How to Remix a Song The Complete Beginners Guide 2019
Electronic music’s evolution stems from sampling, remixing and re-editing. Stemming from DJs always wanting longer records with longer percussive passages. The phenomenon came about in both Hip Hop & House at the same time… A collective DJ discovery, fueled by the dancefloor. It was the ’70s, people were wild, the edit was built solely around the energy on the dancefloor, the dancefloor was hungry for it.
Regardless of the genre, style or taste, every DJ is working towards the X Factor, every single time the play. That factor that keeps you coming back to how damn good your night was! You remember the tracks played, the people that were there with you.
The X factor is defined by the vibe & the energy, a culmination of the music, the pace, the lighting & the crowd. When this synergy locks in, it’s amazing & everyone knows. Its as though the songs choose themselves through you, the DJ is one with the crowd, collective energy lays down the vibe and you never leave the dancefloor, and you remember exactly what it felt like when you were there…
It was the Pioneer Francis Grasso, was DJing at the Sanctuary in New York in the early 70s, he had discovered that percussion-heavy records and breaks (everything drops out leaving just the drums) were phenomenally effective on the dance floor. From here DJs like David Mancuso or Steve D’Acquisto and the pioneers who followed in the ’80s, Frankie knuckles & Larry Levan, all groundbreaking artists that all sought out longer records with percussive breaks and vamps. (repetitive instrumental sections that came before the loops we know today).
Hip Hop Dj’s have known the power of the break from the start. Juggling the break with a simple sole purpose; they never wanted to give anyone an excuse to leave the dance floor. DJs began making their own reel-to-reel edits to mimic this process, to create long, danceable grooves. Edits were often simply neater cut and paste versions of what they would do live with two records.
The remix was born from the same necessity: DJs needed and dancers wanted records that were specifically re-tooled for the dance floor. A collective chase for that X Factor.
Remixes can be a great way to sink your teeth into production. A remix can be easier than starting your own tracks for scratch. You have a solid ground to launch off and a good direction to move in. Doing a remix could also be one way you could quickly rise above the crowd and get recognition is through bootlegs and remixes. You can take any track and make your own spin on it. By taking popular dance tracks and adding your own spin you can quickly get your sound and vibe out to the world.
Lets clear up the terms before we get into how to remix a song…
A bootleg, remix, and re-edit are different forms of remixing someone else’s song. From sampled vinyl to modern day stems.
A remix is when a producer has access to the original recordings from a song, including the separate audio tracks, enabling them to either treat or entirely replace parts in isolation – like the bass line or the percussion. An official remix is when the original artist/record label paid you or requested you to make it. Remixes can be called a flip as well.
The term Flip comes from the A Side B Side of records, with the B Side being the lesser focus of the release, and called the Flipside.
VIP Mixes are done by the original artist, it means Variation In Production…
A re-edit, on the other hand, is made from the finished full recording of a song rather than the individual audio parts. This vastly reduces the creative license available to a producer. They can’t replace the bass or put effects on just the vocal as they only have the entire song to play with. Instead, edits are about re-arrangement with the aim of making a record more dancefloor friendly. Common things to do when making a re-edit include:
- cutting and pasting parts
- extending intros and breakdowns
- removing some sections, shrinking or elongating others
And, a bootleg is done without the explicit permission of the artist, & is an unofficial (and often illegal) version of a remix. The remixer didn’t ask the original artist for consent to do it.
Like “bootleg whiskey” in the prohibition times. A bootleg remix generally uses the stereo master track and or acapella of the track. These are more common and usually made by DJs who want an alternative version of a song to play at their show. From samples from a song or the entire song and is often a very underground “Edit”. Bootlegs fun and a great way to sink your teeth into production and your local scene.
It is illegal to sell a bootleg. Technically, you are not even meant to upload or share it… but lots of DJs do.
Re-edits have been as important in the development of dance music as remixes, and many of our favorite tunes are simply reinterpretations of older music, whether through a 2 bar sample loop or a new rework of an entire song; dance music has always greedily cannibalized its past.
Boundaries are sometimes a little blurred generally a remix is a new interpretation created from the individual parts of a song, whereas a re-edit is created from the entire song. And until someone comes up with a better idea, when it comes to anything that doesn’t neatly fit into either category, we’re just using the term ‘re-work’, unless of course its a bootleg!
If you are wondering how to remix a song, like all production methods, there are many ways to go about it.
Here are steps & methods that have worked for producers;
The first step is to find/and use a song that you like. Liking the source material will do wonders for your inspiration.
