06 August 2007

7 good things about remixing

Preamble: The concept of music remixing is still evolving. It originally started mostly as an alternative version of audio manipulation techniques applied to a master stereo recording. For example different equalization, addition of effects like reverbs, delays and compression would be applied to the stereo track of a song, often done to make songs more dance hall ready.

However more recently, remixers are taking it much further, thanks to individual tracks (e.g. vocal, guitar, bass, drums) of songs being made available to remixers by the original music makers. This has enabled remixers to create much more dramatically different versions of songs, than before. In addition, this added freedom has made it possible not only to punch up a song for the dance floor, but also to mellow it out, or even to take it into different genre's. This in turn has made the distinction between a remix and a remake more blurred. I would therefore propose, that the distinction between a remake and a remix is becoming less relevant.

So here we go (the order isn't very important):

1. Remixing teaches composition and arranging
Since remixing starts with one or more given pieces of music, it is a less intimidating starting point than a blank piece of paper. The remixer can just re-arrange the given musical snippets, or cut them up some more before re-assembling them. Or the remixer can venture into more advanced compositional techniques, like adding their own parts, or even changing the chords around a given melody. The latter one is definitely one of my favorite pastimes!

2. Remixing teaches production techniques
With even entry level DAW (digital audio workstation) software featuring built-in equalization and effects, remixers get to use and therefore learn the same kinds of tools that professional recordings are made with. Instead of just pretending to be Paul McCartney or Nelly Furtado, you get to be like George Martin or Timbaland.

3. Remixing changes how you listen to all music
Remixers find, that their own compositional and production experience gained from remixing, makes them experience other people's recordings more intensely. Great music becomes even greater for remixers, because they start to hear subtleties in compositions, individual musicianship and recordings, through their ears and brains trained from their remixing work. Once you have dissected and worked with individual tracks of a song, you become better at hearing individual tracks in other songs, too.

4. Remixing is an additional way to become a music maker
Traditionally, music makers were mostly singers or instrumentalists. And to create something that sounded somewhat good, you had to be a good singer or a good instrumentalist. As a remixer you can create an end product exceeding your vocal and instrumental skills. Numerous music makers have come more from a DJ background than a musician background. And more recently, music lovers with limited (or rusty) musicianship are turning into music makers because of remixing. Regular readers of this blog will note my abundant use of the term "music maker". It is an acknowledgment of music being made not only by musicians in the traditional sense anymore, but also by people with turntables, Kaoss pads and computers.

5. Remixing builds musical community and collaboration
Remixing is a form of sequential collaboration, in some ways similar to certain aspects of open source software development, or creating art collages. Sequential collaboration hands off the decision making from one person to the next. Therefore it's collaboration without infighting, arguments and artistic hissyfits. Since most remixing is done at sites where more than one person remixes the same piece of music, it fosters dialog around a common theme. In some cases, remixers find musical kinship through their remixes, and end up collaborating in more traditional ways. In addition, there's something deeply gratifying on both sides of the remixing equation. Having experienced both, I can attest, that it's very gratifying and humbling as remixer to be able to work with somebody else's source materials. But it's also very gratifying and humbling to have one's song remixed. Both sides are giving musical gifts to each other.

6. Remixing increases understanding and appreciation across musical genres
A classically trained musician can take a rap song into a classical direction of their choice as much as an industrial hard core rocker can re-interpret a new-age piece. This cross genre appreciation is easiest to achieve when remixers with different musical leanings remix the same song. While one may not necessarily start loving extremely different music, most well intentioned remixers can't help but gain respect for music makers with different backgrounds.

7. Remixing increases cross-cultural appreciation
Remixing songs from different musical cultural backgrounds can be a good learning experience for different approaches to music. From different instruments, different singing styles to entirely different scales. My last four remixes have been for songs with a good helping of Asian and African backgrounds. Incredibly cool and ear-opening experience. World peace through remixing? We can only hope!

Do you have any favorite things about remixing? Agree or disagree with my top 7? I'd love to hear it in the comments!

1 comments - add your comment:

essesq said...

Another good thing about remixing is it has the power to bring artists who have left this earthly realm a chance to develop further and find new audiences. Here's a story about a rather formidable vocal talent and his remixer that covers the sort of emotional territory that such projects entail.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12201563

Honestly 1 year into the process and community of remixing and I can't name one bad thing about it (except that gaps between "wanna do" and "can do" can be rather broad at times for beginners). That being said, with persistence, a bit of technology, some good friends and a few chemicals remixing has become a new creative outlet for me and a way to indulge my mania for music.

I think another area of interest is the commonality of mix packs. When more than one person explores a given set of music ingredients the finished products are very interesting to compare and create a focus for creative discussion.