If you’re wondering how to remix a song – and do it right – you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about remixing – from getting started to dominating remix competitions.
We’ll begin with an overview of what makes for a good remix before diving into some starting considerations. Then, we’ll point you in the right direction towards finding remix competitions and stems. Finally, we’ll wrap-up by covering exactly how to remix a song, with a video tutorial AND free stems and samples for you to practise with.
What We're Covering in This Remix Guide
It's better to read the whole guide first, but click these links for quick reference:
- What Makes a Good Remix
- Is it Legal to Make a Remix of a Song?
- Where Can I Find Remix Stems?
- How to Remix a Song
- How to Win Remix Competitions
In thinking about how to remix a song, the first thing you’ll need to know is what makes for a good remix.
Truth be told, there isn’t just one answer - any number of things can contribute to a good remix. Luckily, there are some standards for remixing songs that can help guide you in the right direction.
For starters, every great remix has at least one thing in common - it presents a unique take on the original song’s main idea.
Now, that unique take can hold many forms:
Perhaps the remix adds some vocal chops and a thick supersaw chord stack at the drop, in a future bass style - like Illenium did in his remix of The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” feat. Daya.
Maybe, the remix switches up the groove a little and adds an upbeat house vibe - like David Guetta did with his remix of Martin Garrix’s “Ocean” feat. Khalid.
Or, maybe the remix takes the song in an entirely different direction, like Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino did with their remix of “In My Mind”, originally a big room track by Ivan Gough and Feenixpawl feat. Georgi Kay.
Whatever the ‘unique take’ is, each of these great remixes holds onto the main idea, keeping the majority of the vocals intact.
Also, it’s worth noting that these unique takes genuinely fit with the original ideas:
1. Illenium’s remix matches the groove and genre of the original song by The Chainsmokers, but ditches the original lead-based drop for a giant supersaw chord stack.
2. David Guetta added a shuffle house beat that matched the groove of the vocals, but doubled the feel of the song’s tempo.
3. Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino came up with a bassline pairing that contrasted the silky vocal and added some serious grooviness to the original idea, while entirely dropping the original vibe, energy, and soundscape.
In considering how to remix a song, always start with the main idea, and consider a unique take that can still fit with the original song’s story.
Before you dive head-on into remixing a song, the topic of legality and permission is one worth considering. Let’s make one thing clear...
You can’t just remix any random song you find and post it online (legally).
Do I need permission to post a remix?
The short answer? Yes.
If you sample a recognisable portion of a song, even if it’s only a second long, you need express written permission to redistribute that sample in your own music.
Even if you post your remix for free on sites like YouTube and SoundCloud, you are technically redistributing the original sample, which isn’t necessarily legal.
Now, if the original owner has given you permission, either directly or openly to the public, to re-use and re-distribute parts of the original work (e.g., for a remix), then you’re in the clear.
What is a bootleg remix?
You might have heard of the term ‘bootleg’. A bootleg, simply put, is an illegal remix - one made without the express written permission of the original owner.
If you decide to remix a song without permission, you should absolutely tag your song as a bootleg so that anyone who decides to re-distribute your bootleg is aware of the risk.
To be clear, calling something a bootleg doesn’t make it any more legal to distribute the remix without permission.
How do I get permission to post a remix?
The easiest ways to obtain permission for a remix are through open public remix competitions and available stems.
However, if you can’t find either of those, it’s worth reaching out to the original owner and songwriter of the work. If the song you’re looking to remix comes from a smaller label, they may be willing to grant you permission for a remix.
Take note that it’s often much more difficult to obtain permission from major labels for remixes, as they tend to be much more legally protective of their work.
What if I don’t have permission?
Maybe the song you want to remix isn’t available for a competition, or perhaps you tried reaching out to the owner and just never heard back. It might be that the owner did get back to you, but said that you weren't allowed to remix the song.
In any case, if you don’t have clear permission, you legally shouldn’t post a remix or bootleg anywhere online.
If you do, will you go to jail? Probably not. Will you get fined? Honestly, likely not.
However, there are some risks associated with posting a remix without permission.
If you post to sites like YouTube or SoundCloud, there’s a chance that your song will get flagged for copyright infringement, and if you attempt this too many times, your account will get shut down.
Now, there’s a chance that your bootleg slips under the radar and doesn’t get flagged. However, that’s far from a guarantee, so exercise caution if you decide to post a remix without permission.
Okay - now that we’ve got the legal stuff out of the way, let’s dive into how to remix a song.
Once you’re set on wanting to make a legal remix (and not a bootleg), the first thing you’ll need to get your hands on is the stems of the original work.
What are stems?
