The world we live in is changing at warp speed. Technological advances are altering our perception of what’s possible and challenging long held beliefs about how things work. Entire industries are being reshaped…some are being made obsolete. Traditional notions of how organizations operate — what they sell, what they charge, and how customers are supposed to behave — are being replaced by completely new models. Nowhere is the impact of change being felt more than in the world of communication.

In the field of technical communication, for instance, practitioners are being challenged to adapt to a completely new approach to creating documentation and user-assistance materials. In this rapidly-changing arena, traditional content production practices are being replaced with modular, topic-based content production practices that allow organizations to recombine content elements — often automatically or on-demand — into new, derivative products.

But, moving to a new approach can be painful. Content creators must learn new methods of writing content and understand the value they bring to their organization when they do so. One of the most challenging aspects of moving from creating unstructured, narrative content to topic-based, modular content creation is understanding the concept of content reuse. Reusing content — and repurposing it in different ways — helps organizations create totally new, often personalized, information products from existing content assets. These products can open the door to new revenue-generating opportunities, a major benefit to content-heavy organizations looking to leverage existing content in new and profitable ways.

Today’s Hot Commodity: The Music Mash-up

imageIn the entertainment world, content publishers are struggling to determine how to manage — and charge for — user-generated content types that take advantage of content reuse principles. Known as mash-ups, these user-created works weave together bits and pieces (modular chunks of content) of music and vocals (and increasingly video snippets) into entirely new entertainment products. Mash-ups can be created by anyone equipped with audio/video mixing and editing technology. And, while users began the trend, entertainment companies and music producers are starting to jump on the mashup bandwagon. The best user-generated creations are usually made by musically-inclined individuals who understand the nuances of music, the art of storytelling, and the technologies involved in reworking, remixing and mashing up audio/video content.

As a former dance club dj and a part-time music producer/remixer, I see music as a great example of the power of the mashup (and the future of entertainment and publishing). When I create a mash-up, I am acting as both a composer (of a new, derivative work) and conductor (choreographing the behavior, order, frequency, speed, volume, and tone of many granular musical elements at once) in an attempt to create entertaining musical content. It’s a complex task that requires a diverse skill set and an innate understanding of music. And, it’s easy to muck it all up. But, when done right, the results can be quite magnificent.

One of th best mash-up artists on the planet is DJ Earworm, a talented musician and author of Audio Mashup Construction Kit: ExtremeTech”(Wiley Publishing), a book that explores music (history, theory, composition) and the science of creating audio mash-ups (tools, techniques, tips and tricks). “Together As One” is probably the best music mash-up created by Earworm, who borrows various components of musical content from four completely different artists — number one songs from the past four decades: “Come Together” by The Beatles, “Some Day We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross and the Supremes, “One” by U2, and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey. These unlikely musical acts are blended together by Earworm in a surprisingly pleasant way, producing a totally new entertainment product, something that could definitely find an audience in the commercial music space and a spot on the coveted Billboard Magazine charts [Note: Another of DJ Earworm’s compositions – United States of Pop — has indeed cracked the Billboard Hot 100 charts].

Before you listen to “Together As One”, take a minute to listen to each of the individual tracks. Pay attention to how different they are, and yet, how similar. Pay attention to the breaks, the beats per minute, and the key. Note the crescendos. Then, check out the final product — and it’s accompanying video!

“Come Together” – The Beatles

“Some Day, We’ll be Together” – Diana Ross and The Supremes

“One” – U2

“We Belong Together” – Mariah Carey

“Together As One” uses “One” by U2 as the foundation of the track, leveraging snippets from The Beatles, Mariah Carey and Diana Ross and The Supremes to create the story, which is made possible, in part, by lyrics that compliment each other. Take a listen to the mashup!

“Together As One” – The Beatles, Diana Ross and The Supremes, U2, Mariah Carey (DJ Earworm Audio Mashup)

Now, watch the video!

Mashups — user-generated entertainment products produced by fans for other fans — like the ones produced by DJ Earworm, are the future of entertainment. Yes, there are all sorts of pricing, copyright, and licensing issues that remain to be worked out. But, these challenges do not negate the fact that the mash-up genie is already out of the bottle. For those of you working in traditional content production environments, it’s important to understand what is technologically possible and what our customers are actually doing — with or without our permission — with other types of content. In a world where components of audio and video content can be easily re-purposed to create new entertainment products like DJ Earworm and others are clearly doing today, is it really that far-fetched to think our customers won’t find innovative and useful ways of mashing up the content we provide to them today?

What do you think?