We live in a cultural moment in which a large swathe of mass-market consumers, largely comprised of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, regularly flock to purchase new releases of reconfigured, remixed music from days gone by. I should know: I’m one of them.
When it comes to the 21st century, the Beatles are leading the way. The twentieth century’s most lucrative act has never really ebbed — which is saying something, given that two of the bandmates are deceased. From Ron Howard’s recent touring documentary through remixes of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967) and “The Beatles” (The White Album, 1968) the Fab Four have successfully repackaged yesteryear’s gems to net fresh sales and satisfy what seems to be a nearly unquenchable appetite for “new” content.
While the Beatles once carried the banner for 1960s-era counterculture, they have emerged in our new and very different century as the commercial embodiment of remix culture. The express result of rampant and converging digital technologies, remix culture approaches its full potency when what’s old is made new again. And again. And again. And again.
In “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy” (2008), Lawrence Lessig observes that remix culture’s power reaches its zenith when new artists function in collaboration with their precursors. As for the resulting hybrid artworks, the artifacts’ vitality exists in direct proportion to the quality of the original texts. As Lessig writes, “Their meaning comes not from the content of what they say; it comes from the reference, which is expressible only if it is the original that gets used.”
When it comes to referencing originals, the Beatles simply can’t go wrong. Their pioneering music continues to resonate, unimpeded, into the present day. And when it comes to sales, they’re the toppermost of the poppermost — then and now. The band has proven themselves to be masters of both the physical and digital domains. According to data provided by ChartMasters, the Beatles have sold more than one billion discs worldwide, while easily notching more than one billion plays among the world’s streaming music services.