This article is not about pizza

How to build a Music Remixer

and the 6 most common mistakes when making Neapolitan pizza

Remixing music is a major part of contemporary music, everybody is remixed and everybody makes remixes. Remixing is when you create a new version of an existing song by adding/removing/changing its musical parts.

The changes can be very small, like changing the tempo and adding a beat, or fundamental — removing most of the elements, chopping the rest up in small pieces and adding all new stuff.

Now and then we get the question if it is possible remix a song based on a, b or c as a part of a campaign and yes of course! Done right it is fun just to play with and provide a way for fans to interact and co-create with an artist. Unique and personal remixes can not only be shared in social channels but also be used as content in the campaign, even for broadcast. Remixes can be done at live events such as a live concert where the artist and the audience creates the music together in real time. Lots of creative possibilities!

But everybody isn’t Skrillex, this is hard stuff, you can spend the whole life remixing and still suck at it. So the result must be amazing even with a monkey behind the wheel. To set the bar, here is DJ/Producer Strobe’s list of THE 15 GREATEST REMIXES OF ALL TIME 🙂.

To break it down a little:

  • it should be easy and intuitive to use
  • the result should sound unique and personal, and there should be a clear connection to their interaction
  • and of course the production quality should be impeccable

So how do we get there? Here are the six most common reasons why a remixer app doesn’t deliver and what to do about them.

#1: Everything sounds the same!!

The remix doesn’t feel personal and unique, how fun is that! The production quality might be great but if all remixes sound the same there is no reason to play, no reason to share and no reason for others to try it themselves.

Absolutely no reason to share a Coke or a bad music remix

There are many reasons why this can happen. The most common is that there is not enough ingredients to use, so the same ingredients are used again and again. Or it could be that there are just a few good ones and the rest is crap, the result is the same.

Even if there are a lot of ingredients to chose from, they must be clearly different. Think about a remixer of Country, a music style where everything sounds kind of the same (sorry country lovers), a hundred different country guitars would not make a difference. I am not saying it is impossible, I am always up for a nice challenge 🙂.

Pizza Margherita forever!

The more variation the musical style allows the more varied the result. There are two broader genres that are ideal for remixes: electronic and symphonic. They allow variation in all musical aspects:

  • mood: joy, anger, depression, hope, and all other human emotions can be expressed
  • tempo: almost not moving at all to D’n’B on speed
  • dynamic: ppppp to fffff, from the most subtle to totally brutal
  • instruments: electronic instruments can create any sound, orchestral instruments are quite a few, each having a full range of playing styles, e.g. violin can be played legato, staccato, pizzicato etc.
  • musical form: classic verse/chorus or anything you like

The number of variations are almost endless.

#2: That looks complicated…

Never let a musician design a music remixer! They are often totally blind for what ordinary people know about music (close to nothing, don’t tell them). That is a sure way to kill a promising remix career before it even started.

Ableton: a great tool or pain depending on who you ask. Jalapeño: one of many potential ingredients on a pizza, very easy to use.

So there is a balance to strike here: on one hand control, on the other ease of use. The more control the user has the more technical it gets, the higher the threshold to get started and the more crappy remixes will be made. Let’s face it, there is a reason why only 0.032% of the population are music producers. Less control means that we can make sure the end result is totally awesome, but the user loses some of the feeling that they have created something themselves.

In most cases the goal is to make everyone regardless of skill level super happy and proud of what they have created. And to some degree it is possible to get both control and ease of use. Just don’t let the musician decide😜.

A prototype for a blob remixer, Android tablet, phone and watch.

#3: Oh no, it’s The Loop Trap!

If it just sounds repetitive and boring, then you got stuck in The Loop Trap. This happens because you are using loops (!), and because they have been made so that they all work together.

The problem with this approach is that all loops has to be so generic that nothing have a character and sticks out. If they did they would immediately bump into something else and create chaos. Just like people, you know the type. Creating music this way is seriously limiting the creative process, all loops end up generic and boring and the final result will be even worse.

