Chapter 1: Why Remix?
Official remixes are always a great way to open your mind to new ideas. When taking on someone else’s stems, you may see a new technique to incorporate into your next single!Shanahan
Remixing, as I’m sure you know, is a fundamental part of electronic music culture.
In its purest form, the remix dates back decades. Using the wider definition? Centuries.
Let’s have a quick look at where it all came from.
A Brief History of Remixing
Some will argue that the birth of remixing took place with the birth of music.
You know, Gred, the caveman, came up with his own “caveman grunt” arrangement. Ol’ Thag came along and tried imitating him, except Thag had a stutter which caused him to effectively create a derivative of Gred’s grunt arrangement.
But this isn’t really remixing. At least, not if we look at the purest definition of the word in the context of music.
“A version of a musical recording produced by remixing.”Wikipedia
True remixing (man, I almost sound as bad as a vinyl purist) was born with the genesis of recorded sound in the late 19th century.
However, music wasn’t cool back then. There weren’t any bangers. So it didn’t really gain traction until the 1940s when real music appeared on the scene.
I’m joking, of course. Great music was made in the 19th century, along with every century before it. But the potential of remixing wasn’t realized until the 40s.
Fritz Pfleumer – Curriculum Vitae – 1932
Accomplishments: Invented magnetic tape for recording sound.
You likely wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t for Fritz Pfleumer, a German-Austrian engineer responsible for inventing magnetic tape, a technology that revolutionized the world of broadcasting and recording.
I won’t delve in to how magnetic tape works. I don’t have the patience and I failed science in high school.
One fun fact is that the technology was kept secret by the Nazis for a long period of time. It wasn’t until after the war that a bunch of Americans brought it out of Germany and made it commercially viable (thanks Obam- Franklin D. Roosevelt!)
Following the advent of magnetic tape and its rise in commercial use, multitrack recording was soon developed in tandem with the experimental electroacoustic genre named Musique Concrète, which used tape manipulation to create sound compositions.
But we’re not quite there yet.
Remixing, as we know it today, didn’t begin until the late 60s in Jamaica.
Local engineers would mix, rearrange, and rebuild tracks to suit different audiences. Notables such as Ruddy Redwood, King Tubby, and Lee “Scratch” Perry made stripped-down instrumental mixes of reggae tunes, which started out simple but became more complex over time through the addition of effects like reverb and delay.
Then, everything changed when
the fire nation attacked Tom Moulton came along.
Tom Moulton – Curriculum Vitae
Accomplishments: Nothing major. I only invented the remix, breakdown, and 12-inch single vinyl format.
Dropping fire mixtapes
During the mid-1970s, DJs were employing creative tricks such as looping and tape edits to keep audiences interested.
But Tom Moulton wasn’t a DJ.
After making a homemade mix tape for a Fire Island dance club in late 1960s, he quickly became a key figure in the dance music industry, and went on to create what we call the “breakdown” section in music as well as the 12-inch single vinyl format.
Remixing became more and more popular throughout the 70s and 80s, taking on new forms and pushing boundaries. Today, it’s something that almost every producer dabbles in. Hence this article.
Remixes are popular, but are they worth doing?
There’s a lot of conflicting advice on the internet, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s worth focusing solely on originals or remixes too.
While you can build a successful career and make good music without doing any remixes, you really have to ask yourself…why wouldn’t you remix?
Remixing is a skill
…and the sooner you learn it, the better.
The ability to take something as simple as a vocal track and arrange a completely different track underneath is a skill.
The creative effort involved in taking a popular track and transforming it into something that can be enjoyed by a completely different market is a skill.
The focus required to not make a remix that sounds too similar to the original is a skill.
And guess what?
The skills you learn through remixing can be directly applied to your own productions. If you lack the connections to work with vocalists, you can practice working with vocals by doing remixes. If you’re not great at writing melodies, why not remix a few tracks that feature great melodies and learn in the process?
Remixing builds your brand
Do you know how many touring artists have built their career off remixes and bootlegs?
But I know it’s a lot.
You reach more than one market
Remixes are a great way to build your brand because they involve more than one artist, and therefore, more than one market.
Let’s say you’re a deep house producer. At the time of writing this, deep house is fairly popular. It’s not foreign to the mainstream audience.
