Remixing can be a really fun and creative experience for an artist. In theory, a remix opportunity offers the perfect balance between creative freedom and enough restrictions and ideas to help you get going quickly.
Before we get started, just a quick reminder that it is illegal to distribute your rework of someone else’s music without the relevant clearance on samples or compositional elements. We have some useful info on this over on our Help Centre. This guide is intended for any official remixes you get asked to do, remixes you do for friends… and even remixes of your own material!
Should I get paid for my remix?
Typically, there are three ways you could be reimbursed for remixing a track:
A remix fee: where the label / artist pays you a one-time amount for your work, and you are not entitled to any royalties from the track
A percentage of the royalties on the remix: where you get a share of the income due from your sales and streams of your remix (and maybe even from licensing and public performance)
A remix swap: where the other artist agrees to provide a remix of one of your tracks and no money ever changes hands
Don’t let a label tell you that it’s worth you providing a remix of their artist ‘for the exposure’. This has a very simple name: exploitation! If they don’t have any budget to pay for a remix, you should negotiate a royalty split on your track. It’s up to you to negotiate what percentage you feel is fair. 50/50 is common, but some artists and labels like to offer 100% of the royalties due on the remix. It should be noted that in order for a royalty split to work on a remix, the remix will have to be registered as a new work with the artist’s publisher — or direct with their local performance rights organisation, if they don’t have a publishing deal — with you named as a co-writer.
It’s essential to lay out the financial terms surrounding the remix up front, as well as where/how the artist/label is intending to release it. You should also ask whether the remix is ‘on spec’ — which means they can refuse to use it if they don’t like it — or if they can guarantee you they will release it. It’s best to get all of this laid out in a contract — even if you’re just doing a remix swap, in case it’s a good idea to specify a time frame in which the return remix should be provided.
How to approach a remix
First of all, listen to the track you’re being asked to remix:
Are you sure you can do something good with it?
Do you hear something in it that grabs you?
Do you actually want to spend some of your precious creative time reworking this track?
You either need to feel passionately about it, or if you are someone who is trying to survive from music, be financially compensated for it. If neither of those are the case, you may be wasting your time.
Your first guidance in creating a remix should come from the person who is requesting it from you.
Are they looking for a specific style?
Do they want your signature sound?
Or do they want you to have free creative reign to deliver whatever you see fit?
Is it essential you use the vocal parts if there are any? If so, are they OK with you using just a little or do they need you to use a lot of the vocal in your remix?
Ask for this information if they haven’t given it to you upfront.
Organising remix stems and parts
Your next step is to get hold of the parts from the original and start sifting through what’s there. For the most part, remix parts will be provided as stems, either as individual channels — which will give you maximum flexibility — or as groups like drums, vocals etc. If possible, always request the full individual channel stems. It’s also handy to ask for any MIDI patterns to be exported as MIDI as well as audio, so that you can easily transpose melodies you like to different instruments.
Import all your stems to individual tracks in your DAW, as well as the original full track for reference. Refresh yourself with the original. Give it one more listen through. Now start soloing the different stems and seeing what you’ve got. You might find you hear things in these soloed stems that you didn’t pick up in the original, and that you may come up with new ideas from hearing them in isolation.
Start renaming the track stems to help you identify what’s what, and maybe do some colour coding too. Mute the parts you’re not feeling, or better yet hide them. You can delete them if you’re confident you don’t want to touch them — as long as you have the original folder on your computer you can always dig them out again should you change your mind.
Building your remix DNA
Hopefully by this stage you’ll have an idea what you want to do with the remix, either from having heard the track initially or buy hear the stems soloed and combined with each other. Try different combinations of stems soloed together. If you leave some space around them, your brain should start to fill in the gaps and lead you in a direction.
Your main creative options for the direction of your remix are:
– Making a dancefloor version of a non-dancefloor track
– Making a deeper, more home-listening version of a dancefloor track
– Taking the track into a different genre
– Applying your signature sound to the original
– Changing the mood of a track by choosing different chord progressions, melodies and textures
– Focusing on one or two elements of the original and building around them
– Doing something completely abstract using very small snippets of the original
Your approach may be a combination of these things, but these tend to be the main overarching techniques used by remixers.
If you didn’t already know what you wanted to do with your remix from hearing the original, hopefully you will now after having played around with the stems a bit. But it’s also totally fine to just experiment and let the parts lead you rather than the other way round. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get a picture of what you want to do.
Choosing your tempo
So, you know which parts you want to use. You know what style or vibe you’re going for. The next thing is to decide your remix tempo. If you’re sticking to the tempo of the original, then you’re good to get going. If you want to shift the BPM though, you’ll need to do some housekeeping and timestretch your audio parts.
You can either use your DAWs time stretching algorithms to change the speed of each stem in its entirety (and then fine tune the syncopation with flex/warp markers afterwards), or you can create loops from the source material and stretch these loops to the required bar length. What parts you’re using will dictate which approach you use. If you’re using long vocal or instrumentation stems, you’ll probably want to stretch the whole thing before chopping them up. If you’re only using small portions, it’s probably quicker and simpler to chop out the bits you want, create seamless loops using the audio editor, and then stretch those to fit.
If you’re using flex/warp markers and you want to keep some of the groove of the original parts, be careful not to snap every single hit to the grid — otherwise you’ll lose the swing of the original.
Ways to spice up your remix
From here on in, it’s really just the same process you would go through to finish a track. The great thing with a remix, though, is that you already have the bones of your track, you hopefully have a fairly clear picture of what you want to do with it, and hopefully you have a deadline to make sure you finish it without too much delay!
A few techniques you can try to give your remix some magic are:
– Running instrument stems through FX chains like Logic’s Multi FX or Native Instrument’s GUITAR RIG. You can easily turn things like guitars and brass instruments into synth-sounding melodies by doing this.
– Use step sequencer and glitch effects on vocals
– Convert audio files to sampler tracks using Logic’s EXS24 or Ableton’s Simpler and trigger them with your keyboard or sample pads to make chopped-up, rhythmic vocal snippet patterns
– Take a small slice of a vocals or instrument audio and turn it into a pitch-enabled sampler instrument
– Pitch-shifting vocals
– Cutting up drum parts to create drum kits, adding processing and creating your own patterns from them
-Use Audio-to-MIDI conversion to extract the audio of complex melodic parts and transpose them to different instruments
A good place to find remix opportunities
As well as using your contacts to try and find remix work, we encourage you to join the Spinnup Facebook group which is filled with hundreds of independent musicians. Ask around and you might find someone who’s up for doing a remix swap, or giving you a percentage of royalties in exchange for a remix. The sooner you can get some remix work online, the sooner you’re likely to get interest from others for your rework skills.