Hey everyone, here's a tutorial on making sample based mashups and performances. These type of mashups are made of parts (drums, melodies, vocals, etc.) from several different songs, unlike plain A+B, instrumental plus acapella mixes. A sample based performance is one where the performer triggers individual samples instead of mixing entire songs, like a DJ would do. You can hear what a sample based performance sounds like over at my soundcloud page
If you're interested in mashups or just mixing in general, you might be interested in this tutorial. Maybe you like the work of artists such as Girl Talk, and you'd like to know how it is done. If that's the case, then read along!
Making a sample based performance is comprised by four key steps:
- Sampling: as in getting the parts you like from a song and storing them as individual loops that you can use in your mixes;
- Arranging: which is the principle of structuring a mashup in a way that it resembles a song, instead of just being different bits playing at the same time;
- Leveling and Mastering: which will make the final mixed product feel like a cohesive piece of music;
- Setting up for a performance: this means you'll arrange all your mixes into individual parts (samples) that can be triggered live.
You can sample basically anything that grabs your attention, but the most important bits are those parts in songs that can stand as a loop. A drum loop for example, a melody, a riff, a vocal line, etc.
The best loops are the more minimalistic and less dense ones, where there's basically just that one instrument playing. Songs like Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Under the Bridge' or Nirvana's 'Lithium' are good examples, because both have the main guitar loop playing by itself in the beginning. These loops are the most versatile, because you can easily add to them a couple of beats and a vocal, and it won't sound crowded.
So when you're thinking about looping something, a vocal for example, try sampling from the acapella. If it's an instrument part, try getting it from the instrumental or a remix pack of the song, if they're available.
If you're sampling from the full song, make sure you aren't sampling something that has the entire audio range full, with every single instrument and vocal playing at the same time. This way you'll be missing the point… and won't be able to add anything more to it.
I will be using Sony Sound Forge for sampling and editing, and Ableton Live for everything else. I feel that Sony Sound Forge is one of the easiest to start with, and has an extremely fast and easy workflow, having very intuitive navigation tools. You can also use other DAWs other than Ableton Live, but if you're looking to make a live act and do your mashups live, I can't recommend none other than Live.
Check out the first two videos and see how to sample your favorite beats, percussion parts, riffs, melodies, transitions, and vocals:
Note: Some parts of songs might appear not to loop, maybe because they have a vocal pickup at the end, or they don't finish on a leading note, etc. You can see me editing the 50 Cent 'In Da Club' vocal, in order to get it to loop, in the second video. There's really no way of teaching you how to edit in this kind of situations. If you feel that something could be looped, you should examine the parts that are making it unloopable, and then try to find parts in the rest of the song that might replace these and make it loop.
It's kinda like making a puzzle. Pay attention and examine the songs carefully, and with experience you'll be able to figure out how to turn something that might seem unloopable, into a looped part.
The number one rule for a fast and creative workflow is good organization. If you keep your stuff meticulously organized, you won't be desperate trying to look for that sample you know will fit perfectly with what you're working at the moment. Good organization avoids this time consuming and creativity hindering problems.
In order to properly organize your samples, you should come up with a set of labeling and sorting rules for them. A cohesive folder structure is the first thing you should create. This structure is completely up to you, and you should come up with a structure that best fits your needs.
I have my samples organized by BPM ranges, genres, and by how simple are the samples instrumentation wise, i.e., clean or not clean. I also have a folder called "Whole Tracks" where I store samples by track, for every track where I can sample a wide rage of different material. Here's a screenshot for guidance:
Download the fullsize picture
I start the third video talking about my approach to warping the samples, but I won't go in depth about warping. If you're completely new to Ableton Live, you should look up basic use and warping tutorials first. Also, if you cut your samples like I showed in the first part of this tutorial, you won't have any trouble warping them.
Check out video three for information on warping and other preparations before arranging:
Before venturing into arrangement view on Ableton Live, you actually have to figure out what to mix, in session view. I'm gonna expand a little more on this, contrary to what's in the videos, and tell you about how I find my combinations.
It's actually very simple and quick. I basically look at my "Whole Tracks" folder and see which songs I have enough material of, that could allow me to make a cohesive mashup. I generally pick whatever I have from these, but most time I'll pick riffs and melodies, and maybe a vocal part as well.
After getting these samples into session view, I then bring in beats, pacekeepers, vocals, and transitions. Then, just leave the riffs/melodies looping and try out beats and vocals on top, setting aside the ones that fit best. After finding a few solid combinations of riff/melody + beats + vocals, I then set to arrange that in some sort of song form.
