The Art of the Remix

DJs aren’t the only people who want to blend the music from song to song for the dance floor; anyone can enhance a song with just a little bit of remixing knowledge.

You’re enjoying a new movie when, suddenly, you hear the start of one of your favorite songs. With a knowing smile, you can’t wait to see how the song fits in the context of the movie. But wait, that’s not exactly the song you know. It’s the original artist, and you recognize some of the instrumentation, but somehow it’s all different, strange and maybe wonderful. You’re listening to a remix. It happens all the time – on the radio, in the dance clubs and even in video production. Someone edits existing content and combines it with other elements to create something fresh and useable. Now you can do it, too. With a little time, patience and a musical ear, you can repurpose pieces in your music library and give them new life in your current productions.


Remixing isn’t editing, although it usually involves a good bit of editing. A typical musical audio edit involves grabbing an opening, a close and a couple of bits in the middle, and then chopping them together to create a custom-length piece. Remixing a piece can include lengthening, shortening, rearranging and, specifically, augmenting with additional materials. Remixed audio is perfect for big openers, closes and project themes. It’s also ideal for squeezing more from your buyout tracks. In addition, remixing allows you some creative latitude in your musical choices. You get to decide how simple or complex the theme should be. You can dictate the flow of support pieces, with full control over their length and feel. In short, remixing gives you a level of creative control similar to video editing. Let’s do some remixes.

Simple Remixing

If you’re already having nightmares about some grand musical task, don’t worry. Not all remixing requires drastic measures. In fact, some remixing is simply editing and adding sound effects. Let’s use a 30-second opener as an example. This video is for a motorcycle club, and we’ve found a downloadable royalty-free piece of music that sounds sufficiently “biker” from CSS Music. Assuming there is no pre-made 30-second version, we’ll start by dropping the original piece into an audio editor and setting markers at each musical section. Most popular music is divided into sections of four, eight or sixteen measures or bars. While you can’t see the musical divisions in your editor, your ears will help you count them. If you’re still not sure, set markers at obvious changes, and you’ll be close. Once you’ve identified the various chunks, create a custom edit with a musical beginning, middle and end that meet your time criteria.

You could continue with the remix in your audio editing software, but it’s just as easy to do it in your video editing software. With the newly-edited audio clip on the timeline, it’s time to enhance it with sound effects. We find a perfect motorcycle startup in our sound effects library, so let’s slide that in at the beginning on another audio track. In the middle, there’s an ideal place for a biker drive-by sound, so we’ll slide that around until it fits the timing. Finally, there’s an explosive logo reveal at the end. An explosion sound effect would be perfect, but let’s layer in a gong sound too. The trick now is mixing all these elements so they sound like they belong in the piece – not overpowering, but not too subtle either. Listen several times, with and without the video, and make any necessary adjustments. Nice.

Apply Some Acid

Sony’s Acid software changed the face of custom music creation. Now Adobe, Apple, Cakewalk and many others offer loop-based production tools. If you’re new to loops, the concept is simple: you combine individual repeating audio segments – or loops – to create a completely new audio piece. You can cut loops from your music library and blend, process and otherwise mutilate them until you hear something you like. Using techniques from the simple remix above, mark up your target piece, but concentrate on shorter segments that can repeat or loop. When you’re finished, drop them in your looping software, and apply a tempo or beat map to keep them in sync. Looping software allows for changes in tempo and pitch, so your beat-mapped segments lock up with other loops.

Now the fun begins. Start by mixing and matching your custom loops. Experiment to find ways to combine them, creating new music beds. Next, try adding a new drum loop, for a completely different feel. Use some filters to EQ a loop or two, removing the bass and highs for a lo-fi feel. Go wild, and add some percussion or synth tracks to thicken things up. Change things up throughout the piece, and just play until you’re happy. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually quite fun and a great way to get your head going in a new direction. Ultimately, you may even change the composition of the video, based on your new musical options.

Robot Remixing

If all this audio manipulation sounds too intimidating, there are alternatives. Digital Juice offers its unique series of Stack Traxxs music. And don’t forget the original robot remixer: SmartSound. SmartSound remains unique in its ability to craft a piece of buyout music into a specific length and still offer several options for musical feel.

TV Remixed

Earlier this year, the Discovery Channel ran a promo piece that featured an enigmatic song called Wonder Years Cease. Slightly obsessed, I did some research and found it was from a band called Morcheeba. I found the CD, but the song on the disc was a pale shadow of the one I’d heard – the TV version was a remix. It was wonderfully sweeping, with huge strings, brass and other synth sounds. The audio editing was perfectly suited to the video. Creative remixing can make a little musical piece quite different and entertaining.

Lock It Down

Remixing audio provides several opportunities. First, you get to recycle your music library. Second, you create something unique, which sets the client (and your productions) apart. Finally, there’s a new outlet for your creativity. It’s easy to get in a production rut but with remixing in your bag of production tricks, any project can have something fresh.

Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media producer who claims that broadband Internet changed his life.

Side Bar: Lawful Remix

A remix is a good way to spice up a tired song. However, be cautious when altering copyrighted content, as a remix of an original song without the proper licensing is a copyright infringement. Please note that Videomaker does not endorse or advocate using copyrighted material at any time without permission from the copyright holder. Please check with your attorney if you have questions.