Remixing music is an art that has been around for quite a few years. From Daft Punk sampling obscure 70’s songs to remaking a new song from the top 40 countdown this week, it all has one thing in common: individual samples that are morphed into an entirely new song. A lot of new remix artists make the mistake of grabbing a remix pack from a contest download, a label, or just from a friend who wants a remix, and only use all of the stems in the package. I’ve had a few remixes done for me personally where people have done this, and it seems that they simply rearranged the music I made and called it a remix. Every single remix I’ve been given that was like this was seriously disappointing. People who are looking for remixes are wanting to hear a different sound altogether, not just a rearrangement of a song.
I have been Producing music for about 15 years off and on, but only seriously for the last 5 or 6 years. I honestly wasn’t any good at it until the last few years. I have learned alot from different sources, but mostly from the mistakes and triumphs I’ve had on previous works I have made. I love doing remixes, and honestly, it is the best way to stretch yourself as a producer. It takes you out of your normal way of producing, and forces you to think of another way of making a song. All of that being said, a good rule of thumb is… DO NOT USE ALL OF THE STEMS!
When I make a remix, I always take the vocals and possibly one or two other small stems from the pack, and then build a new track around it as a whole new vision. People tend to listen to the original song and try to emulate that sound. That is not necessarily a good thing. When I remix a song, a lot of the time I will not even listen to the original so I can get my own artistic interpretation on what it should sound like. Here is a metaphor that might help out. Lets say you read a really good book, and love it to death. You are excited about a movie rendition of said book. The movie comes out, and you are vastly disappointed in the movie as it is nothing like what you pictured in your head. You created your own world from what the artist painted with their words for the book, and when you saw the movie, it was nothing like what you had imagined in your head as you were reading, and most of the time the movie is nowhere near as extraordinary as the world the book created in your mind.
Now, let us look at the oppsite side of this. You go see a movie that was based off of a book, you watch the movie, and liked the movie a lot. You like the movie so much that you go out and buy the book. When you read through this book, no matter how hard you try, you will always picture the scenes in the movie and the actors that were in it as the characters in it. The movie painted the picture for you, and removed all aspects of your imagination. This principal applies to remixing music as well. if you are going to do a remix of a song, it will always always always be more benefitial to you to have your own outlook, your own style, and your own artistic representation of that song.
The next step is to take what you like from the remix pack and use a few small parts. Try not to use them as they are. Break them up, rub some funk on it, and chop up the samples to make them unique. If the lead is your favorite part of the song, by all means use it. Don’t use the same lead from the remix pack, make your own! Tweak it, add some more funk to it… heck even change the pattern and melody a bit! Shake things up! After all that is what remixing is all about. Personally I do not like to use leads from any pack I get. I will listen to the lead, chew on it for a bit, then make a new lead from a synth and midi notes that I can adjust at will. This brings me to another point. When you are getting a remix pack, it is always helpful to ask for midi tracks that you can use, as this will add more tools to your raw recreation of a song. If you can get this, you will be able to adjust the lead, bassline, or anything for that matter to ANYTHING you want. Midi tracks are literally limitless and will always be your best choice for artistic freedom.
The next part is the meat and potatoes of any remix; the vocals. This is when bootleg remixes come into play. Most of the time it is VERY hard to get permission to use vocals, or any part of a signed song for that matter. Vocals will usually be the driving factor of your remix if it has vocals. If you can get vocals easily, that is great, but if you are making a bootleg, that is a different matter. There are hundreds of online websites that you can access that provide acapellas, sometimes really good quality ones, and sometimes… not at all. www.acapellas4u.co.uk is a good one that I go to. Just search google for acapellas, and you will find a treasure trove of decent vocals, most of the time they are creative commons.
When you do add your vocals to the mix, again, add some funk, chop them up, do fun things to them, the sky is the limit! Take parts out, add parts in, make several tracks that have effects you have built from the vocals etc etc. I use Ableton live for my production, and will not ever change to anything else. The reason: warping. Ableton has a feature that makes it ridiculously easy to fit any vocal into any bpm range (reasonably of course) and makes it as tight as you want. You can warp the vocals in any way, and use the tool to make them fit in your mix without ever going out of time. Warping is something that took my mind a few months to wrap around, but after I understood how to use it effectively it became my favorite tool in Ableton. I could go on for hours about all the benefits of warping in Ableton, but that will have to be a different article altogether.
When downloading vocals from an obviously bootlegged song, I must strongly STRONGLY caution you, as you CAN get into alot of legal troubble for remixing a song from songs that you do not have permission to use. The best way to not get in trouble for this is simple: keep them for your own sets. Having a song that literally NOBODY ELSE has is a beautiful thing in a dj set, especially live. This also can help you with promoting yourself as people will ask you about the song afterwards, and you can tell them that it’s your remix. They will go nuts over that fact. If you are cautious, ambitious, and are willing to be risky, you can provide a bootleg publically, on soundcloud, or any other resource, but DO NOT TRY TO SELL IT! If you do make money off of a bootlegged remix, you WILL get caught, and the legal fees and fines for such a thing… well… lets just say… you can’t afford it.
Remixing is very fun, and can be very eye opening as far as what you really can do if you broaden your horizons and just go do it. Let your creativity loose. Let it fly. Experiment. You will get better. You will learn from your mistakes. The best part is, you will make a killer track that everyone will like, you will get famous, and live in a big house in Miami. Well, maybe not. But it will be fun! If you have any questions about this article, I’m always available, and always willing to help others out with what I have learned from long hours of wrenching my brain and smashing my face into the keyboard from frustration. I would love to write more articles like this one. If you have any requests, shoot me a pm. Now go! Make something sick! And may the force b… ahh whatever…