Making a remix or bootleg is always different from an original. Sometimes it can be easier because the ideas already exist, and other times it can be more difficult.
Just like an original, it’s hard to know where to start. You sit down at your DAW with endless possibilities and combinations of sounds in front of you. It’s overwhelming.
Whether you’re remixing a song for a competition, have been contracted an official remix for a release, or cooking up a cheeky bootleg of a popular song, these tips are for you. Read on and get inspired!
1. Pick the Right Song
Pick a song that you think would benefit from a remix. You’re more likely to follow through with a remix if you like the original idea(s). This is even more important if you’re making a bootleg and don’t have access to any stems; you need to pick a song that leaves room for work to be done.
Note: this also applies when being asked to do remixes. If a label asks you to do a remix and you aren’t a fan of it, why not ask if there are other releases that need to be remixed?
2. Listen for the Gaps
After choosing a song to remix, take a good listen to the original and write down any ideas that come to mind while doing so. You might hear a new drum beat in one section, or you might think that a subtle pluck melody would work well with the vocal line in the breakdown.
This takes a bit of practice, and you might not come across any ideas. If so, don’t worry; just move on with your remix, forming ideas inside your DAW.
3. Form a Game Plan
Having a general plan that you can refer back to when stuck in a rut is invaluable. It helps you stay on task and work on the important. And despite what many argue, planning does not inhibit creativity!
Before starting a remix, why not do a bit of brainstorming? If you’ve got ideas from tip #2, then this is the time to write them down.
The result? You’ll sit down to produce your remix with clear intentions and objectives instead of blankly staring at the screen feeling sorry for yourself.
4. Listen to Other Remixes
Listening to other remixes is a great way to spark some thought and creativity. I recommend listening to remixes of the same song you’re trying to remix, or remixes of similar songs. However, be careful when doing this as it’s easy to end up copying the remix too closely. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by a remix and gathering a few ideas, but be wary of similarity.
5. Cut and Choose Your Material (Bootlegs)
If you don’t have access to an acapella or any other stems, you’re going to need to identify which parts of the original track you want to, and can, use. You’ll find that certain sections can’t be used at all, simply because there’s too much going on. I might, for example, take out the intro, outro, and choruses of an original track and only use the breakdown which contains a vocal, then build upon that.
Note: some songs have very little going on, e.g., piano and vocals. These tracks are a joy to bootleg as a lot of the content can be used.
6. Work WITH the Material
Respect the original track and its content and you’ll have a much easier time remixing it. Working withthe material given to you instead of against it is essential. It isn’t wise to turn an original track that’s in 4/4 time signature into 3/4, and a label won’t accept your “remix” if there isn’t a trace of the original track in it. Respect the original and work with the content given to you.
7. Arrangement ASAP
One of the main reasons people don’t finish remixes is because they don’t get the arrangement down soon enough. Just like building a game plan, the arrangement gives you a sense of direction and allows you to step back to look at how your remix is developing as a whole.
As soon as you have ideas down, sketch out a basic arrangement. You should have it down quicker than you would normally when working on an original, because you already have a few ideas handed to you.
Note: this is extra important when working on bootlegs where you’re cutting and choosing material.
8. Keep it Similar
A remix doesn’t have to be incredibly contrasted to the original. Sometimes you might just want to add a little extra to the original, or expand on ideas. You’ll often hear remixes where the artist has changed just the bassline and drums, but kept the overall vibe of the song.
This doesn’t work for every remix, but sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed. Don’t be afraid to keep it similar and add a slight touch.
9. Use Parts of the Original Track
Using parts of the original track for fills and transitions is a great way to spice up your remix. For example, 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. There are many other ways to use the original audio, so get creative!
Oh, you want some ideas?
- 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.
10. Create Your Own Melody
Creating your own chord progression or melody in a remix offers yet another level of originality and can often be a tasteful twist. Take the Teqq Remix of Tritonal’s “Now or Never” for example.
Listen to the original:
Listen to the remix:
Not only is it ultra fun, but you learn a lot about how other people work and often end up in a more motivated and creative state than you would working by yourself.
Collaborating on a remix is just as fun, if not more fun than collaborating on an original. You’ll both have different opinions on the original track, and you’ll both come up with different ideas.
13. Create and Add a Musical Signature
Having your own musical signature is a great way to give the listener a sense of cohesion among all your tracks, it also helps them remember you. not talking about a style as such, but rather something small and unique that doesn’t detract from the main idea or vibe of the song.
Wrapping it Up
Remixes should be enjoyable, they shouldn’t take months, and you should aim to be creative. Next time you do a remix, why not use a few of these tips? Try adding a second hook, or collaborating.