Approaching the Remix With Cakewalk Synths – Norman Matthew [MURDER FM]


Remixing is one of my favorite things to do in the studio for many reasons. For one thing the song has been written, so the pressure of writing a masterpiece is off my shoulders. I’m also able to listen to a song from beginning to end; a completed thought, if you will. I get creatively juiced immediately if I connect to it. That’s where the magical third thing kicks in – I get to put my musical stamp on another artist and pay tribute to their work by recreating their art through my eyes. It’s an opportunity to let the world crawl inside my head (scary as that may be) and hear it the way I do.


Fortunately, I have a few guns in my X2 arsenal that I always load up when I remix: Dimension Pro, Z3TA+ 2 and–without a doubt, Rapture (which I LOVE).  My reasoning for loading these soft synths upon impact before even hearing the original studio tracks is because they work so well together sonically.  With X2’s track templates and project templates it makes it easy to get “remixing” and “remaking” quickly while I’m inspired.  I always try to create something that’s completely different instrumentally from the original version, and these three synths tap into all creative and sonic zones for me. My approach is to tastefully re-purpose the material, however I usually leave the vocal melody alone so the song is still recognizable to a certain degree.

That said, there’s another thing I do right from the get-go. I put away my drop tuned guitars, lock up my distorted bass and double kick drum pedals and confine myself to work “in the box”. Sounds stifling, but it really helps me to focus. With so many options at our fingertips these days, I find it best to set some limits in the studio for remixing – create just a bit of tunnel vision directed towards the task at hand. Plus, if we have rules in place, it’s so much more fun to break ‘em!

LET THE MADNESS B E G I I I I I I N ! ! ! . . .

I recently remixed the group CIVIL TWILIGHT and they are a perfect example of my remix workflow. Their vocalist Steven McKellar writes some amazing melodies. I didn’t want to stray from that aspect, so when I received the original studio stems I loaded the project into X2, muted EVERYTHING but the vocals and got to work.

The title “Shape of Sound” spoke to me right out of the gate. I wanted to shape a celestial canvas around the vocals that would allow the melody to be the focal point. I sought to create a sonic tapestry versus the usual 120bpm kick drum banging at your head with cut up vocal tag lines occasionally popping in and out repetitively. (Not that that’s a bad thing) I just really wanted this one to be different….and it is.


I didn’t want the drums to take over, so using the Beatscape sequencer, I created an ambient drum loop that moved the song but didn’t really get in the way. For bass lines, I like to recreate them as a synth rather than actual bass. It gives me the flexibility to either really dirty it up on the industrial tip, or class it up on the atmospheric side. Less is more, and in this case I played the bass line as a pedal tone. To create the tension I was looking for, I used a Z3TA+ 2 patch as a pad versus a thumping-moving bass line which resulted in an Ambient vibe with an edge.  I think it’s important to approach every patch differently when remixing.  Sometimes using sounds in other ways than what they are meant for will give you very unique results.

When it comes to the guitar arrangement side of a remix, I like to use strings, leads, pianos and simulations. This is where Dimension Pro and Rapture really put the icing on the cake. To give the bass pedal tone a little lift, I used a specific pad in Rapture to open up the ambiance and add to the tension without being over-the-top. Also, running in Rapture is a nice lead that I tweaked out from a theramin simulation that moves along with the drum loop which hand-in-hand work passionately perfect.


Still, I needed the final piece of the puzzle – some counter melody to fill out the melodic gaps. I try to approach remixes from a songwriting and arranging standpoint and not just the typical kick boom remix perspective. Every now and again I may even use some music theory to really shake things up (imagine that). In Dimension Pro I dialed in one of three “Alien Piano” patches for the piano work. Out of the box, the preset was amazing for what a wanted, because behind the piano there are a lot of little nuances that brought a bit of a love-hate/beauty-beast element to my scary little workbench.


Whatever happens with the results, it’s always a lot of fun to remix and remake music.  I’ve noticed that since I started taking on remix projects (quite a long time ago), my mixes have gotten better sonically and more creative.  SONAR X2 combined with Dimension Pro, Rapture,  Z3TA+, and Z3TA+ 2 is a killer combination for remixing.  Just make sure to approach everything with a clear open mind and try to step away from your own brain and how you normally think.  Don’t be afraid to try the craziest most unlikely ideas – sometimes those end up being the best ones. Kind of the studio version of playing “what would happen if you crossed a rhino with a koala – or something like that I guess ;).

Or put another way–you can’t reinvent the wheel, but you can put your own rims on it.