Shapeshifters. Handle with caution.

Another effect of The Loop Trap is that there is no musical form, it is stuck on repeat. When you are trapped everything just continues, there is no variation, fun for how long? Even the most minimalistic house track has a musical form, intro, build up, drop, maybe changing between two different musical sections.

So let’s drop the loop and get on top of the remixing game! Add a verse and refrain, build in some dynamic, or if you are clever, give the control to the user!

#4: Pizza Overload!

We have seen that too little isn’t good, and too much isn’t any better. Both pizza and remixes put clear limitations on how much ingredients you can put in there before it gets too much.

Are you one of those who make every pizza order unique? Then you have learned that if you add too many ingredients their individual taste is obscured, you can no longer discern them in the mix. The same thing with music, the more music elements you add the closer you get to noise. To avoid this the total number of musical ingredients has to be limited.

Pizza dough. Before the mayhem begins.

Many pizza ingredients work fine together but for each you add the less of it you can use, there’s just that much space on a pizza. The same thing with music: four different instruments can work very nice together two and two but if you add all four of them they just cannot play all the time, they need to chill a little.

The solution is to go beyond the loops and think about them as dynamic instruments, let what they play be affected by the whole mix, e.g. by letting the intensity level of an instrument be affected by what other instruments are playing.

5#: nothing beats a serious case of writer’s block

There are two ways to get the worst out of a music producer. The first is to put them in The Loop Trap, knowingly or not. It will limit their creativity in the most exquisite way, making sure that the final result will be the worst in their career.

The second is to ask them to avoid The Loop Trap, which puts them into a creative deadlock where every idea will be compared with an abstract and unpredictable result they have no control over. Watch the breakdown happen in slow motion.

My pizza crust, not approved by Enzo Coccia, but it is not my fault, my oven only goes to 270°C

Ok, I am exaggerating a little but I have seen it enough times to know that writing interactive music is a special skill that needs to be trained and most never do.

So let the music producer do what they are good at: write a great linear track, and then let someone experienced in interactive music production take care of the rest. That way everyone is doing what they are good at. No Loop Trap and Great Music!

#6: That doesn’t sound like goat cheese!

So you have done everything right:

  • you picked the right musical style and made sure there was a lot of high quality ingredients
  • you have a beautiful intuitive interface that creates stars out of monkeys
  • you got out of the Loop Trap so it sounds like “real” music
  • you helped the user make the right decisions
  • you did not beat the music producer

and still something is missing.

Green asparagus, buffalo mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, black pepper, salt, olive oil, ruccola. Absolutely no tomato sauce.

Music is abstract. It is hard for the user to get the connection between what they do and the final result. I have covered this partly in the article Creating Music From Numbers. Don’t even think about being subtle, bang the big drum. One extremely effective tool to make the connection as clear as possible, both in data driven music generation and music remixing, is visualization. It might be hard to hear the goat cheese but when you support that with the right visualization it will be no doubt about it.

We are visual creatures. Visualization can be used to explain many of the abstract musical parameters without having to understand the theory. And this is not just eye candy. The more ways we can connect the user interaction with the result the more sense it will make, they will feel creative and proud, and they will have every reason to share. There is no better way to make others want to try it themselves.

Some examples

So what does it all mean in practice? As usual I wrote too many words so the example projects have to go into a separate article:

And as promised, here are some pro tips from Enzo Coccia, remember that the oven has to be at least 430°C (806°F).

6 errori nel fare la pizza

This article is related to an earlier article Creating Music From Numbers which might be worth reading.

Please let me know what you think in the comments, what you agree/disagree with, what I am missing. If you like what I write, please clap (you can clap multiple times like at a concert, just so you know😉) and share on any and all channels.

If there is anything specific you want me to write about in the future, just let me know!

Until next time!

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