Music Industry

How to remix a track…

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How to remix a track… It’s the question that keeps plenty of (aspiring) producers awake at night. They all – more or less –  know how to create an original track that stands out, but encounter a musical roadblock when remixing enters the equation. This is not unusual at all, because creating a remix isn’t the easiest thing there is. It takes a lot of experience in both remixing and making music altogether before you can consider yourself an expert. But the hardest part is when there’s no one around to guide you through the first steps, explaining the foundations of the art in detail. That’s where we come in.

Two of Armada Music’s A&R managers (Joël de Vriend – Armada Captivating | Onno van Kemenade – Armada Trice), Electro titan Murtagh, and Argentinian power-trance duo Heatbeat guide you every step along the way, based on the remixes they did for Pierce Fulton’s ‘Landmines’. Here’s what you will encounter in this surprisingly long article:

Table of contents
Before it all starts…
Limitations or freedom…
The remixing guidelines…
Striking a balance…
The difficulties vs. out-of-the-box thinking…
Coping with rejection and setting priorities

{NOTE: We consider you to be fairly familiar with producing music in general. There will be no explaining the basics of music production itself; we’d rather focus on the differences between remixes and originals, and how one would proceed.}


How To Remix A Track – Before it all starts…

Let’s immediately cut to the chase. In the music world, you don’t just pick a track to remix yourself and submit it as a grand surprise to an unsuspecting artist or label. You might get away with it if selling certified platinum is part of you’re daily routine, but you’d do best to face the fact that you are not (yet) among those people. Few actually are. Instead, you will be asked by an artist or label to remix a track of their choice.

As put perfectly into words by Armada Trice chieftain Onno van Kemenade, the search for a remix starts when a label or artist is looking for something different. Even the best records ever made have their limitations when it comes to reaching a certain audience. Some records will receive tons of airplay on a wide range of broadcasting stations, but fail to make an impact at festivals or in clubs. The vice-versa notion applies as well here. So in general, you could say that a label or artist is looking for an alternate version of a track, and that they’re looking for the right artist for that specific job.

Joël de Vriend: “Sometimes I’d feel that a particular artist can do the job perfectly. In other situations, I might want to hear what they could do with it or how their touch would fit the tune. Sometimes, the original artist even recommends it. And very rarely, a remix just enters our mailbox. In that case, we always want it to blow us away. But unfortunately, it rarely ventures beyond these hopeful thoughts.”

How To Remix A Track – Limitations or freedom…

Now that you’ve have been appointed the task of creating a smashing remix, the next thing to consider is that there are requirements to meet with your remix. Since the remix has to fulfill a certain role, you’d have to make sure that it will meet or exceed the expectations. But don’t worry, you would not have been asked to remix a specific record if they felt your sound wasn’t suited for the job at hand. But here’s the thing…

Quite a few of you consider these requirements and expectations to be creative limitations, which in turn leads to a lack of inspiration. Sadly so, because we all know how awful such a writer’s block can be and that nothing good ever comes out of it. That being said, there is some truth to certain requirements-to-meet limiting your perceived creative freedom. But to be frank, this is what creativity is all about.

It could be very hard to live up to certain expectations, but do realize that the ‘requirements’ set by a label or artist are mere guidelines; they’re not set in stone and simply exist to provide musical direction. They exist to make sure that you don’t create a ballad when they want a tune to play on festivals, which is actually not that strange. Apart from that, they actually want you to do something unique, because that’s what makes a track stand-out from the rest.

Murtagh: “Try not to feel pressured to conform to a particular idea. The label or artist may have asked you to try a particular style, but they wouldn’t have asked you if they wanted something that sounds the same as every other track out there. Bring your own knowledge and experience to the table and write something that is unique, but still has ties to the original at the core!

Heatbeat: “Music has no rules and that’s exactly the notion we live by. It’s all about inspiration and to do what inspires you the most.

Understanding this is the first step toward becoming a successful remixer.

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How To Remix A Track – The remixing guidelines…

Explaining where someone should start is a question with no clear-cut answer. In fact, it largely depends on the work flow of the one who has been called on to deliver a remix. Some might start off by completely dissecting the original record, while others start building an original track of their own and then try to implement some of the original elements. There’s no wrong approach or answer. But we can learn from the ones that are already successfully doing it, so we just let Murtagh explain how his ways.

Murtagh: “Usually, I will have a general idea in my head of what I want the end product to be. This can either be based on what the original artist wants, or on some idea I came up with while listening to the original. I will do a quick sketch of the chords or melody and then make the drums and the synths for the chorus. Somewhere along the way, I might get another idea, which I will then pursue. This process goes on and on until the idea is fleshed out enough to work on, and it applies to both vocal and non-vocal tracks. Do remember that not everything starts like this, but it is the way I go about things most.”

