As promised, I’ve finally put together a comprehensive video about using Propellerhead’s ReCycle software and how to create your own REX loops. ReCycle continues to be a wonderful tool for slicing and dicing loops. It’s a true music production classic software program. The video pretty much explains it all. Enjoy!

In lesson 2 of my Remixing with Pro Tools and Reason course I ask students to cook up a comprehensive rewire session that will work as a template for remixing. Needless to say, we go over all the details and really get deep into it. But, often, because there are so many possible ways to build your environment (the Reason rack and the Pro Tools tracks) students are often left questioning whether their setup is really the best. Well, the only way to know for sure if your rewire session setup will work well for you is to jump in and start using it. This way, you’re actually working with your setup instead of just thinking about it. No doubt, you’ll be making changes and improvements over time.

In the spirit of sharing and knowing that a really good example is worth a thousand words (or more), I’ve cooked up a rewire session template based on what works well for me when I’m composing and mixing. I’m attaching it here as a Zip containing the Pro Tools 8 session file, the Reason 4 song file, and a Word document listing my suggested rewire inputs. The rewire session is for all of you to study, use, and modify. There’s a short demo in the Pro Tools session that’s just there as a sound check. Erase the demo before you start writing your own music so that you can start with a clean slate.

Have fun and keep finishing your productions!

ReWire Session Template

ReWire Session Template Zip

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…”

“How do I tempo change a loop in Pro Tools?” This is a common question and the answer is, “There are lots of ways.” You could use Beat Detective, or you could use the TCE Tool, or you could use Elastic Audio. You could even use a combination of all three tools. It really depends on the source material and your sonic objective. OK, that doesn’t really help does it? How about a video tutorial?

This is a method that I use all the time. It works particularly well for remixing stereo masters (like the audio from a record or CD) because of how it treats the source material. I use both the TCE Tool to round up the tempo of my loops and Elastic Audio for the general tempo changes. Actually, you don’t need to use the TCE Tool, once you discover the tempo of your initial loop and lock it to the session’s tempo you can jump right to Elastic Audio. But, I like to have my audio loop’s tempo rounded to a whole number in order to make it easy to move around on the grid. Plus, I’ve been using the TCE Tool for years, long before Elastic Audio came along. Sometimes old habits are hard to break.

What is crucial here, and should always be done first for any sort of tempo change operation, is that you match your session’s tempo to the loop. If you don’t do this at the start you’re liable to run into a train wreck as soon as you make your tempo change. In Pro Tools I use Identify Beat to match the session’s tempo to the loop, and I set the audio track’s timebase to Ticks in order to lock the loop’s beats to the session’s bars and beats before I apply the Elastic Audio plug-in.

“How do I tempo change a loop in Pro Tools?” This is a common question and the answer is, “There are lots of ways.” You could use Beat Detective, or you could use the TCE Tool, or you could use Elastic Audio. You could even use a combination of all three tools. It really depends on the source material and your sonic objective. OK, that doesn’t really help does it? How about a video tutorial?

This is a method that I use all the time. It works particularly well for remixing stereo masters (like the audio from a record or CD) because of how it treats the source material. I use both the TCE Tool to round up the tempo of my loops and Elastic Audio for the general tempo changes. Actually, you don’t need to use the TCE Tool, once you discover the tempo of your initial loop and lock it to the session’s tempo you can jump right to Elastic Audio. But, I like to have my audio loop’s tempo rounded to a whole number in order to make it easy to move around on the grid. Plus, I’ve been using the TCE Tool for years, long before Elastic Audio came along. Sometimes old habits are hard to break.

What is crucial here, and should always be done first for any sort of tempo change operation, is that you match your session’s tempo to the loop. If you don’t do this at the start you’re liable to run into a train wreck as soon as you make your tempo change. In Pro Tools I use Identify Beat to match the session’s tempo to the loop, and I set the audio track’s timebase to Ticks in order to lock the loop’s beats to the session’s bars and beats before I apply the Elastic Audio plug-in.

By grasping the concept of velocity layers in a sampler you will be able to better use and more easily create your own dynamic and exciting sampler patches. Digital samplers, like Reason’s NN-XT, are an essential tool for creating your own unique sounds and audio effects (such as stuttering) and have been a secret weapon of hit producers since the early 80s (especially in hip-hop and dance music).

