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Blog // Technology
April 11, 2012

The ReMix Competition Thing

“My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature. She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves […]

“My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.

She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves — in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!
Nick Cave”

That quote, taken from letter Cave wrote, asking MTV to withdraw his nomination for a Best Male Artist award has helped shaped my approach to creativity. As I’ve already written in Make Art Not Sport, I have an aversion to artist competitions.

So, why did I, in the early hours of this morning, submit an entry for a music competition? Well, at the risk of justifying a massive hypocrisy, let me take a few steps back and try to explain. But, before I do that, why don’t you take a listen to the track?

Indaba Music

Indaba Music is a social platform for musicians to meet and share their music. In many ways, Indaba is similar to SoundCloud, in terms of giving you a place to store music, widgets and players to share and emded your sound and the chance to comment on the work of others.

But, Indaba has commerce built more directly into it than SoundCloud. The site is built around collaboration and giving you tools to sell your music online (including iTunes).

There are also regular remix and original music contests, with cash prizes and opportunities to have your work promoted, included on artist releases and in compilations. For example, one of the current competitions, to remix a track by The Greens, carries a first prize of Receive $2,500, inclusion in the official release by the band, exposure on the band’s social media sites and a video chat session with Grammy-winning multi-platinum producer Rob Fusari.

Yes, But This Is A Competition

OK, it’s still a competition. It’s a little sad to see all the “vote for me” posts on the site and I’m not suggesting that you divert all your creative energies into chasing these kinds of prizes.

That said, these competitions allow you to play with the original track stems to some great songs. Remixing someone else’s work is a great way to sharpen (or keep in shape) your production skills.

I decided to have a go at the Rufus Wainwright competition, partly because I’m just a huge fan of the guy. It was a blast to work on one of his songs. I could have just entered, taken the stems and never posted an entry. But, that doesn’t feel right to me.

I guess in this instance, for me, the competition is not the focus – it’s really just about the opportunity to have a go at this kind of project.

The Geek Zone

Here’s a quick rundown of what I did to the track. This was two evening’s of work.

Vocals I did very little to the original vocal, apart from riding the levels a few times and adding a reverb/delay/Bowie-in-Berlin effect at the start of the outro. I created two extra sets of backing vocals. One had the Mid removed and I cross-faded that with the original backing vocals, depending in the intensity of the section. The other, I applied a delay chain (3 delays, different settings) and a high-pass filter. I automated the levels heavily, on a phrase by phrase level, for that track.

Drums I didn’t even listen to the original drums before doing the remix. There are two Toontrack drum kits in there. The Original, is giving me a very raw kick and snare sound, which is compressed with the UAD 4K plugin, and the cymbals come from the Americana kit, with flanging selectively applied to some hits.

Bass I listened to the original bass (and piano) to get a feel for the chord progression, but created my own Bass parts. Maybe the dub step thing is rubbing off because, all told, there are six basses on this track – three synth basses, cello and bass string sections and my own electric bass. There’s a lot of automation on the synth basses, a UAD dbx160 compressor on the electric bass and some serious subtractive EQ on the string samples.

Keyboards Most of the keyboards you hear are parts I played in live, on the YouRock Guitar, using Native Instrument’s Skanner and Razor plugins. I did use some original piano in the two chorus sections. The first is a 12-bar section, with a chord on each bar. So I cut that into 12 regions, reversed each region, then stitched it back together. It’s a neat trick when you quickly want to repurpose a part. The second time round, I ran the audio through some delays and the Logic Pro Ringshifter effect.

Mastering I did a DIY mastering job on this. After mixing down to stereo, I EQ’d the whole track with Logic’s Match EQ and one of my reference tracks. Ideally, I would have done EQs for each section, rather than one global EQ, but I was running out of time. I then applied Parallel Mulit-Band Compression (see this wonderful article by Holger Lagerfeldt). After that I ran the track through UAD’s ATR102 tape emulation plugin and finally added some limiting with Fab Filter’s Pro-L.

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