Jack D. Elliot

If you keep your ear to the ground of the dance/pop scene, the name Jack D. Elliot is one you are probably already quite familiar with, and if not it is certainly one that you can bank on encountering with an alarming regularity in the not-so-distant future. Lending his remixing talents to popular artists that run the gamut of styles, from Stevie Wonder to Britney Spears, Elliot has imprinted his signature on some of the most spun club hits of recent times. So here, in granting EQ a special interview, Elliot outlines some of his choice techniques for moving the floor, and gives us some tips for taking top-of-the-charts pop-star tracks and turning them into dance hall hits.
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EQ: When approaching a remix, do you prefer to collaborate with the artists directly, or are you of the “just send me the prepared tracks and let me work my magic” mindset?

Jack D. Elliot: Most of the time, I’m not dealing with the artist at all. I work hand in hand with the artist’s A&R to get the sound of mix that they’re looking for. The label sends me the vocal tracks, and sometimes I will ask for the guitar lines as well; but I usually re-create all of the accompanying music in the remix from scratch, so it is a completely brand new track.

My first step is to load up the vocals and lock in the tempo. I usually DJ records over the vocals to see what vibe might work with the song, or I play around with beats in Ableton Live until something really hits me, building the drums and bass first so that I have the basic groove.

EQ: If you will, pick two of the remixes you are most proud of and walk us through the process, step-by-step, from the original track to an Elliot remix.

JE: One of my latest remixes that I’m really proud of is Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me,” which went to Number One on Billboard Dance Radio. I started with the drums first, using Reason and Ableton Live, and scrolled through some banked loops until I found a handful that worked well together, and then separated parts out of some of the loops so that they wouldn’t clash rhythmically. Afterwards, I added a bass line from the Studio Electronics SE-1X, which has this fat bass sound that I just love, chopping it up so that everything synced nicely. Next, I started working on a hook — the keyboard melody that’s under the chorus, which was composed from the Microwave XT and Waldorf Q. I layered three tracks to get the bouncy synth riff, and then spread them wider using a Waves stereo imager. Finally, I added in some lighter key touches, mostly with arpeggiators and various sound effects, to provide some extra ear candy for the mix.

Another remix that was a lot of fun was Christina Milian’s “Whatever You Want.” It was originally a mid-tempo song, and I sped it up to a funky breakbeat groove. I layered three different kicks — a sub-style kick, a midrange punch kick, and a brighter kick — to get a really fat sound that gave the kick low-end depth while also cutting through the mix. Next, I took a vocal section and chopped it up in Recycle software, imported it into Reason, and triggered it on a keyboard. I then scooped all the highs and lows out, and fed that through a Virus Indigo to utilize its vocoder effect.

EQ: What tools do you find yourself utilizing most often in the remixing process, and in what context do you apply them? You obviously compose a lot of your beats in Reason and Ableton. . . .

JE: I do all my drums in Reason and Ableton Live. I have a lot of outboard synths and some soft synths that I use for coloring as well. My “go-to” synth is the Virus Indigo. I love it, plus it is TDM, so I can take advantage of more soft synths using the TDM cards in Pro Tools. I feed my mixes D/A to an Alan Smart C2 compressor, which adds a lot of punch and allows me to be in the analog world for a second, but I always go right back into Pro Tools for the final mix. I use the Eventide H3000 Factory plugs to set up a pitch shift with the left side set at –7 cents, and the right side at +13 cents which, when sent over many channels, really beefs up the mix. This works great for lead vocals, as it can give a slight or extreme stereo image as you choose. Another great technique I use is to parallel compress my drums and bass. I usually use an aux send to send the drums and bass together to a stereo channel, then heavily compress and add a lot of lows and highs in the EQ. Sneak this into the mix, and blend it with the original drum tracks, and you will always leave with a bigger, thicker sound.