Music sharing networks propagate mashup popularity

The cover of 3LAU's Dance Floor Filth.

There’s a growing trend in music, and to create it, you don’t even need to leave your dorm room.

All you need is a good laptop with relatively inexpensive software, some musical talent and a lot of hard work and dedication.

This is the genre of music called “mashups.” Mashups refer to music that is created by cutting and splicing existing tracks together.

“What is great about ‘the mashup movement’ is that it’s a record of how people listen to music. The origins of any mashup are usually that people hear a song inside of a song,” said Abigail De Kosnik, an associate professor at University of California, Berkeley who has taught seminars on the origin of mashups.

“More than anything, a mashup lets me hear how another person hears, and lets me know something about their listening history.”.

Mashups have existed for several decades, but many cite Girl Talk, who began releasing tracks in the early 2000s, as one of the pioneers of the movement.

Balancing school and music producing

Justin Blau creates his tracks from his dorm room and has performed 3-5 shows every week this semester and has played over 30 shows since January.

Blau played with Calvin Harris at his first show outside the continental U.S. Earlier this month and this weekend, Blau will open a sold-out concert of around 5,000 people with Wiz Khalifa at the University of Connecticut.

In April, he is scheduled to perform with artists like Tiesto, Afrojack, Dev and Hot Chelle Rae.

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Being a college student while balancing a budding career as a house producer presents its challenges.

“I don’t sleep. I spend all of my time making music and doing schoolwork and playing shows at night. It’s been pretty hectic, but I enjoy doing it,” Blau said in an phone interview, which he did while disembarking from an airplane and weaving through the Chicago O’Hare airport.

Blau has gotten used to this level of multitasking since his producing career has taken off.

“I’ve become nocturnal to an extent. I usually make music from 1 a.M. To 7 a.M. And then sleep until 2 or 3 in the afternoon,” Blau said.

Blau spends about 72 hours a week working on new music.

Even though Blau’s music career is growing, he still plans on continuing his education. “I really want to graduate. I really respect WashU. It’s an amazing school, and even though I have my career kind of laid out for me, I want to at least pass my classes and graduate with dignity,” Blau said.

When things pick up in April, Blau said he might only be home for a day between his shows, but his professors have been pretty accommodating to his situation.

Blau had to decide between pursuing something in support of a finance career and pursuing his music. He chose music.

Last summer, Blau was an investment strategy intern at Credit Suisse, but this year, he has turned down several offers in finance to play shows and become a resident DJ at Las Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel.

Although balancing both can sometimes be a challenge, being a finance major has helped him with his music career, “not the arts, but the business end.”.

Blau will release his first track via Beatport on April 30, and all proceeds from the track will be donated to a charity yet to be determined.

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“One of the cool things about technology is that any kid can do what I’m doing and what some other young artists are doing because the technology has improved so much you don’t need studios. You can use less than $3,000 and make very professional sounding music,” said Justin Blau, a finance major at Washington University in St. Louis who goes by the moniker 3LAU and is currently one of the most respected mashup artists and house producers.

The genre has increased in popularity — especially with college students — over the past few years with the introduction of music sharing websites like SoundCloud, Hype Machine and Turntable.

Through these networks, artists have been able to more easily distribute their music and go viral.

Blau has used these music networks to preview new music and connect with fans.

“For any kind of music, [music networks] have been unbelievable. Most of the newest talent have been discovered via social media and not via your standard sending your CD into a label. And that’s how I was discovered and how I built my career,” Blau said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if when labels are no longer relevant, SoundCloud will take over that entire space,” Blau added.

With the growing popularity of these music networks, it is becoming easier for mashup artists to release tracks.

For Blau, even though mashups have brought him much of the success he has today, he has begun to release original tracks and is establishing himself as a “house producer” and moving away from being just a mashup artist.

“Part of the reason why I’ve been so successful, or at least why I think I’ve been so successful, is because I’ve taken a different approach, and I approach [my music] as though I’m making a song as opposed to I’m mixing songs together,” Blau said.

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Blau has found less competition among producers than among mashup artists because “in the mashup world, you’re using the same inputs. The competition in the mashup world is ‘whose going to use the song first that is popular now,'” Blau said. “And because you’re dependent on other people’s music when you’re making mashups and because it’s all time-sensitive, there is an extent of competition, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.”.

Apart from sharing mashups online, live shows are an integral part in a mashup artist’s career.

Blau frequently creates music specifically for live performances as an incentive to bring people to his live shows. He has been traveling around the country and performing 3-5 days a week over the past two months.

Blau’s advice to college students who are interested in creating mashups or becoming a producer is to not think of creating mashups as an end point.

“If you’re serious about music, making mashups is a great way to get your name out there, but it’s certainly not the end of the stick. People should always be reaching to make their own music because that’s how you get respect from the broader community,” Blau said. “But for people who just want to do it for fun and a hobby, my piece of advice is you have to be musical and you also have to put in the time, the hard work. It’s not as easy as a lot of people think.”.

Joanna Kao is a Spring 2012 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent. Learn more about her here.

This story originally appeared on the USA TODAY College blog, a news source produced for college students by student journalists. The blog closed in September of 2017.