HELPFUL NOTE: If you're looking for a tight, finely tuned professional tutorial, then read McVaffe's excellent document. If you're after a long boring and tedious tutorial to read because you have too much spare time on your hands, then read this :)
NOTE TO REMIXERS: I admit I am far from the best remixer on this excellent site, so to get more accurate information in this tutorial to help others into remixing I would really like to make this tutorial a group project. Any remixers out there who want to contribute and are willing to work on this tutorial please contact me (details at the end of file). If you have any ideas for any additional sections which you think need to be added or have some knowledge or experience in an area which isn't covered in this document (there'd be heaps), then please help. Amendments are welcome too (but please, be nice...). Of course, I know no-one will answer this plea, but you never know unless you plea eh?
- 1 Welcome!!
- 2 Introduction
- 3 Before you begin
- 4 Starting Point
- 5 Sequencing / Programming
- 6 Samples and sampling
- 7 Recording the sound
- 8 Mastering
- 9 Distribution
- 10 Cleaning up
Greetings!! You honor me with your presence! This tutorial is a combination of my (Jivemaster) personal notes and gatherings, and was primarily created to aid newcomers to the remix "scene" as well as giving already skilled remixers another approach towards their work. Although this tutorial is leant more towards that of game music remixing, it should prove useful for any other remixing projects (or any other audio projects for that matter) which may arise. Should anything appear in this tutorial which appears in another, please bear in mind that it was unintentional and I am greatly sorry, both to the author(s) and to you. This document tries to cover a lot of information at once, and is to be seen as a broader look at remixing. If you need specialist information, read another tutorial (at least for the time being).
This tutorial is by no means perfect or "correct", in that all of the information gathered here has worked for me, and me alone. I am aware that it is slightly (!) jumbled and some sections may need re-numbering. Should you benefit in any way from this tutorial then I am glad to be of service to you. If on the other hand you destroy your most prized creation through the use of this tutorial I am by no means liable for such damages. Even though I have tried to be as objective as possible, on occasion you may see that I give my own opinion in certain sections of the tutorial. These are only suggestions - if you don't agree with them then that is completely fine, just don't flame me about it. Please also note that this tutorial will not directly tell you how to operate your software or hardware - you need to consult your manual on that.
Finally be aware that this tutorial is NOT FINISHED!! I've been working on this now for about a year on and off, and since it was laying around dormant I thought it would be best to patch up some of the loose ends and release it. I really hope that in some way it can help you. Now, let the remixing begin!
The art of remixing can be quite a difficult task indeed, and this is why professionals in the industry are sometimes highly paid. While an original composition takes a lot of work and time to create, a successful remix can take a relative amount of time to re-create and edit. A remix is not always a simple remake of the original with classy drums. Ideally, a remix is more of a "complement" to the original score. Remix's can contain anything that the creator desires - from a different drum sequence or bass line to the complete rearranging of the song or the inclusion of "new" riffs or melodies. The possibilities are practically endless, but one thing should be kept in mind - trying to keep the essence of the original song intact is important. Its got to sound something like the original (no matter how far away it is!). To give you a little more understanding about the art of remixing and the methods involved, here is a short list of possible changes / inclusions / exclusions that are commonly used in conventional remixes:
- Altered riffs / tunes
- New or enhanced drums
- New or enhanced basslines
- Additional instruments
- Slower / faster tempo
- Change in genre (eg: from rock to dance)
- Inclusion or the exclusion of lyrics
- Inclusion or use of samples
- Rearranging of the song
In some cases it is also popular to merge two existing songs together. While this is a fine idea, keep in mind that it is also an extremely difficult task if the user has little knowledge of music. Nothing sounds more terrible than two songs overlaid on one another which are in entirely different keys...
Before you begin
Remixing a song can be more difficult than it seems. Sure, it is possible to download existing material off the Internet (ie. MIDI files, samples) and put it to use in your remix. But when it comes down to the finished product, does it give you the satisfaction that it should? A good remix is built out of imagination and experimentation. It is important for the creator to be aware of the original song and all of its elements, so that he may be able to utilise the song's internal features and use them to his advantage during the creation of his remix. On the other hand, the remixer must also be aware that not everything will work or may not be possible. Everyone has their limitations, big or small, so if you cannot get a part in your remix "just right", then it is best to skip the part and come back to it later, or better yet - replace it. It must be understood that before anyone attempts a remix, there are a few simple things to consider:
- The selected song's potential (to be remixed)
- is the original song obtainable?
- is the original song complex?
- what could be done to the original song?
- has the original song been remixed before?
- is the original song worth being remixed?
- do you like the song?!
- The skill of the remixer
- do you have any experience with music?
- do you have a sense of rhythm?
- do you understand musical conventions?
- do you have an "ear" for music and error?
- The availability of equipment
- do you have the necessary hardware / software?
- do you know how to operate the required equipment?
- is the equipment being used user friendly?
- could better / alternate equipment be used?
- is using the equipment worth the trouble?
- does the equipment meet your requirements?
While this list may sound quite taunting, relax. In reality, you have probably already thought about most of these issues. There will always be problems, but once you can overcome them, you will appreciate your work much more (and chances are, others will too!). The first hurdle to overcome is of course getting your equipment together...
