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Build A
DJ/ReMix Studio

Tips on Building a remix station to Create or
Remix Hot Dance music

by Tweak

 

Stanton SCS3 System DJ Controller Package

 

 

TIME OUT! 

What is a ReMix?  Speaking classically, a remix is where a producer takes the original multi track tape of a commercial piece and remixes a new master recording.  The original drums, bass, guitar, keys and vocals all recorded on isolated tracks may be kept or replaced with new performances.  With the emergence of digital samplers and drum loops (often called "beats") a form of music became popularized where old classic songs were put to a new rhythm track to make them "danceable". This is usually what most people mean today when they use the term remix. The Tempo or BPM  (Beats Per Minute) can be set at a faster speed.  The vocals are then cut up and stretched or compressed to fit the groove.  The bass and other instruments may be rerecorded, though snips of the original tracks may be retained to give it authenticity.

So maybe you want to be a DJ and you want to get up to speed and find out exactly what you need to get going.  Cool.  You're in the right place.  Maybe you don't want to be a DJ but you do want to remix some tracks to modern house beats or drum 'n bass (DnB).   Or maybe you are like me, with a full midi and audio DAW rig and you want some new gear to inspire some fresh contemporary music for your productions.  I'm going to show you some things that will come easy on a remix setup that would be hard to do even on a state of the art DAW. We'll get a good working definition of a re-mix. We'll talk about basic production methods using both a software approach and a hardware approach, and we'll go into the gear. 

mc505 I employ my MC-505 groovebox when lay down a new groove.  These can be had relatively inexpensively today.  Though these came out in 1999, I did not get mine till 2009 because its such a classic, with TR808, 909 and TB303 samples inside..  Those machines, and the Jupiter 8, are the core sounds for lots of dance music.  My current remix rig is the MC505, a Stanton T-90, Motu's BPM with an MPD16 and of course Logic

OK, I can see the hard core midi composers rolling their eyes.  Some of you guys despise this "dance stuff" because of all the inordinate attention it receives in the industry.  Like it or not, techno, drum and bass, house, hip hop, rap and their hundreds of sub-genres have fundamentally altered today's music.  Today, one might think, you can do "almost" anything in software better than you can in hardware.  Yeah, "almost". Doing dance music on a DAW is a totally mental thing.  Your brain locks onto how the piece should sound and you try to stay within those limits. You have to "think like a DJ" to make it work. If you never have used remix oriented tools, you may have some trouble here.  The results might be too perfect.

large product image

The Roland MC808 has a ton of features, including 128 voice polyphony.  This is a powerful groovebox sampler.  This is the final evolution of the groovebox, which seems to have been replaced by the MPC and MV8800.  But who want's to lug all that around?  The 808 does nearly everything they do.  See more gooveboxes
OLDER MPC's (for historical reference)

 Akai MPC4000 24-Bit 96kHz MIDI Production Center  The most powerful MPC ever takes its rightful position in our Akai Professional product line. Along with the MPC2000XL, and the MFC equipped Ultimate XL the MPC4000 joins the legendary music production tools of our time. Using the new Z-96 sampling engine the MPC4000 boasts the first full feature sampler ever in an MPC product.  Tweak: It's new and awesome.  The sampler in this machine can be expanded to half a gigabyte, and if that's not enough, you can stream directly from hard disk.  If sampling is not enough, you can connect 4 fully multi timbral synths--that's 64 midi channels.  You also get a built in CD recorder and a 4 channel FX processor, and tons of professional features like SMPTE, word clock.  There's also SCSI and USB for connecting to Macs and PCs.  Whew! You could do all your work on this thing, gig with it, take it on the road, or to a pro studio.  I am just dying to try one out.

 

Akai MPC2000XL Sampling Drum Machine The ultimate sampling drum machine, originating in the MPC60 that defined modern hip-hop music (OK, along with the SP1200). Say hi to the new MPC2000XL. It's everything you'd expect from an MPC and then some. And it just makes your drum samples sound way better than they do on other samplers.  Tweak: There's lots of these out there.  Expandable to 32 megs (2 meg standard) 32 voice sampler (muck like the old s2000 samplers from Akai), 2 MIDI out ports for 32 channels.  Lots of options you'll probably need, like a multi effects processor board and digital i/o board.  Some variations of this product come with zip drives.  There's a SCSI port for connecting to hard drives and other storage. You can add the Analog Filter module, which gives the MPC knobs to tweak.  Great feeling pads. 

