There are essentially two great schools of thought regarding remixing – one that faithfully follows the style and flavour of the existing work, and the other which flamboyantly seeks to offer a vibrant reworking of the original piece.
The latter is, hopefully, the form that appeals the most and should be preferred by both remix artist and original recording artist alike. Indeed, it is the only one that I have personally chosen to pursue.
The key to a great remix is being able to distill the ‘essence’ of the original work – to identify the pre-eminent vocal hook, the killer riff or the musical passage that serves best to uniquely define the piece. Also, seek out any unusual sounds, parts, or other key instrumentations that make the tune truly memorable.
Endeavour to wrap all this essence within a luxurious wonderland of musical mystery and adventure that both complements and embellishes the primary composition.
Before commencing, agree with the artist upon the style to be followed. Or perhaps surprise them with the finished article, should they prefer it that way. If it is to be a dance remix (let’s assume so!), will it be upbeat, deep, breaks or maybe even ambient?
Start by laying out three or four complementary musical skeletons, constructed into 8 or 16-bar loops in your programming tool of choice (Logic, Abelton, Pro Tools, Cubase, etc). These can then become your verse, chorus, middle-eight and intro/outro sections.
Spend time perfecting a great kick (bass drum) sound, as around it the entire movement of the tune will flow. Into each of the above sections, begin to pour new beats and hits, percussion loops, keyboard pads and riffs, guitar arpeggios and rhythmic chord patterns, as well as a multitude of production delays, reverbs and effects (such as whooshes, crashes, ascending builds and explosive breakdowns).
Try to maintain a consistent musical theme throughout, while allowing for musical progression and rhythmic movement between parts. Ensure that all tracks match and complement each other, adding a richness and quality to the overall sound of the remix.
Use multiple sound sources such as fast-prototyping writing software like Propellerhead’s Reason, the vast array of pre-recorded audio CDs available on music production websites, and any sample libraries you have built up over the years. Be ready to time stretch or alter the pitch of any part, using software such as Sony’s Acid Pro or Sound Forge, in order to match it precisely to the existing tempo and pitch of the track.
Cotinued in The Art of Remixing – part two – coming soon!
Simon entered his professional music career at the age of 20, signing three major recording contracts and working as a composer, performer, producer and live artist. He has written and performed on 35 albums, composed film soundtracks and themes for television, and played live performances in the UK, Europe, USA and Asia.