Remix Song Structure

Jul 20 2013

Do remixes have a defined song structure?  Yes they do, and for good reason. The object of a dance music remix is to get the song that’s been remixed played in the clubs. To do this, having a DJ friendly song structure that makes it easy for a DJ to play the remix in their set is mission critical. Also, having a song structure that breathes energy into the dance floor through dramatic rises, breaks, and drops will make your remix popular with dance music patrons and DJs alike. To this end, a well defined remix song structure is of paramount importance. Here’s my take on understanding and analyzing good remix song structure.

Remixing Renaissance

May 09 2013

tr.v. re·mixed, re·mix·ing, re·mix·es: To recombine audio tracks from a recording to produce a new or modified audio recording.

To this definition I would add, and so much more!

Remixing has been around for quite awhile, having got its start before even the disco years and the hip-hop pioneers (such as Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay). Seminal remixing truly began in the late 1960s, with the sound of Jamaican dub (an offshoot of ska and dancehall raggae). Jamaican DJs (such as Rudolph “Ruddy” Redwood) discovered that people enjoyed dancing to instrumental versions of ska hits. To spice up and personalize these instrumentals, artists like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry began adding their own parts (such as horn stabs and percussive fills) using a 4-track cassette recorder and echo effects. These permutations of the original instrumental where called “dubs’ (for “doubles”) and their low-fidelity, bass heavy, effected tracks (partly a byproduct of repeatedly bouncing tracks down on 4-track tape) became an integral part of the dub sound.  This sound and style of the original dub pioneers has transcended time and geography to become part of today’s remixes.

Fortunately, we no longer need to struggle with 4-track cassette machines and splicing analog tape.  Now we have amazing music production software tools (such as Live, Reason, and Pro Tools) in which we can remix, quite literally, anything.  You could turn a country song into a dubstep tune, or a jazz ballad into an electro house banger.  There’s really no limit to the possibilities.

As a result of these amazing tools, and so many wonderfully talented and creative people that have pushed forward the art of remixing, remix production has become a critical skill for many working producers and hip-hop and EDM (electronic dance music) artists. Business savvy music industry entrepreneurs recognize that remixing songs is a great way to generate income, publicity, attract new fans, and keep their catalog relevant. Remixing is also a whole lot of fun and gives you the opportunity to join a thriving online community of remixers who share their music on the Web and enter remix competitions (on sites such as indabamusic.com and play.beatport.com) with substantial prizes (from cash, to gear, and label deals)

With this current swirl of activity around remixing, it feels to me like a remixing renaissance.  Not that remixing ever disappeared, it’s just enjoying a surge of popularity thanks to all the cool software tools and community support.  Remixing is a wonderful form of self-expression for both novices and pros alike, and Web sites like play.beatport.com make it super easy to jump right into the mix (or, remix) with both feet and start exchanging feedback and ideas with fellow music producers from all over the globe.  It’s on this crest of remixing exuberance that I am pleased to announce a series of remixing tutorials for beginners, in partnership with Berkleemusic and Beatport.  Check out the videos on play.beatport.com, and feel free to let me know on my YouTube channel (Erik Hawk’s Music Education Channel at youtube.com/muzicali) if you have any suggestions for a remixing topic.

I’ve worked in a lot of DAW programs: Digital Performer, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Live, and Reason.  I keep coming back to Reason for its amazing sonic palette (which has grown immensely with the release of Rack Extensions) and its inspiring interface for developing custom sounds.  I’m a big believer in taking the time to design sounds that fit each production, and then recycling these sounds for future productions.  Over time, I believe this helps you to develop a voice as a producer.  Your productions will be recognizable not only from your arrangements and writing, but also from your personal bank of synth and sampler patches.

Reason makes developing such sounds as easy as plug and play, like simple object oriented programming.  You don’t need to be a technically minded, sound designer whiz to cook up great sounding patches using just a combinator and some simple layering techniques.  This is how I make a lot of my sounds that you can hear in my productions.  In this video, Easy Sound Design with Reason (or, Building a Cool Electro Bass), I demonstrate how you can easily and quickly build your own custom sounds without needing to understand anything to technical.

