As a music technology teacher it’s often useful to go through a track in its entirety as a case study. Normally using your own music makes the most sense as you have access to all the stems and have prior knowledge of the sound design, chord progression choices, where samples are taken from etc.
Depending on what I’m teaching (synthesis, composition, mixing, Logic/Ableton) you can put different emphasis on certain elements of said track but, since this website focuses on all of those things, I thought it’d be an equally good idea to have a look at an example track.
So here’s a quick look at a remix I’ve completed recently: my thoughts of the stems and how I prepared them; my ideas on the chords and why I chose them; the sound design choices; and a bit of the mixing and mastering. Here’s the final version I got back from the band:
The track in question is called Horizon, and is by London-based Italians NAIVES, whose manager and bass player I know. Horizon was self-released earlier this year and has a great video:
I was asked about doing a remix and agreed. Upon hearing the track my initial idea was to do a DFA/Hot Chip kind of thing, focusing heavily on the bass guitar.
However the final version I submitted couldn’t have been further from that, so I think this is an interesting case study looking at the steps I took through each version.
I started by dumping the stems into Ableton Live, getting the tempo and key signature. I ascertained the original was at 127 bpm (a bit fast for my productions normally) and the key was F minor.
Next I decided what I was going to use and discard; obviously I liked the bass guitar, the vocals were an obvious choice (it would be hard to pass it off as a remix without using them) and there were various elements of the drums and synths I liked.
Live makes it easy to drastically change the tempo of the stems without much noticeable degradation of audio quality, at least not enough to bother me. After separating the vocal out into verses, choruses and other sections, I was ready to start.
This remix went through many incarnations and the version I finally submitted was my eighth attempt. I’m not going to dwell too much on some of the earlier versions, but it is interesting to hear some of them to understand my train of thought (although little from versions one to seven was maintained in the final submission!).
Versions one to four were all in a similar vein: I’d dropped the tempo to 117 bpm, focusing on a modular synth arpeggio, off-beat bass line and ‘Can’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough’-style muted guitar part:
As you can hear I quickly discarded the bass guitar as it wasn’t sitting with anything else I composed. From here on in I was pretty unclear where I was going!
In later versions I tried a more filter disco approach, chopping up segments of eighties boogie records:
Next I totally lost the plot, trying to mix Digitalism style distorted drums with pseudo Balearic piano riffs:
At this stage I was pretty much ready to chuck in the towel and apologise for wasting the band’s time, but I decided to have one final crack at it.
Moving to Logic
I’d just recently installed 32 Lives, thanks to the advice of a former student of mine. For those of you who don’t know, some quick background: Logic X is Apple’s latest release of Logic, and they big change here was the move from 32-bit computing to 64-bit.
Without going into detail (because I don’t understand enough myself) the net result was it meant I’d lost a bunch of 32-bit synths and effects that I’d come to rely on. Around this time I’d virtually moved over about 90% of my music production to Ableton Live, which supported both 32- and 64-bit.
However, upon installing 32 Lives I could run all of my old 32-bit stuff in Logic X. And it was this change of environment that pushed me to finish the remix: I’d been starting at the same stems and loops in Ableton for weeks, dumping them into Logic (an environment I don’t prefer but am certainly more familiar with) was useful for inspiring new ideas and ultimately taking a different approach. I went down the route of an early eighties RnB-come-Global Communications route (although I don’t know how much of this made the final cut).