 

Using hardware to make a dance mix, however, forces you to use the built in limits of the hardware creatively, which means less thinking and more doing. Limits are a good thing.  Doing a dance mix, I find I can get the sound I was looking for simply by using dance oriented remix tools, rather than editing on the DAW.  Some things you just can't do well on a DAW unless you really edit hard, like stutters, dramatic pitch changing, scratching, and repetitive phrase looping that's a little bit "off the hook", i.e., perfect with its imperfection. Know what I mean?  Some of you do.  I'm talking about realtime loops that do not match perfectly, samples that fall in and out of sync, effects that cut in and out briefly replacing program material, downbeats that trigger on upbeats.  These are but a few.

At the heart of any dance mix are musical phrases, hits, and loops.  A club remix, for example, will cop phrases from commercial cds and assemble them in an artistic way that builds energy in the club.  The idea is to make people dance and have fun.  The "classic"  remix just rolls out the hits, one after another, in a seamless stream, doing BPM matching so dancers on the floor never lose a step.  Yet the last 10 years have spawned a new breed of DJs that assemble material on the fly, mixing fragments of known hits over a bed of aggressive beats taken from sample cds.  There's generous effects throughout to keep it interesting.  The listener, instead of hearing the same old familiar songs like they have hundreds of times before, hears the suggestion of familiarity within a totally unique, one-of-a-kind performance that is totally fresh and original and may never be produced again in the same way.  The remix has gone from a mere record changer to a creative performer.  

Taken to extreme, the Mix the DJ comes up with of a track may become a remix.  If one has the acapella vocal tracks of a song, (acapella means "vocal without instruments") one can simply stretch or compress it to a new BPM then add a new foundation of beats and hits for the instrumentation.  (This is, by the way, the exact opposite of Karaoke, where new vocals are added to old instrumentation). 

 

Roland MV8800 Production Studio
Since 2003, Roland's MV-8000 has been a coveted centerpiece for many of the world's greatest hip-hop and R&B producers. With its powerful hands-on features, and its ability to incorporate a VGA monitor and mouse, it brought the best of the hardware- and software- based production worlds together. Today, Roland sets a new standard in production power and flexibility with the MV-8800.

 

 

What do I need to do a Remix?

Working in Software: There's many ways to achieve a remix today in software.  All of them involve using  digital audio.  You can do a remix entirely in software using an audio sequencer (Cubase, Logic, Sonar, Vegas, Acid, Ableton live and others) and some form of  time stretch facility. Some programs now do time stretching "on the fly" like acid, Ableton live, and the big sequencers like Cubase, Logic and Sonar. Others like Reason, may need Recycle to carry out the important time stretch function. One really cool program is Melodyne, which can re-pitch and stretch the vocal.  You can find Melodyne like qualities in Motu's Digital Performer.  A sampler may not be required, but it will certainly help.  If your sequencer can use a software sampler, like Kontakt2, the Emagic EXS (for those that use Logic), or Halion, or Emulator X2, you will find things will go easier, particularly with the vocal.  You simply cut up the vocal into phrases, sometimes words, and assign each of these to the keyboard.  Once you have your basic beats in place you can "play" the vocal on the keyboard, then edit the positions in the sequence till they fit in a pleasing way.

One secret to using software to make club mixes is to build in imperfections.  Don't match all the loops to BPM exactly, don't start them exactly on the bar.  If it's too perfect, like these programs tend to calculate, it will sound like dance Muzak.  Have you heard that coming from your monitors?  Be honest now. I have.

 

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) BPM Beat Production Software
BPM unites drum machine-style operation with advanced virtual instrument technology to give you the ultimate rhythm programming experience. Combine drum kits, sequenced patterns, sliced loops and instrument sounds to realize your rhythmic vision, mixing and matching any playing style with any drum kit. Or plug in your pad controller or MIDI keyboard to capture your live, groove-quantized performance directly in BPM.

Akai MPD18 Compact Pad Controller
The MPD18 is the easiest way to add genuine MPC pads to your setup. This MIDI-over-USB pad controller for DJs, programmers, producers, and other musicians is built around the pads and controls from Akai Professional's industry-standard MPC series. The MPD18 is an expressive and intuitive instrument for the studio and stage. The MPD18 is built around the pads of the industry-standard MPC and contains some of the same technology that gives tracks made with the MPC an unmistakably human feel. The MPD18 is an expressive and intuitive controller for the studio and stage, and its compact footprint is easy to fit into any setup. When combined with virtually any MIDI software, the MPD18 delivers everything needed to create tracks that feel great.

Can you do a remix in software?  Most definitely!  Software I suggest for that task:  Sony's Acid or Ableton Live as your recorder.  MOTU's BPM as your drum/sampler plugin, and toss in an MPD .  This is a lovely remix setup and just as capable as hardware, if not more so.