“Stems” are the individually supplied pieces and layers of the song provided for a remix. Each stem is a separate file that you can listen to, use, and chop up as you please in your remix.
Some songs are broken down into stem categories, such as Drums, Bass, Vocals, Instruments, and FX. Other songs are broken down into much finer levels, some including a single stem for every individual element.
The benefit of having additional stems is that you have greater flexibility in choosing which elements from the original song to keep in your remix, and which to get rid of.
Where can I find stems?
Stems for songs can mostly be found in a few separate places - sample packs, DJ pools, and remix competitions.
Sample pack websites such as Splice and Loopmasters are home to hundreds and hundreds of sample packs, and many of them contain full licks, chops, and vocal phrases from original songs. If you find the right pack, you can have your hands on a full set of vocal lyrics ready to be remixed. The benefit of using stems from these types of sites is that you’ll be given permission to use the samples in your music, and you won’t have to worry about the legality of making a remix.
Alternatively, you might be able to find acapella tracks (vocal stems) and instrumental track stems on DJ pool sites such as DJ City, BPM Supreme and Acapellas4U. Plenty of popular tracks come with downloadable vocal-only acapellas, which can be handy for creating remixes. The risk with the DJ pool approach is that you don’t necessarily have permission to redistribute the stems in the form of a remix, and you risk being flagged for copyright infringement.
However, your absolute best bet at finding legal stems is to search for active remix competitions.
Remix competitions are producer challenges put on by the original song’s artist or label.
During a remix competition, the label will provide stems for the original track, often along with permission to post any remix submissions online. Labels use remix competitions as an opportunity to spread the word about a particular artist and to tap into new genres, so they’re eager to have remixes shared publicly.
How do they work? Simple - the label posts the stems online and opens the remix competition for a specified window of time. During the window, anyone can enter and submit remixes for judging, and fans and followers can vote for their favourite remix. At the end of the competition, the judges (usually a combination of the label and the artist) announce a winner.
What’s in it for you? Apart from having legal permission to post the remix, entering a remix competition can be well worth your while. If you win, you could receive label and artist support, with your song being played out at festivals and live venues. Even if you don’t win, you’ll collect some plays, attract a few new fans, and garner some helpful feedback.
Remix competitions exist far and wide across the internet, but there are a few sites that tend to stand out amongst the crowd. For the biggest, most mainstream competitions that are tied to major labels, check out Wavo.me. Another great option for popular competitions is Splice - on top of having sample packs, Splice also hosts remix competitions alongside beat challenges. If you’re looking for something more underground, check out the remix contests at SKIOmusic.com.
Once you’ve found your stems, it’s time to get going on your remix...
Okay - now that you’ve done your preparation and found some legal stems, it’s time to really dive into how to remix a song!
Set Yourself Up for Remixing
The very first step in remixing a song is finding the key and tempo of the original song.
Why? Making your remix in key and in time with the original track is absolutely imperative, or it’ll be hard to get everything to gel together nicely.
Even if you’re taking the more advanced route of changing the key or bpm in your remix, you need to know the original song’s information so you can transpose and warp the stems accordingly.
Now, if you found your stems in a sample pack, competition, or DJ pool, it’s likely that this information was supplied somewhere in the instructions or comments. In case it wasn’t, try using tunebat.com to get the key and BPM of just about any song out there.
If tunebat doesn’t work, not a worry. To identify the key of your song, check out this tutorial on our YouTube channel. As for the bpm, head to http://all8.com/tools/bpm.htm while your song is playing, and tap out the tempo on your spacebar; be sure to do this a couple of times to be certain of your bpm.
Once you’ve found the key and tempo of the original song, it’s time to determine what vibe and direction you want to go in with your remix.
Pick Your Remix Vibe
As you’re thinking about how to remix a song, the biggest thing to consider is what direction you want to go in with the track.
A great remix presents the audience with something unique that still works with the original idea.
Now, you can recreate the same vibe as the original track, but you’ll have a hard time gaining people’s attention that way. The best remixes take the song in an entirely different direction, so don’t be hesitant to experiment and be unique.
That said, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when picking your vibe.
- If you want to keep the original key of the song, you have about 10bpm range of flexibility that you can warp the original files before you start to introduce some serious artifacts or distortion.
Increasing the BPM of your remix from the original creates a more upbeat and energetic vibe, whereas decreasing the BPM naturally slows things down for a more relaxed vibe.
- If you want to keep a similar BPM but go for a lighter vibe in the vocals, consider transposing the original stems up a few notes, like Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino did in their remix.
In contrast, you can try pitching the stems down a few semitones, or even a full octave, for a deeper and darker vibe.