Lucky Date Interview

Jan 15 2012

I recently had the opportunity to chat with up-and-coming electronic music producer and DJ, Lucky Date (Jordan Atkins-Loria). He uses Reason to produce these fantastically phat dance tracks and remixes. Plus he regularly shares his production secrets on his YouTube channel, luckydatevideos. The music that he pumps out of Reason is truly inspirational, so I wanted to ask him about how he gets such a huge sound and what other software besides Reason is part of his production and DJ arsenal. He gave a great interview and had a lot of wonderful insight and advice. Watch out for Lucky Date, I predict he’ll be producing many mega-dance-floor hits in the coming years.

 

I recently had the opportunity to remix a previously unreleased Scatman Crother’s song, “Scoot On Over To Scat’s” (produced by Andrew Melzer in 1979).  It was a lot of fun to work on a track from such an icon of the 70s.  It was also a serious challenge because all I had to work with was an unmastered, stereo mix.  The multitrack tapes had been lost long ago.  But, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Or, at the very least gave me a serious work out using the Pro Tools Elastic Audio’s warp markers, and writing my own music on top of a preexisting disco groove. Whew!

Here’s a video tour of my Pro Tools session explaining how I pulled off this remixing magic.

You can hear the original “Scoot On Over To Scat’s” song here, http://youtu.be/jsXxRFxATaU.  And this is my remix. Enjoy!

Scatman’s Background

Benjamin Sherman Crothers, born May 23rd 1910 in Terre Haute, Indiana (passed away November 22nd, 1986 in Van Nuys, California), started performing in the speak-easy circuit of Chicago in the latter part of the 20s.  In 1931, he got his own radio show on WFMK Dayton, Ohio, billing himself as “Scat Man”. In 1935, he made his first appearance in a film, a short called “Symphony In Black” with Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. He would go on to act in 45 more motion pictures including “The Shining”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Bronco Billy”, “Aristocats”, “The Shootist”, “Silver Streak”, “The Lady Sings The Blues”, “Scavenger Hunt”, “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, and “Transformers: The Movie”.

In 1943, Scatman moved to Hollywood, California and hired an agent. In 1948 he was one of the first African-Americans to land a recurring role on a network TV show, “Dixie Showboat”. Over the next three decades, Scatman appeared in hundreds of TV programs including 65 episodes of NBC’s sitcom “Chico and the Man” as Louis the garbage-man, 18 guest appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”, and “Colgate Comedy Hour”, “The Jack Benny Show”, “Nat King Cole Show”, “The Steve Allen Show”, “Casablanca”, “Hong Kong Phooey”, “Roots”, “The Super Globetrotters”, and “Sanford and Son”. Scatman Crothers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in front of the Egyptian Theatre.

After returning from summer vacation in Hawaii I needed a little remixing exercise to get me back into a music production mood. The Kerli’s “Army of Love” remix opportunity on www.indabamusic.com looked like just the ticket. I signed up and downloaded the vocal stems. Technically speaking, they weren’t the best vocal stems I’ve ever heard. They downloaded as WAV files but sounded like they had been converted from MP3 files. And, there was some type of parallel effect or headphone bleed mixed in with the backing vocals. You could hear the original music in the backing vocals stem. But this is what everybody had to work with, so I got busy.

I timed the vocals into my Pro Tools session, made a slight tempo change, a few beats per minute faster, and found one of my tracks that sort of matched Kerli’s performance. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this so using one of my already produced tracks made the most sense. With a key and tempo change, a few new chords, and a couple of structural modifications to the drums I was able to get a tight sounding mashup.

Then, I spent a lot of time making the vocal stems pop in the mix. The magic bullet for this job was iZotop’s Nectar, the “complete vocal suite” plug-in, and the always fun Stutter Edit plug-in (which I’ve blogged about previously, Stutter Edit by BT). I also did a lot of automation on the vocals to remove breaths, background noise, and bleed from the original tracks.

Whew, a lot of work, but I think it came out sounding pretty cool. It was definitely a good warm up before getting back into my busy composing and production schedule. Plus, I got to play with Nectar and Stutter Edit. All the synth and drum sounds are being produced by Reason 5, rewired into Pro Tools 9. Here’s the video tour of my remix session.

I also threw together a cool video montage to go with the remix. You can find it on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic. (Like me on Facebook please.) And, if you feel inspired to do so, you can listen to and vote for my remix on the indaba music site.  Thanks!