Before you even start thinking about remixing, you are going to need or have access to the following essential items:
- needed for recording, sampling, ripping, distribution of your song, and pretty much everything else that isn't supported by your other hardware
- preferably a workstation, but a standard home PC is fine
- make sure your PC can of course run the software you need
- Celerons, P3's etc are great
- slower PC's will get you by, but remember that you'll have more processing time
- get as much RAM as you can, it saves a heap of time and frustration, and allows for faster audio editing
- any will do, but more powerful the better
- remember, you will be recording to your PC through this card so if you have a poor soundcard you'll have to make up for its inferiority in other ways (eg: EQ) to get the quality needed for the final mix (ie. recording sound using a higher range soundcard will save you time later)
- preferably full-duplex (the ability to playback and record and the same time - most cards these days support this)
- internal MIDI capabilities and patches are ok, though are not recommended for use in the final piece (replace any sounds you have with hardware, softsynths etc)
- whether it be freeware, shareware, commercial or professional
- expensive is not always the best (but usually is)
- make sure it is compatible with your machine, and has the functions that you require
- warez is NOT recommended (you risk virus infection and improper performance)
- personal tolerance is very important...!
- if you think you cannot face the pain of having to redo an entire mix, then you should give up right now!
Apart from the above essential pieces of equipment, is it also recommended that you have at least some of the following items (believe me, it will make your remixing life a lot easier and more enjoyable!). People who do not have access to these will not be at any disadvantage creatively, but may so when it comes to recording and optimising the sound's overall quality:
Instruments (Internal or external)
- electronic keyboards, synths, guitars etc
- keyboards are great because they contain a lot of great and useful patches
- the more the better
- make sure of course that you can play them!
- if you don't want to sound like you've simply recorded a MIDI from your PC's soundcard, then external instruments are the way to go
Effects (Internal or external)
- can be in the form of DirectX or VST plugin's, native program FX or even hardware FX boxes
- FX allows the user to create some interesting and original sounds as well as adding a professional atmosphere to the mix...
- ...just don't overdo it!
- especially if you are using multiple instruments at the same time or creating complex compositions
- if the mixer has onboard FX it gives you more control of the sound's shape and "colour"
- a mixer traditionally allows more freedom than that given by software packages and computers
- a great source of materials (both free and paid for)
- allows hassle free worldwide distribution
- setting up your own website gives people information about you and your creations
- check out other remixer's songs and see how they do it!!
Lots of spare time!
- remixing can be a very slow and time consuming activity (if done properly)
- optimising your time will save you time later
- don't rush your project - you will regret it when you have to redo the entire thing over!
If you're really serious about remixing and you've got the money it may be wise to get hold of some kind of extra hardware mentioned above. Depending of the kind of music you want to make will determine what extra pieces you will need. If you are unsure as to what music you want to make the best thing to get hold of is some sort of all-in-one keyboard / musical workstation. Getting one of these will allow you to do most kinds of music and will usually give you sampling and some modest patch tweaking abilities. Naturally, workstations usually cost more than your standard keyboards because there is more in them, but there is one important thing to remember - even though they can do everything, it doesn't mean they can do everything extremely well. Specialist hardware, like synths and synth boxes are really useful and in fact invaluable if you intend making fully fledged dance music, but are not too helpful with anything else. This balance must be understood before purchasing any item.
Actually getting your gear together and starting a remix can be a feat in itself. There are so many different pieces of hardware to choose from, not to mention the vast amount of software available, it makes it very confusing, difficult and time consuming to work out exactly where to begin. The best thing to do is to get used to a select few pieces of hardware / software and familiarise yourself with their capabilities. Usually the best way of doing this is simply by taking one of your favourite songs, and altering it in every way possible. Apply special effects (eg. echo, distortion), make the song faster, slower or even invert the entire track. You'll be amazed at what the hardware and software of today can do. Reading the included documentation which comes with a program or piece of hardware is a must, and totally recommended. Understanding your hardware and software "tools" is a very important step, and your manual is a good place to start. Most importantly, do not try and copy other people's hardware and software setup, simply because it may not work for you. Everyone needs their own personal setup, and I believe the best way of doing this is through experimentation. If you feel that you are comfortable with using a set program, then use it. Do not change to something else simply because everyone is moving in another direction. Change only if you think the program or hardware you are using is limited, is extremely difficult to use, or if you require more capabilities.
Well, where do you start? Obviously, you're going to need a song to remix, preferably one which isn't too upbeat and one which isn't too varied and complex (we'll leave that up to you...!). But by all means, choose your favourite song to start with - there's no use in working with a song which is utterly boring or which you really hate or are against. However, there is always the option of you manipulating your most hated song into something you quite like. It lies completely in your hands!
Obtaining the original song
While some people like to work out the music of the original song themselves, others prefer to pick up someone else's work and start messing with it. The choice is ultimately yours. If you feel that you cannot figure out the notes of the song yourself, you will need to obtain a MIDI or similar file of the song. There are large archives on the web which house such files. Just remember that these files have been sequenced by other people so please give the authors some respect. While they may not haven't created the original song, they have certainly worked out all the notes and parts for you, so please acknowledge this.
NOTE: Remember to just get hold of the original song - there are a lot of MIDI's out there which are remixes of the original songs so be careful.
Finding the notes yourself
If you feel you are skilled enough as a musician, you can attempt to work out the notes of the song yourself by ear, which I might add is much more rewarding. Obviously, it is impossible for me to actually tell you how to do this - it is a natural skill developed over the course of many years through the constant listening, playing and studying of music. Some people have a better sense of music than others, and some get it easier than others. It must be understood too that it is a gradual process, not an instantaneous one. If you can't do it, then just keep praticing.
