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A Shift of Pitch: Nightcore, Slowed + Reverb, and The Evolution of Altered Speed and Tone

On an average day scrolling through TikTok or Instagram Reels, nearly every video is accompanied sonically by a sped up or slowed down version of a pre-existing song. Millions of people have used these pitch-altered sounds on social media, which has allowed these subgenres to accumulate a massive following. So much so, in fact, that even musicians themselves are re-releasing their own songs with the slowed + reverb or sped up effect, with some of these remixes even surpassing the popularity of their original counterparts.

Nightcore, defined in the dictionary as, "the style of electronic music in which producers speed up the tempo and raise the pitch of existing music, usually other electronic music but sometimes pop or rock songs," is a subgenre that is synonymous with the "sped up" musical trend. This style was pioneered by Norwegian innovators Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Søderholm in 2001. Their duo, fittingly named Nightcore, created their first piece, "Dam Da Di Do" as a high school project, surprisingly only earning a C+ for their work that would go on to revolutionize the subgenre. Despite the initial grade, the duo decided to create a full length 13-track album titled Energized as their final project, earning them a well deserved, resounding A+.

Interestingly, the initial publisher of Nilsen and Søderholm's work is unknown. In fact, ten years and a google search later, the duo was shocked to find their work out on sites like Youtube and Limewire. In an interview with the New York Times, the duo revealed that in 2011 they had not only found their high school tracks uploaded online with thousands of listens and views, but also that their style had been emulated by hundreds of other creators. While some artists may have been frustrated at their work being published by another person, Nilsen and Søderholm claim they are actually quite proud that what was once a high school project has been so influential to the music industry today and pioneered a wildly popular subgenre.

This subgenre's popularity has increased rapidly over the past few years, with Nilsen and Søderholm's creations only being the tip of the iceberg. Online creators have since gone on to speed up nearly every song imaginable across various social media platforms. Notably, social media platform TikTok has seen a surge in the usage of sped-up renditions, with tracks like "Cupid" by Fifty Fifty and "It's a Wrap" by Mariah Carey being used millions of times to soundtrack videos on the platform.

Similarly to the nightcore trend, this obvious popularity has encouraged artists themselves to release sped up, reimagined versions of their original songs. Esteemed artists such as Steve Lacy, Oliver Tree, Lana Del Rey, and SZA, among others, have embraced the nightcore trend, officially dropping sped up versions of their songs on streaming platforms for their audiences to listen to and enjoy.

When it comes to the slowed + reverb music trend, its origins can be traced back to the 1990s.

Photo By Leandr Gantuzzi

DJ Screw, pictured to the left, was a prevalent 90s hip hop DJ famous in the Houston rap scene. He was one of the first artists to implement the chopped and screwed genre into their work, which heavily influences the current day slowed + reverb phenomenon. DJ Screw would famously slow down rap songs and alter their beats slightly to transform the pre-existing song into a new feel. Some of his most popular works come from his 1995 album All Screwed Up, Vol. II, where he released 13 songs that used the chopped and screwed effect which captivated his audience upon their release in the 1990s and beyond. DJ Screw still made music well into the 2000s, with his most recent album Sentimental Value releasing in 2020 using the same remix tactics that popularized his music over 20 years earlier.

As for the official slowed + reverb subgenre, it wasn't until 2017 where yet another Houston DJ who goes by the name of slater! added the slowed + reverb effect to the Lil Uzi Vert song "20 Minutes", uploading it to Youtube, where it amassed over four million views before being taken down. However, many accounts swiftly re-uploaded the remixed song using slater!'s original track, which went on to rack up millions of views.

What then ensued was a cascade effect, with creators beginning to emulate slater!'s slowed + reverb technique to create their own renditions of thousands of songs, popularizing the subgenre across a variety of social media platforms. With the wild success of this subgenre, musicians wanted in on it too, and some big names like Russ and Diplo have gone on to re-release their own songs with the slowed + reverb effect on streaming platforms. Lykke Li's "sex money feelings die - slowed version" has amassed over 209 million streams, which is 36 million more than the original song.

Both the slowed + reverb and nightcore remixing techniques are incredibly beginner friendly, making them an ideal entry point for newcomers who want to try out music remixing. There are plenty online databases that allow you to add a nightcore or slowed + reverb effect to an MP3 file by simply uploading it onto their software. This accessibility is an undeniable factor as to why these subgenres have gained so much popularity and sprouted so much content in the recent years.

So, if you're interested in venturing into the world of remixing music, consider beginning with creating some tracks using the slowed + reverb or nightcore techniques!


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