- Another way to switch up the feel of the song is to double-time or half-time the drum groove. If you’re not familiar, that basically means doubling or halving the feel of the tempo by increasing or decreasing the pace and rhythm of your drums.
David Guetta switched up the vibe pretty significantly in his remix by double-timing the feel of the original Martin Garrix track.
- One of the biggest contributors to the vibe is the sound choice you use in your remix. Make sure you’re considering sounds that will work with the original vocals and won’t conflict with anything else going on in your remix.
That said, feel free to get creative and change things up entirely from the original - Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino serve as a great example of this tactic as well.
- If you have an established signature sound, pick the key elements from that to use in your remix, so that the remix feels like a part of your project as well (more on this later).
Once you’ve settled on your vibe and direction, it’s time to pick which stems to use before we fully dive into how to remix a song.
Select Your Remix Stems
Selecting your stems comes with a bit of thought.
The more of the original track we leave in the remix, the less freedom we have to impart our own individual sound and musical personality.
Take too much of the original away, though, and we lose the feeling of a ‘remix’ - it’s a balancing act, so here are some tips to select the right stems to use in your remix:
- Begin with the key elements of your signature sound, if you already have one. Is there a particular lead synth, bass sound, or maybe drum kit that you like to use in your productions? Try getting rid of the equivalent stem, and create your own version for the remix.
As an example, Illenium brought his signature guitar and supersaw chords into his remix to replace the lead elements from the original. Try listening to some remixes that your favorite artists have done, and see if you can identify the elements of their signature sound in the remix.
- Identify the must-stay elements of the track. Without these, people would have a tough time identifying your track as a remix.
If there are vocals, it’s likely that you’ll need to keep that stem in your remix. You’re certainly welcome to chop up the vocals, process, and rearrange them as you please - just make sure they’re still recognizable as a remix, and not an entirely different song.
If the original song’s “main idea” is a bassline, piano, guitar, or synthesizer riff, then that stem is worth having in your remix to some degree (usually chopped up, for best effect).
In this step, consider what most people might use to identify the original song. Would they sing a particular lyric? Would they hum the bassline? Whatever the answer is, it’s probably worth keeping that stem in your remix.
- Hold onto whatever you like.
Do you happen to love the original pads? Is the hi hat stem just doing it for you?
If you really like it, then use it in your remix - even if it’s not the most important element. Of course, don’t go overboard here, or else you’ll just end up re-creating the original song.
- Get rid of everything else.If it’s not absolutely necessary, get rid of the stem. The more you get rid of, the greater freedom you have to create your remix and impart your flair.
Now that you’ve identified which stems to use, let’s dive into how to remix a song...
Create the Main Remix Idea
The advice in this section comes with the following caveat: if your creative flow takes you somewhere, follow it.
Have an urge to work on the pad sound first? Do it. Want to nail your drums and percussion before adding everything else? Go for it.
Following the creative flow when it appears is much more important than sticking to a rigid structure 100% of the time.
That being said - if you aren’t already leaning in one particular direction, it’s best to start with one of these three options:
- Option 1: Come Up With a New Melodic Idea
This idea can take a number of forms.
You could create a modified version of the existing melody, but with your own new synth lead. Consider keeping the same set of notes, but transforming them in a new way, such as inverting them or reversing the order they’re played in. The best results come from using a combination of transformations - keep some of the original melody the same, invert some of it, and perhaps add one or two new notes for flair.
Alternatively, you could use the existing lead, but create your own new melody with it by chopping and tweaking the original stem. This gives the listener a fresh take on the sound they’ve heard before, it’ll guaranteed be in-key with the existing song, and it’s a relatively fast way to come up with the remix idea.
Vocal chops are a really effective use of this last option - by cutting up pieces of the original vocal and re-pitching them to your own new melody, you keep a portion of the original song’s character while giving the listener something refreshingly new.
- Option 2: Come Up With a New Riff or Bassline
If you aren’t necessarily inspired with a new melody, you can always start your remix by making some changes to the chord progression or bassline.
For a bassline - try playing with the rhythm of the original bass. If the original stem had a sustained bass, consider adding a bassline with a bit of movement and rhythm to it. On the other hand, if the original stem had a bassline with a lot of movement, see how using a more sustained bass in your remix might shape the vibe.
As for the chords, you’ll tend to have the most success if you keep the original chord progression in place, and instead play with the way the chords are presented rhythmically and spatially. If the original stems have sustained block chords, consider using an arpeggiator to play your chords with a bit of movement. In contrast, if the original stems have fairly rhythmic chords, see how a sustained pad or supersaw might change the vibe.
These are all the same chord progression, but each conveys an entirely different rhythm and mood:
Another great option for either the bassline or your chord progression is to keep the original rhythm and notes largely the same, but use an entirely new set of sounds.