“If the track is a vocal track, it is very important to ensure that your new chords (if you make new ones) fit well with the vocal. Or in my case, that the vocal works with your track’s atmosphere. Don’t try to make the original 2.0; be creative and take your remix in a different direction. Nobody wants a remix that sounds exactly like the original. But then again, it is important not to go too far overboard with it, so that it sounds completely like the original. Strike a balance between being fresh and creative, but also try to reintroduce some hooks, riffs, or other ear-candy from the original.”

How To Remix A Track – Striking a balance…

Even though everybody prefers their own approach and is allowed to do so, there is something really important to consider. Since you can’t stray to far from the original, you have to stay close to at least one of the key elements, for they are the pillars of the original record. Your treatment of the tune has to be recognized as something that differs from the mold it was created in, otherwise it might as well be an original record, right? Striking a balance between original elements and new, surprising features has to be your number one concern. If the scale tips only as much as an inch in favor of either side, your remix could very well lose its charm. No matter how well-produced it is.

Murtagh:“At the end of the day, the remix has to be unique. But on the other hand, it also has to have some ties to the original song. If the track is a vocal track, the vocal is the strongest link to the original you have. It is important to base your remix on this in some way. And if it doesn’t work out at first (like in the case of my remix of ‘Landmines’), continue on without it for a while until you can introduce it comfortably.”

“If it’s not a vocal track, the strongest links you have to the original are the original chords and melody. You could base your remix on them and move from there. You could alter the chords/melody later or try to spark some inspiration from other stems that you have.”

Heatbeat:“We always like to analyze the original track and then ‘heatbeat’ it. We started playing with the acapella in the breakdown. Once we hit the right note there, we went on to add a BIG, FAT, RAW Heatbeat bass for the bassline part. No rules or anything. We just sat down in the studio and did what we feel like. All in all, it took us two weeks to remix ‘Landmines’, and by that time, we were really happy with the way it sounded.”

How To Remix A Track – The difficulties vs out-of-the-box thinking…

Now that we’ve taught you the basics of remixing a track, you might think it’s less difficult than you initially feared. Although we encourage this kind of positivie thinking, we do not want you to fall in the most vicious of traps: underestimation. A lack of inspiration is not the only thing that can completely destroy the prospect of a smashing remix. Others include:

  • Stems or parts you just can’t work with;
  • Ridiculously short deadlines (although you really shouldn’t come across these);
  • Opposing views on the musical direction of the remix;
  • A way too busy schedule.

Making music is not something to be taken lightly, as you need every bit of focus and prowess to make it work. Obviously, the same can be said for crafting a remix. You can encounter all of the above difficulties and more, for instance coming across a vocal that you initially fail to implement. But there’s always a way to work around the issue at hand. Here’s how Murtagh managed:

Murtagh: “Trying to get the vocal to work with my remix was tough. Since Pierce wanted something that he could play out live, I focussed on making it danceable. Simple, but catchy. The way it turned out was quite different from the original. Getting radio-friendly vocals to work with a club track is always difficult and in the end, I decided to pitch the vocals down an octave so it would match the whole atmosphere of my remix better!”

It’s more than worth it to underline how important out-of-the-box thinking is. You don’t just get to surprise others with something unexpected and different, you get to surprise yourself as well.  And that’s exactly why you should always challenge yourself to think differently and out-of-the-box. If you remember to do so whenever you’re working on something fresh, you’re already half-way there.

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How To Remix A Track – Coping with rejection and setting priorities…

Unfortunately, rejection is something that could happen. Although it might hurt a bit when your work gets turned down, you’d do best to realize that this doesn’t mean that you’ve done a bad job. Maybe the A&R or artist was looking for something else after all, despite a job well done. There’s no need to doubt yourself or your abilities. Just keep trying and you’ll hit the right chord next time.

Joël de Vriend: “Unfortunately, we do reject remixes on occasion. It may not have been what we are looking for or what the artist had in mind for the tune. That being said, we always aim for the remixer to nail it, and sometimes that means we will provide the necessary A&R feedback. If it ends up not being what we want it to be, both we and the remixer will have done all of the possible to make it work.”

But there’s also a different side to all of this, because things could also be working out perfectly, as it often does. You might have brought something so special and extraordinary to the table that remix offers come flowing in, meaning that you’ll be the one doing the rejecting from now on. Whenever you happen to be buried under a load of remix requests, do keep in mind that you can only do so much. The pool of time and inspiration you tap from is limited. It is better to turn down a remix offer and fully focus on another project than to divide your attention between several projects, only to deliver half work. If you feel that there just isn’t enough time to make it happen, then just don’t give in to the pleads and puppy-eyes. No matter how compelling.

Heatbeat: “We receive approximately one or two remix requests every week, so we’ve learned pretty quickly that you can’t say ‘yes’ to everyone. If you do, you are not going to have time to make originals. Next to that, we could simply turn down a  remix offer if the track doesn’t inspire us. 

Back to table of contents…


*Haven’t had enough of these explanatory articles yet? Do have you any questions about this subject or do you want us to explain something else? Feel free to ask us in the comment section below, and we’ll do our best to address the matter in one of our next articles…Until then, stay involved!

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Sebastian Vega
    December 17, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing!

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