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Welcome to The Remix Manual! The aim of this book is to give you an overview of the world of the remixer and then guide you through the creative and technical processes of remixing—including sound design and mixing. When you've reached the end of the book you will have all the information and tools you need to forge ahead with your career as a remixer!
So without any delay, let's get started by looking at some remix history. We'll then move on to how that relates to your story ...
Today the term remix is almost as familiar to the consumer as it is to the industry insider, since it has become such an important part of modern music. Most people, even those not actively involved in the industry, could give a pretty good definition of what a remix is. Their definition would probably be a little too narrow, however. A remix is, in general terms, simply an alternative version of a song (or more recently, a video). Most people associate the word remix with dance music—an area of the industry where remixing has developed the most. By taking a look at the history and culture of remixing I hope to present some of its broader aspects and, as such, give you a greater appreciation of what is possible.
In its most basic form a remix could simply be a version of a song where the balance of instruments is different, or perhaps instruments have been added or removed from the original version. Even creating a 5.1 surround mix of a stereo recording is, in essence, "remixing."
Prior to the introduction of magnetic tape recording in the 1930s, very little could be done to edit recordings. But as soon as the technology became available, people began to see the potential of creating alternative versions of songs by cutting and splicing the (mono) recording of the entire performance. The next step toward remixing came about after the advent of multitrack recording in the 1940s. The guitarist and inventor Les Paul developed the first 8-track recorder with designers from the Ampex Corporation as a means of enhancing band recordings with additional overdubs. This separation of instrumentation meant it was now entirely possible to change individual parts of a final recording.
This really did change the music industry in a major way, as it allowed the creation of far more complex and elaborate recordings and the ability to change them after the initial recording session. In essence, the remix was born. Of course, back then nobody considered this would become the specialized industry it is today. It would be another couple of decades before the true potential of this technique would come to light. And when it came, it was from what many would consider an unlikely source.
By the late 1960s multitrack recording was well-established and people were starting to see its creative potential over and above what it had been used for thus far. A new music movement in Jamaica called dancehall, which embodied elements of ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dub, was where remixing really began to develop. Some of the pioneering and legendary producers from that time such as King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, started to create alternate versions of tracks to suit the developing tastes of the audiences at the time. They started out by creating simple instrumental mixes of the records but this soon developed into a more complex format involving echo effects and repeated vocal "hooks." Later they began removing certain instruments at specific times and repeating other elements of the track to create new and extended arrangements of the songs.
Around the same time a similar revolution was happening in the disco scene in the U.S. DJs were creating extended versions of hit disco records of the time to keep people on the dancefloor longer. They used simple tape editing and looping to repeat certain sections of the songs. This was the start of the modern club remix. The pioneer of this genre was Tom Moulton, and what he did happened almost by mistake. In the late 1960s, at the beginning of his career, he was simply making mix tapes for a disco; the tapes became very popular and garnered the attention of record labels in New York. Soon these labels were employing him during the production stages of the records to advise on what would work well in the discos. The respect for his knowledge grew and he became very in-demand for creating versions of tracks mixed specifically for the clubs. This marked the first time that record labels would create alternative versions of songs specifically for the disco and club markets, but it wouldn't be the last. In fact, many of the basic techniques that we take for granted nowadays are direct descendants of Tom Moulton's work. A quick listen to some of his better known remixes can bring chills to those of us familiar with the remixes of today. To this day Tom Moulton is a legend. In his 30-year career he has worked on over 4000 remixes and is considered by many to be one of the most important people in the history of dance music.
The first commercially available 12 single was not the work of Tom Moulton. That honor goes instead to Walter Gibbons with his extended "re-edit" of "Ten Percent" by Double Exposure, in 1976. Prior to this, 12 singles had only ever been available to club DJs. With this release, label Salsoul Records took a chance because they believed the format had commercial potential. Ultimately they were proved right and, through the late 1970s, the 1980s, and into the 1990s, the 12 single was a great commercial success. During those years Salsoul Records would also be the home of many remix luminaries, including the legendary Shep Pettibone, whose work lay the foundations for the remixers of today.
Indeed, Shep Pettibone, having found his feet in disco, went on to do remix work for The Pet Shop Boys and Level 42 in the mid 1980s before working with Madonna. His first achievement with the material girl was his "Color Mix" of "True Blue" in 1986 and this led to further well-known remixes of "Causing a Commotion," "Like a Prayer," and "Express Yourself." Soon the remixer became the songwriter and producer when he collaborated with Madonna on her single "Vogue" and her album Erotica. This was really a major step because, prior to this, remixers had been just that, remixers. Pettibone's collaboration with Madonna on "Vogue" really made an important statement that the world of remixing had developed and achieved a level of sophistication equal to that of actual production. Of course, remixers are now usually perceived as being equals in terms of skills and technical knowledge, but prior to "Vogue" in 1990, this hadn't been the case.
The third major development in remixing also happened at around the time of the Salsoul Records remixes, and was born of a fusion of the Jamaican dancehall cultures and U.S. disco sounds following an influx of Jamaican immigrants to New York. Iconic DJ Grandmaster Flash was one of the first people to use "cutting" and "scratching" techniques to create musical collages in real time. While these techniques would later be incorporated into remixing in a more planned way, this was a valuable addition to the remixer's toolbox and it also became one of the trademarks of hip hop music.