Stutter Edit by BT

Jan 23 2011

The new Stutter Edit plug-in, conceived and developed over the past fifteen years by pioneering electronic music artist and composer, BT, is pretty amazing. Upon installing this plug-in on my system I feel like I’ve got BT in the studio with me helping to produce stutter edits and breaks in my song. Really, it’s like I hired him as a technical consultant just for his stutter edit production techniques. It used to take me hours, even days to cook up these sound effects, through intricate slicing and dicing of waveforms and automating stacks of effects. Now, I can simply play a key on my keyboard and get the same, if not better, results! I can’t restrain myself from exclaiming, “It’s BT in a plug-in!”

How It W-w-w-works

Here’s how it works, simply insert Stutter Edit on the audio track that you want to stutter. Then, set up a MIDI track to send MIDI note and controller data to the Stutter Edit plug-in. Now, play your song and whenever you want to hear a stutter effect press a note on your keyboard to trigger one of the preset stutter effects. It’s that simple, and the presets sound great! Plus, to add more dynamics and enhance your ability to really play the effects, Pitch Bend is assigned to the plug-in’s global, resonant filter effect, and the Mod Wheel let’s you control different real-time dimensions of a preset. For example, moving the Mod Wheel could alter the speed of a preset’s stutters. You can record your MIDI performance and automate Stutter Edit directly from the MIDI track.

Sutter Edit comes with a ton of ready-made stutter effects spread out across the entire keyboard, right when you open it, so you can get to stuttering immediately. It also includes banks of stutter effect presets from BT himself, and a other electronic music luminaries, such as Richard Devine. If you’re not into the presets, you can certainly program your own stutter effects, from a simple eighth note stutter to crazy lo-fi distortion with delays and noise sweeps. Its many controls—Quantize, Delay, Gate, Filters, Buffer Position, Bit Reduction, Pan, Lo-Fi, Stutter Matrix, and Arpeggiator—combined with its Generator noise synthesis section gives you the ability to cook up just about any cutting edge stutter effect that you can dream of. Way too much fun!

Imagine the Possibilities

Sutter Edit is incredibly useful in the studio, but what I’m equally impressed by is its live performance potential. For example, stutter effecting loops in Ableton Live, in real-time right from your MIDI keyboard. Obviously, BT is deep into such things. He didn’t just dream up this plug-in in the studio, he wanted to take his stutter effects to the stage for live performances. And, clearly, he’s done exactly this, giving Stutter Edit plenty of beta testing during his Laptop Symphony shows. So, even though this is just version 1.0, it’s reassuring to know that it’s been out on the road and thoroughly tested by a pro, in high-profile, real life gigs. We know it works for live shows, not just in how it’s designed, but that it’s reasonably stable as well. How many software companies can say this about their newest software?

I’m already seeing and hearing grumblings on discussion threads saying, “I’ll never use Stutter Edit. I take pride in programming my own stutter effects one edit at a time.” Well, fine, I’ll have an entire track of stutter effects produced in the time it took you to do just one. And, besides, given a little time and patience—I know stutter edit producers have plenty of this—you can program your own unique stutter effects in this plug-in, assign them to keys on your keyboard, and save them in your own bank of presets. You don’t have to sound like the factory presets, you can develop your own unique stutter effect sound. Then, you can perform your stutter edits live, whether in the studio or on stage. This most certainly isn’t something you can do with that one stutter edit you just spent all day programming in your DAW. OK, enough said.

In the coming years, I predict that Stutter Edit will be massively overused, not unlike the AutoTune vocal sound (you know, Cher and T-Pain). Hopefully, the effect will be used tastefully, artfully, and without going completely overboard with it. Though, admittedly, I’ve probably already failed in this department—it’s just too much fun to play with. In fact, after about six instances of Stutter Edit in my Pro Tools session I managed to crash hard, several times, eventually completely freezing my Mac. Fortunately, after a quick reboot I was back in business and everything was running smoothly again. I also had problems controlling clipping at the plug-in’s output, because some of the effects pumped out serious amplitude spikes. A soft clip limiter section in the next build of Stutter Edit would be greatly appreciated.

