In this piece you’ll learn
- Why remixing is a good idea
- How to start an EDM remix
- Seven tips for remixing an EDM song
By Arthur Kody, iZotope Contributor
How to remix an EDM song
Creating a remix is an interesting task because it says “hey, I love what you’ve created...” while also saying “...but, I could make it better!” But, that balance between honoring the original content while also putting your own sizzle into the mix is ultimately what makes a great remix.
In this article, we’ll look at some reasons why remixing isn’t just fun, it’s strategic. Then, I’ll teach you how to get your remix started and moving in the right direction, and I’ll even provide my top seven tips for remixing EDM.
Why you should be remixing
First of all, why should you remix other people’s songs when you could be focusing on your own, original tunes? Besides the fact it’s fun to get playful with other people’s art, let’s take a look at some reasons why remixing is a beneficial and strategic activity.
Avoid project paralysis and stay focused
Have you ever sat down at your computer, created a brand-spanking-new project file, and then stared blankly at your screen paralyzed, not knowing where to begin? Remixing someone else’s song removes that pre-project paralysis by providing a great jumping off place, so you can actually get to work right away.
Also, when you start a producing session with the intention of remixing a song, this drastically narrows down the scope of what you could (and should) be doing. Rather than wasting time scrolling through hundreds of synth presets trying to find the dopest one, you can narrow down your search to only what will sound good in your remix. Instead of playing around in the piano roll, trying to come up with a new chord progression, you can limit your focus to finding a progression that will work for this remix. You get the picture. Remixing helps you steer clear of decision fatigue by limiting your available options, which lets you stay focused and, ultimately, finish projects faster.
Remixing boosts your creativity
When you limit yourself to working within certain frameworks (i.e. remixing an existing song), these limits actually boost your creativity. Plus, working with someone else’s song means you’re going to be stretching your creative muscles even more than you would if you stuck with creating your own originals. Since you probably aren’t as emotionally attached as you might be to one of your own songs, you’re a bit more likely to try out some experimental techniques. Remixing allows you to do things you wouldn’t normally try by helping you step outside your comfort zone (comfortably).
Remixing helps grow your brand
DJs and music buffs alike are constantly looking for new remixes of the songs they already love. So, if you release a good remix of a track people are already bumpin’ in cars and clubs, the chances of you gaining more fans and followers are pretty high. Remixing helps get your music in front of a whole new audience, allowing you to grow your brand and get your unique sound noticed by more people.
How to prepare for remixing an EDM song
Before you can start making your hit remix, there are a few steps to get out of the way first. Let’s talk shop.
Get the stems
Once you’ve decided on a song to remix, you’ve gotta hunt down the stems in order to get started. Stems are the individual instrument tracks of a song—like the vocals, bass, drums, synths, etc. You’ll first need to get them from the original producer, the label the song is signed to, or the remix contest download page. If, for whatever reason, you can’t obtain the original stems, you can always create them yourself using a tool like iZotope RX Pro’s Music Rebalance plug-in.
iZotope RX Pro’s Music Rebalance Plugin
RX Pro Music Rebalance is an intelligent software plugin that identifies the vocals, bass, percussion, and other instruments in a mix and allows you to turn each element up or down in volume. This lets you take a track and create the individual stems for it. Since most EDM remixes typically only use the vocal from the original track, RX Pro Music Rebalance is the perfect tool for helping you cut out only the vocals from a song for use in your remix.
Here’s an audio example of RX Pro Music Rebalance in action. First, the original track:
My original track - Into the Stars
Then, after I muted everything but the vocal channel using Music Rebalance:
Vocal only through RX Pro Music Rebalance
The RX Pro Music Rebalance plugin really does an amazing job of isolating vocals from a mix. There may be a few minor artifacts that bleed over from the rest of the track, but once you slap these vocals into your new mix, these artifacts should typically blend right in, leaving you with a crystal clear vocal in your remix
RX Pro is now available as part of a Music Production Suite Pro membership, which you can sign up for here!
Decide your vibe
Once you get your stems and have them organized in your DAW, you’ll need to figure out the BPM and key of the original song. The tempo and key of a song largely affect the entire vibe of a track, so it helps to know this information right off the bat so you can decide if you’re going to change one or the other, both, or neither to achieve a certain feel in your remix.
Most DAWs have a built-in BPM calculator that you can use to determine the BPM for your track. Once you know the original BPM and key, now you can (intelligently) decide what you’re going to do in order to get the vibe you want. Speeding up the BPM will give your remix a bit more energy, whereas slowing it down can make it more mellow or grooving. Playing with the key of the song can also alter the vibe quite a lot, especially if you’re remixing an EDM song with vocals.
Again, iZotope’s RX Pro is a great tool to have in your producer toolbox. When it comes to changing the key or BPM of stems before you begin remixing, RX Pro makes it a breeze. The “Time & Pitch” module in RX Pro allows you to change both the tempo and pitch of the stems at the same time. Plus, it does so with complete transparency, so you won’t get any warbly vocals or strange artifacts that you might get with the time-remapping options built into your DAW.
Regardless of if you end up speeding up, slowing down, or pitching the song differently, it helps to get clear on the vibe you’re trying to create with your remix before you start. This will, again, limit your decision fatigue later on by giving you a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Keep what you love and cut the rest
Now that you've defined your vibe, take a listen through all the stems and decide what needs to stay and what needs to take a trip to the trash bin. To define those “must stay” elements, ask yourself what you love most from the original track. Keep that. Pretty much everything else can go in order to make room for what you’ll be adding. Just make sure you’re keeping enough of the original song that listeners will be able to tell it’s a remix and not an entirely new creation.
