Today we’re going to talk about everything you must know when working on a remix. Not only will we go through the pros and cons of it, but I’ll also walk you through how to make the best version you can that could get you signed!
As with any composition, if you plan to do a remix, you must go through the same creation process as composing an original track. Then, you might ask, what are the benefits of remixing a song? Several.
Whether you’re remixing for other producers or they are for you, remixes have amazing potential to increase your exposure and fan base by “borrowing” the fan base of the original artist/remixer.
To illustrate the power of remixes, the duo Mind of One did one for my track Find My Own, which achieved their and my first support by Armin Van Buuren at A State of Trance, as you can see below:
But how do you start one? How can you remix songs from your favorite artists? Today, we’re covering the following topics:
- The Benefits of Remixing;
- The Ideal Approach to a Remix;
- 3 Ways to Find Opportunities;
- The Difference Between a Remix and a Bootleg;
- How to Start it?
- How to Make it Stand Out?
- Important Things to Consider When Remixing a Track
The Benefits of Remixing
It depends on your skill level, but here are some of the benefits of remixing other tracks:
- Being able to do your version of a track you love;
- Showcase your own style with the original track’s vibe;
- Money, if you’ve been requested to do it;
- Enhance the exposure of your brand and broaden your audience;
- Prizes, if you’re participating in a remix contest;
- Career opportunities, especially if you win a long-term competition;
- It’s an easier starting point than an original song;
- it could be a way to trigger your creativity (read more about creativity here)
Doing it can be very good for your career, as it was when Madeon won the remix contest of Raise Your Weapon by Deadmau5:
In addition to all the exposure Madeon got from winning Pendulum’s contest of “The Island”, which you can listen to below, winning this second contest showed that Madeon was the real deal, as mentioned in this FL Studio’s post about Madeon
After winning two contests, Madeon hit the spotlight when he released his mashup, which also could be considered a remix, called Pop Culture. In this song, he combined 39 pop tracks in one of the most amazing mashups I’ve ever listened to.
In the beginning of 2012, Madeon, now with a huge audience behind him, released his debut song ‘Icarus’, one of my favorite tracks to date, now with over 12 Million plays on Youtube. Later, in 2015, after he had gone on several world tours, including an Ultra Music Festival appearance in 2013, he released his debut album at Sony Music, one of my favorite albums to this day.
If you look at Madeon’s story, he built the foundation of his career on three solid remixes, where he got exposure and broadened his audience. He won prizes from the competitions, showcased his own style, and built himself a career that is still thriving today. If it wasn’t for these three remixes, who knows where he might be right now.
This is to show you the power that a remix, or several remixes, has for changing your career for the better. Therefore, you can’t ignore it!
The Ideal Approach Towards a Remix?
Although there are 7 reasons remixing a track would benefit you, the first two are what should really drive you to do it.
I’m a firm believer that if your drive is purely money, exposure or the prizes you can win, you probably won’t be able to do your best job because you don’t really believe in the original track you’re remixing. You’re not remixing a track solely for the prizes. Of course, it helps you get extra motivated, but you should want to start one because you want to put your unique touch on that song.
Why, you may ask? It’s like receiving a job offer for a really high-paying job that you won’t enjoy. You may like it at first because of the money, but it could end up being more of a problem towards the later stages of your career, which could happen to you as a remixer.
When Chimes, a duo between Draper and Paul Aiden, called me up to do a remix for their newly released album, in addition to being happy with the exposure opportunity, I loved the original and I saw that as an opportunity to improve my production skills.
How could I make something that would impress Draper? Judge it yourself, but mine got signed, which made me REALLY happy. You can listen to it below:
Ultimately, you have to like the track that you’re listening to and see how you can contribute as a remixer for the track. Even if you end up doing an amazing remix without liking the original track, I’m sure you could do an even better one if you did like the track in the first place.
4 Ways to Find Opportunities
The first question you have to ask yourself is how to find the perfect song for you to remix, and nowadays you can find it in multiple ways.
If you’re starting out as a producer, it might be tough for you to get an opportunity having no catalog to back you up. Therefore, looking for contests could be the best way for you to do a remix.
These competitions normally don’t have many “career restrictions”, and allow anyone to enter, which could be the best way for you to find a track for you to remix. The two most famous websites nowadays to find contests are MetaPop and Skio, which are platforms that host a few contests. However, if you go over to FindRemix, you can find A LOT more contests, including the ones on MetaPop and Skio.
If you don’t want to pursue competitions and would rather do remixes of artists you like, the best way to do this is by asking the label of the artist. Bigger labels most likely won’t answer you though, although some will.
If you have a song on that label, then your chances of getting a remix are even higher. For example, back in 2017, right after I signed my track Artik to Enhanced Music, I asked them if I could try remixing the song Gotta Know by Andy Bianchini, and they said yes.