Extracting music from a game
For all of you who have no knowledge of music or those who want to get into the mixing straight away without any complications with authors and the like, there is a third option. It is possible (strongly depending on the platform) to extract the musical information from a game. This is done using an emulator or similar program (such as a music ripped utility) for the console on which the original game is to be played, and while playing the game, logging the musical information. For the Sega Genesis, this would be the .GYM information (as defined by Bloodlust software's Genecyst) and the SNES .SPC information. The same can be done for many other consoles (especially the older ones which used FM music), but ONLY IF THE EMULATOR SUPPORTS IT.
There are many sites around these days which also hold a large number of these files, so you may be lucky to find the exact song you're looking for. Once the music has been logged or you have in your possession an already logged file, get hold of another utility which can turn this into MIDI. Most likely if the sound can be logged then there is a tool which has been created to convert it. Just look around in the miscellaneous tools sections of emulation sites and you should be able to find one. Once the song is in MIDI format you can then open it up in your sequencer and check out the notes.
TIP: The best way of actually capturing the music is by entering the game's sound test (if it has one) and then choosing the song that you want the music for. If the sound test screen has music playing in the background by default, try and get it to stop before starting the song you want to log - either by playing a piece of music which by the end stops and doesn't loop, thus giving silence; or a sound effect which stops the music. If you don't do this, then the song you want to log will have a bit of the previous song on the front of it, hence giving you the extra chore of having to split the two apart.
NOTE: Remember that when a game's music is "logged" wave sound is not being recorded, but rather note sends are recorded, similar to that of MIDI and other languages.
Sequencing / Programming
Sequencing is basically the act of putting the different parts of a song together. Usually this is done on your computer, using sequencing software (eg: Cakewalk, Cubase etc). If you are lucky enough to have a hardware sequencer, then you should use that (unless it is primitive or difficult to use). It doesn't matter if you're compiling the song through MIDI, if you're creating a song from samples, or if you're using a combination of both - either way my friend, you are sequencing. This step is where the initial song creation begins. Here you have to decide what goes where, what stays, what gets added and what gets removed. During this step I encourage you to experiment. If something doesn't sound good, by all means change it, but try to make something original. Every remix has the potential to better the original song (in its own way), you've just got to think it through carefully first. You want a battle plan.
Where to start: Although I cannot really tell you how to create a remix, I can attempt to kick startyour creativity. Basically begin by opening the song you have chosen and start listening to it. Familiarise yourself with the different instruments and changes within the song. Most importantly, look for parts in the song which are catchy or that you enjoy. After you have done his, you are ready to start creating some music.
The first piece of the puzzle
Firstly, you're going to need to choose your desired timing. You can go with a waltz, or the standard 4:4 timing, or you can go for a more exotic time signature. Whatever you choose, make sure you know what you're doing. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, just go with the standard 4:4, the basis of most commercial / noncommercial music today (usually the default). Going with the same time signature as the original song is recommended.
Obtain the piece of the song which you think sounds good and paste it into your sequencer (the main riff of the song usually helps). Now choose the first "track" or "channel". Begin to place it again and again for a good 4 to 8 bars. Now play it back. Once you've got a good tight tune going, start adding new elements to the song - such as a bassline, some strings or even a synth (or two!) on separate tracks. Think of the process as something along the lines of building blocks. Continue to play the song back to yourself to hear how it sounds. Once you're happy with the pattern, play the original song again and take another catchy part from it (either from the same place or somewhere else in the song), and begin to sequence it in conjunction with the first pieces you placed. Of course if you want to keep the original feel and order of the song you'll want to follow the original's sequencing.
Putting it all together
There are many things you have to look out for when sequencing a song. Does each track sound good when played together with the other tracks? It sounds terrible if a bassline or a synth tone is conflicting with the rest of the song. Usual signs of "conflict" are muddy / cluttered sounds (when too many notes or different tones in the same octave are being played), or when a certain tune is played which does not follow the root notes of the part. If something sounds slightly off, fix it. Remember that changing a note or two will not severely damage the original piece, as long as it isn't modified to a stage where it has become unrecognisable.
"Mixing it up"
Remixing terminology for changing the tune around. The last thing you want is the catchiest part of the original song being played over and over and over and over and over. You want to add in something fresh, original, and of YOUR creation. There are no limits to "mixing it up" - as long as it suits the song, cram it in there (just be sure to put it in a suitable place!). Some remixes take the main riff only and add in all new basslines, drums, extra / additional synths, samples, voices etc; others are simply the original song with better quality instruments. It just really depends on how you want it to sound.
Personally, I find mixing a song up a good way to add my own personal "touch" to the original author's tune. Remake the song how YOU would have done it. For instance, take the standard song's chorus, but remake the entire verse section of the music yourself to something a little more catchy. Or do it the other way around. You could even use the songs main bassline (if it is distinguishable), and base an entirely different mix over it. Another possibility is to change the song's tempo - not too much faster because it may become unrecognisable, but enough to get your point across. Just remember one important thing - don't overuse a catchy part, but don't underuse a catchy part either. You do want them begging for more, but not for mercy (!).