In my Producing Music with Reason course I have an entire lesson dedicated to the NN-XT Sampler. It’s that powerful and that deep to warrant a whole week of study. Yet, the assignment at the end of the week, to build from scratch your own NN-XT patch, is for many a serious struggle. Consequently, the way I figure it, I can’t have enough material explaining the finer points of the NN-XT. That said, here’s a video tutorial I did on understanding the power of velocity mapped zones in the NN-XT Sampler.

Remixing Links

Aug 14 2008

Student’s who are not in my Remixing with Pro Tools and Reason course often ask me where they can find material to download for remixing. Below is a list of my favorite sites. Most of the sites require you to sign up, but it’s well worth the effort.

For a cappellas (vocals only versions):
Acapellas4u.co.uk (One of the best free a cappella sites on the Web.)
Beastieboys.com/remixer (All the Beastie Boys acas you’ll ever need!)
Vocalsonly.com (If you want something original, not a commercially released aca, you’ll find it here.)

For contests and breakout tracks (short stereo loops):
Acidplanet.com/contests (An oldie but a goodie.)
Beatport.com (Both independent and name artists regularly offer breakout tracks for remixing, some are for free and some will cost you.)
Peaceloveproductions.com (Mostly indie artists offering breakout tracks for free.)
Realworldremixed.com (A personal favorite. Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records offers select artist tracks for your remixing pleasure. Talk about having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor!)

Of course, there are many other sites with tasty tracks to download for remixing too. If you know of one, or more, please share them. And, of course, don’t forget about my book, The Complete Guide to Remixing.

Real World Remixed Web Site

When enabled, the Elastic Time plug-in analyzes two dimensions of your audio in order to calculate the recorded performance’s tempo. It looks at the audio region’s duration in bars and beats, and it looks for transients that represent a regular periodic rhythm in the recording. In theory, if the rhythmic content of your recording is clear, with distinct transients, Elastic Time can figure out a performance’s tempo regardless of whether the audio region is trimmed to a perfect loop or not. This is really neat when it works, but it doesn’t perform miracles (nor should you expect it to, that’s not producing your own music).

Instead of relying blindly on Elastic Time to perform your beat matching (as in, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best), there are several simple steps that you can take ahead of time to prepare the audio and ensure perfect results every time. Performing this pre-processing, even though it’s a tedious task, helps to preserve the audio quality and the groove of the original performance after your tempo change.

The easiest way to demonstrate my pre-processing approach is to take you step by step through the process. This is the best way to understand not only the steps in the process but the logic behind my approach. (Try it a different way and you’ll find out just how quickly you can end up with a train wreck.) The DRM (Digital Rights Management) free stems being offered for your remixing pleasure by Radiohead, of their song “Nude”, on iTunes is perfect for this example. The stems are $0.99 each and you only really need two of the five available, the “Drum Stem” and the “Voice Stem”. But, it’s nice to have all of the stems in your session, even if you don’t use the “Bass Stem” and “Guitar Stem” they’re handy for finding the key of the original, and the “String FX Etc. Stem” contains several sounds that are perfect for a remix.
iTunes Nude

Remixing Radiohead

1. Create a new Pro Tools session and import all of the “Nude” stems. When prompted, select the import Destination as New Track with a Location of Session Start.
step 1

2. Arrange the tracks in the Edit window with the Drum Stem on top and the Voice Stem just below.
step 2

3. Mute all of the tracks except the Drum Stem. Use Tab to Transient to locate the very first downbeat in front of the vocals (approximately 1946229 samples in from the session’s start) and separate the regions.
step 3

4. Select the Edit Group, double click on the latter Drum Stem region and separate all of the regions.
step 4

5. Select the Shuffle Edit Mode and delete the first set of regions so that the downbeat of the second set of regions scoots to the beginning of the session.
step 5

6. Disable the Edit Group and using Tab to Transient find the downbeat every two bars in the Drum Stem and separate the regions. (The only region that I left as 4 bars is the drum break, having 2 bars before the break itself.) In some instances, you can make the separations every 4 bars, but with “Nude” there’s a lot of human tempo variation and every 2 bars will produce the most precise overall beat match.
step 6