If you are making a remix (Contests are a good place to start making official remix) you’ll need to source your source material which could stems an official remix will generally be in stems.
If you are editing a song, you sample it from a record/or quality source.. CD, WAV, etc. You want your source material to be of as high quality as possible.
Native instruments stems are a good place to get a whole track in stems. Any of your producer friends will happily give you there stems.
Splice.com is a great online resource for music producers. They are a free service that has a cloud service so you can back up all of your work.
Splice also run competitions, it is free to have an account with them you can subscribe & have access to samples, you don’t have too.
These are quite good resources for official competitions:
Now that you have the source material from the song you want to remix you’ll need to find out the Key & BPM (if it’s not provided).
Load your stems into your daw and make 100% sure they are all lined up correctly. I use Ableton & do this in the arrangement view.
Listen to your source material, firstly in full, use this time to get a feel for your song and ask yourself what it needs.
Write it down with a pen & paper. This is going to be the plan of action for your remix.
Decide what elements/sounds you might want to bring into the track & choose the direction
you would like to go in.
Write it down and stick to the plan. If you find yourself lost during the process refer back to your plan, having one will help you finish.
Stuck for sounds to bring to your remix?
Freesounds.com is a really REALLY amazing place to get sounds that are inspiring, copyright free & freeeeeeee!
The next step , listen to your my source material stem by stem. (Pen & paper time again!) I also create locators at points that inspire me
and also where there is space for different and new elements.
Once you have found the inspirational elements you know you want to use >>>>>>> its Chop and Slice time!
Keep what inspires you. then you could chop the original vocals to create a sampled lead sound, sample the original synths and include instances of them as transitions, or
cut out percussion sounds and create a different groove with them. Try playing with warp modes to find a new pitch that fits well, you could add texture, grain & stutters
with the warp modes or try reversing sounds to add complexity.
Some people like to heavily process stems to drastically change their sound, all of these production tools are simple, powerful and capable of sparking a track out of a loop.
Delete all the material you are not going to use, keeping your arrangement, clean will help you to move quickly and know where things are.
******* Colour coding and renaming appropriately will keep things simple and clear “rolling_AD252” to “percussion”.
Use this shortcut to speed renaming up.
If you are renaming loads of clips, this guide will help you do it quickly.
And, now you’re at the point to start your spin on the song & you can start building your new arrangement!
You can add track locators in the arrangement view of your project to help keep your sections be more organised and navigate between sections.
The play button on locators is useful for quickly jumping around your project & laying out your arrangement.
As with all production, there are a million ways to skin a cat you really can make a remix in so many ways.
Ableton offers a way to bounce your parts back to the session view or sketchpad.
Meaning you aren’t tied to the arrangement view, the better place to start in this scenario.
You will be able to take advantage of the flexibility that the session view offers.
Here is how;
1. Place locators at all of the points where your song changes. – This method won’t work without locators.
2. Highlight a section
3. Right click >> Consolidate To Scene
Your parts will be bounced back to the session view, repeat for all sections.
And, you’ll have playable scenes in the session view.
Now to work toward finishing…
As soon as you have your ideas, layout your arrangement! As in before you leave your creative session…
This will get your head out of loops and working toward finishing.
Don’t fight against the source material, its a remix… You can chop n mangle as much as you want!
Here are a couple of ways you could do so…
- Use parts of the bass stem(s) to fill in your bassline groove.
- Chop, loop and reverse slices of the original vocal to create your own melodies and effects
- Chop one note from an instrument stem, put it into a sampler, then process it to create something that’s new yet familiar.
- Add phasing, reverb, and filtering to the main melody stem in parts of your song to tease the listener.
- Apply reverb, delay, and distortion to FX stems to significantly change their sound.
Don’t be scared to use parts of the original song…
Using parts of the original track for fills and transitions can add some more flavor.
You could take 1 bar of the original, stick it at the end of a 16-bar phrase in your remix, automate some phaser and filters to create an awesome transitional effect…
- Pitch shift syllables or note stabs from the original to use in build-ups.
- Reverse bass and synth sounds from the original to add complexity and flavor.
- Sample drum sounds from the original to add another layer of familiarity.
Aaaaaaaaand, ask for a deadline!
– the best & most assured way to get your remix finished!
From here it’s a mixing & mastering game, very large beasts, best left for another day.
The best piece of advice anyone can give is…. ‘RINSE & REPEAT’
The more you make, the easier you’ll create!