Drums can be tricky to sequence, depending on the kind of drum line you're after. Usually, creating "real" type drum lines can be the hardest, as they need to follow a set of fairly obvious rules. For instance, a drummer cannot do a open and closed high hat at once (unless of course he has two, or there is a percussionist accompanying him). For remixing's sake, it is best to approach the sequencing of drums not as a drummer, but as a sequencer / programmer. There is no use in trying to emulate a real drummer, especially if you don't know the physical limitations of a person (unless this magical drumma person has four legs, eight arms, two heads, etc...).
The best way to start is to lay down a 4:4 beat. A kick drum on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4. Now add a snare on every second beat. Now add a closed high hat on every even half beat, with a open high hat on every odd half beat. You know have the basis of a dance drum line. There are millions of combinations to choose from, so go wild and create something completely original. Create variations of the main beat and circulate them in a random order - it works wonders and keeps the song interesting. Another thing you could try is on every forth bar, add a drum roll. This can be further elaborated on by adding a bigger, more powerful drum roll every eighth bar. Other basic techniques that could be used include removing / muting the hats or kick drum on occassion to allow build up of the song; the adding of a crash cymbal at the end of every first, second, forth or eighth bar; removing the snare in lighter areas of the song; or even give the song a more fast paced feel by doubling the speed ("doubletime") of the drums.
Once you have played with your sequencer's MIDI drums, why not search for the sampled flavour (see below) and use those as the pieces in your drum line. Snares, hats, percussion - they're all available and help you in creating an original sounding drum line (as opposed to the overused standard MIDI drums and 909 sounds, ug...).
Panning and volume levels
This is also the time for some fine tuning. You're going to want your mix sounding professional, so why not start now by doing a bit of panning (after all - that's what stereo is for!). Traditionally, you would pan your hats from either slightly off center all the way to the far left, but its completely up to you. Pan your bass dead center, as well as your kick drum (just watch the frequencies that they don't meld together). Your snare should also be near the center, usually panned slightly right. Synths and other strange sounds can be panned from left to right to introduce movement into the song. If you add guitars, pan them far left and far right respectively, keeping a modest volume level. Panning is important as it allows each sound to have its own space - if everything is dead centre then you will have trouble with some instruments becoming "lost" or even distorting. In short, make use of the space availale to you between the left and right channels.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Panning and volume levels do not always have to be set now. If you have multitrack software, you will be able to pan individual tracks and change volume levels later on after the recording. This is only placed here for those who only have access to traditional wave recorders.
The final edit
So you've finally constructed what you believe to be a masterpiece. Well, now it is time to look at it a little more carefully. Are pieces repeated too much (see "Mixing it up", above), or are they played too little? Is the original song still distinguishable? Does it have anything different in it compared to the original song, or is it simply a copy of the original song with better quality instruments? Do some parts bother you? If you are not quite sure about a certain part in a song, it is a good idea to change it to something you do like, or just simply remove it. If you don't like a certain part, chances are your listeners are going to dislike it as well. This is the best time to make final changes - and make them well my friend - the last thing you want to do is to re-record an entire song all over again which you have already mastered simply because a part in the song bugged you and had to be removed.
Samples and sampling
Basically, sampling is when a piece or sample of a song or sound is extracted and utilised in another song. Using samples in your mix can be a refreshing addition. Not only does it offer something new (provided the samples are original), but it effectively makes the mix sound a lot more professional. Sampling is also helpful when you haven't got access to any real instruments. You can sample anything - from a drum line to a synth sound to a vocal. It is important throughout this activity that you are prepared for many sleepless nights - it can be difficult at times to get that sample "just right".
Extracting the sample
If you intend to do it the old fashioned way (opening a sound and cutting it up), then you're going to need to first start by locating the area you wish to sample. Good parts to go for in a already produced song are parts where only a few instruments are playing at once or even better - alone. This avoids the hassle of having to try and remove the other sounds in the background. Firstly, use your wave editor or an audio ripping program to get hold of the desired sound. Using your wave editor, move to the part of the sound which you want to use. Now, start highlighting the area which holds the sound you want. Make sure that you start from the exact beginning of when the desired sound starts. Leaving a touch of sound at the end of the sample is ok and in fact recommended - this way once you have the sample you can create a quick audio fade out straight after the sound you want has played, successfully masking any other sound that follows.
Looping is when you have acquired a sample which is in fact a drum line or synth line which you want to be able to play over and over again. Using your wave editor, start scouring the file. Once you have the area you want, you will need to set up loop points. A lot of audio programs these days support loop points, and some can even do it automatically (though they can be a tad incorrect). Most of the time though, it is just as easy to set the points up manually. It is just another case of trial and error. Keep moving your left and right points and play it by ear until you think you have a fairly flawless loop. The sound should loop and loop and loop and should hopefully keep time. If it doesn't, continue to fiddle with the loop points until the loop is running correctly. You are now ready to dump the sample into your sequencer.
Sequencing loops and samples
Sequencing the loops and samples you have gathered is exactly the same as cutting and pasting MIDI notes around a sequencer. There are a few things to keep in mind though. For starters, if the sound you have sampled is not at the same speed (tempo / bpm) as the rest of the song, then you are going to need to make it the same speed, otherwise it will be playing out of time. This can be done by a couple of ways. You can either slow the entire song down to the speed of the sample (not really recommended); you can change the pitch of the sound to make it play longer (lower pitched) or shorter (higher pitched); or you can use the "time stretch" function in your sequencer or audio program if it supports it. When time stretching is performed on a sample, it can be shortened or lengthened without changing its pitch. This is the most desirable option, but depending on the program used, the sample's quality may drastically fall. For DJ's, using the pitch bending option is probably the best one, since that's what "real" DJ's do to get their sounds in sync.