- Option 3: Bring in New Drums
If your remix is going into an entirely different genre or bpm than the original track, it can sometimes help to start your remix idea by focusing on the rhythm and drums before adding any chords, bass, or melody.
This can help lock you into the groove and energy level that you’re envisioning for the remix, which, once in place, often helps with the rest of the melodic inspiration.
Fill in the Rest
With your selected stems and your main idea now set up in your DAW, start by giving the current version of your remix a listen a few times (it shouldn’t sound like much at this point).
Right off the bat, get rid of any other stems that might conflict with what you’ve got in place already. That means if you designed a new lead, get rid of the old one. If you wrote a new bassline, ditch the original. If you brought in your own drums or chords.... you get the point.
Now, look at what’s left in the remaining stems. This is effectively a map of what you have left to fill into your remix. Is there a pad layer or FX layer in the original stems? Maybe the drums have yet to be touched. Anything that’s left needs to be accounted for (or creatively left out) in your final remix.
As for taking care of these, you have two options: 1) Use modified or the original versions of the existing stems, or 2) Use your own synths and samples to create your own equivalent.
Neither option is necessarily better than the other, and the best remixes tend to feature a balance of the two throughout the song.
If the drop in your remix is almost entirely different and unrecognisable from the original song, it may be worth keeping some more of the original stems in during the verse.
Begin with the most important elements of the track, and work your way down the list of the remaining stems. Remember - you don’t necessarily need to account for everything, and you’re welcome to add new layers that weren’t a part of the original song; this method just serves as a handy guideline if you’re feeling lost.
If you’ve been following the advice laid out in this article so far, you’ll already be well on your way to winning remix competitions.
That said, here are some additional tips to help you rise to the top:
Like we said before- if you recreate too much of the original song, it’ll be difficult to distinguish your song as a remix.But this concept applies beyond this individual song. If you recreate too much of anything that’s existed before, it’ll be difficult to distinguish your song from it. This means: be wary of genre trends, and try to stand out from the crowd by being different.
If you’re in future bass, don’t aim for a generic future bass remix - find your own uniqueness within that genre and use that in your remix. Of course, this applies to any genre.
Highlight the Original Song’s Magic
This one is paramount to the success of a remix.
If there are any magical moments or sounds in the original song, do your best to not only use them, but to draw attention to them in your arrangement.
Why? For starters, it appeals to the original artist’s ego by calling out their best moments in the song. It also gives your song a guaranteed moment of success that will temporarily suck the listener back into the magic of the original.
If you fail to include these “magical moments”, the crowd will have a tougher time identifying your song as a proper remix, and the original artist would have a tougher time working the remix into live sets.
As an example, if you were to remix “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, you’d have a tough time succeeding without including a modified version of the original’s bassline riff.
Get Your Friends to Vote!
Once you’ve submitted your remix and public voting is open, get as many fans, friends, acquaintances, and family members to vote for you as you can.
The reality of most competitions is that to a certain degree, the judges are going to pay the most attention to the songs with the most public support. If you can get your followers, friends, and family to jump in and vote, you can significantly increase your chances of getting heard and reasonably considered.
Be careful of over-posting on social media and spamming on email, though - if you post more than two or three times asking people to vote for you, you’ll leave an obnoxious impression on most of your followers.
While public posts can help bring in a few votes, your best bet at ramping up your vote count is to individually reach out to friends and people you know.
Check in with them to see how they are and what they’ve been up to (be genuine), and then ask if they wouldn’t mind sparing a few minutes to vote for your track. If you can’t give them a few minutes of your attention, don’t expect them to give you a few minutes of their time to vote.
Lastly, be excited about your remix when promoting it. If you’re timid in how you present yourself, people will be less inclined to receive it positively.
However, if you’re excited to share what you’ve created, people will pick up on that and join in your excitement!
Keep at It
This last piece of advice is the best one we can ever give - be resilient, keep practicing, and keep trying.
If you don’t win your first competition (or even your first number), keep at it.
With each one, you should receive a degree of feedback from other listeners, and perhaps even the judges. Keep that feedback in mind as you enter your next competition, and over time you’ll gain a better understanding of what it takes to win.
Also, listen to previous competitions’ winners, and try to identify what made those songs work.
None of the greats succeeded on their first tries, and you shouldn’t really expect to either.
Making it in this industry isn’t about having some innate set of skills or being lucky - it’s a matter of resilience and dedication, so keep on producing, and keep on getting better! You can do it.
For the fastest way to get your production skills to a professional standard, check out our EDM Accelerator Program, and let us know if you've found this guide useful in the comments below! We love to hear from you 🙂
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