Although I never submitted it, it was something I worked on for a while. If you’re wondering how to ask a label that, here’s how I did it back in 2017:
In addition, if you want to do a remix for the label because you want to get inside the label, you can also shoot them an email asking for opportunities within the label. If that’s your case, I would send an email saying:
Dear (A&R name), how are you?
I’m looking for remix opportunities and I’d love to do one for (label name). Are there any tracks currently looking for remixes?
To showcase some of my previous songs here are two songs/remixes that I’ve recently released
Streamable URL 1 (Soundcloud or Dropbox)
Streamable URL 2 (Soundcloud or Dropbox)
It would be amazing to have an opportunity at (label name). Please, let me know if this is possible.
Lastly, you can ask your friends to ask for a remix.
In the new alias that I’m working on, now in House Music, my friend Sandeville released a track I really liked, but I said that I would have done the drops differently. He then said they were looking for remixes and asked me if I was interested in doing a remix for the song with what I had in mind. Listen to the original here:
I eventually said no because I was too busy at that time, but your opportunity might be right around the corner. All you need to do is ask for it.
Just recently mentioned by one of the Abstrakt’s subscribers (thanks Jeremy), Discord could be another way to find remix opportunities. Check the image below:
Zedd announced his most recent contest on his official Discord Server, which is a growing tool among many producers. All the rules, stems, submissions are all shared within a channel he’s created within his server, even updates on how is judging the remixes. In my opinion, many big producers could start doing the same as Discord is an awesome way to keep in touch with your followers, so be aware of it.
The Difference Between a Remix and a Bootleg;
“But Leo, if I find an acapella or simply rip a bit of a song and remix it, can I post it?”
Well, technically, NO, you can’t.
When you find an acapella online and start a song with it, you’re most likely committing copyright fraud because you’re using copyrighted material to create your own material. Even if you say you simply want to post it as a free download, without selling it on Spotify or Beatport, technically you’re gaining exposure from it, so you are benefiting from it and you should have paid royalties to the artist..
Rule of thumb: If you have the rights to the remix and release it officially, then you can release it where you’re allowed to. If you don’t have the rights to release it, then this bootleg (not remix), can still be posted on Soundcloud or sent to djs for support. You could still receive copyright strikes or even be sued, although it’s highly unlikely.
I achieved my first big support this way. Back in 2015, I did a bootleg for Maroon 5’s Sugar, because it was the song of the moment back then. I saw that there were no good remixes of the track, at least for my taste, and picked the acapella that was available and used it.
After posting it online and sending it to some djs, Nicky Romero played it on Protocol Radio. It was the first time a big producer said my name (although not correctly xD). Even though I got support from big DJs, that doesn’t mean what I did is legal. You can listen to the it yourself over here:
How do you know whether or not you can post a remix from an acapella you found online or from a competition? Ultimately, if you don’t have the rights to post it, you can’t post it anywhere. However, some contests allow you to post your entry on Soundcloud and promote it, such as this competition from Just Kiddin’:
As you can see in the 6th line, “Remixes may ONLY be shared on SKIO Music, YouTube, Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.”. In other words, if you lose, you can still share your remixes within these platforms.
Still not sure if you can post it? Ask the rights owner or the competitions’ owner, as these terms are not always displayed so clearly.
How to Start it?
Now let’s get more to the technical side of it and discuss how can you make your remix epic:
Finding Pitch and Key
You’ve found the competition or song you want to remix, and now it’s time to get your hands dirty. The first step is finding the pitch and key of the original track and messing around with them.
Your mix doesn’t need to be in the same pitch or key as the original track, although it helps when warping your stems and also when changing keys. Doing this might cause a loss of quality in the stems, which may actually not be a bad idea.
There are several ways you can find the pitch and key of the track. The simplest method, however, is trying to find it on Beatport. Go to Beatport and search for the original song that you’re trying to remix and you’ll see the track’s key and tempo there. Let’s say we entered the Just Kiddin’ contest above; The name of the song is ‘When You Say It’, so if you go to beatport, BAM:
Sometimes, this information is displayed directly in the competition’s description, as you can see below:
If even like this you can’t find it, you can try finding it with Mixed in Key or by ear with a piano and metronome.
After downloading the stems, it’s time to think about how you can get creative with what the pack has provided you.
You don’t need to use all the stems that were provided, but take them as a clue to what the original artist would like you to work with in your track. There are remix packs that are completely full, and, at the same time, there are packs that only contain a vocal and/or other specific element of that track. Check below what Just Kiddin’ provided for their pack:
Piece of advice; As this remix may not be accepted in the end, how could you make it in a way that you could later replace the stems with different elements?
Let’s say you’re working with the vocals. Could you replace it later? To give you an example, here’s one of my entries for a competition Dirty South did for his album XV, back in 2018.
I didn’t win, so I had to replace the stems I used to create something different. If you’ve listened to my latest release, Never Letting Go, you’ll notice some coincidences:
For this one, I simply took away the stems of the instrumental, including the vocal, and made a new version. This way, you can release it as a single instead of just a free download.
Creating Your Vision for the Track
Whenever I’m starting or accepting a remix, think about how your version could be something completely unique from the original version.