The other thing to worry about while sequencing your samples is if they are in the same key as the song they are being overlaid on. Some sampled sounds, like bass drums, snares, hits etc rarely need to be pitch bent since they are percussion type instruments. Others though, like synth lines, guitar, strings etc which play specific melodies will need to be bent into the same key as the host song before they are to be used.
There are many places on the Internet where you can get hold of samples of almost any type. CD's of samples are also available too. There are many places where you can get hold of free samples, and there are others which you have to pay to get access to. Normally, the free samples available around the net aren't too bad. There is a lot of average ones out there as well but if you sift through them all you may find something that you really like. It is also a good idea to have some clue as to what sample you want before you start looking. Free samples are easier to come by, so make sure you are using a sample which hasn't been used before, if possible.
Remember when sampling anything that you need to read the legal information that comes with it. Free sample sites often allow you to use the sample in any type of song - whether it be commercial or nonprofit. Other sites or distributors may only allow the user to make use of the sample if it is only for personal use. Technically, by law, if the user only uses 10% or less of an original recording, then he can claim it as his own. Now that you know that, you've just got to find a way to work out how much 10% of the sound is...! Realistically though, if the sample has been tweaked enough, it is usually indistinguishable. It is very unlikely someone will hear the bass drum in your song and say "oh god - he's using that bass drum from the Acid Hip-hop collection on track 23 and he's tried to disguise it by changing the resonance by 11%!". It ain't gonna happen. And aside from all of this, creating a remix of a game song without permission isn't exactly legal either...
NOTE: It is good practice to tweak the samples you use anyway as it brings in the essence of originality.
Going straight to the source
If you are after the original sound of the game for the remix, you can do this by going straight to the source. What I mean by this is by actually getting hold of the original game machine and game and recording samples from it. This can often be a difficult task especially when the machine is no longer made. In this case an "emulator" may be the solution to your problem. In short, emulators are a program or piece of hardware which allows the usage of a system's software on another machine. By obtaining the emulator as well as the required game (emulators and game images can be found absolutely everywhere), you can effectively get hold of the samples you need. Keep in mind that the original games are copyrighted material and thus it can be a crime to have in possession the image or a game unless of course you own the original. Well, in this case, you can bend the rules a bit...
Another alternative to using straight samples is to use SoundFonts. A SoundFont is essentially a group of created sounds or samples stored in a bank file. This "SoundFont" can then be loaded and used instead of your normal MIDI sounds. You'll need a Soundblaster AWE 32 / 64 / whatever and a good sequencer program to make use of them. There are many free SoundFonts available around the Internet as well as ones you can buy. You can also create your own, which many remixers have. SoundFonts seem to have fairly good sound quality and although they're probably not as good as using hardware they're damn fine nonetheless.
NOTE: There may be programs which also allow you to make use of SoundFonts on a computer without Soundblaster cards but at present I am unaware. GigaSample anyone?
Recording the sound
The most important step of the entire remix is the recording phase (especially if your whole composition was created on hardware). During the recording step it is vital that you have all of your desired settings on your hardware and that your software is up and running correctly. Also, make sure you have included *everything* you want to be in the remix. These days, if your software supports multitracking (most these days usually do), you can always record a second, third, forth etc piece and lay it with the first later on, so this isn't an entirely big issue, but an important one to consider nether less.
IMPORTANT: Recording is a vital stage of the creation process as it amounts to the quality heard later on.
First things first, you need to set the levels of your equipment prior to recording. Set them at a considerable height, but not too high - you want to be able to mix the piece after it is recorded without having to reduce the volume level. Normally recording at the top of the green is fine, but try to get your highest point in the mid-yellow section, as this gives you the best volume level to work with. Going any higher creates some nasty effects (ie. clipping - see below). Recording louder is of course better than recording softer. If you can push the levels a bit without going into the red, by all means, change your levels (just remember what they were in case you need to change them back!). If you like you can always go for a few practice runs to see which combination of levels sounds best. Because there are so many different sound combinations I cannot tell you exactly what levels to use - it is all about trial and error. The overall volume level can be easily increased later on though; so do not panic if your recording is a little soft. Remember - the sound is better soft than clipped...
This is a controversial one. Some programs which say a recording is fine, others say it is way over the top. One thing is certain though - if you hear distortion of any kind (which isn't part of an instrument), then you've got clipping. Clipping occurs on a digital recording when a sound proceeds past 0 db. This is a common mistake by many beginners, as they tend to amplify the sound greatly to make their recording sound much bigger. This of course is a big mistake. While the ideal position of a sound is 0 dB, going anywhere past the level can create some awful sounding music (unless that's what you want!). The worst thing about clipping is that once it has been created, it cannot be removed (unless of course you have some sort of magic software).
The best way to handle clipping is to keep an eye on your software's mixer (usually a small panel with two bars containing a colour spectrum of green through to red) both when recording and when playing the sound back. While some software packages differ, most will tell you that if the sound shoots into the red, you're going above 0 dB, and the sound needs to be turned down. To be safe, always make sure when recording to STAY OUT OF THE RED. This way, you can always go back to a clean recording if one of the effects you use happens to clip it significantly. If you're still unsure, use a limiter set at 0 db so it won't go over (see below).