Kelsey, who’s 15 years old, isn’t a diehard fan of deep house. She doesn’t even know what it is despite hearing deep house songs on the radio. She is, however, a diehard fan of Years & Years.
You happen to write a remix of a popular track from that group and upload it to Soundcloud and YouTube. Kelsey is browsing YouTube, and because all she does with her time is listen to bands like Years & Years, she sees a video recommended for her. It’s your remix.
Because Years & Years is the other artist in the remix, you have the potential to reach fans of that artist who otherwise wouldn’t listen to your work.
You get attention from other artists
One example of the power of remixing comes from an EDMProd follower who emailed me a while back. He listened to episode 19 of the EDM Prodcast with Jaytech, and decided to remix one of the tracks from his album Blackout.
Jaytech liked it and played it on his radio show.
Would Jaytech have played an original track of his? Maybe, but by leveraging the artist’s name and music, he has more of a chance.
There are many more cases like this where a producer has taken initiative and made an unsolicited remix then pitched it to the original artist or label that the original was released on.
It builds your network
Not to delve in to the intricacies of networking itself, but a great way to build your network is to start small and climb up the ladder.
Trying to become friends with Axwell by getting in direct contact with him probably won’t work unless he knows you. It’s much better to start off by connecting with people 4-5 steps underneath him and then building up.
But the ethical way to network and build friends is to offer them value first, and what better way to do that than by remixing a track?
If you write a damn good remix of someone’s track, and it becomes somewhat popular, you can leverage that achievement to do a remix of another track from an artist who’s one rung higher on the ladder. Rinse and repeat.
It can be easier than making original music
I say can so that you don’t start raging. I know what EDM producers are like when it comes to sensitive subjects like the difficulty of making a remix.
Here’s the thing. Whenever a new producer asks me whether doing remixes are worth it, I always say “HELL YES” and then explain why.
In a perfect world, all new producers would focus only on remaking existing tracks for a year, but I know this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
The reason I recommend new producers focus on remixes is because they are often easier than writing originals. A lot of the time, you’re provided with MIDI, samples, ideas. You’re not starting from scratch.
This is also the reason why I recommend remixing to those stuck in long-term creative ruts. Starting from scratch is daunting, especially if you haven’t come up with good ideas in a while. Remixing circumvents the need to come up with completely original ideas–to start from scratch–and allows you to get started with something straight away.
You learn a lot
I still remember making my first remix. It was for a remix competition which, because I’d been producing for all of 3 months, I obviously didn’t win.
I downloaded a remix pack containing vocals, samples, and a ton of MIDI files.
As I started the remix, I dragged in some of the MIDI files and sat there in awe…
I didn’t know you could write a melody like that!
I learned a hell of a lot, and you can bet that I wrote my next original melody in a very particular way.
Remix competitions are a MASSIVE learning tool, largely because you get access to professionally made source material. You can analyze how the artist has written their melodies and chord progressions, how they’ve processed the vocals, and so forth.
It’s great practice
When working on remix compared to an original, you focus on a different set of skills.
When you’re writing an original track, your focus might lie in the composition – writing a great melody, crafting a chord progression, writing lyrics, etc.
When working on a remix, your focus might be on editing stems – chopping them up and manipulating them, or re-arranging them. It might be on rewriting an existing melody, or tweaking certain notes.
The skills that you learn remixing can be applied to original compositions too, which makes remixing a great practice. You develop skills that you may not develop otherwise.
The other reason remixing is great practice is that it allows you to bypass the initial idea generation stage. When you’re remixing a track, you have ideas set out in front of you.
Sometimes, it might just be a vocal. Other times you’ll have a few MIDI tracks. At any rate, you’ve got something. You’re not starting from square one.
What this means is that if you’re going through a dry period in terms of creativity where you can’t come up with anything decent, you can do a remix. You won’t have to come up with something novel because you’ve already got a decent starting point. Your job is to take the ideas that exist and present them in a new way.
It helps you think creatively
Remixing helps you think creatively.
Yes, you have ideas given to you, but how you present these ideas is dependent on your ability to be creative.
Let’s say you’re given a deep house track to remix and you want to turn it into a drum n bass track. Doing this requires some degree of problem solving ability and creativity. It’s not an easy thing to do.
So you come up with creative solutions. You’re forced into doing something you might not have done were you working on an original.