With Sped-Up Songs Taking Over, Artists Feel the Need for Speed

Last fall, the 25-year-old English singer Raye was on the hunt for her first U.S. hit after several years of U.K. chart success. Initially, the loping hip-hop soul single “Escapism” seemed to bring her no closer. After the first week, streams of the track started to fall, according to Luminate. But in mid-November, its trajectory dramatically reversed, leaping from 185,000 streams one week to 500,000 the next to over 6 million two weeks later. “Escapism” went on to peak at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100

What happened? The burgeoning popularity of a homemade sped-up remix of “Escapism” that captivated TikTok users, spurring them to incorporate it into their videos and driving streams of the original. Raye’s label, Human Re Sources, responded by releasing an official uptempo rework of the single that has over 114 million streams on Spotify alone.

“I wish that I could sit here and say, ‘We were in our marketing meeting, we decided that we were going to do a sped-up version of this particular spot in the song, and that’s going to ignite all the rest of it,’ ” says J. Erving, a longtime music manager, founder of the artist services and distribution company Human Re Sources, and executive vp of creative development at Sony Music Entertainment. “The kids are taking control of the songs, and they’re determining what part of the record is sticky and what version of it is sticky.” 


Those “sticky” versions — often just sped up or slowed down, or a pair of tracks mashed together — can spark streams. “These remixes can really create careers and reignite careers,” Universal Music Group vp of A&R strategy Nima Nasseri says. “They’re great mechanisms for growth. Every label is putting them out,” often releasing official versions of the remixes that trend on short-form video platforms. 

Sped-up remixes also spurred recent chart surges for Miguel’s “Sure Thing” (actually a resurge, as it first charted over a decade ago), The Weeknd’s “Die for You,” Lady Gaga’s “Bloody Mary,” and Mariah Carey’s “It’s a Wrap,” as well as boosting streams for tracks like Lizzy McAlpine‘s “Ceilings.”

Remixes — extended for club play, shortened and punched up for radio — are nothing new. And listeners taking control has been a hallmark of the shift to digital, starting with YouTube fan covers in the 2000s and progressing in the streaming era to fan response helping labels determine what tracks to focus on for promotion. 

The difference today is the extent to which power has shifted to social media users. The process, says Erving, is no longer about label executives and managers deciding “this is our single, insert remix producer here, add rapper here, this is going to be the thing — those days are over.” In fact, according to a major-label A&R executive, “it’s not about the recording anymore. It’s about what you’re offering the user base to say, ‘Hey, you’re an intelligent consumer. Here are the stems [individual audio components] for our songs. Do what you want to it.’” 

“Is anything in its final form now?” one major-label marketing executive asks. “Or are we just putting out clay for fans to mold?” 

Part of this change is technological — it has never been simpler to manipulate audio. “These [remixes] are being made easily by fans in real time on their computer or phones,” says RCA Records COO John Fleckenstein


Many in the music industry believe this remixing activity is also part of a generational shift. “Gen Z in particular has been raised online alongside meme culture,” says Scott Plagenhoef, global head of music programming at Apple Music. “They’re accustomed to content that is repeated but manipulated, and music is no different.”

While it’s common to encounter both sped-up and slowed-down remixes on short-form video platforms, Plagenhoef says “sped-up remixes seem considerably more popular and prevalent than slowed-down ones” at the moment. “Sped-up songs allow for more of a track to be heard within the time constraints of a TikTok video and mirror the pace at which users consume content online,” he adds. Increasing tempo can also “make the songs better — it brings out a different emotion,” according to Josh “Bru” Brubaker, a TikToker (4.5 million followers) and radio personality for Audacy.

Many remixes don’t replace or distract fans from the original track — they draw attention to it. “From a discovery standpoint, we see a large amount of referral traffic make its way back to original tracks from remixes,” says Roneil Rumburg, co-founder/CEO of Audius, a blockchain-based streaming service. For example, the original of Raye’s “Escapism” (304 million streams) is significantly out-streaming its sped-up remix on Spotify. 

Since discovery is increasingly difficult to engineer in a time of content overload, the music industry is encouraging fan experimentation with songs and aiding the creation of remixes. “There’s a whole community of TikTok DJs solely making these sounds to try to make them go viral because you get so much exposure,” Brubaker says. Labels and marketers say they sometimes pay these DJs anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 to remix and post songs.  


Labels have also worked to get officially released sped-up remixes visibility on streaming services. UMG started the Spotify account Speed Radio to highlight its sped-up tracks, according to Nasseri; it has more than 9 million monthly listeners. Another account, sped up nightcore, does the same for Warner Music Group releases. (A WMG representative did not respond to requests for comment on this account.) “Anytime we get one of these remixes that has traction, we tag it with ‘Speed Radio,’ and it just amplifies the growth,” says Nasseri. “That’s a very valuable tool for artists to use.” 

The streaming services have created playlists for these remixes as well. Spotify’s Sped Up Songs, launched last June, now has over 1 million followers. Apple Music recently unveiled Viral Remixed. “Over the past year, the DSP partners have been really helpful,” Nasseri says. “Casey Compernolle at Apple and Lizzy Szabo at Spotify are people we work with closely who have a great understanding of the remix space.”

Even as these remixes have helped create hits, not every artist wants to participate in this economy. “I completely respect if an artist chooses not to release a sped-up version if it doesn’t suit the song,” says Ian Quay, co-manager of Cults, who have a popular sped-up version of their song “Gilded Lily.”

But much of the stigma around tempo-shifted remixes seems to be fading. “Two years ago, I’d say 5% or 10% of artists were receptive to this,” Nasseri estimates. “Now it’s probably about 70%.” Meng Ru Kuok, CEO of music technology company BandLab, adds, “rights holders understand that this process is inevitable, and it’s one of the best ways to bring new life to tracks.” 


While sped-up and slowed-down versions run wild on TikTok, they haven’t penetrated the mainstream — yet. “It still feels more specific to the short-form platforms right now than ‘I heard a great sped-up version at the club last night,’ ” says Fleckenstein. 

But this could change. The rock duo Cafuné broke out with “Tek It”; the sped-up version now has more Spotify streams (143 million) than the original (137 million). Fleckenstein points to young RCA act Ari Abdul, who has enjoyed streaming success with the synthwave single “Babydoll.” “Sometimes the sped-up version is actually outperforming the original,” he says. 

Will these tempo-shifted remixes eventually reach all the way to radio? “If it’s good enough,” Fleckenstein adds, “you never know.”

Elias Leight