 

Working with Hardware, away from a computer is also possible, and may give more of a realtime club feel. An experienced DJ could do it all with 2 cd players. Sometimes, with all the adrenalin pumping, one gets a little aggressive and early on hits and stutters, or comes in late after tweaking a big effect. You have the same conditions by working the mix in realtime.  Examples, the vocal plays on one and the beats play on another.  The DJ would use the looping and effects on both cd players to come up with an interesting on the fly remix.   Modern CD players are awesome, filled with possibilities.  I have an old Axis 2 (see the newer Axis 4) that I always keep on the desktop, wired right into my patchbay.  Great for sampling as you can loop a section, change time pitch, spin the platter and pipe it right into an audio track in the sequencer.

Perhaps a a nod to how professional the club remix has become, we now have CD players in the $3000 range.  That's about 1/3rd of a the price of my last car!  Another trend in CD players is they now can play MP3 files.  The small files allow the DJ to have about 6 times as many songs on a CD, enough for a whole show. 

Tweak's old but powerful realtime remix station consists of a Roland SP 808, Axis 8 CD. Korg EA1, and Korg Kaoss Pad.  Samples can be lifted from cds to the 808  and basslines can be sampled in from the electribe.  The Kaoss pad can be added to the mix simply by touching the pad. A digital out of the 808 connects to my DAW for further processing, or exporting into Logic or Sonar

 

Taking this a step further, a digital sampler may be added.  Samplers that allow for easy time stretching are best here.  So are the ones that allow access to samples without a keyboard and can be  loaded quickly with a new set of sounds. Samplers of particular merit are the groove box type samplers such as the Akai MPC 500, 1000, 2000, 2500 4000 and the Roland MV8800 on the high end and the Electribe S, SX, and older used stuff you can now find on ebay.   What you need is a digital sampler, a cd player, and some good old sample cds and of course a cd of the original acapella vocal.  Using hardware, you

  • 1) sample in the beats you will uses from a sample cd using the CD Player to "play it in" to the sampler.
  • 2) Then you sample in your vocal phrases and whatever hits and stabs you need to make things work. 
  • 3) you apply your creativity.   There's a lot of flexibility here.  You could play the vocal from the cd player and tap in the samples for the beats if working live, or play the beats from a cd player and punch the sample buttons for the vocal or both.

But what about the Bass and other sounds?  You have many options here as well.  Using synthesizers live in a DJ rig can present some problems and some will prefer to sample in basslines and synth arpeggios so they too can be triggered by a touch of a button.  Or you can use a synth/sequencer  to do it.  If you want a small footprint MIDI synth for the job Alesis Micron, MicroKorg and Korg Micro-X   If you have to have the best then go Access Virus TI2 .  If you are using a sampler that already has a MIDI sequencer in it like the Akai MPC series, you can use a  synth module, like the Virus desktop.  But hey, you can do this on the cheap with an old Novation BassStation or Oberheim Matrix 1000, or one of the many old synth modules out there and trigger it from the pads.  Planet Phatt anyone?  Emu Orbit?  While the synths are gone, the sounds are not.  They are all available for Cakewalk's Dimension pro in the Proteus Pck Sound Library

 You can get very complex with these rigs, though that is not always a great thing on gigs.  If it's too complicated you might get distracted.  So what one could do is have a full out rig at home, sample up what you need and just take the sampler and cd player and mixer to the gig.  Like any other gigging musician, one should have everything mapped out in advance on the sampler so the right sounds are there when you need them. 

Alesis Micron 37-Key Analog Modeling Synth
The Micron boasts the same sound engine as the acclaimed Alesis Ion in a compact 3-octave keyboard, offering breakthrough analog realism, high-resolution control, and tremendous value.

Endless possibilities

In the studio you have all your tools available to make killer remixes.  And if you also have a computer based system you can send your data to it and do another layer of editing and put on the final touches with software mastering plugins before you burn your remix to cd.

Spin on

Rich the Tweakmeister  

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Cool Net resources

Definitions of A Cappella http://www.a-cappella.com/readingroom/a-cappella.html

 


INDEX of Sampling And Sound Development
Secrets of Sampling
Using your Hardware Sampler Creatively
How to Burn a Sample CD Rom
Surviving SCSI Hell
Resources for Emu Hardware Samplers
Connect your Hardware Sampler to your PC
Emulator X2 Soft Sampler
Working as a Sound Developer
Build your own Soft Synth with SoundFonts
Downloadable Sounds at zZounds
Kontakt
Field Recorders
Audio for Video and Film
Review of Sound Forge
Tweak's Sample CD Roms
Tweak's Synth Patches for Select Synths
Convert your ESI banks to EOS
Zoom H4 Review
Samplers Price List

 


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