Tips for how to remix EDM
Now that we’ve covered how to get ready to begin remixing, let’s dive into a few EDM remixing tips and tricks to kickstart your creativity.
Change the genre
I recently hosted a remix contest sponsored by LabelRadar and iZotope for my single “Where Should We Go?” with GARRY B and I was shocked to find that, even though we got over 60 submissions, most of the remixes sounded just about the same as the original. When deciding to tackle a remix, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that you should switch up the genre from the original to keep things fresh.
Changing the genre makes sure you are creating something that contrasts in energy from the original song, which helps your remix to stand out. Otherwise, you’re basically just recreating the same song with minor differences, and it probably won’t get much appreciation. The winner of our remix contest snagged our attention because it was the most different from the original track. Check out both versions below.
Add new percussion
Adding new percussion can drastically alter the vibe of a remix. Whether you remove the original percussion completely, or decide to just layer in additional percussive sounds, the goal here is to change the feel of the track. Try putting a reggaeton beat to what once was a future bass track. Or maybe add in some dubstep snare builds to what was originally a house banger. The drums should obviously fit the genre you’re going for in your remix, but changing the percussive rhythms and textures will really go a long way.
For adding new and interesting percussion, I like to use BreakTweaker. It allows you to shred, splice, and alter each individual note placed in the drum grid so it’s perfect for crafting some really unique sounding percussion for a remix. What’s exceptionally cool is you can even add your own samples to BreakTweaker. Meaning you could sample the percussion elements from the original mix, mangle them in the BreakTweaker plugin, and then use them for your own drums in the remix.
Create new vocal harmonies
One surefire way to spice things up in your remix is to create new vocal harmonies to go along with the main vocal. You could do this by duplicating the original vocal and pitching the whole thing up or down to create a transposed harmony. Or, you could edit each note individually in a pitch editor like Melodyne 5 essential to craft your own unique harmony.
Lastly, you could use a plugin like Nectar Pro, which allows you to create up to eight different harmonies and pan them around the stereo field, giving you a very lush vocal sound. Whichever method you decide to use, you can bet that creating new harmonies for your remix will definitely get people’s attention.
Note: you also get access to Melodyne 5 essential and Nectar Pro with a Music Production Suite Pro membership.
Switch up the chords
One easy way to change the vibe of a track for your remix is to change the chord progression. While you want to match the chosen key (either the original key, or the key you’ve pitch shifted the stems to), try playing around with other chord progressions in that same key. You can even speed up or slow down the original chord progression, or play it in reverse—as long as it sounds good, that is. If your goal is to make the remix significantly different from the original, switching up the chords can definitely help with this.
Mangle the stems
Sometimes what a remix needs is just a little extra grit. I like using Trash 2 to distort original stems and bring a new dimension to them. This could be done throughout the whole track on something like the percussion, or perhaps only every once in a while to draw attention to certain vocal phrases. If you’re going to keep the majority of an original stem intact, it helps to do something to it in order to make it different. Trash 2 lets you distort, mangle, and transform your audio into something totally new and original.
Chop things up
Don’t just leave your stems exactly as they came to you and expect to get away with it. Get wild with chopping them up, rearranging them, and splicing them together in new ways. An easy way to glitch things up is to use a plugin like Stutter Edit 2 to slice and dice your stems. Here’s an audio example of before and after Stutter Edit 2.
Audio after remixing with Stutter Edit 2
Give your remix a fresh spin on the rhythms and patterns by chopping up vocals, drums, or entire sections. This is supposed to be a remix, after all. So, mix it up!
Treat the vocal differently
Since vocals are typically the front-and-center focus of most EDM remixes, applying different processing to them can really pay off. For example, if the original track had a fairly “dry” vocal (no effects like reverb or delay), it might sound good to totally saturate the vocal with echoes and reverb. For this, a plugin like Neoverb Pro, which can create lucious reverbs that stay out of the way of your main vocal, is recommended to keep things sounding crisp.
Another option is to use a vocal effect plugin like VocalSynth Pro to create unique textures and even completely transform the vocal. Processing or “treating” the vocal differently will help bring some additional depth to your remix and make it stand out from the original.
Neoverb Pro and VocalSynth Pro are also great assets to have in any producer’s toolbox. And, you get access to both through your Music Production Suite Pro membership.
Conclusion: What makes a great remix?
While I can’t give you a set formula that will ensure you make a great remix, here’s my best attempt: original content + originality. A remix should have enough of the elements from the original song that listeners will be able to tell it’s a remix. But, in order for it to really resonate, you’ve got to put enough of your own creative spin on things. When remixing, focus on making the song all your own by adding your flavor, flow, and signature sound to it.
Here are a few EDM remixes I’ve been digging lately where I think the remixer just nailed it.
In each of the remixes above, the remixer inserted enough of their signature style into the remix to make it feel significantly different from the original song. They truly made it their own, while still paying their respects to the original content. And, that’s the trick to master if you want to get good at remixing EDM!
For more info on this topic, check out this article on How to Remix a Song, and get all the tools you need to remix a song with a Music Production Suite Pro membership, including RX Pro for Music to change the tempo and pitch of the original song, Nectar Pro to create new harmonies, Neoverb Pro to treat the vocals differently, and more.
Check out other iZotope Tutorials