Remixing is so prominent in today's music releases, albums and singles generally contain at least a few remixes to break songs into other markets. Remixing examples include taking an artist''s or band's single and slowing down the tempo, adding some pads or speeding it up and adding some break-beats or drum ''n'' bass rhythms. With remixing software such as Sony Acid Pro 7, would-be remixers and seasoned veterans alike have the tools to do remixes at home in record time. Here I discuss some of the “input” challenges that remixers face with each project.
THE MANY FORMATS OF REMIXING TRACKS
You can receive an artist''s master tracks for a remix in a number of ways. The easiest way to do remix is with stems -- the individual mixed-down tracks of each section of the song (bass, guitars, drums, vocals, keys, etc.). These usually have all the processing completed on them, so you won''t need certain plug-ins installed in order to work on the remix.
Instead of stems, you may receive all the individual loops or sometimes the entire 200-track session file (which happens a lot when you deal with newbies). If you get a session file, you will either need all the plug-ins they used so you can create your own stems, or you could use the samples from the session to re-build your own version of the song the long way.
Since there is no real standard when it comes to master tracks for a song, whomever you acquired the master files through (a producer, engineer, manager, A&R, label guy or the artist/band themselves) will determine the format you get for the remix. So ultimately, you''ll face some kind of input challenge when bringing it into your sequencer for remixing, especially when finding the tempo and lining up the tracks to “null” (zero) on the timeline.
Sometimes the producer, band or label doesn't remember the bpm of the song, a very useful bit of information that makes remixing much faster. This is a common problem, unfortunately. By the time they are asking for remixes, the band or artist has moved onto other projects, so remembering the tempo of a track can be tough. Sometimes the bpm information is totally inaccessible, and the artist or producer can''t find the original session file to look it up. They may even throw a guess your way, which can throw you off. Another challenge that unfortunately is also very common is that the mastering studio that handled the tracks can offset the track +/- during the mastering session, or crossfade the tracks, knocking off the timing/alignment with what may have been fine in the original master session file.
TIMING, SYNCING AND BPM SOLUTIONS
Enough of the challenges; let''s talk solutions (with some anecdotal evidence). By far, the easiest and most common time signature for remixes is 4/4, which is what''s covered here. I will cite some examples of various master tracks I have received recently in three completely different ways from major- and indie-label artists.
1. I got a pseudo-master session file for The Killers song “Spaceman,” which was all the Pro Tools .R and .L audio files without the PT session file and no bpm information (not even a hint). Also, none of the tracks lined up at all.
In this case, I found the commercially released version of “Spaceman” from the CD, ripped it and imported into Acid. Then, with some tedious tinkering and sliding back and forth by the millisecond, I was able to match everything up to where it was in the final mix. As the original drums were not included in these pseudo-masters, lining it up was even trickier (see image). I used the commercially released version of the song to determine bpm with the beatmapping tools, as well as timing up a loop (one measure) in Sony Sound Forge 9. Later, I did a Google search to find the approximate bpm and eventually landed on the exact number. When lined it up in Acid, the commercially released version threw off the song by an 8th note. This is probably due to the mastering studio adding or subtracting space at the beginning or ending of the song. Once lined up with the correct bpm information, all the notes hit perfectly with the timeline grid, making it ready for proper remixing.
2. I got an A Cappella and an instrumental track for Lady GaGa''s “Just Dance,” which were slightly different than the single version of in timing/syncing.
The song''s bpm was not readily available through a Google search, and DJ Web sites had varying claims of what the bpm could be. This was not fun, especially since the instrumental track and the a cappella track also did not even line up with the commercially released track. I had to nudge the a cappella and instrumental back into place (see image), using the released track as an overall guide. I was able to bring the instrumental into Acid Pro 7''s Beatmapping tools, to figure out the bpm, and double-checked it with the Sound Forge 9 loop/measure method. Always double-check your various methods. It might be lined up in parts of the song and slowly gain or lose time as the track progresses. This is why it is absolutely pertinent to get the correct bpm from the start. Even throwing it off a few points of a bpm can create lagging off-time nonsense later on in the track.
3. I got the full-on master session from indie artist LowHero.Dll for the song “Good To Know.”
Well, the full-on session from LowHero.Dll luckily included the bpm information. In this case, he was using Acid Pro 6, so I could easily see all the separated tracks, loops, one-hits and timing. The only issue I ran into with this session file was that because I didn''t have a lot of the plug-ins he was using (see image), I was unable to fully hear the track how it was originally intended. So in this scenario I just asked him to create stems for me, by rendering out the different sub-groups of instruments. In most cases, artists and bands will be accommodating in helping you get stems, but for those artists who aren't accommodating, you have to be creative. Some artists I''ve worked with will not give stems because they feel that you shouldn''t get “credit” for their production work, so you have to “re-mix” the track even before you remix it. While others just can''t find the original sessions to create custom stems.
In either case, make a plan of how you will handle the remix from any scenario. I''ve received master tracks in all kinds of genres and by all kinds of artists around the world over the past 15 years. Believe me, they are all different.
Multi-instrumentalist, composer, remixer and producer Justin Lassen has 15 years of experience in the music, film and video games. He has remixed Madonna, Garbage, Blue Man Group, Lenny Kravitz, Robert Miles, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park, Evanescence, Apocalyptica and numerous others. Lassen has also worked on high-profile projects for game and technology companies such as Interplay, Cakewalk and Intel. In 2003, he released the dark chamber symphonic suite “And Now We See But Through A Glass Darkly,” which caught immediate acclaim and from both the industry and public. In 2006 he released his successful “Synaesthesia” series, melding the worlds of music and CG artwork.