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Keyboard Magazine's GREG RULE! - Part 2

NAJM Dance Culture
Greg is back with NAJM in this the second part of this two part interview with Keyboard Magazine's new editor. This time, Greg will take us through the basic steps of creating a remix and will introduce you to some of the tools that he and many industry professionals use. He will discuss his experience through Michelle Crispin's "Superstar" Electro Mix. (See Review)
NAJM:  We have a lot of bedroom DJ's that come through our site and everyone always wants to know what's involved with making a remix. Could you walk us through some of the general steps you take?  

 

GR:  Some people think remixing is moving faders on a mixing console, just changing the balance and EQ of an existing multi-track. I wrote a column for a special edition we did called "Make Music Now" and in it, I did kind of a Remix 101 sort of thing. I make sure that people are clear on the concept so they know what a remix really is. It's a highly creative endeavor that's much more complicated and creative than changing faders and EQ settings on preexisting material.
dot_clear.gif (43 bytes) NAJM:  Very true. It's important to be the in right mindset.

"it all starts with the vocal..."

GR:  In my opinion it all starts with the vocal. You first get the vocal. It seems like record companies like DAT tapes, but I have done a couple of mixes from a CD and I even did one where (the vocal) was emailed. The essential things you have to have to make it happen are some sort of device to process the vocal with, usually a computer with software like Digidesign's Pro Tools, Cubase VST, Digital Performer, or Logic -- software that allows you to record the audio in and then cut it up or time compress or expand it [change the tempo]. You can also use a sampler to process the vocals. The second element is your MIDI tracks, or your backing tracks, using synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, software, and so on.
NAJM:  Where do you start to form your idea for the remix?
GR:  I usually start by listening to the solo vocal track, trying to figure out what direction to take it. I also like to talk to the people involved to get a blueprint. In the case of Michelle Crispin, I talked with Rob Hoffman at the label first. It turned out that there were already 3 or 4 remixes done, so I didn't want to duplicate what had already been done. I wanted to find out what I could do differently. In this case I went with something with kind of a break beat feeling to it and less of a four on the floor sort of thing.
NAJM:  A lot of people are doing that 1-2-3-4.
GR:  No disrespect to that at all. It will move a dance floor like crazy. But in this case I definitely wanted to distinguish my mix from the others. So once you get the concept nailed down, you think about tempo. Many times you'll want to change the tempo, you'll probably want to speed it up, and that requires a tool called time compression, or if your slowing it down it's called time expansion. Software like Pro Tools and others have plug-ins that will allow you to do that.
NAJM:  Are you Mac or PC based?
GR:  Mac based, but both are valid platforms. So once you get your (tempo) from there I generally start building (the remix) up from the bottom with my drums and my percussion tracks. I'll just have the vocal playing by itself and then I'll start layering in the beats. I often use breaks sampled off vinyl or CD, or the Korg Electribe drum machine. Using the Michelle Crispin remix as an example, the entire remix was done in Pro Tools, that's how I dealt with her vocals, and all of the sounds I created were with the Electribe RA-1 and a Kurzweil K2500. The Electribe's audio inputs are a really cool feature that some people may overlook. In addition to programming all the drum parts on the Electribe, what I did was run the keyboard parts into the Electribe (via the audio inputs) and then chopped them up using the Electribe's gating feature. It's a really cool thing because along with a drumbeat you chop your synth parts into these rhythmic phrases. Then you can turn the knobs on the Electribe to change the attack or decay of the notes; it's just a really cool effect. I did a lot of processing with that.
NAJM:  That's a great tip.
GR:  All the electronic sounds in the beginning of Michelle's remix are all Electribe. A minute or so into the mix, you'll hear a break beat come in, which is something I took off a CD and then chopped up in Pro Tools. I like to record drum beats into Pro Tools and then cut them apart and make my own variations.
NAJM:  So your basically creating loops?
GR:  Exactly.
NAJM:  What kind of equipment do you use the most and what single piece of equipment should no remixer/producer be without?