7. Select the Edit Group and double click on each 2 bar Drum Stem section and separate the sections.
step 7

8. Select each 2 bar section and apply Identify Beat to generate a tempo map for each section. This will beat match and lock each 2 bar section to your session’s tempo grid. (You could use Beat Detective to generate a tempo map, but my method preserves the original performance’s groove every two bars, while simultaneously guaranteeing that the original’s downbeat is locked exactly to the grid every two bars. This way, your beat match never drifts.) At this stage, it’s also helpful to create a Click track in order to audition your tempo lock.
step 8

9. Change the Timebase selector for all of the tracks to Ticks. This will lock the regions to their relative bar and beat positions so that they stay in beat when you make your tempo change. Then, enable the Elastic Time plug-in for each track. Set the Drum Stem to Rhythmic, the Voice Stem to Monophonic, the String FX Etc. Stem to Polyphonic, the Bass Stem to Monophonic, and the Guitar Stem to Polyphonic. Give Pro Tools time to analyze the audio. (For now, leave the Elastic Time plug-in set to Real-Time Processing.)
step 9

10. In the Transport bar, disable the Conductor and enter a new tempo in the Current Tempo field, or experiment with the Manual Tempo Slider. Since the original tempo is about 42 BPM, it’s nice to bring the tempo up to about 62 BPM. At this tempo you can then record drums in double-time (124 BPM) and be at a dance tempo! (Once you decide on your remix target tempo, if your computer is running short on processing power, your can set the Elastic Time plug-in to Rendered Processing.)
step 10

Here’s what the final results sound like, using all of the stems at 62 BPM, some effect processing, and backed by Digidesign’s Strike virtual drum instrument playing in double-time at 124 BPM:
Nude – The Strike Remix (by Erik Hawk)

With the introduction of Elastic Time, in Pro Tools 7.4, it’s clear that Digidesign is taking a proactive stance against competing programs boasting easy to use, time compression/expansion based, automatic beat matching algorithms. Though it’s tough to proselytize that Elastic Time is as easy to apply as similar functions in competing software applications, I can say, without a doubt, that it kicks butt in terms of its audio quality and the level of direct control you have over how the algorithm is processing your audio. It’s deep and offers a variety of ways to fine tune the processing, from multiple Elastic Audio “plug-ins” (Polyphonic, Rhythmic, Monophonic, and Varispeed), to individual control panels for each plug-in type, and the ability to freely edit Warp markers directly in the Edit window. Talk about control! Due to the simple fact that you have such a high degree of control over the Elastic Time processing, it requires a bit of homework to master, but once you do, you can achieve absolutely stunning results.

It’s important to note that Digidesign calls Elastic Audio a “plug-in”. However, it’s not applied in the way you’d normally think of a plug-in, as an insert on a mixer channel or an offline AudioSuite processor. Instead, it’s applied directly to a track in the Edit window, with its plug-in menu located just below the track’s Timebase selector.

ET Selector

Beat Matching Made Simple
Elastic Time is at its most intuitive when browsing for loops in the Workspace. Simply turn on the Audio Files Conform to Session Tempo button (it looks like the ticks metronome) in the Workspace, select one of the four plug-in types (they’re pretty self-explanatory), and when you click on a loop’s play button (the little speaker) the loop will be automatically analyzed and played back at your session’s tempo. You can even do this while your session is playing, allowing you to hear immediately whether the loop you’ve selected is a bang or a bust. Talk about optimizing your workflow! When you find the loop that you want, simply drag it into the Edit window and it will be deposited on a newly created ticks based audio track, and conformed to your session’s tempo. It doesn’t get much easier than this.

Workspace ET

For those of you who are used to working with REX loops, it should be noted that with the introduction of Elastic Time, the Processing Preference setting, Import REX Files as Region Groups is off by default. So, if you’ve recently updated to Pro Tools 7.4 and you’re wondering why when you drag in a REX file it no longer comes in as a region group, mystery solved. To return to your old way of working with REX loops, make sure that the Processing Preference for Import REX Files as Region Groups is checked, as well as the REX and Acid Files Only selection for Drag and Drop from Desktop Conforms to Session Tempo. From the Workspace, you can also audition REX loops at your session tempo when the Audio Files Conform to Session Tempo button is on. And, if when you drag a REX loop from the Workspace into the Edit window, you want the REX loop to automatically conform to your session’s tempo, again, the Audio Files Conform to Session Tempo button must be enabled.