During the 1980s most remixes were based on rearrangements of the existing musical parts and, as such, they didn't particularly change the genre or market of the songs. However, with the birth of house music in the early 1980s and its phenomenal growth throughout mid and late 1980s, a new form of remix emerged that also took advantage of improvements in music technology during that time. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s artists such as Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre, and Vangelis had been exploring these new synthesizers and sequencers, and this laid the groundwork for house music, which in turn developed into the numerous forms of dance music we have today. Many actually consider some of the hi-NRG forms of disco to be the direct ancestors of house music because of the increasing use of drum machines and sequenced bass lines. While the actual sound of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" with its now legendary Giorgio Moroder sequenced bass line might be a far cry from some of the early Chicago house music, there are many similarities, not least of which is the rock-solid timing and largely repetitive nature.
Following the explosive growth of dance music during the 1980s, remixes started to take a slightly different direction and evolve more toward what we generally associate with remixes today. The remixers of the late 1980s and early 1990s were using less and less of the original instrumentation in their remixes and using more newly created musical parts. The rapid advances in sequencing and MIDI-based music made this easier and, as the technology evolved, so did the creativity of the remixers. Perhaps one of the earliest examples of the "modern" remix came in 1989 with Steve "Silk" Hurley's remix of Roberta Flack's "Uh Oh Look Out." What was novel about this remix was that only the vocal from the original track was used, with all of the musical parts being newly created. This method of remixing is standard fare these days but, at the time, it was revolutionary and really was a landmark in the evolution of remixes.
Arguably one of the most famous dance records of all time was M.A.R.R.S' "Pump Up the Volume." Shortly after its release in 1987 it went to number 1 in the U.K. charts; it also received a Grammy nomination in 1989. Although not technically a remix, the song used many popular remix techniques of the time and was composed almost entirely of samples of other records. It spawned a whole "sampling" subculture, which, during the early 1990s, would lead to a wave of tracks that used sampling to great effect.
As sequencing technology moved away from dedicated hardware units and became more computer-based and the sometimes prohibitively expensive and comparatively limited analog synthesizers and drum machines started to be replaced by more versatile and cheaper digital ones, it became possible to do more for less money. Also, around this time, more affordable samplers started to enter the marketplace. The arrival of this "triple threat" radically changed the dance music genre, and the rise of dance music to the top of the commercial charts began in earnest.
The rave scene in the U.K. in the early 1990s spawned a huge number of tracks that sampled other songs (or dialog from films or TV shows) and used these often sped-up samples as the basis for new songs. Although these songs were often marketed as "original," they were, to some extent, based around the same principles as the remixes that were happening at the time. As this was the dawn of the sampled music generation, many of these songs (including "Pump Up the Volume") were commercially released without legal action. Today it is extremely doubtful that a single one of them would be released without securing both sound recording and publishing clearance. At the time, however, these things were, if not ignored, at the very least not pursued so diligently as they are today. As a result of this, yet another new kind of "remix" evolved: the mashup.
Although a mashup isn't a remix in the sense thus far described, it is, to some extent at least, still within our initial definition of a remix: an alternative version of a song. A mashup is a mix or edit of two (or sometimes more) other songs to create a new one. Most often mashups contain little or no actual music added by whoever created them. In many ways they could have been (and often are) created by a simple DJ setup of a couple of decks and a mixer. Sampling and sequencing technology obviously makes this easier than trying to mix, beat-match, keep in sync, and recue records. Advanced technology facilitates more elaborate and clever mashups, and this style of remixing is still very popular. Creating a mashup can be technically difficult, since you are dealing with mixing together two full tracks whose musical elements don't always complement each other, or even match at all. On that basis, a DJ or producer often looks for an a cappella track (purely vocals) and mixes this over an instrumental track. This method reduces many of the technical problems associated with making mashups, but doesn't overcome concerns about legal usage.
Excerpted from The Remix Manual by Simon Langford Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Inc. . Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Section 1: The Art of Remixing Chapter 1 - The History of Remixing Chapter 2 - Being a Remixer Chapter 3 - Choosing Your Style Chapter 4 - Key, Chords and Melodies Chapter 5 - Tempo, Groove and Feel Chapter 6 - Arrangement Chapter 7 - Anatomy of a Remix Chapter 8 - A Remixer's Insight
Section 2: The Science of Remixing Chapter 9 - Studio Equipment and Environment Chapter 10 - Sound Design: Introduction Chapter 11 - Sound Design: Rhythmic and Percussive Sounds Chapter 12 - Sound Design: Melodic Sounds Chapter 13 - Time Design: Time-Stretching Chapter 14 - Time Design: Beat-Mapping and Recycling Chapter 15 - Time Design: When All Else Fails Chapter 16 - Mixing: Introduction Chapter 17 - Mixing: EQ and Dynamic Effects Chapter 18 - Mixing: Time Domain and Modulation Effects Chapter 19 - Mixing: Other Effects Chapter 20 - Mastering
Section 3: The Reality of Remixing Chapter 21 - Remix Walkthrough: First steps Chapter 22 - Remix Walkthrough: Working on the details Chapter 23 - Remix Walkthrough: Fine Tuning Chapter 24 - Remix Walkthrough: Finishing up
Section 4: The Business of Remixing Chapter 25 - Promotion Chapter 26 - Management and Representation Chapter 27 - The Importance of the DJ Chapter 28 - Legal and Contracts Companion website: theremixmanual.com