Chapter 2: Gathering Material & Finding Opportunities
To remix, you need existing material.
But you already knew that. What you might not know is how to get that material.
In this chapter, I’m going to run through several ways you can get access to stems for remixing. Some you will already know of, others you might not have thought about.
I only work with songs that I feel are great to begin with. I want to be able to hear a direction that I can take it to that isn’t the same as the song. So if it’s a really soft, sad song, I’d turn it into quite the opposite. I just take the vocal and then write a complete new original track underneath.Flume
Finding the right track
It’s easy to start remixes – it’s hard to finish them.
When you’re looking for remix opportunities, it’s a good idea to get clear on what you’re actually looking for.
If you produce every genre under the sun, or don’t care much for genres, then this doesn’t really apply to you.
But if you consider yourself to be a [insert genre here] producer, e.g., “I’m a trance producer,” then it can be worth choosing opportunities based on the style of music you produce.
Due to the nature of remixing, there’s a fair bit of wiggle room. A trance producer can remix a dubstep track that has a vocal, and vice versa. Most remix opportunities will benefit from multiple genres, but there’s something else that needs to be considered…
If you have a signature style, then naturally, some remix opportunities won’t be ideal. For instance, if your signature sound is deep, dark, rolling techno, then remixing an upbeat melodic funky house track might not be ideal. That doesn’t mean you can only take advantage of remix competitions that feature deep, dark, rolling techno tracks, it could be a more suitable genre like 140BPM tech trance, or industrial ambient/IDM music.
Another question you need to ask yourself is how difficult do you want this to be?
There’s a massive difference between making a 128BPM progressive house remix of a 175BPM drum n bass track and making the same style of remix of a 120BPM house track. It’s just going to be easier to manipulate and manage stems (especially if vocals are involved).
If you have no other option, or simply want to challenge yourself, then the former is great. But if you want to remix for the sake of remixing, then why wouldn’t you make it easier on yourself?
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?
Of course you have.
Songs get stuck in your head partly because they’re catchy, and partly because you listen to them a lot.
When you’re browsing through potential tracks to remix, you should listen briefly to get an idea of what they feature (in terms of vocals and composition), and then either move on or decide to remix.
What you shouldn’t do is pick a track to remix, and then listen to the original ten times before starting your remix. Doing this will severely decrease your chances of coming up with something creative.
You’ll hear the vocal, or one of the stems, and you’ll be reminded of everything else in the track. Subconsciously, you’ll end up making something similar to the original.
And even if you don’t make something similar, you’ve probably lowered your potential to make something truly creative.
Ideally, you want to scan through the original track (you don’t even have to listen to the whole thing, just click the track at certain points to get an idea), and then start on the original straight away. You’ll be forced to work with what you’ve got – you won’t have a reference.
Flume agrees – “I usually try to not listen to the original too much. I like to get the track almost out of context. That helps creating something totally different and weird.”
There are many ways to get your hands on material for remixing. Some approaches will allow you to work on an official remix, others will not. Some approaches require you to be a fairly proficient and established producer, others do not.
The approaches you take are up to you. But, before we get into ’em, a quick public service announcement…
You don’t need everything
Many artists make the mistake of choosing remix opportunities (especially those in the form of contests) based on the lack of source material on offer.
They’ll reject remix competitions that only offer an acapella. That don’t include MIDI or other stems. I’ve seen people avoid remix competitions simply because the BPM and/or key weren’t stated!
But I get it. That was me. I used to scroll through remix competitions looking for ones that had the BPM and key clearly advertised, and included a lot of stems. Why? It was nothing more than laziness – if the BPM and key were shown, and there were a lot of stems, I got to do less work.
The fact of the matter is, you don’t need everything. If you’re doing a remix and you’ve been given every stem from the original song, it’s typically unwise to use them all, and you might even be at a disadvantage as you’ve got to fight the urge to take the easy route and use more of the original stems (resulting in a less original remix).
Something as simple as an acapella is all you need. Sure, it’s more difficult to work from than a fully fledged remix package, but that’s actually a great thing – it forces you to be more creative.
So, as you look to gather material and find opportunities – don’t discount them based on what they offer. If it’s something as simple as one MIDI file containing the lead melody, then go for it.
I thought I’d start with remix competitions as they’re one of the easiest and most common ways to get involved with remixing.
Anyone can enter a remix competion. It doesn’t matter whether you’re tall, short, have been producing for 5 years or 5 months. Even Sony Acid Pro users can enter remix competitions.
However, keep in mind that unless you win the competition, any remix you make will not be an official remix. If you’re a newer producer, you have less of a chance to win remix competitions than those who’ve been producing for a long time, so it’s worth seeing remix competitions as a means to practice rather than win.
We’ll get into the fascinating realm of copyright law later on in the guide. Back to remix comps.
