Mixathon48 is a unique platform that allows producers to put their skills to the limit in a race against time. Unlike most remix contests which can last weeks or months, Mixathon48 hosts 48 hours speed sessions.
I’m sure you’re as curious as I am what this entails, and lucky for you I asked Mixathon48 creator and founder, Nicholas Yiu, a bit about his program.
There are a lot of -athons out there involving technology; the first that comes to mind is a hackathon. But mixing/producing has always been somewhat creatively draining. Sure, you can get into the flow of things, but 48 hours is a long, long time. How do you keep people’s attention? And more importantly, how do you keep them engaged?
Nicholas: That’s true. Producing music can be very mentally draining, especially if you’re doing it intensively over a 48 hour period. We were worried about people being tired, but when we did our first event, we realized this wasn’t the case. During the event, I received a huge number of emails from people saying how much fun they were having and how much they were learning as well. I even got an email from someone saying they were having an “out of this world experience”. Sure, people must have been tired too but it seemed like the high-paced competitive environment kept them engaged and having fun while also learning a lot about their creative abilities.
In your ‘About’ section on your website, you list the solution to the problem of “lack of creative opportunities for music producers to grow” as “organizing experiential music production marathons,” and the subsequent effect is “discover[ing] unsigned artists and accelerat[ing] their musical development.” How do you do this? Is it by observation over time? How do you pick out which artists are valuable over a 48 hour period?
Nicholas: We first looked into music competitions online and found many of them based the competitions around a solo vocal track. We thought this was interesting, but limited since contestants were confined to rules regarding the vocal track. For Mixathon48, we base our competitions around “stems” which are 8-16 bar sequences, and contestants can mix-and-match bits and pieces of the sequences to create music. We believe this forces producers to think outside the box more and be more creative with the music stems.
We aim to help unsigned artists by partnering with music software companies like Ableton and Image-Line to provide educational software tools for our winners to further their artistic development. Winners are selected by a panel of judges through a rigorous judging scheme, along with some guest judges as well. We also partnered with Your EDM to help publicize the winners as artists and to help their careers in music. In the future, we’d like to partner with record labels for release opportunities and help them monetize their artwork.
When you developed Mixathon48 in Berkeley, what was your focus? Obviously, music is the endgame. But clearly the programming and implementation of the business itself must have also been a fascinating endeavor?
Nicholas: That’s a great question! We started Mixathon48 in Berkeley back in 2015 as a summer project. Me and my cofounder Matt were making music together and we thought of cool way to integrate the hardware hackathons with music production. We initially aimed to target students at UC Berkeley as a one-time event but when we starting receiving sign-ups from 33 countries around the world, we realized this was bigger than just Berkeley. It’s interesting you ask about the implementation of the business. Both me and Matt were working on other jobs that summer, and we only had time to meet up during the evenings after work to develop a strategy together in Matt’s bedroom. We quickly developed a website and brought Nickki onto the team, who is an amazing digital artist for all our graphics, website, and designs. Once we had those in place, all we had to do was get the word out to the music world.
Many producers will laud the importance of tutorial videos and schooling. Your program seems to go more for the learn-by-doing route. Was this something you grew up with, or did you find advantages in this path over traditional methods?
Nicholas: I see great value in tutorial videos, but I definitely stand by the “learn-by-experience” method. I take this from my academic experience, where I learned a lot of theory in my engineering classes, but the most useful and memorable learning experiences came from my internships and side projects. It also works the same way in my music production experiences – I have never watched a production tutorial video or taken a courses. The way I learnt was by sitting down one day and just tinkered on FL Studio for hours.
However, I recognize that this method of learning is not for everyone. At Mixathon48, we hope to further branch out to reach all types of education, and we plan to start developing tutorial videos too.
Traditional remix competitions can last for weeks – you do it all in the span of 48 hours. Have you seen any noticeable difference in quality of submissions? Do you believe that the truncated submission period forces producers to think more quickly, and perhaps more outside the box?
Nicholas: The purpose of our events is not to create fully-produced and fully-mastered tracks, in the same way hardware hackathons don’t churn out fully-developed products. It’s more about the learning experience and looking at what you’ve made in 48 hours. The short timespan forces you to work quickly, effectively and also pushes you to creative boundaries like never before. I like to think of it as an ultra-accelerated (and caffeinated) learning. That being said, the submissions we received are nothing short of amazing and I would not be surprised if I heard one of the winning submissions on the radio.
What opportunities are generally awarded to winners of your events? You have partnerships with various tech businesses, like Ableton and Image Line. But do you have any connections with labels, so that winners can seamlessly transfer their accomplishments to real world monetization?
Nicholas: We’ve developed strategic partnerships with music software companies like Ableton, Image-Line and Wearhaus, and also publicity opportunities through Your EDM. We’ve worked with small recording labels in Europe, but our next steps are to meet with more record labels who can help our winners become music label artists.
Obviously, participants can’t produce for 48 hours straight. (Okay they can, but that wouldn’t be wise or healthy.) Does the time limit account for average sleep? Or is it a strict limit you’re adhering to? Why 48 hours versus 72 or 96?
Nicholas: We set the time limit to 48 hours over a weekend when people would be the most free, typically the whole Saturday and Sunday. We wanted to open this up to as many people as possible and so we didn’t want to interfere with the work week. The 48 hours accounts for everything from when we release our stems to the public to online submission of the track.
How do you hope Mixathon48 influences future innovations in production and learning? What’s the mark you want to leave on this industry?
Nicholas: Mixathon48 currently holds online competitions which can take place in anyone’s bedroom to a professional recording studio. This is great because it allows for entries all around the world regardless of location. In the future, I want Mixathon48 to hold in-person live competitions, where producers can gather together in a giant exhibition hall filled with the latest music production gear, software and a range of musical instruments. It would be something of a big festival, a magical gathering of musical minds sharing ideas together. Sprinkled around the exhibition would be production workshops, guest speakers in the music industry, and after the event we would hold a small concert with guest performers featuring some of the winners. I hope Mixathon48 becomes a world leader in music production education as well as a creator for new innovative events.
For more information, visit www.mixathon48.com.