Creating a Remix in Ableton
Posted by James Cullen on
Any producer worth their salt has at least tried their hand at creating a remix. Chances are, if you’ve been producing for a while, your curiosity has been piqued at least once, and you’ve decided to tackle one of your favourite tracks and give it your own personal remix treatment. This is especially relevant if you’re a DJ, as a great way DJ/Producers gain popularity is by creating remixes of well known tracks to play in their sets.
Now, creating a remix can be a challenging task, but it can also come naturally as you find the perfect treatment to give a track. However, this is by no means to say that there is one way to do a remix, and there’s definitely very few right vs wrong scenarios.
Having said that, it can be tricky to know where to start, so today with Top Music Arts, we are going to take you through some top tips for creating a remix in Ableton Live. So start digging through your Spotify playlists for that next tune to remix!
Why do a remix?
Many of you may be thinking ‘why bother doing a remix instead of working on an original?’
There is no one answer to this, but any opportunity to test and hone your production skills should be siezed! You can create some really interesting results. If you’re lucky enough to be creating a remix from the stems of a professional track, you can get an invaluable look into how a hit is crafted, but if you’re doing a bootleg remix, you’re encountering a new set of challenges, trying to blend the entire mix into your own tune.
Know the difference between a stem remix and a bootleg. A stem remix is when you are working from the stems of a track, usually with the artist’s permission. A bootleg, however, is an unofficial remix usually using the stereo master of a track, or an acapella.
Now, let’s go through some tips for creating that perfect remix.
Know the BPM and Key of the original.
In order to craft the best possible musical elements which complement the original track, you’ll need to know what key the song is in. This is easily found, there are websites and softwares that can tell you, and even just a google search should yield results. Working in the right key can really set the pro remixes apart from the amateur ones.
Have you ever heard a remix where the chords sound a little bit off? That’s probably because the producer failed to properly work in the right key signature.
Knowing the BPM will also help, as you can make sure your entire Ableton project is synced when you start. This isn’t to say that you have to stick to the original BPM, but it’s good to compare how things sound at their native speed first, and then move onto different speeds.
Bring your own style to the forefront.
The goal when remixing isn’t always to make a ‘different version’ of the same track, it’s to put your own stamp on the original. You can almost think about it as if you’re hijacking the production session. This is what this track would have sounded like if YOU produced it.
Or maybe you don’t want to necessarily use that approach, which is fine, but you need to make sure that from the offset, you know exactly how you’re going to inject your personal flavour into the remix. If you’re a trap producer and you’re remixing a pop song, then the really important elements are going to be those 808s and drums. Making sure you get these right will help define the track as your remix.
And don’t be afraid to get as creative as you can! Some of the best remixes out there are by producers who have taken an original song and re-framed it into a genre that’s a million miles away from the original.
Identify the key elements of the track.
A solid tip when remixing is to make sure you identify what parts of the original make it so recognisable. These can be your tools to shape and mould in your remix, and to place against your own framework of producing.
If you’re remixing a track with vocals using an acapella, you can create an entirely new arrangement underneath. But if you’re remixing a track which has unique instrumental phrases, you might want to use these in your remix but play them in a completely different way.
You could be taking a romantic slow jam and turning it into a dancefloor anthem. A great example of completely reworking a sample is in the following two tracks.
Listen from 1:20 to the vocal hook.
And then listen to this track from 1:00.
The original is Brandy - I Wanna Be Down, while the ‘remix’ (in this case it’s a sample) is Blawan - Getting Me Down.
While it isn’t an official remix as such, this is a perfect example of how you can take a key element of a track and completely flip it on its head into a whole new style of music!
Don’t be scared about being too similar to the original.
While I’m all for pushing the boat out when it comes to remixing, there’s also a lot of great remixes that are super similar to the original.
Check out the track above. It’s a remix of Drake & Young Money - Trophies, which is super similar to the original.
It uses the main hook, the vocal is largely unedited, but FS Green has added a fast footwork / bass beat underneath. All he’s done is spice up the original with some new percussion and bass, a far cry from the other example above where Blawan completely reshaped a track.
So while going completely out of the original’s genre can be a great approach to remixing, so can staying firmly in the same ball park!
Try not to overthink things.
If you’re at the point where you’ve decided you want to remix a track, I’ll bet there is a specific reason it jumped out at you and made you say ‘I need to remix this!’
So, try to identify exactly why you want to remix the track, and this will help you decide where you want to take things.
Do you think the original is lacking in energy maybe?
Do you want to highlight an element that you feel doesn’t get enough attention?
Or maybe you want to give it the dancefloor treatment.
Whatever your ideas are, it’s good practice to write them down first, so you can keep them fresh in your mind and keep referring to them as you work. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overthinking things when you’re creating a remix, so having your core ideas down on paper beforehand is a useful way to keep yourself focused.
That isn’t to say that you can’t deviate from them if magic starts happening, but it can help avoid overthinking every little detail and make sure you are using your time efficiently!
Use Session View!
Ableton is perfect for remixing because of Session View. Plain and simple. You can separate your remix into different parts and audition how they sound playing together and almost create a live jam of the remix.
If you’re doing a bootleg using the entire stereo master of the track, you can separate it into its different sections and experiment with the order they come in. If you’re lucky enough to be working with stems, then the possibilities open up even more.
The benefit of working in Ableton’s Session View is that it gives a much more organic production process; it allows you to ‘feel’ the music and jam it out, which is a great plus when you’re creating a remix, so make sure to use it to its full potential!
Listen to other remixes
It may not be something you’d immediately think of doing to help you in the creation of your own remix, but it can be really useful to listen to other remixes and compare them with their originals to see how other producers get things done. You could even listen to other remixes of the song you’re working on, which will help you dissect what parts of the song producers are using to remix it, but it will also help you avoid making one that sounds too similar to an already existing remix!
Look for remix competitions.
Lots of record labels or websites or even bands host remix competitions. These usually come with a deadline, and a great for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s good practice to get yourself working to that deadline and it will make your production more efficient.
Secondly, if you win, you could get your remix included on a high profile release, which could be a great boost to your following.
So keep an eye out for remix competitions, there’s a list of some here: https://remixcomps.io/
Remember that there are hundreds of techniques you can use when creating a remix in Ableton, and these are just a few key ideas that we’ve highlighted here. The thing with remixing is that there are no solid rules, and the limits of possibilities are just your own creativity!
The key points to take away are to think outside the box, and to make the most of the functions Ableton has to offer. Using Session View to jam out a remix idea can create much more organic sounding arrangements than those that are manually constructed in arrangement view.
As always, thanks for checking out Top Music Arts today, and make sure you stop back soon!
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