Thread: Remix advice?
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Old 3rd September 2008 , 10:01 PM
modz1's Avatar
Join Date: May 2008
Location: London
Posts: 1,848

Hi sphelan
I've been remixing tracks for, shall we say, a considerable amount of time. All have been dance oriented, whether considered underground or cross-over and even pop/dance. A few years ago I started doing lectures for colleges and universities where one of my most popular sessions was, 'The Anatomy of a Remix'. During these sessions I would start with a blank Logic arrange page, and take the students (over a two hour period) through the significant stages of a remix (usually of a recognisable track so they really could feel/see/hear the difference). So this is my personal approach to doing a remix.. it may/will differ to others.

1> A Basic Drum pattern - Most of my stuff is basically 'dance' music, 4 to the floor, 'house' or electronic/funky rhythms (programmed not 'real' so to speak) - and is produced first for a dancefloor, secondly for radio, and thirdly, and hopefully, TV. The track I get to remix usually has a vocal, wether it's a hook line, basic lead and bv's or full on layers of harmonies etc. There may also be available, the original song's instrumental parts (it may for example have a killer synth riff which most listeners would associate as 'the catchy bit' ). The aforementioned vocal may need to be timestretched from a faster tempo to a lower one, or of course the reverse - it depends on what 'style/flavour' I wish to give the remix.

Usually a record company will employ your remix services because they like stuff you've done before and would like that vibe/quality/style injecting to the track, or you may just be a reliable remixer who can fulfill the A&R guys request of how he'd like the remix to sound (there's a load of scenarios here..). Considering this, the pre-determined vision of what the track will be style, sound and vibe -wise will already be in place.

So.. Having time-stretched the vocal to the required tempo (say: 127bpm), I'll keep that file to one side, create a 4 or 8 bar cycle area, and start to work on a basic groove. I'd start with a kick drum I like which has the flavour, intensity, and clarity I want and lay down a basic 4/4 rhythm. Then I'd add some simple eighths hi-hats just to get a bit more movement. Then some sort of snare or clap to emphasise the 2 and the 4 or just pick up the groove.. At this point, I'd add maybe a snatch of the lead vocal, either verse or chorus hook which will provide more of a foundation to start, metaphorically speaking, hanging the branches on ().

2> The Killer bassline and additional percussion.
The remix may be based on a simple vocal hook, OR, a complex vocal and musical work with chord and bassline changes necessary. I'd start by bedding underneath the elements already created, a bass preset that has the right sound, ADSR content, dynamic feel, power and presence. This, in priorities, needs to be 'felt and heard' in a club, and 'heard and felt' on the radio, if you get my drift. With the vocal running and the basic groove, you'll get a clearer initial indication of how busy, or not, your bassline should be, and whether you want it to be of a 'normal' representation or utilise some sort of side-chaining effect (and please remember that side-chaining is a currently in vogue effect for bass, it hasn't always been employed, so use it where you feel is right or don't use it at all!). I'd call this basic simple bassline, a 'carrier' line which will be the one that the track 'returns' to after the more musical content has passed (of course, 1, 2 or maybe 3 other bass parts may be written later on if the track musically demands it).

As the track will have an arrangement content where parts (wether musical or percussive) will develop and increase or decrease in intensity over the timeline, this is where the programming of additional rhythm parts will come in. At this point I'd copy the entire midi and/or audio parts to another 4/8 bar cycle area where I would inject other 'groove' elements, loops or flavours to be used as enhancement to either the general rhythm track or as 'lifts' or sectional dividers whilst the remix moves through the timeline. Also, thereafter, I'd write the bass parts for say a chorus or middle 8 here, maybe copying the 4/8 bar sections so I'd see maybe three or four 'chunks' of parts which I can see (or label) as eg: groove 1, groove 2, verse, chorus, break etc - this way you start to get a visual as well as audio indication of a developing structure (albeit not 'glued together' yet).

3> Musical part and full vocal placement
If as mentioned earlier, I have a musical hook/performance on which to hang this whole remix, then that's a great help.. If, however, I had a song that in its original version, is good but has nothing that could be called a killer riff, then perhaps this is where I'd look to create one, alongside other supporting parts, which will 'bed' underneath or suggest sections of a 'departure' flavour. These new parts could be for example, stacatto chords, dreamy pads, gated synth beds, percussive piano stabs, filtered sweeps, anything that I feel will be beneficial to the track. Great care must be take though to try and learn to KNOW WHEN TO STOP - that is, not to layer line after line, riff after riff, layer after layer.. usually, less is indeed more - the simple general rule of thumb has already been mentioned on this forum, "..when it sounds right, it IS right!"

So, to recap, at this stage I will have worked out all percussion parts that develop in the time-line, likewise, after arranging the vocals (including BV's and harmonies) over their respective sections, played/programmed all musical parts necessary. I maybe also would have worked out the content (being an a-typical dance/club track) of a 'breakdown' section, which could even contain a different breakbeat groove perhaps, and other off the wall or contrasting content - which incidentally, isn't confined to club tracks: check the radio mix of Madonna's "Give It To Me' as an example of a 'departure' section).

4> The Arrangement
With an armory of 'what does what'.. I would then look at 'what goes where'. You could have some great parts programmed, which, when looped/cycled are sounding great, but most of this effort could be in vain if the arrangement within, and here's that word again, the timeline, isn't doin' it! Although most dance tracks would kick off with some sort of gradually intensifying percussion/rhythm vibe, let's put that to one side and look at 'the meat' of the track. Here's a standard example (and not definitive nor 'the rule' by any means) of sections within a contemporary dance/pop track (and this I reckon could apply to R&B too..).

INSTRUMENTAL (chorus flavoured) INTRO
(for a few bars perhaps)

VERSE 2 Repeat (or VESRE 3)

5> FX, Hits, Bleeps 'n Sweeps
Now I'd have the full arrangement on the DAW's arrange page, here I would look at the 'fairy dusting' which could be such things as crash cymbals or FX to 'punch-in' new sections or indicate the end of a previous one, flitered effects sweeps or periodic percussive elements such as 'fill's or 'hits' - I'm sure you follow my drift here - this sort of stuff just adds subliminal content sprinkled into the piece...

6> The Mix!
With all of the above accomplished, the penultimate step is to mix the track to sound dynamically as good as possible. I will tell you that I'm an advocate of pretty much getting the balance right from 'the off'. I will take the time to effect, process and manipulate every element to 'work' within the overall balance of the mix as it progresses and grows, so, I have the dynamics of everything more or less right at the end of the session. This philosophy developed the more I got used to mixing 'in the box', and moving away from 'flattening' the faders of a physical mixing desk after days of programming to then put my 'mixing' head on. At this point, I will engage Logic's powerful automation functionality to add any additional delay, reverb, and other effects hits where necessary, and also to do any form of volume ride or filter manipulation perhaps.

7> Mastering
Simple, if the track is going to be commercially available, it will go to a professional mastering engineer so I would just delicately EQ the two track output, dialing in some gentle compression, and that would be it. If it's destined for performance on radio, in clubs or on peoples CD players and is not going to get a commercial release, I will most likely use the mastering plug-ins I have available to do the best job that my ears can be satisfied with (I try and take a compromise of maintaining dynamic range, allowing the track to 'breathe' properly, but also recognising the need for it to stand proud next to all the 'overly squashed, loudness war' victims out there...
The above just represents the basic and major steps of how I approach a remix - the intricacies of detailed programming, sound design, automation, mixing and creative expression are all individual topics in themselves, but that's my domain just as much as how you express/perform them, will be uniquely yours!

Best of luck!
"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.."
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