Monday, October 19, 2009

Mixing It Up

So today I'm going to be starting on a remix for another band. The process of remixing is quite a bit different from writing a song from scratch in that you usually have at least one piece (say, a vocal) from a finished song that you have to build your remix around. In a sense, you're putting together a puzzle. Unlike a regular puzzle, however, the remixing puzzle has several ways it can be assembled "properly". So today I thought I'd talk a little bit about how I go through the process..

1. First, I give the original song a listen. This is helpful in getting an idea of the basic song structure and the general sound of the track. I personally like to approach remixes almost like writing an entirely new track that just happens to have the same vocal as the original. So usually during this time I'm listening for things I can do differently from the original. After I've listened once or twice, I don't listen to the original version again until I am finished.

2. After setting my DAW's tempo to the tempo of the track, I drop the vocal track into Logic. I usually call up an instance of StylusRMX with a simple drum loop in it to keep time. Most of the time, I then create a new track with a bass sound of some sort. I set up a section of the vocal to loop and begin trying out different basslines/note progressions against the vocal until I find something I like.

3. Once I've done the above for any intros, verses, chorus, and bridges, I copy and paste these parts throughout the entire song to build the structure of the track. If I want to structure things differently, add a break-down, etc., I usually handle that during this stage too.

4. The bulk of the work at this point entails 'coloring in' this basic skeleton of a song. I try to get the sounds as close to what I think I'll want in the final mix, but it's more important to write the actual synth parts and flesh out the drum parts at this stage.

5. The final stage before actual mixdown is usually spent fine-tuning and layering sounds, applying appropriate effects, adding special effects and ear candy, etc. For me, this is one of the most fun parts of the process.

Once I have everything just about where I wanted it, I record the tracks, mix them down, and give it a final listen compared to the original. I make some last minute tweaks, as necessary, and then I usually let it sit for a day or two so I can come back to it and listen again with fresh ears to make final adjustments. Of course, sometimes you don't have this luxury (I've had to turn around remixes in 24 hours before), but I almost always find something I feel needs to be adjusted.

This is just one possible path. Just about everyone who does remixes has their own preferred method and, of course, there really is no 'wrong' way to do it. What's your remixing process like?


Korvis said...


Have you ever thought about doing a short video on some of these tips? I would love to see you working in ur studio and being visual.

John said...

Actually this is perfect timing as I have to do a remix myself for the first time and have been wondering where the hell to start.

Q: How do you find the perfect tempo, especially when (in my case) it's a rock track and the tempo varies slightly throughout the song?

RE: Korvis' suggestion: Good idea, there's a cool mac program called Snapz Pro from Ambrosia that is perfect for tutorials etc.

Tom said...

I do hope to add screencasts to the blog eventually, but I've got so much on my plate for the immediate future that I don't know when that'll be.

As to your question, John, I very seldom change the tempo from the original. If it's a slower track, I try to emphasize the groove and might do something a bit funkier, and if it's uptempo, then making it dancey is pretty easy. As for stuff with drifting timing... I've never really encountered this. Even the rock band's I've remixed probably recorded to a click. However, if you've got Ableton Live or Apple Logic, you can play with the timing even of individual notes pretty easily.

mangadrive said...

Ironically I was inspired into remixing by the remix of Zionsank you did for!

-I never listen to the original if I can help it, because the point of a remix is to come up with something new. I honestly feel this is why I've won or placed in the last 3 contests I've been in. Not because my work was better quality, but I kinda know what other bands will do with tracks by browsing through the kit. Sounds like some kinda psychic gift, but honestly its not. You know what 'genres' and sounds are out there plaguing music if you listen to enough music. Stay away from them. No Vanguard presets~! .The idea is to REMIX, stand out and create a new feel out of an original idea. Not just rearrange the song. If the artist was truly intended to feel offended by something you did, then they should have never released the kit, period. Destroy the whole idea of the original when possible.

-If its lyrical based I throw everything else away unless there is a very distinguished melody or very signature sound. If its instrumental I'll adhere to a very strong backbone type groove noise or again the melodies. I often try to recreate said melodies and noises on my own, but sometimes the original just needs to be there so there is some semblance of remixing effort.

- Tempo changes are great. I tend to work at much higher tempos than most so often you can stretch things to fit a more workable feel for you if you have the programs and technology to do it. Its harder to do with vocal mixes because you can end up with this 'rushed' sound in a mix, but turning a slower/less energetic song into dance masterpiece can be a work of art.

- I do multiple drafts if I have time. I usually do 2-3 very quick idea frames or ideas before I stick with one. If you are doing it for a contest and can only send 1 in then obviously pick the one you like best but if you are trying to make someone's release, then giving them options is not a bad thing. I usually do one where its more like 'what the artist would probably like to hear' and then another one that's completely outside of the box. Most often the 2nd one is chosen, but playing it safe with unfamiliar artists or a long distance connection is wise.

Joshua said...

First, thanks for posting this Tom - I've always thought that you are among the VERY best remixers out there and it's always cool to get some information about your methods.

Also, I'm impressed that you've done 24 hour remixing...just thinking about that makes my heart stop a little...

Now, on to my less helpful information... HA!

Since the usual remix kits available to me are not always of a genre I prefer, I tend to completely destroy (in a good way...?) the original song as much as possible. (Which in some cases is time consuming and I spend less time on the actual mix, often with less than optimum results...)

I've tried lots of approaches.
However, I don't think I'm nearly experienced enough yet to have a "preferred" method.

I take steps similar to yours - listen to the track once or twice then put it away...etc. I might listen to the track again later if I feel "stuck" and need an inspiration boost (insert drug joke here)

I often take a loop from provided musical material (if available - it works with vocal loops as well) and layer it in FX until it's "almost" unrecognizable. I use that as the main rhythm if not musical phrase. I then drop in elements of the main mix and alter them to fit that core loop.

My mixes tend to be mainly bass or rhythm or noise-oriented as I'm not much of a keyboardist and I'm usually pressed for time so I stick to what I know...

Also, I'm almost never impressed by lyrics/vocal styles I get, so I tend to distort/drown them out...(which I'm sure doesn't win me points with the original artists...haha...) However, vocals make remixes easier, as they provide some sort of ground the track can rest on, which lets me do anything to the music without it becoming (completely) random gibberish.

I try not to touch the tempo but I think I've bumped it up very slightly on a couple of occasions, if my mix sounds too much like the original.

So that's my process more or less...

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