relatable. The way Marshall explains the greater meaning behind something as seemingly benign as a mashup montage is reason alone to take his class if you have the chance.

He left us with some more interesting thoughts as well. He noted how mashup culture is unique in that it remixes songs but ultimately lets them stand on their own and doesn’t tamper with the original sound too much – creating a new experience for the listener while still paying greater tribute to the original creator. This notion was something I had not considered before and legitimately gave me a more favorable view towards mashups.

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