If after you've gone through all of the precautions and checked your levels, and you still hear distortion, the last thing which could be the problem (which is very common) is that you are "overloading" your soundcard. This occurs when the user is sending too much output to the audio bus causing the sound output into and out of your speakers to distort. You can fix this by either turning down the sound output on your computer software mixer (usually a small icon on the taskbar, called "Volume control") and then turning up the volume on your speakers, or you could do what some mixers do and not let anything go above the green area on the final recording (which of course can make the mix really soft unless you have mixed it considerably).
Clipping can come from other areas too. Some plug-ins (DX, VST) in your audio programs can create clipping when tossing audio back and forth from the main audio inputs / outputs if their effect levels are set too high. Most plug-ins these days have indicators on them to tell you if the sound is clipping on the plug-in, so you can turn down the master levels. On some older plugs, you will need to play it by ear. As a final rule, from now on, forget about your schoolyard foes - clipping is now your worst enemy!
Audio leads / line in
If you are using external equipment for your remix then you will need to set up your hardware device's output to your computer's soundcard input (ie. line in - the port usually next to your microphone and speaker ports). This is done by using a small stereo cable or a mixer. If the hardware device you own has the larger stereo port (usually does), then you will need to purchase an attachment for the end of your smaller cable to make it bigger and to thus fit the hardware device's output. Some more expensive soundcards already use the larger stereo plug size, so you may not have to worry about this.
When you've finally got all you hardware set up and you're ready to record, load up your recording software and get it ready to record. Most audio recording software packages are relatively easy to configure. Default options are usually fine. Remember, the sample rate you want to record at should be at least 44.1khz, 16-bit stereo (CD quality). Newer cards allow sample rates of 48 right up to 96, 24-bit. Like I said, the standard 44.1khz 16-bit stereo is fine. Once this is set up, open up your MIDI project in your sequencer and get it ready to play. Personally, I prefer to export the entire MIDI project as a .mid file and then open it up in a smaller program like Media Player, which takes up less memory (that's of course if the original has been sequenced on a computer). Once everything is ready to go, hit record in the recording program and then move to the program or piece of hardware which will be playing your MIDI project. Now hit play. If everything was set up correctly, you should start seeing the volume levels in the recording program bouncing up and down. Remember to watch that it doesn't go over 0 dB, EVER. Don't worry about the extra blank space you left at the beginning of the recording - you can cut it out later.
Trackers and softsynths
Of course if you created / sequenced your whole song within a tracker or similar program, then you should be able to bypass the whole recording thing by simply performing an "audio mixdown" or "export to audio" command within the program. Basically, this renders the sound internally, resulting in a precise 1:1 recording of the original piece. The best thing about audio mixdowns though (apart from not picking up and adding any additional noise or disturbance whatsoever) is that they usually do not take as long as what a standard recording would. For instance, a song which goes for 3:12 in a sequencer would take at least 3:12 to record (longer if you have silence at the start of the recording), for obvious reasons. If on the other hand you have a song of the same size created within a tracker or softsynth, then performing an audio mixdown within the program would take under half the time to record in comparison to the duration of the song. This is because it isn't really recording as such but more comparatively it is "painting a picture" (well an audio picture). The hard bit isn't over yet though - now it is time to master your wonderful recording...
Mastering in simple terms is the process of working with the sound to get the most out of it before the final distribution. This is usually done by making the song as loud and as bright as possible (without exceeding 0 dB of course). During this phase the user must at all times keep a close eye on his levels to make sure that no clipping occurs and that everything is sounding fine. The mastering phase is an exciting process because your sound finally comes alive and starts moving along the path to greatness.
NOTE: There's one very important thing to remember during this entire process - always keep a backup of that original recording (especially if you are editing or applying changes / effects to the file directly).
A limiter is naturally an effect which checks the sound as it plays and stops it from reaching certain peaks. This is done by lightly clipping the sound before it gets to 0 db (or any other specified volume level). Thus using a limiter, it is quite possible to stop a sound from clipping, by simply stating to the effect that you want the sound to go no further than 0 dB Personally, I find using limiters can cause more problems than what they fix - a lot of the time you may get sudden increases or decreases in volume as the sound goes along. This is because in some parts of the sound, you may have some small frequencies which rise slightly higher than the rest of the sound, and even though it all may appear to be the same volume, it actually isn't. The limiter picks up this extra sound and subsequently pushes it down from where it came (along with the sound underneath it), reducing that portion of the sound's volume. Depending if this happens a lot, you may end up getting a wavy volume effect.
There are limiters out there which are more intelligent and actually cut the highest levels of the sound without pushing the rest of the sound down with it. Provided how close the highest peaks are to 0 dB, this can sometimes create a ugly sounding noise. In short, it is ok to have a light limiter patrolling the 0 dB range while you're working with the sound (either through EQ or other FX) and on the final mixdownfor that added protection in case you do not trust yourself, just don't overdo it. A limiter's affects should not be heard.
So what is this EQ where're always talkin' about?!? Equalisation (or EQ as it is commonly called) is used to adjust the timbre of the sound. This is done by breaking apart all the frequencies of the recording and increasing or decreasing them, effectively making the sound brighter and filling it with life. Although this may seem quite simple, EQ'ing can be quite a difficult task. One minute you may have a perfect sound, but as soon as you adjust one of the frequencies, the sound begins to clip.
