“Two topics in one day? O-M-Effin’-G!” I often ask for mix ideas on facebook when I’m bored, and I usually get a fair amount of responses. So why don’t I use them? Well, let’s take a look first at what it takes to make a quality mashup:
First and foremost, I need the songs that I’m going to mix. No problem, downloading music nowadays is easier and faster than gassing up your car. But more specifically, what’s really needed is studio-quality instrumental tracks of all the songs used (better to have them and not need them), and most importantly studio-quality vocal tracks used. Removing vocals from music to make DIY Karaoke versions of songs is easy. Not usually the best quality, but it works (this method is why Krewella’s lyrics are very faint in the background of [song link coming soon] except in places I’ve put her lyrics on full volume). Isolating the vocals (DIY), however, is a much bigger pain in the ass, and honestly I haven’t figured out how to do it. I’ve looked up a few different methods that didn’t work.
So how to get these “studio quality” tracks? Well, the most obvious answer is from the studio, of course! Recording studios release these tracks fairly often, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not; unauthorized releases are a huge deal to dj’s and remix artists, because sometimes they’re the only releases (or are unique and therefore in high demand). Youtube searches will often bring these tracks up, a trick I leaned from Dj Earworm’s youtube channel. When that doesn’t work, there are websites dedicated to making these tracks available, whether by purchasing them and then reselling them, or by a community of dj’s isolating the tracks and then doing their best to edit out all imperfections and remnants of the rest of the song. A quick Google search for “acapella” tracks will give you a ton of these (yes, I’m aware it’s “a cappella,” but apparently most of the internet isn’t).
So, we have our tracks, some studio quality, some DIY that are good enough to work, so now what? Well, there are two ways to go about putting something together: 1. Have an idea already in mind and bring it to life; and 2. (my usual method) Look through all the tracks I have to work with and just start mixing. The key to mixing is simple: If it doesn’t sound right, it isn’t. When I put together So What (I Love It), the only thing I had in mind was mixing Whenever, Wherever with Whistle. The rest just came in because I had the parts and wanted to mix it up. The song quickly turned into a Pink song, and Shakira would have been completely edited out if it wasn’t for the fact that her being there was the reason this song now exists. However, my first mashup, What Is Gaga, I knew exactly what I wanted going into it. I heard What Is Love on the radio and started thinking of the lyrics to Poker Face, so I went home and made it happen (and yes, I was already very familiar with What Is Love).
So, we’ve put our pieces down, now what? Well again, if it doesn’t sound/feel right, it isn’t. My first release of Alive Gentlemen didn’t have any Krewella vocals besides the background bits that couldn’t be taken out of the music. After listening to the song a number of times, I decided to add Krewella’s vocals, and the track is much better now because of it. How did I add the vocals without having the isolated vocal track? I used the original song. I then had to be very careful how I mixed the instrumental track with it, because I had to find balance between the music tracks and the vocals. Making Krewella’s vocals louder meant making the music that accompanied it louder, and so the instrumental itself had to be turned down. It was a little tricky, but you can hear how it turned out at the link above.
Now, how to choose the songs to use. While this is obviously the first step in mixing, there are several things that have to be taken into account if two separate songs are to be considered compatible. Firstly, the key that each song is in. If the two songs are not in the same key, one or both of them will have to be pitch-shifted. This is easy to do on most any music editing software, but it can make songs sound weird, and again, if it doesn’t sound right, it’s not. Katy Perry’s voice sounds absolutely ridiculous when pitched-shifted even a single key up or down. This is why I didn’t put her vocals from TGIF into my Wrecking Summertime mix.
The other consideration is the speed of the tracks (BPM). Like pitch shifting, changing the speed of a track without changing the pitch is one of the most basic components of any media-editing software and is absolutely easy to do. But if a song’s speed gets changed by too much, it will sound weird to the listener, who is probably (if you’re mixing pop) familiar with the original song. Also, if a sound is sped up or slowed down too much, the waveform gets distorted and the mix will not sound right.
Now, the last thing I must mention before moving on is why the mix is being made. What is the remixer’s intent? That can vary from person to person or even just song to song. For me, What Is Gaga was something I thought of while listening to the original songs and decided to make it happen. Extra Things She Said was my way of showing how Katy Perry was just recycling a Tatu song from 1999. Radio Activity… well that was pretty much just mixing for the sake of mixing. I had no ideas or direction, I just chose tracks and went with it.
So back to the original reason for this post- You’ve given me ideas of songs to remix and I haven’t done it yet. The first reason I don’t use a song is usually because I can’t find decent instrumentals and vocals. Sometimes that’s not a big deal (mainly for vocals on louder music tracks) because the music will drown out the extra parts attached to the DIY vocals. The second reason again is that the songs might not be particularly mixable (speed, key, etc.). The third reason, and really for me these are pretty much the only three (besides laziness and procrastination) is that I just can’t effing stand it. Kesha has a very annoying voice, Calvin Harris is indescribably intolerable to listen to without background music (and impossible to beatmap- to tell the program where the beats are so that from start to finish it doesn’t get “off”), etc.
Just know, friends, that when you give me ideas I do look into them whether or not I know the music, and whether or not it’s particularly mixable. By the way, don’t take this article as me saying making mashups are hard. They’re not particularly, mainly due to the fact that either songs can be mixed well, or can’t and therefore probably shouldn’t (of course there are exceptions, and sometimes you just have to do the impossible).
All mixes mentioned above can be found at [song links coming soon]