The Art Of The Remix
The concept of remixing has changed over the course of the last few decades since it was pioneered by Tom Mouton in the disco era, and I have witnessed it first hand being a professional remixer since the late 80’s, and Diddy no more invented the remix then Al Gore invented the Internet. In the early days of the craft, remixing involved reel to reels and many times just extending the original, some rearranging and liberties with the tracks and adding some effects. There were no digital editing suites, no Protools or VST plug ins. You couldn’t time stretch a part without running the tape faster or slower and then processing it through an Evantide harmonizer to pitch it back up or down.
Today the concept of the remix is almost more important then then original composition. In a way, the original mix is pretty much the starting point for what will eventually be remixed to make it a hit. Examples of this date back to some standout remixes that either overshadowed the original, or made the original a hit and brought the artist along for the ride, or took the artist into a totally new realm. Some prime ones would be Todd Terry’s remix of “Missing” by Everything But The Girl”, Armand Van Helden’s remixes or “Spin Spin Sugar“, “Sugar Is Sweeter” and “Professional Widow” by Sneaker Pimps, CJ Bolland, and Tori Amos respectively (The first two I had never heard of the artist before the remix), any of the David Morales remixes of Mariah Carey (who got her to recut the vocals in some cases) and the Jason Nevins VS Run D.M.C. remix of “Its Like That” (which also started the whole “VS” thing). Remixers commanded large fees for their remixes partly due to the the high studio costs and specialty of the producers, something that has definitely changed with the proliferation of home studios and massive competition.
Fast forward to the present, where any 15 year old with access to a computer and a freely downloadable digital editing app can be a remixer. You no longer need a studio full of keyboards, outboard gear and a mixer. All that can be done “inside the box” so to speak. This has definitely been a game changer since making a remix no longer requires the financial costs of a studio nor the curve associated with learning all the equipment. While it has turned bedroom producers posting Ableton Live wielded bootlegs on blogs into superstar remixers, it has also turned the playing field into a muddy mess at times as quality control has declined over the years to a point where someone merely speeding up a track and posting it on YouTube calls themselves a remixer.
What a remix IS or ISN’T can be debated eternally, and the line between “official” versus “bootleg” remixes has become less important as the Internet has made everyone a possible contender and every genre has it’s own set of “go to” key players when it comes to remixers. Labels nowadays don’t have access to the same resources they used to and many times either go with the same remixers, or whatever name has popped up on their radar. While this is fine, often times it is the bootlegs or mash-ups that appear that really become the popular remixes. There are even outlets like DJ City, Crooklyn Clan and countless blogs that cater to those unofficial remixes. While the term quality is subjective here, I think that since it has been so easy to grab an acapella and go to town, less time has been spent on the engineering and even purpose of all the remixes that pop up. Does every LMFAO or Lil’ Wayne release need 100 electro house remixes? (By the way for anyone actually reading this, ELECTRO and ELECTRO HOUSE are two different things and should not be freely interchangeable). Becasue you CAN doesn’t always mean you SHOULD. Not every Biggie acapella needs to be mashed with whatever track is huge at the moment, year after year (I can’t imagine we need a dubstep remix of “Hypnotize” but I’m sure that’s in the works).
It has become almost commonplace for DJs to craft their own edits and reworks of records to either make them more suitable for their sets and crowds or for the blogs and I myself edit almost 80% of all the records I spin just to make them more dancefloor friendly. A decade ago, making mash-ups and bootlegs would never have propelled you into rock star status but we live in a world where you have access to countless methods of making your remixes heard such as Soundcloud, YouTube, and blogs. In the hip hop community, most big tracks get the track flip and add an MC remix almost as soon as the original is released. A perfect recent example is the Wiz Khalifa “Black & Yellow” G-mix remix featuring Snoop Dog although my favorite mix out of the dozen bootlegs that surfaced is still the DJ Kue mix.
Whether you are approaching a remix from the ground up with just an acapella or stems, or giving the original a retooling I always think of the purpose of the remix. Some people get remixes because of their name or track record, some because of their sound or even because you happen to be the nephew of the A & R guy and no genre is safe from the remix. Far too often, I hear remixes that basically forsake the artist and deliver a mix that neither works with the artist, or the genre the remix was intended for. There is a fine line between a cool remix and a functional one. When a remix totally ignores the artist or feeling of the track and you just slap any acapella over whatever formula you have, you usually end up with crap more then brilliance. Certain remixers have built a reputation by constantly turning out proper remixes. One that immediately comes to mind is Dave Aude, as a Billboard reporter I see his name on more records I receive then everyone else combined. He is the crown prince of mainstream club remixes with more #1 Billboard remixes then anyone, and embodies the “The real focus is on the artist and the song,” mentality. Sometimes you know the remix is all about the name recognition more then the production. While I personally have nothing against Skrillex, seeing his name on a Lady Gaga record screams “Your name has a lot of buzz and we have lots of money to throw at you so we can put your name in the remix package”. There are pretty much no rules anymore unless a label or artist has a specific direction for the remix.
Sometimes even a particular sound will dictate the trend of remixes for a period of time. A few years back when deadmau5 did “Not Exactly” it set off a trend for productions a remixes that still exists today using that side-chained filtered saw wave sound. Many of deadmau5’s own remixes and productions utilized it including two of my favorites “Move For Me” produced with Kaskade and his remix of Medina’s “You & I” as well as Wolfgang Gartner’s remix of Tiesto’s “I Will be Here“. Heck side-chaining itself has been a massive trend lately. Dutch house is still a big remix direction with artists like Chuckie, Afrojack and Sydney Samson turning out a steady stream of remixes. Now it seems as if there is a tie between the Swedish House Mafia peak hour sound and dubstep as the remixing style du jour.
To me, the process has always been the part I liked the most. Sitting with an acapella locked to a kick is like sitting in front of a huge pile of clay. There are so many things you can do, but finding the right form is a journey. As a musician I approach my remixes differently then others that plot out the parts on their DAWs piano roll. There is no right or wrong way to craft a remix. In fact, many of the most famous producers in the electronic music genre can’t play a note on a keyboard, and many remixers still rely on keyboard players and engineers (which goes back to the person sometimes getting hired because of their name more then their studio skills). Whether you can play every part or rely on sample libraries in the end it’s the music that matters.