How to create a killer remix

If you’re an electronic music producer, remixes are an essential part of the game – for pretty much every genre.


Remixing other artists can be a great way to get exposure and to further hone your skills, and can also pave a way towards producing for other artists.

There’s a lot to think about when approaching a remix, so make sure you read our essential tips and get yourself well equipped to tackle one when it comes along.

Before you get going, it’s important to note that to be able to release a remix through Spinnup you must get written permission from the rights holders in both the sound recording and the composition of the original song you are remixing. That means the people who own the actual audio you listen to (the artist/the label) AND then also anyone who had a hand in creating the track (songwriters/publishers)


For more information and to make sure you’re covered, read our guide on what you need to create a remix.


The deal

First thing’s first: make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.


You need to agree the terms of the remix before you start work on it. That means how and when you’ll get paid and how much you’ll get paid. You should deal with it just like you would a recording contract if you signed your original music to a label.


Some labels, artists and management companies will try and get you to do a remix for free, claiming that the ‘exposure’ is worth your time. When you’re just getting started, you could consider doing one or two for free, but you should not let yourself be exploited like this as a regularity.


Typically, a remixer receives a one-time remix fee for their work. How much you can get for that may be up for negotiation, but if you don’t have much of a name yet, then you are more likely to be offered a fixed fee.


If no fee is offered, ask for a percentage of the writer’s royalties on your remix. This means that you will be listed as a co-writer on the track, and will be due the agreed portion of royalties that it generates. In some lucky situations where the remix becomes very successful, this could end up making more money than a remix fee. It’s the least a label can do if they can’t offer you a proper fee.


Some artists like to offer each other remix swaps where there is no financial exchange or involvement – simply a like-for-like swap of the productions. You make money from their remix; they make money from your remix.



Remix parts

How the parts for the remix are created will affect your ability to manipulate them and ultimately your creative flexibility. So it’s important to make sure you get everything you need, the way you need it.


Format-wise, parts should be supplied as uncompressed files at the same bit-depth they were recorded. So if that’s 24-bit, ask for 24-bit bounces.


If you’re remixing a band or a live artist, you’re going to want the full stems for each track to play with. If you’re remixing another electronic artist, then loops and individual hits will do the job — aside from any parts played ‘live’ which have automation on them which are key to the sound of the track. It’s also a great idea to ask for the MIDI files for any melodic elements as this will be a great help when you want to retain a melody but change its sound.


It’s up to you whether you want parts dry or wet — with our without channel and bus FX. Again, it depends on the sonics of the track and how key each effect is. Generally, people will bounce the parts with everything on, but don’t be afraid to ask if you would rather have them dry. It might be that you just want a certain part dry and everything else wet. Just ask. It’s usual for people to keep compression and EQ on each channel when bouncing to maintain the core sound of the parts.


Structure and approach

Before you do anything with the parts, it’s a good idea to listen through to the original a few more times and see if any ideas pop out. If you don’t already know the approach you want to take, it’s good to give yourself this time to see if a clear idea emerges. A good remix should provide a clear alternative to the original that serves a different purpose. If it’s just more of the same, there’s really no point.


Some common approaches include:

• Taking a ‘radio’ track and making it ‘dancefloor’ friendly

• Honing in on one or more elements and building the remix in a new style around them

• Taking only the vocal and marrying it to completely new musical elements

• Creating a dub or instrumental version that makes use of some of the musical parts but little or none of the vocal


If you still aren’t sure of an approach after a few listens, it’s best to just start playing around with the parts and seeing what takes.



Choosing which parts to use

Go through the folder of parts and decide which you really want to use. Which are vital for your vision of what the remix should sound like?


To avoid clutter, only drag the parts into your project that you really think you want to use – or delete the ones you don’t want once you have dragged everything in. You can always bring other parts back in later on if you need to.


Another useful way to get the juices flowing can be to drag everything into your DAW and then try soloing different combos of the tracks. You’ll start hearing different ideas and combinations which should spark some ideas. This works best when you have full stems of each track.



Your next big decision — which your approach will probably dictate — is what tempo your remix is going to be at. You may want to keep the tempo the same to keep the essence of the track intact. But if the genre you’re going for is based in a different tempo to the original, it’s time to do some stretching.


Logic’s Smart Tempo and Ableton Live’s Warping functions both let you change the tempo of individual tracks pretty easily and in a convincing way. Just remember that the more you either stretch or shrink a track, the less natural it will sound. Stretching (slowing) things down too much can generate unpleasant audio artefacts, and shrinking (speeding) things up too much can sound glitchy and weird.


Once you have told your DAW what tempo to stretch the tracks to, it may be necessary to adjust the Flex (Logic) or Warp (Ableton) markers to ensure that the transients of are hitting in the right place. Not everything needs to be locked totally on the grid. That can suck the groove or life out of natural sounding, rhythmic performances. Just use your ears and discretion carefully.


Audio-to-MIDI conversion 

Didn’t get sent those MIDI parts you asked for? Or want to create a melodic part that imitates the melody of the vocal or a rhythmic part that copies its rhythm? Use your DAW’s Audio-to-MIDI converter to analyse the part in question’s note pitches and lengths and to spit out a MIDI file that you can then get any instrument to play. These converters are impressively accurate these days, even on really complex parts. Just have a listen through to check for any bum notes as there may be a few here and there. Then adjust and manipulate to your heart’s content.




Functions like Logic’s ability to convert an audio region to a sampler track can be a great help when it comes to remixing. You can use it either to convert a single part or to convert the full track. It will slice up the audio in question and lay the different slices of it across your keyboard, allowing you to then play interesting chopped-up patterns of the sample source in an intuitive way. This can be great for using on vocals or layered melodic sections.



Go wild with the effects! A simple reverb or effect chain placed on a vocal or a melodic part can be transformative and can give great food for thought for a direction to go in. Some ideas to try:

• Running percussive parts through a distortion plugin

• Trying different reverbs on vocals and melodies

• Adding delays, chorus, phase and flange effects to melodic parts

• Running short vocal phrases or loops through a complex effects chain

• Putting an autofilter on a melodic element

• Pitch-shifting vocals (make sure you’re still in key though)


Remixes can come together really quickly if the ideas are there from the start. In other cases, they may take a while longer to crack. Don’t be afraid to start again if you find yourself in a rut. Even if you think you have wasted some time, it’s all part of the process and is often the best thing to do if you’re not feeling what you’ve put together.