The curious case of releasing “versions”

The music industry’s latest tactic capitalizes on hit potential—but at what cost?

In the late 2010s, TikTok truly established itself as a pivotal force in the music industry. It helped several songs grow rapidly in popularity, granting the platform its status as a hit factory. There was the runaway success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in 2019, which went on to become the longest running #1 in Billboard Hot 100 history, and tracks have since found their way onto the top 10 of the charts starting from TikTok.

The music industry found new ways to adapt, with the concept of “versions” resurfacing as a way of maximizing success on the platform. The practice consists of releasing several variations of the same song or album, with differences in pitch and speed, or even deconstructed versions.

The release of alternate versions is far from a new concept. It has long served as a “fans-first” method for artists and their audience to revisit and reimagine existing projects. Artist-producers like Metro Boomin and Tyler, The Creator have notably released the instrumentals to their albums to highlight their production. A cappella and instrumental versions of songs notably open the door to creative opportunities for musicians. 

Concordia communications student and producer Theo Andreville notes that these versions are longed for by DJs looking to remix songs, producers trying to remake beats and rappers looking to record remixes (which defined hip-hop mixtape culture in the 2010s). 

For local singer Marzmates, they are also a teaching moment in which she gets to notice the intricacies of a beat, the way the vocals are mixed, and the technicalities behind the singing.

Andreville also supports artists releasing a larger output of the same song as it results in a greater financial gain for them: “It makes sense—you’re already being paid pennies on the dollar.”

Sped-up and slowed-down songs are two of the most common styles, and their popularity predates TikTok entirely. Forbes reported that the app’s most popular songs in 2023 were sped-up remixes. Both Andreville and Marzmates agree that these edits can breathe a new and unique life into an existing track because they bring a totally different vibe.

With record labels throwing their hat into the ring, versions are now being mass-released in an attempt to chase hits and make more money off artists, jeopardizing creative control. British singer James Blake recently made headlines for an Instagram post on March 2 addressing the topic. He stressed the problematic nature of the focus shifting from the art towards viral moments. “We have to be great at social media but not really need to be great at music, the ‘working’ of songs now meaning posting infinite videos with the same clip of the same song,” the vocalist stated.

Certain labels and artists are pushing the concept to extremes. Ariana Grande recently reissued her hit single “yes, and?” with a whopping eight versions: the original, radio edit, extended mix, sped up, acapella, slowed, instrumental and extended instrumental versions. The technique is also being applied to entire albums: 21 Savage’s american dream was given a slowed, nightcore and sped up version within two days of the original’s release. 

Communications student Jade Dubreuil also takes TikTok’s fast-paced nature and consumer culture into account. “From a business standpoint, it’s extremely smart—but it creates fads. Artists who take that route take risks.” TikTok creates hits with ease, but shaking the “TikTok song” label is a much stickier situation.

Despite now flooding the market due to corporate greed, versions are widening the window of opportunity for creators and executives alike. “It’s more of a service to everybody, even if it’s redundant,” Andreville concludes.


Dance remixes: hit or miss?

Are remixes falling out of touch with the music industry’s standards?

One cold evening I get into my car and find that my aux cord isn’t working (Canadian weather amiright?). So I turned on the radio, and the first song that starts playing is Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” only it was a dance remix by Jonas Blue and Dakota. 

My first thought was, “Oh wow, that’s so cool to have taken a beloved song and interpreted it as your own.” Then, my thoughts turned sour after hearing the progression of the verse into the chorus. The flute-like synth preset felt washed down and the singing was cold and emotionless.      

While dance remixes give the songs a “new look” (in terms of polishing the rough edges of decades past), is it really a good thing that we’re resorting to just taking existing songs from different genres and turning them into dance remixes that shine the original version in a shallow light? It feels as though we’re prepping them for cosmetic surgery (like a facelift) when the dance remix will age poorly while the original will age like fine wine. It’s bad enough that the music industry is already oversaturated with artists trying to write original songs.

On the other hand, remixes are a great way for producers and DJs alike to express themselves and show off their talent by adding their own style to an already released song. This is what music is supposed to be about anyways, devoid of judgment for other genres and styles of interpretation.    

There are good dance remixes and those that… well, let’s just say they’re in need of more emotion and feel. Dua Lipa and Elton John’s recent “Cold Heart” remix by PNAU, for example, was great. Why? Because the composition of the remix was well thought out considering it is a medley of four Elton John songs  (“Rocket Man,” “Sacrifice,” “Kiss The Bride,” and “Where’s The Shoorah?”). Eric Prydz’s cover of “Call On Me” is also a classic, originally derived from the Steve Winwood song “Valerie.” 

So when is a remix a good thing?  It depends on a couple of factors. Every song is subject to be rewritten, but effort plays a big role in making a good remix. To musicians, it’s obvious when a song has not taken time to develop and was just released as a means of putting out content.    


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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