Life is like a box of chocolates. And so I noticed my composer colleague Red Ochsenbein talking about his upcoming orchestra rock album „Did I mention hell?“ on Twitter a few times. But when he said he was going to make remixes of his songs, it really got me interested. I decided I wanted to do a remix for him and he was happy not having to do so many himself. So here is how I did it (original sound samples courtesy Red Ochsenbein). If you like orchestral rock, this is definitely for you. You can buy „Did I mention hell?“ on Bandcamp.
After a few brief chats Red sent me the stems for his track New York Fears, which looked like this. Click to enlarge.
And the first seconds sounded like this.
Make Yourself Comfortable
I already applied my own color scheme to the stems to feel at home and know what’s what. At the top in green you can see Red’s sum of all strings (violins, violas, cellos, double basses). Below in brown is the mixdown of all the woodwinds, the brass section in yellow, percussion in dark red. So much for the orchestra.
Red’s track is an orchestral rock piece which means there are the typical rock instruments, too. You see them in the lower half. Yellow is the electric guitar, brown the bass guitar, and the redish color is for the drum kit.
Chopping Into Pieces
First thing I did was to cut the stems into musical phrases. Intro, verse, chorus, bridge and so on. The chopping looked like this. Click to enlarge.
Very nice. I then started to look for elements I wanted to use in the remix. Not everything in Red’s original track was cool for what I had in mind. My plan was to transfer this track from orchestral rock into another genre. Something along the lines of a danceable electronic dubstep track although the tempo of 137bmp didn’t really fit dubstep, more progressive trance.
To see what direction the track was going to take, I firstly rearranged parts of the intro. I wanted to leave the intro in a mostly original state as I really liked it and wanted to let people know how the track originally sounded.
Adding the Beat, Then Instruments
It helped me to add the main beat right after the intro. A drifty beat puts me in the right mood for making dance music and makes other musical ideas come to me. Listen to the intro and the beat:
I then looked for great lead synths in Native Instrument’s Massive and found one called „Agressor“. A really fat sound with a nice sliding portamento set up. Listen:
And from there it somehow started to flow. I added more synth layers to add variety to the instrumentation, some of which I made myself in Massive (following a tutorial from MacProVideo to get me started). Dubstep was new to me and I needed a little kickstart. After some experimentation the best way to put them together was to let them play in alternating patterns in order not to make the bass section to chaotic. That’s what the track sounded like at this stage with two new synths added.
Adding some effects and wrangle the original stems is a good way of bringing the original piece into the new track. I used the choir from Red’s mix to make the transition smoother. Listen to how the choir changes from singing to a weird gated effect that laters fills the background. A swoosh was the cherry on top of the transition.
EQing the Stems
Red’s original piece was obviously well mixed and had all frequencies being used in a skillful way. After adding hefty synths and the kick drum it made the low frequencies in the mix go through the roof due to the cellos and double basses making the low bands crowded. So I filtered a lot of them out of the stems. There’s so much going on in the electronic part anyway that you don’t even notice the strings sounding like coming out of a small kitchen radio. Occasionally, I bypassed the EQ in quieter parts or where original pieces of Red’s mix were left unchanged to bring Red’s mix forward again.
Listen to Red’s strings in the original version:
Now to the EQed version:
And now my remix with EQed strings:
I also played a lot with volume automation to sometimes emphasize the orchestra, sometimes the rock instruments, and sometimes tone them down altogether to let my electronic parts shine through.
I used different busses to route sums to. I had a bus for Red’s orchestra, for Red’s rock instruments, my synths and so on. I could therefore add effects to all of those sums separately. Adding some stutter effects to the orchestra while the rock instruments play normally. Or add effects to all of Red’s mix while leaving my electronic parts intact. There’s a lot of automation going on that was selectively applied to Red’s mix, from gaters, wave shapers, filters, stutter effects and so on.
I worked myself through the track phrase by phrase, added ideas, dismissed them again, until I realized almost at the very end that the track structure I came up with didn’t work. I thought I was pretty much doing some final polishing when it dawned on me.
I should have laid out the original pieces of Red’s mix and polish the structure at this stage already. Laying out intro, verse, chorus, bridge and so on. Instead, I took Red’s stems continuously as I went along and the song progressed.
Thus I had to move numerous large pieces around to fix it. But moving things in Logic, especially when you have a lot of automation going on, is not a lot of fun.
After restructuring the whole track it finally made sense. Original phrases taken from Red’s mix now exist alongside new electronica / dubstep elements I put together. A blend of orchestral rock and dance. And I also think I succeeded in fusing dance elements at 137bmp with dubstep like tempo of around 70bmp: The chorus parts are at 137 and very danceable while the phrases surface more of Red’s original orchestra and have the tempo slashed in half to about 68, which is dubstep compatible. Listen to the transition between the 137 and 68 parts here:
Now it’s up to you to judge if my first experimental remix of a colleague’s track is a success. In any case stay tuned for Red‚s upcoming album where you can enjoy the whole experience and all of Red’s original orchestral rock goodness! I’ll link to the album when it’s released. Alternatively, the track will also appear on the next shallow & profound album.
Final Screenshot and Sound Sample
To close this post, here’s a screenshot of the final remix project in Logic. Click to enlarge.
This is where I started:
And this is where I ended up: the first seconds of the remixed track :) Turn up the volume and enjoy!
Tutorials On How to Remix
I once found a cool tutorial about remixing. Check out Mo Volans‘ How to Remix article series over on MacProVideo.