Equalisation originated as a solution to the degradation of the original sound during recordings. Every time a sound was recorded, it would always sound duller than the original sound being transmitted, like the sound had lost its life during the recording process. To enable users to make the recorded sound equal to that of the original transmitted sound (hence the title "equal-isation"), its frequency levels were tweaked. Today, EQ is a common effect used by every sound engineer in the world, and allows a large amount of control over a sound's sound (if that makes sense). Common uses for EQ are to increase the bass in a recording or to raise the treble levels of a mix to add "brilliance" to the sound. EQ is usually found in most standard sound editing programs as either a processing or VST / DirectX related effect.
This can be a useful feature and basically all sound software supports it. It is a cheap way of raising your levels to their best possible height with the affects of effects. Basically, the program searches the sound for its highest peak and moves it to 0 dB, scaling the rest of the sound accordingly. This of course makes the sound louder, depending on the initial level of the recording.
NOTE: Normalise will not work if your highest peak is 0 dB.
Because normalise makes the sound as loud as it can go, it is usually used after everything else has been done to the recording. This means add to and apply all of your desired effects and changes to the sound before normalise. After using the normalising feature, your song should be fairly complete and ready for publishing / distribution.
A lot of the time, normalise is never greatly used by professionals as a "sound amplifier". This is because the original sound when optimised should always reach its highest possible peak; otherwise the extra leeway on the volume is simply being wasted. If you have a song which is clearly got pleaty of head room (-0.5 db) then use your EQ and its friend the limiter to make up the space, not normalisation.
One of the most important and most used effects, reverb successfully gives the engineer control over the atmosphere around the sound. What I'm talking about here is the reverberation of the sound - the illusion that the sound is in a room. This room can be small to large to stadium like, it just depends on your personal taste. You can also exploit reverb in a way where you get a huge amount of echo which goes forever within the mix, or you could make the sound slam into the "walls" around it as hard as possible. What I personally try to do with reverb is to simply add a bit of "rolloff" or "room ambience" to the sound and not necessarily try to simulate a room. This is usually done by utilising a large reverb effect and then drastically turning down the amount of reverb to a minimal size - this effectively creates a natural sounding reverberation effect without the bouncing. Rooms can sometimes be a little funny sounding, so unless you like your sound rebounding off virtual walls, it is best to simply add some rolloff.
Also keep in mind the style / genre of the song you are creating - natural reverb effects are fine for most music, but for something like an electronic / techno style song you may want to go for an artificial type reverb effect. Also remember when using and applying reverb that it sounds best on higher frequency sounds - things like bass, bass drums etc don't really benefit from reverb and in some cases can really blur the sound. If your reverb supports it, decrease the lower end of the reverb and keep the high end as normal. Don't cut the lower end completely though, as it may make everything sound very unnatural. The most important thing from all of this though is that do not, under any circumstances forget to add reverb - it really adds life to the sound.
Compression here is not where we are putting the sound into a .zip or similar file. Compression in music is when a sound's peaks are flattened or pulled higher in an effort to create a constant volume level, which in turn also gives the sound a lot more punch. This can be a great and a disastrous effect. If you have too little compression and your sound needs it, the result could be a mix which is weak. On the other hand, a heavily compressed sound (4 dB+) could result in a crunchy sounding mix. The amount of compression really depends on the type of music you are making. Should you be making a lighter / softer song, the best thing to do would be to add compression to the mix at a lower level (say 1 dB). If you are creating a heavy hitting techno beat then you can go for something a little higher (around 3 dB). It just really depends on your personal taste. Some compressors have the ability to solo a certain band to hear what is happening there, which can helpful in the identification of clipping. Compressors come in VST, DirectX and hardware forms. Compression is often part of a collection of effects (compressors, noise gates, limiters), usually under the main heading Dynamics.
TIP: Compression works best on individual parts of a song (eg. drums, piano, etc), rather than being used on an entire mix (which results in jumpy volume levels).
NOTE: Using too much compression can tire the listeners ears and thus make them loose attention. This mistake has been made by many producers around the world (mostly with techno type music). Compression is a great effect but just don't overdo it. To hear examples of over compression, just listen to my later mixes with headphones (it isn't pretty and it hurts...).
The Final Mix
For most people the "final mix" may simply be the original recording which has been EQ'd, and had a few other effects applied to it, such as reverb (to make the recorded sound a bit more natural) or perhaps a special effect like chorus or flanger. If that's the case and you're happy with the results, then you are finished the audio part of the project my friend. For the others of you have audio software which uses DirectX / VST plugin's which render the song in real-time, you are going to need to perform an "audio mixdown". This is the same concept as with the softsynth scenario (see above). Once you have all your levels right, choose the "audio mixdown" or "export to audio" command, (making sure that you're saving it to a new file and not over the top of the original) and watch the progress bar until it reaches then end. You are now finished the audio part of your project! Hurrah!
TIP: If your computer isn't capable of using / running effects in real-time (ie. VST / DirectX), you will need to apply each effect to the entire sound individually one at a time. Just make sure you keep the original in case everything doesn't work out and you need to repeat the process.
Now to get your terrific song to people, you need to choose a format which is easily distributable, which doesn't cause a lot of fuss to use, and one which sounds good. Most people go for Mp3 - it is quick to get started, it sounds fine and its got the luxury of being able to be "tagged" (being able to add both composer, song title, date and other details electronically to the sound file). Others go for the Windows Media format. It really comes down to personal taste, though more people are more acquainted to Mp3's than WMF's. When encoding your song into either of these formats, you want to choose a suitable compression rate. 128kbps, 16-bit stereo is fine, though the general public is now moving towards the 192kbps compression rate. Others use variable compression rates (compression rates go up and down throughout the file, depending on the audio being processed). 128kbps is basically CD quality (well to my dysfunctional ears anyway), and it usually satisfies most users.