Where to find remix competitions
Some remix competitions are ran independently (at the time of writing this, I was a sponsor of a remix competition run by Heroic Recordings and Cymatics). Others are run through a platform like Beatport Play.
There isn’t a huge amount of difference between independent competitions and platform-based competitions, but you can expect a lot more competition (heh) with the latter as well as a voting system.
We’ll cover the intricacies of remix competitons (and advice for winning them) in chapter 6. This chapter is about gathering material, so where can you find remix competitions to gather material from?
Beatport play is one of the more popular platforms, and if you’re looking to actually win a competition run by Beatport, you better have connections and brand equity.
However, because the competitions usually feature tracks by big artists, you can get insight into how they put things together, and access to professionally made material. You’ll need to sign up for an account, but following that the process is pretty straightforward.
A social network for musicians and also a popular remix competition host, Indaba can be a great way to get your hands on good material.
The only downside is that you’ll only be able to enter a limited number of competitions before you register for a premium account, which costs, but may be justified if you want to make a lot of remixes.
Remix Comps aggregates all major remix competitions (and smaller ones) so you can find them all in one place.
I use this site personally to find competitions, and I recommend you do as well.
Finding independent competitions
As mentioned above, some remix competitions are run through platforms and others are run independently.
If you want to keep an eye out for independent competitions, there are a few ways to do it:
- Follow labels & artists that regularly do remix competitions (Heroic Recordings being one of them)
- Search Soundcloud for “remix contests” or “remix competitions”
- Set up a Google alert for “remix contest(s)” or “remix competition(s)”
Pitching Artists & Labels
One way to gather material and take part in remixing is to pitch individual artists and labels.
A lot of producers shy away from doing this because they believe they aren’t good enough–or established enough–for the artist or label to care about the.
Now, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to effectively pitch a label like Anjunabeats or Spinnin’ Records for an official remix opportunity after producing for a mere 6 months, but there are millions of upcoming producers who’d be flattered if you asked to remix their track.
The Beginner’s Approach
If you’re a new producer, (between stages 1-3 in this article), then it’s worth taking this exact approach. If you’re more advanced, simply change the variables (seek artists who have a bigger fanbase, etc.)
Step 1: Find an artist to pitch
Before pitching, you need to find someone to actually pitch.
The best way to do this is to leverage music-sharing platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud. You want to be looking for artists who have a small following, as they’ll be less inundated with requests and more likely to respond. An artist with over 100,000 followers probably won’t have much time to respond to your message, and if they do, it will likely be a “no” due to contractual obligations or the mere fact that they don’t want people they don’t know to remix their work.
Let’s start with YouTube.
Using YouTube’s filter search
A great method for finding smaller artists is YouTube’s advanced search.
This method requires a bit of digging, but it’s worth it. If you simply searched “small EDM producer” on YouTube, you wouldn’t find what you’re looking for.
What you want to do is search for your desired genre (mine is progressive house) and then filter by upload date. I like to pick “Today,” but if it’s a super popular genre you might want to pick last hour.
Straight away I see an upload with 221 views, on a channel with ~8000 subscribers. After clicking through to the artist’s page, I find he has just over 500 subscribers. So far so good.
A quick Google search shows me that he has approximately 1300 followers on Soundcloud, 100 likes on Facebook, and 23 followers on Twitter.
This is an excellent artist to pitch, and it took me less than 5 minutes to find him. His Soundcloud bio tells me that he lives in England, and has a contact email address, which takes me to step 2.
The brilliant thing about Soundcloud is that it’s incredibly easy to see who follows who, and you can quickly audition someone’s music to find out what level they’re at, as well as see how well-known they are.
Let’s say I visit the Soundcloud profile of the artist I found on YouTube and decide that he’s too well-known and is probably not worth pitching. Or his bio says something like “no remix requests.” What I can do is use his profile to find other artists that might be more willing.
I scroll down to his followers (it’s often a better idea to look through the followers list rather than the list of people the artist is following, as the latter will usually include big profile artists), and start browsing.
It’s good to have a criteria for picking potential artists to pitch. You don’t want to individually click on 1300+ artists and work out whether they’re worth pitching or not.
Your criteria might be as follows:
- A reasonable, non-spammy name
- Between 200-500 followers
- A non-ugly logo
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Sam, what about all the great artists with under 200 followers, ugly logos, and spammy names!
The thing is, you’ve got to add filters like this to manage everything. You simply can’t individually assess 1000 artists. It’s inefficient.
Step 2: The pitch
Before pitching, it’s worth doing a bit of study on the artist. Listen to some of their other tracks, get an idea for who they are, what they like, and so forth.
The artist I’ve found has several brilliant tracks, but I’ve picked one in particular that I want to remix, which we’ll call Memories (that’s not the real name of the track, I’m not sharing this information as I don’t want him to be bombarded with remix requests!).