REX Import Preferences

More Than a Mashup

Jan 18 2008

A mashup (AKA bootleg) is taking two songs and beat-matching them together to create a new blended mix of both songs. For example, the classic mashup of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and New Order’s “Blue Monday.” It’s often done using full stereo mixes (with vocals), or, alternately, an a cappella and a stereo mix (possibly an instrumental). To hear a variety of well crafted mashups, check out Party Ben.

Mashups became such a hit on the dance-floor that some producers (such as Richard X) went on to remake parts of the original songs in order to clear the entire mashup for commercial release. For example, the 2002 UK hit by the Sugababes, a combination of the lyrics from Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” and the music of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”

The point behind my little history lesson is, you don’t always have to play a traditional instrument, or even record a track, in order to be wonderfully creative with music. I have the privilege of working with music production students at all levels of experience, some are seasoned musicians while others are just starting piano lessons. Obviously, for our production project in class, I expect students to create their own tracks, one way or another. It’s a snap for experienced players to record a performance, but a serious challenge for students just beginning an instrument to record something decent. As an alternative, I encourage the use of MIDI files, a cappella mixes, and sampling. (For educational purposes only, of course.) These resources can provide a signal and a musical performance with which to practice your production chops whether you play an instrument or not.

However, if you have never worked with samples or imported a MIDI file, taking advantage of these resources can be intimidating. One of the best ways I know to explain the whole process is to show you in a song. So, without playing a darn thing, just using my ears and production skills, I produced a mashup in Reason 4 using an a cappella, a MIDI file of a cover tune, and a sample of the original tune — all items I found for free on the Web. This mashup features Tone-Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and Kraftwerk’s “The Model.”

You can download the Reason 4 song file below (it’s about 8 MB) and explore the production, from its samples to its mix. To download an MP3 of the mashup, visit my myspace page.

Cold Medina Mashup

So You Want to Remix?

Oct 27 2007

For starters, it’s a good idea to determine a general stylistic direction for your remix, because not every song will work with every style of beats. In general, the most important factor in making this choice is a song’s original tempo, because no matter how you slice, dice, and warp the audio, there’s always one constant; the less of a tempo change you make on the original the better it will sound in your remix. (This is, of course, assuming you want to hear the original song clearly in your remix. If not, all bets are off.)

Regardless of how great a particular tempo change process is, the further you stretch, compress, and slice up a piece of audio the more warbled, disjointed, and distorted it will become. Since most electronic music styles that are appropriate for a remix inhabit a select tempo range, it’s wise to choose a target remix style with a tempo that is as close as possible to the song’s original tempo. (See the chart below for a sampling of several popular dance music styles and their tempo ranges.)

Tempo changes that are less than +/-20 BPM are usually a safe bet, but this amount will vary depending on the types of sounds and performances you need to alter. For example, slowing down legato bass and vocal performances is trickier than speeding up staccato guitar and percussion parts. Speeding up a performance usually produces better sonic results, with fewer processing artifacts, than slowing it down. However, in some cases, slowing down the original by a few BPM so that you can double-time the remix tempo and reach a suitable dance music tempo can also work. So long as your tempo change doesn’t destroy the musical “feel” and audio quality of an artist’s recording, you’re in safe territory (especially if the remix has been commissioned by the artist or their record label).

To precisely determine the tempo of the original song I fly the stereo mix into Pro Tools, separate out a couple of bars and apply Identify Beat to the selected region. Make sure that the region you create is perfectly trimmed to the downbeat and loops seamlessly. Identify Beat is only as precise as your selection, so if your separation points are off the downbeats by even a little, your tempo calculation will also be off. The clear transient of a kick drum is one of the best landmarks for a downbeat, and the Tab to Transient function can make finding your kick transients an absolute snap.

Dance Music Style and Tempo Chart