Stutter Edit is distributed and supported by Izotope. There’s a lot of wonderful information about Stutter Edit on their Web site,
http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/stutteredit/index.asp
But, the best way to really appreciate Stutter Edit is download the trial version and take it for a test drive yourself. Also, check out this video tour of how I used Stutter Edit in a remix of my song “Delicious People”, for which the remix stems are available on my CD, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/erikhawk

My New CD is Out!

Aug 09 2010

I’m very excited to announce that my new CD is out, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League. If you like electronic dance music fused with orchestral elements, I think you’ll enjoy this CD. Plus, the physical CD contains remix stems (WAV, REX, and MIDI files) for your remixing and DJ-ing pleasure. The physical CD can be purchased through CD Baby, and digital only downloads are widely available, from iTunes to Amazon.

Here’s the official press blurb:

The new album by Erik Hawk, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League, plays like the soundtrack to an action movie. Every song could underscore a scene, from the opening action of “Introductions”, to the heroics of “On a Mission”, and the closing images of “Into the Sunset”. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that Hawk’s alter ego is composer/producer/remixer, Erik Hawkins. His music has been featured in countless film and television shows (from The Informers, to Ugly Betty, and CSI:Miami).

Joining Hawk on his musical adventures are several critically acclaimed musicians, including Gilli Moon (vocals), Christine Wu (violin), Lygeia Ferra (vocals), Craig Seganti (trumpet), and the album was mastered by pioneering hip-hop producer/engineer Michael Denten. Hawk wrote/co-wrote, arranged, and produced all of the tracks. He plays guitar, keyboards, and sings throughout the album.

To keep up with announcements, shows, placements, and contests, join me on Facebook.

And, here’s my official YouTube announcement:

Peter Gabriel Remix

Jul 02 2010

Please vote for my remix at indabamusic by clicking on the widget below, and ask all of your friends to vote for me too. Voting goes until July 15, 2010. And, if you send me to London I promise to bug Gabriel for all of his best production tricks so that I can bring them back here and share them with all of you.

As a rule, I don’t generally have time to enter the many amazing remix contests offered on indbamusic.com. But, this time, I couldn’t pass up a chance to remix a classic Peter Gabriel song, “Games Without Frontiers”. And, more importantly, a chance to have Gabriel listen to my work and maybe even meet him in London! That’s just to cool of an opportunity to pass up. With everything that Gabriel has done in his life, both musically and as a philanthropist, he’s definitely a hero of mine. So, I went for it.

Remixing is a form of music production. Just like producing a song for an artist, the object shouldn’t be about imposing your musical ideas on another musician’s composition and performance. Instead, it’s about helping the artist and their material to be the best that they can be. To this end, I think it’s important to respect the songwriter’s original message and the vocalist’s performance when remixing, especially when the vocalist is the songwriter. Ideally, the recognizable elements of the song, such as vocal phrases and guitar lines, should be audible in your remix. With this in mind, I felt “Games Without Frontiers” could benefit from a more guitar-driven, pop rock arrangement, with a full kit played over an updated Roland CR-78 drum loop, and a touch of orchestral elements for added texture and movement.

In these videos, I take you on a mini tour of my “Games Without Frontiers” remix session using Pro Tools and Reason. There’s a lot to explain in this session, so I broke the tour into two videos. The first focuses on drums and rhythm section instruments (bass, guitars, piano, etc.). And, the second focuses on orchestral elements, voice parts (lead and backing vocals), and mastering. I’m also attaching the Pro tools session file, without its audio files, to this blog so that you can look through the session and see how it’s all set up.

Peter Gabriel Remix Session Video Tour (Part 1)

Peter Gabriel Remix Session Video Tour (Part 2)

*Remember, you can double click on these videos and watch them directly on YouTube to see them in HD.</em

The session file as a Zip.
PG REMIX VIDEO TOUR
Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”

Recent Interview

Nov 06 2009

Gerritt Tisdale of The Producer’s Alliance recently interviewed me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about my background, I think it’s an interesting read. There’s also a little breaking news in the interview about my upcoming book and album. And, of course, a few tasty production tips too. Of course, I can’t do an interview without throwing some music production speak into the mix too! Check it out.

Here’s the link: http://www.theproducersalliance.org/producer-interview-erik-hawkins/

DJ Remix Cartoon