Because he has a contact email address, and he’s clearly stated that it is indeed a contact email address, I’ll pitch him through email instead of Soundcloud or YouTube message (if no email address is provided then pitching through Soundcloud or Facebook message is ideal).
How to pitch
When pitching, it’s important to keep it short and simple. Don’t send a 500-word pitch. No one wants to read a novel. A few paragraphs will do.
Remember, the person your pitching will listen to your music, so make sure you’re showcasing your best work. Ultimately, your music will be the most important piece in your pitch.
I recommend watching Budi Voogt’s Art of Pitching video that I’ve posted here on EDMProd, but if you want some cliff notes, here’s what constitutes a good pitch:
- A good pitch is personalised, sent to someone’s personal email and addressed to the first name.
- It’s targeted and matched perfectly to the person you’re reaching out to.
- You haven’t included any attachments.
- You’ve ideally made contact with this person before (it can be worth complimenting the artist a week before you ask for a remix opportunity, just so you’re not going in cold)
- Be clear and confident
Artist Pitch Template
Hi [first name],
Hope you’re well.
I just came across a song of yours on YouTube and was so impressed I just had to look into you more. You’ve gained a new fan.
My name’s Sam Matla, which is also my artist name. I primarily make progressive house and have had releases on X, Y, and Z, one of which you can listen to here (insert link).
I’d really like to remix your track [insert track name]. I had so many ideas run through my head while listening to it. All I’d need from you is the vocal stem.
Let me know if this is possible!
The above pitch is brief, clear, and it compliments the artist being pitched.
Note: if you don’t get a response, it’s reasonable to follow up a week or so later. Just say something along the lines of “Hey [name], just wondering if you saw this? Thanks.”
Pitching labels is slightly different, and could be deemed more difficult depending on what label you’re trying to pitch.
It’s very difficult to pitch labels without some sort of track record or back catalog. Labels not only have a ton of unofficial remixes to deal with, they also get a lot of requests for remixes, so you have to stand out.
One thing that helps you stand out is the quality of your music, and if that’s not there, then you should hold off on pitching labels, unless you want to pitch a smaller label because you really like a release on there.
Another thing that helps you stand out is a good pitch. Here’s a template you can use…
Label Pitch Template
Hi [name of A&R/manager],
Hope you’re well.
I’m [name], and I make [genre] music under [alias]. I’m a big fan of [release] and given that it’s just come out I was wondering if you’re looking for a remix.
If so, I’d love to help out. I’ve had past releases on [insert labels], have been supported by [insert key artists], and am always looking for new opportunities.
Let me know if there’s a possiblity of remixing this track or another.
Thanks for your time.
Other ways to gather material
Besides remixing and pitching artists or labels, there aren’t too many other ways to gather material for remixing.
One approach could be to search Soundcloud for the keyword “stems,” but if you do that, you should still really contact the owner of the stems and see if you’re allowed to remix them (you probably are if they’re uploaded as stems, but you should still ask).
Another approach could be to use a site like Splice, but again, you should contact the owner.
Finally, you could sample tracks, but that would mean you’re infringing on copyright and you’d have to call it a bootleg (unofficial remix). We’ll get more into the legal ramifications of doing stuff like this in chapter 5, but it is an approach.
How to get approached for remixes
What if, instead of having to pitch labels and artists, you were the one who got pitched?
Well, the good news is, you can get to that level. It takes a certain level of skill and effort, but it’s possible.
So, how can you improve your chances of getting pitched?
1. Have good branding
Branding is essential. If you have good branding, you’re more likely to get approached.
Make sure you’ve got professionally taken press photos or clean graphics. A decent cover photo on all social platforms, and congruity between them all.
Make sure you’re active on Facebook and Twitter, and your Soundcloud profile doesn’t feature tracks that are too old (you should have some recent work on there).
Showcase your best work. Don’t upload WIPs just to show off your sound design skill. Upload finished tracks – labels want to hear finished work to judge your ability.
2. Develop a distinctive sound
You don’t need a signature sound to get approached for remixes, but it certainly helps, as labels may feel a release would benefit from your signature sound. There’s a reason why Madeon is one of the most in-demand remixers (at least he was last time I checked).
3. Build relationships with other producers and labels
The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true to an extent. Connections and friendships are what makes this industry work. If you don’t have them, you’re simply not going to encounter as many opportunities.
Start making an effort to build your network. Take a strategic approach (read this book). Connect with artists at the same skill level as you and higher – you never know who knows who.
4. Make noise
The electronic music scene is saturated. You don’t have to look far to realize that.
How do you stand out?
You make noise. Commentate on events in the industry, be controversial if you must. Craft your own voice, your own persona. Put out content beyond music.