The art of remixing – taking all or part of a recorded workand using it to create something new – is a fantastic creative activity for secondary school students. By sourcing the original recorded separate vocal, drum, guitar, bass and keyboard tracks (known as stems), students can transform a known song into a new musical work. The process of remixing teaches students about beat-matching, tempo, harmony, arranging, form, texture, song structure, drum styles and rhythm.
One of the main attractions of remixing is that students can legally use original source material from artists they know. Beyonce, Gotye, Alicia Keys, Jason Mraz and many other rock/pop musicians have officially released stems for their songs.
Remixing can be done using whichever DAW (digital audio workstation) software you use. Popular choices for schools include GarageBand, Mixcraft and Acid Music Studio, but you could also use any of the ‘pro’ options, such as Reason, Abelton Live, Logic or Pro Tools.
Introducing Remixing To Students
For a visual, interactive timeline that walks you through the art of remixing over time, visit The History of Remixing (http://www.historyofremixing.webs.com/). The website notes that the concept of remixing – composers and arrangers ‘borrowing’ source material to create new works – has, in fact, been around for centuries.
It is worth exploring the iTunes Store, Google Play, YouTube and the music-sharing site SoundCloud for examples of remixes to play for students. Many current, popular songs have remixes: search for the song title and add the word ‘remix’ at the end to find examples.
The website Indaba Music – an online community for musicians – is also a great place to search for examples. Indaba hosts remix competitions that feature the original stems from artists like Jason Mraz and Beyonce, and once the competition has finished they share the winning entries online. Students can listen to the source material first (the stems or the original track) and then listen to the winning remixes.
A couple of years ago, Australian artist Gotye made available the original stems from his best-known song Somebody That I Used To Know and it has been remixed hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of times. You can find a range of the remixes in vastly different styles on Gotye’s SoundCloud profile: https://soundcloud.com/gotye/
Comparing multiple different remixes of the same song is an effective way to discuss the unique characteristics of a variety of musical styles – the drum pattern, the bass line, tempo, singing style and form.
A Quick “Getting Started” Activity
Incredibox (www.incredibox.com) is a free online music resource that is lots of fun, simple to use, and is a great way to introduce remixing to students. Drag an icon to an empty ‘dude’ to make him sing or beatbox and when a new dude appears, give him a sound as well. You can add up to seven dudes to make your very own A Cappella ensemble.
Incredibox can teach or reinforce a range of musical concepts and techniques including arranging skills, layering, solo and tutti, rhythm, texture and timbre, A Cappella part-singing and beatboxing.
Use the Record button to record a ‘performance’ of your ensemble and then email a link to your remix by clicking on Share.
It is possible to create remixes with a variety of software tools. The pros use programs like Abelton Live, FL Studio or Reason, but if you do not have access to those, you can easily use software that is commonly found in school computer labs, such as GarageBand, Mixcraft, Acid Music Studio, Logic and Pro Tools.
When you have the original stems to play with, there are many ways to approach a remix. Here is an overview of the approach that I take:
1. Find stems
Locate legal stems for your remix. It is a good idea to choose a song you like since you will be listening to it a lot! Beware that there are many pirated stems available for download on the internet. Encourage students to look for legally-available stems that are Creative Commons licensed or that have been released for an official remix competition.
2. Beat-map the stems
It is very likely that you will need to beat-map (also known as ‘beat-match’) each stem. This is a process by which you import each individual audio file into your software program and make sure that it conforms to a uniform metronome beat.
Carrying out this process will save the tempo (and key) data to the audio file, which means that if you adjust the tempo or key of your project, the audio file will automatically adjust as well.
This step is crucial – particularly if you want to add other existing loops to your project. If the stems are not beat-matched they will not fit together musically with other rhythmic and melodic loops found in the loop library.
3. Create your musical palette
It can be useful to edit the stems – chop them up into small snippets or loops – so that you have a musical palette to work with. Choose just a few important bits that define the song. As an example, in Somebody That I Used To Know, the guitar ostinato at the beginning, the xylophone part and the vocal lines might be all you need to create a remix. Using fewer stems will encourage students to add their own creative spin on the track by recording original audio or MIDI sounds and will prevent them from simply ‘re-assembling’ the song.
4. Plan your remix
Think about the style of remix you want to create: will it be slow, fast, dreamy, wistful, dance-like, or hardcore? Will you adhere to the form of the original song, or do something different? Will you alter the key, time signature or harmonic structure? Will your remix have a contrasting style or ‘feel’ to the original?
5. Start remixing!
There is no right or wrong order here: do what feels right and remember that you can always change things later if you do not like them. Some options:
- Lay down a beat in your chosen style. You might like to choose an existing stem from the song, part of a stem or another rhythmic loop altogether.
- Start adding your stem snippets (and/or loops) into your project. Think about using short musical phrases.
- Do not be afraid to mix up the order that the instruments (or vocals) start playing.
- Consider adding your own original instrumental parts to your remix: you can record yourself playing electric guitar or bass guitar, or record via a MIDI keyboard.
- Add effects, volume or pan envelopes to the tracks.
6. Finishing off
Listen to your project and make sure all the parts are balanced. When you are happy with the way it sounds, export the remix as an MP3 and share it with your friends!
For a collection of links about remixing (including places to find legal stems, examples of remixes and the history of remixing) visit http://pinterest.com/katiewardrobe/remixing-and-sampling/