Required Gear

GR:  There seems to be two remix camps: one camp is very hardware based where people use boxes like the Akai MPC, the Ensoniq ASR-X, or the new Roland SP-808, and those boxes function as the anchor of the remix studio. I've heard amazing mixes done using that approach. I'm more of a computer guy, though. I don't like to tell people that one way is better than another, because all that matters is the music that comes out. Who cares if it was done with a computer or a dedicated hardware box? A great mix is a great mix. In my world the computer is central to everything I do. So if I was going to start from scratch, the first thing I would buy is the most powerful computer I could afford. A Mac G3 or G4 would be a good choice because you can do so much with software these days. It wasn't long ago where if we wanted to compress songs you would use a great hardware compressor, which are incredibly expensive. But now with software plug-ins, for just a couple hundred dollars you can have this incredible sounding technology that looks like the old hardware boxes onscreen and sounds amazingly close to the real thing.
NAJM:  I guess that's why you see so many people getting into the whole remixing/producing scene because everything has become so affordable. It's available to the average consumer. You can set up a decent studio for a couple thousand dollars.
GR:  There's so much that can be done in the computer. Most of the remixes I do, 80% of the work is done in the computer. It's funny because in our studio, but I only use two of the 24 channels on our outboard mixer; I mix everything internally in Pro Tools.
NAJM:  Pro Tools has really got it going on for you.
GR:  It's the one. Now that they've updated to Pro Tools 5, it adds MIDI sequencing. Everything is under one electronic roof, and with the plug-ins it's pretty cool. I'm also getting into Digital Performer. I have an Apple iBook, and I can run Digital Performer on that, so it's my portable studio. I also have Steinberg ReBirth running on the iBook, which an amazing piece of software.
NAJM:  Besides the products you mentioned, so you have any secret tools of the trade that you use regularly?

Secret Weapon!

GR:  My secret weapon is a Pro Tools plug-in from TC Works called MasterX, which is a multiband compression, mastering program. Basically it's a software version of their Finalizer. After you've done your mix you run it through this thing and it's amazing what this plug in will do to your mix. I've put mixes that sounded dull and lifeless and they just exploded to life.
NAJM:  How does is work? Does it like scrub it or clean it up?
GR:  No, it's multiband compression, which is pretty complex. Most people who aren't in a mastering or engineering mindset can get into big trouble when they mess with multi-band compression. So it does that. It also has a sonic maximizer, and things like that. It's basically Bonehead proof. Pipe audio through different presets and it's pretty awesome what it will do to a mix.
NAJM:  We will certainly check that one out!
GR:  I highly recommend it.
NAJM:  How do you feel about new technologies and how they are going to affect people who produce dance music?
GR:  I'm incredibly excited about what's happening, and I think there will be a continued push in the virtual studio technology market. Software synthesizers, virtual instruments and effects, and plug-ins have changed the way I make music. It's hard for me to imagine remixing without ProTools and plug-ins now. My first mixes were done on an old Emax 2 sampler. I'm pretty proud of the stuff I did in those days, but to think about going back and trying to do a remix with a sequencer and a sampler again ... forget it.
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"Superstar" Partial Screen Shot (Blown-up for clarity)

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Following along with the above screen shot with Greg's Electro Mix RealAudio Sample

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Note: Pro Tools is a professional level software and hardware solution that may be beyond the budgets of some home studio musicians. NAJM suggest that you check out Digidesign's "Digi 001" which is a scaled down version of Pro Tools, but still a very powerful package in its own right. Keyboard reviewed it in their Feb. 2000 issue and gave it a "Key Buy" award.
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NAJM Instant Links:
  Digidesign's Web Site:  www.digidesign.com
  Digidesign's Digi001 Web Site:   www.digi001.com
  Korg's Website: www.Korg.com
  TC Work's Website:  www.tcworks.de
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Check out Keyboard Magazine Online!

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