Remixing a Song - Everything you need to know

Conjure new tracks from familiar melodies

"I know that song, don't I...? But it's kind of different." – If that's what you're thinking, you're probably listening to a remix.  Remixing unfamiliar songs has become an art form in its own right, among DJs and producers in particular, and this is no less important than producing your own tracks.

Remixing is easier than ever before

Digitization has created almost unlimited possibilities for remixing. Whereas remixing used to be a traditional way of mixing music that involved a purely acoustic processing of the source material, today it often produces completely new tracks that have only a few aspects in common with the original.

In the '80s, studios were still dealing with audio tapes, these days song parts, samples and tracks can be sent, uploaded, downloaded and exchanged more easily than ever before. In the graphic user interface of DAW (digital audio workstation) software, these parts are then moved around, rearranged, combined and new beats or melodic arches can be added to them. Once you're familiar with the functional principle of the music program, it works on a completely intuitive level.

The technology for mixing music is now easier to use and it's also much more affordable too. All you need is a commercially available PC, and music software such as MAGIX Music Maker. can be downloaded free of charge.  Simply install it and you're ready to mix your music!

Where do you get material for remixing?

If you are more or less familiar with your music mixing program and are able to arrange samples, build beats and record digital instruments, you might want to take use some external material with which you can work creatively. But where can you get this? There are many options:

  • Direktes Sampling: The easiest way is to simply process a song from CD or mp3. However, most songs can't be considered for this, because the majority of them are already quite packed full of musical elements. However, you can still use instrumental or vocal breaks from them. The fewer voices or instruments you hear in one part, the more suitable the part is to mix with new music.  A famous example is "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega – the original is a purely a cappella piece, which became a huge hit when it was remixed with a beat.
  • Internet search: It's surprisingly easy to get the original single tracks of many hits nowadays. These are, for example, extracted from games like Rock Band, for which record companies provide songs in single tracks. Use search terms such as artist plus title plus "a capella" (for isolated vocals), "vocals", "multitrack" (when the instruments are in isolated tracks) or "stems" (a grouped collection of audio sources). If you can only find what you want on YouTube, you can download the audio tracks using a converter program.
  • Remix contests: Sometimes bands or artists make their own songs available in stems and actively request their music to be remixed.
  • Sample provider: Numerous sites have established themselves as legal sources of legally watertight samples. These offer both free and paid-for sample packs, which are sometimes even created by well-known producers.  Examples here are Producer Planet and the in-app Store, which offer a variety of instrumental tracks and loops for free use.
  • Online communities/personal contacts: As is often, the personal way is probably the most pleasant. You might know other musicians who would be interested in you creating a remix of their song. Or you can find like-minded people on artist communities such as Communication is key. Plus, you can always learn new things by swapping info with others.

The legal question – what can be used?

The legal question – what can be used?

Unlike cover versions, remixes require approval. If you use original parts of another song to mix new music, you are required to obtain permission from the creators and rights holders – this is usually managed by the music publisher.  Even if you don't make money with your remix, and post it online for free, you would be guilty of unauthorized distribution and reproduction of the remixed work (or parts thereof). That's it in theory, anyway.

In practice, though, people remix music like crazy. No publisher has the means to legally prosecute each and every basement project, mash-up artist on YouTube or copyright infringement. Established names such as Bushido or Moses Pelham have had legal issues, but it would hardly be worth taking legal action against amateur artists.  With unauthorized remix material, there's always a certain amount of risk, but many remix producers just shrug their shoulders and get on with it.

Tips for a successful remix

Now you have the audio files: so how do you get started?

  • Before you start mixing music, think about your intention. Making a song into a dance remix?  Then mix in fuller beats. You might want to transport the song into another genre Or change the mood from sad to happy, or vice versa. Maybe you have a different idea for the chord sequence under the vocals. Or you might want to combine two different pieces. There are tons of options, so a basic idea really helps you to plan your remix.
  • The most important thing at the beginning is the song tempo: it's best to know this before you start. Cutting loops to fit and pulling them onto the grid can take a little patience. As is often the case, practice makes perfect.  Some audio mixers like Music Maker have special functions for this that simplify working with the sound material. Other loops can be edited to adapt to the project using pitch shift and time stretching functions.

Keep things exciting, since music thrives on contrasts and variation. Add more and more elements, increase intensity, change dynamic suddenly, modify key or instrumentation – all this will keep your listeners hooked.  Don't use up all your energy right at the start of the track, instead, work towards a climax (or several). Then, bring the listener out again – or stop when it's at its best.  The art of a good track is to keep the music flowing without making the listener bored.

Play around with effects: The original song already exists, so for the remix you can really distort the source material for all it's worth. Use distortion to really muddy the waters. Create more depth with increased reverb and delay for vocals. Play around with long-lasting delay effects at song tempo. Filter gradients are a proven way to add interesting elements to the mix. At the end of the day, any program will provide you with a huge toolkit of functions for creating new sounds, so try it out and surprise yourself! Many great moments in music history were not created by chance ...

Last but not least: Take a break every now and then to give yourself a bit of space and distance so you can then listen to your remix with fresh ears.

Final thoughts

Music mixing is a form of art – but these days, it's a very accessible one. With digital solutions and easy-to-use programs like MAGIX Music Maker, anyone can easily create a remix that sounds professional. And above all, it's lots of fun – just give it a try!

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