After compressing your file in your chosen format, play it back to yourself. Does it sound good enough to release? A way of judging your song is by opening an existing remix and listening to it, and then straight after put on your own mix and see how she "competes". Are the volume levels similar? Does the quality of your mix roughly match the other mix? These questions are very vital when it comes down to your submission. If you are confident that your mix is good enough to go with the rest of em', then get it out there. If you honestly think (and it happens), that your mix needs a little more work (maybe in the mixing department), then be all means, go back and fix it.
NOTE: Sometimes, compression can damage the original song's "sound" (harmonics and distortion can be easily broken). Check it out first. If it doesn't sound very good, kick up the compression rate (ie. to 192), and try again. If this still doesn't work, first, check your original mix and make sure that it isn't the source file's fault and if that's not the case, you may have to result in using another format or encoder. Remember, once your mix is out in everyone's homes, it is too late to add last minute adjustments, or to release a version 1.01 of the mix. Once the mix is done, that's it - it is finished. In the professional music industry, many artists usually create the final mix and then give themselves a good 1 to 3 month waiting period before releasing it. This allows the artist to "cool off" from the project and gives them time to think about how it was mastered, and to add last minute changes to the sound. It also allows them to listen out for the odd sound that just didn't get their attention the first time. Considering this concept can prove useful. Just don't stress yourself.
Setting up a website
Getting that mix to the people of the world can be a difficult task especially if you are unknown or have little contacts on the Internet. Your best bet is to set up a small site to house your mix's. This can be done with the vast majority of free webspace providers that are available. Setting up a basic site does not take too much time at all - all that you require is a basic HTML page with links to your mixes and perhaps an e-mail / contact link in case anyone wants to send you complements, suggestions or requests. If you want to get noticed then getting yourself placed on search engines is good idea and effectively gives the user a better opportunity to attract more visitors.
Submitting songs to other sites
If you are good enough and have created what you believe to be an awesome mix, submitting it to one of the remixing giants such as OverClocked ReMix (we love you Dave :) is a good opportunity for you to get a name for yourself. These places host a huge number of songs and if you're good enough you'll be placed on there among the other remixing greats (just like myself... sorry :). This is probably the main thing to strive for as all your hard work will really pay off once people from all over the world have downloaded and are listening to your material. But do you have what it takes......?!?
TIP: Remember to follow the site's rules for submission, which usually includes the maximum allowed file sizes, preferred formats etc. Most sites won't allow anything over 5 to 6MB, so make sure yours is within this size. If it isn't, either encode the file at a lower bit rate or think about doing a shorter edit. If your song is exceptionally good (like really, really good), they may still allow you to submit the song at a higher size (but don't count on it!).
Although not really musical orientated, it is an important thing to consider nonetheless. If you have been working entirely in MIDI throughout the entire project, make sure that you have kept all the final MIDI / project files for the song. If you have been using samples or other forms of sound then make sure you keep them to. After you have collected all the files which were used to create the project, you should them write them to another disk (preferably CD-R / RW, Iomega ZIP, backup hard disk etc). This is done for two reasons. The first is that if you want to go back and see how you did something in a project you can always return to it, and secondly, if for some reason you need to re-create the mix you can do that too. Realistically though, once the song has been distributed, there is no real reason to keep the final mixed waves. As long as you have the basic MIDI information that is all that really matters.
Without further ado, I would like to thank the following people(s), whose direct / indirect support has helped me create this tutorial, which most likely wouldn't have been made without them:
- djretzel aka David Lloyd
- for OverClocked ReMix (duh), for posting my inferior remixes, for the entertaining emulation comix and for general support. This one's for you. :)
- Contributors at OverClocked ReMix
- for the nice material and support. There are too many of you to mention. Keep up the good work OC ReMixeras!
- My many online "OverClocked" friends...
- for spending the time to write to me, for giving me suggestions for remixes, for asking for help, for patting me on the back (I tell you what, that doesn't got to waste :), and for the eventful conversations we've had.
- Visitors / supporters at OverClocked ReMix
- for without you we would be nothing but a bunch of 20 something year old children trying to grab back our nostalgic youth through the re-creation of blip-blop music!!
- Everyone at the OverClocked IRC channel
- for the great chats, stories, bitching, laughing and some useful information...(!)
- for makin' some wicked games
- for being who he is - a little man.
- Jivemaster @ hotmail
- whoever you are...(!)
- The band
- for stickin' together for so many years (rock on guys!)
- he had a hard life - rest in pieces my friend
- me (Jivemaster)
- for typing up this 10,000+ words worth of boring garbage
- And You (the reader)
- for reading this crap...
Final words (including shameful plug)
Now you're thinkin - "freakin' hell, he couldn't possibly have any more to say?!?".
Well basically, that's the end of what was to be a helpful tutorial. I hope you hated reading it as much as I did typing it :)
Should you wish to contact me about anything, my details are:
PLEASE, DON'T MAIL ME ABOUT HOW TO REMIX - WAIT FOR FURTHER TUTORIALS!
I would really like to help you, but I don't want to be bombarded with a lot of e-mails from people asking for help. Check the OverClocked remixing boards or read the other available tutorials for additional support.
Until next remix! Have fun and don't kill yourselves!!!