For example, if the song is a progressive house song like Yotto, how can you make a dubstep version like Zomboy? If the song is a pop song like Zedd’s, how can you make a progressive house version like Ben Bohmer?
I’m not saying that you don’t have a chance if you stick to the same genre, but I’d say that you’d have higher chances of winning if you make something unexpected.
Listen to the original version of “Freaks Have More Fun”, by Dada Life:
Now listen to Jakko’s version and what he’s done with the vocal:
For starters, listen to how he changed the vocals into something completely new. In addition, it’s a different and more exciting vibe (at least it was for January of 2015).
So, now, think about how you can make your remix completely different from the original, while still capturing the vibe and essence of the original track. Doesn’t seem that easy right now, does it?
Don’t worry. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If you’re remixing a house track, how would it sound if it was progressive house like Cassian or Jerome Isma-ae? If you’re remixing progressive house, how would it sound if Kygo put a spin on it?
Once you have your idea of how you’ll create the song and how you can make it unique, it’s time to get your hands dirty.
How to Make Your Remix Stand Out?
Whenever you’re remixing, you don’t want to recreate the original track. If you do, your remix most likely won’t be as well received as it could be if you did something different. But how can you do this? Here is a list of ways you can make your remix different from the original:
Changing the Genre
Audien version of Bastille’s Pompeii is a good example of that. Here’s the original version of the song.
And Audien’s version, with a whopping 34M plays, below:
It just brings a new refreshing life to the original song, and feels really nice because it keeps the essence of the original.
Changing the BPM and/or Key of the Track
Mind of One’s version of my track ‘Find My Own’, in which they changed the BPM from 128 to 125 and the key from F#min to Gmin, got an Armin Van Buuren support on State of Trance. Listen to my track Find My Own below:
And now listen to Mind of One’s version of the track:
This way the remix is almost like a different song, but as long as it keeps the mood of the original, it’s still a remix.
Changing the Vocal Pitch or Melody
When I first listened to Skrillex’s Red Lips remix I was wowed. The original is ok, but this one is amazing. In addition, what he does to the vocal is just impressive, shifting it up and down. Listen to the original version:
And the Skrillex’s remix:
Making a Complete Change in the Dynamics of the Song
You won’t always be able to change genres or change the stems, but what if you change the dynamics in which they are presented? If the original was a bass driven song, why not make a percussion driven song? Listen to the original version of “Fire in My Soul” by Oliver Heldens:
And the percussive remix by Tom Staar:
It just feels really nice to have a different vibe, even though both are suitable for a nightclub.
Adapt the Original to a Different Scenario
Sometimes, you don’t even need to reinvent the wheel, as I said before. When Pep & Rash released Rumors, I thought it was a bit too slow and never really played it anywhere, since it was too calm for a club in 2015. Listen to it below:
But then, Deniz Koyu did a remix of it. It sounds a lot like the original, but heavier and more aggressive, partially due to a faster BPM, which was A LOT more appropriate to dance floors at that time. BAM! One of my favorite remixes. Listen to it below:
Completely different vibe, but keeping the original structure of the track.
Important Things to Consider When Remixing a Track
- Politics play a role: The best remix will not always win a contest. Sometimes the winner knows the artist personally, sometimes the winner is an artist that the label has been watching. Sometimes it will be the best who won, but the best doesn’t always win;
- Like and Play counts won’t get you ahead: If your song doesn’t hold itself up, marketing won’t either, and labels look for that;
- Understand the deadlines: If you’ve discovered a remix you’d love to work on, but it’s due in three days and you don’t have time for it, I would not recommend you getting onboard. It will probably just stress you out and could lead you to anxiety;
- The original artist may request changes: As with any label, the original artist may request you to change something here and there, and that’s normal. The label who’s requesting the remix to you, or the artist, wants to make sure that yourversion fits what they have envisioned for their pack;
- Discuss terms and artist’s vision before starting the remix: Make sure that you agree with the terms of the remix you’re about to do and that you understand what the artist wants out of your version. Sometimes it could be completely open to you, and sometimes the artist might come with a specific vibe he wants to achieve with it.
- Choose your opportunities wisely: A perfect remix of the wrong track will not change your career tremendously. It could definitely help, but choosing the right opportunity is crucial. Instead, choose tracks you’d love to do your take on that you feel could actually get some traction, whether by being at the perfect label, by having a huge artist connected to it or by having an opportunity you feel you can’t miss.
- Have fun: My number one thing to consider is that you gotta have fun remixing. Either because you’re learning or because you love the track. Don’t do something only for the deal you’re gonna get. Sometimes it’s tempting, but if you’re only in for the deal, you probably won’t be in with your heart and soul. Ultimately, have fun!
Now It’s Your Turn!
Although I’m not the biggest remixer in the world, I do value the opportunities I’ve been given so far in my career.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:
Which of these techniques will you implement first? How will you try to make your remix unique?
Let me know in the comments below!