Follow along video four where I lay down the basic arranging theory and show you what you should aim for, with the example mix:
Leveling and Mastering
I always level my samples in order to achieve a final mix where everything feels balanced, with nothing buried or too loud. But I also make sure that my beats are punchy and not overpowered. Beats should hit at somewhat of a constant hardness, it is dance music after all. Also, vocals should be clearly perceptible and not buried either. If you have trouble hearing the majority of the lyrics, it's probably because the vocal is too quiet. With this in mind, I also try to have my riffs and melodies the most audible possible.
In video five I speak about the basics of leveling and how important it is to make one good mix that then serves as reference for the rest. I also start showing how I have my mastering chains set:
As for mastering, it is basically EQ and compression. There's an unwritten rule in mastering that states "Garbage in, garbage out", this means that no matter how hard you try to make a mix shine, if it is a bad mix to start with, it will always be bad. On the other hand, if it is a good mix, it can become a great one.
I mentioned this because you should always strive to have mixes sounding good before any EQing and compression. If you have a poor combination of samples, for example, vocals on top of melodies in which the same frequency range is completely full, you won't be able to find space in the mix in order to have everything properly balanced.
In popular songs, if you notice, the instrumentation is very sparse in the verses, in order to accommodate for the vocal and for it to be perfectly perceptible. On the other hand, the chorus generally has a lot of instrumentation and a simpler vocal hook. That's another of the reasons why you should mix verse vocal parts with verse melody parts and chorus vocal parts with chorus melody parts.
I'm gonna share my mastering setup with you, but more importantly, the theory behind it. It's important so that you can create the setup that best fits your needs, and so that you won't be afraid to tweak anything. I'm also constantly trying new settings myself, sometimes I think it gets better but then end up reverting to what I had before. Let's say it isn't an exact science.
The objective of this setup is to have everything fitting together the best possible, within reasonable simplicity. It employs equalization in the form of EQ plug-ins and multi-band compression, as well as final master compression and limiting.
In video six I finish showing how my mastering chains are set across the channels:
Note: If you have no idea how to use Ableton Live's EQ, compressor, limiter, as well as creating chains, there are some good basic videos about them on YouTube.
Setting up and performing
Now that the set is complete and neatly laid out in the arrangement view of Ableton Live, it is time to move all those edited samples into the session view, so that you can then use them to play live.
A finalized set in Live's arrangement view:
Download the fullsize picture
Follow along with the seventh and last video of the tutorial to see how to set up and perform your set:
Since you'll be consolidating a lot of samples, you should know that consolidation is the output of the warp engine of Ableton Live. This means that the more you consolidate a sample, the more quality it will lose (because it's being re-warped). You should try not to consolidate anything more than once.
Because of the way consolidation works, any plug-ins that are in the channels won't have any effect on the consolidated samples. So, for samples that you've used corrective EQ for example, you'll have to bounce/export that sample soloed, or resample it within Ableton Live.
You can also consolidate normally, and then apply the same processes (like EQs and such) to the consolidated samples using an audio editor like Sound Forge.
After you've consolidated everything, you should move the consolidated sample files to a better suited folder instead of the generic folder within the project where they sit at automatically. Consolidated samples are saved within your project in "/Samples/Processed/Consolidate".
A ready-for-live-performance set in Live's session view:
Download the fullsize picture
Later when playing, you can use both the scene launch buttons and play in an auto-pilot fashion, sounding very similar to the studio version; or use the individual clip launch buttons for a less strict performance.
You can also go for a mix of the two. Maybe you'll feel that some parts are hard to play by starting each clip individually, and thus use the scene launch buttons; or maybe you'll feel like allowing some potential variation in some parts, so use the clips play buttons instead.
Also, when you're performing and using the clip's play buttons to trigger them individually instead of entire scenes at once, you can't forget to stop them when needed. You can click its play button again, or less confusingly, clicking the stop button on the clip slot below it.
If you trigger everything scene by scene, the stop buttons will automatically be clicked; but if you're aiming for a less automated performance, you need to click them yourself. The stop buttons have the global quantization, so the samples will stop at the end of the current scene.
This means that you can pretty much hit the stop buttons at any time, and any clip playing in that channel will only stop at the end of the scene. Conversely, if you stop them by clicking their play buttons again, they'll stop at the end of their current loop.
Note: In order to evolve your performance, you'll be wanting to do new mixes and replace older ones in the live set. I find that the easiest way to do this, is to do the mix like you normally would in the set project, consolidate the new mix (including the in and out transitions) and move it to session view, then save to a temporary project just that mix in session view. Then open the live set and drag this project file onto it, on top of the clips where the older mix you're wanting to replace is.
Don't be discouraged in the beginning about making these kind of mixes, they only start to come well frequently once you have a good amount of samples of all types.
A lot of sample combinations don't go well together, so in order to find ones that do, you'll need a lot of samples, that's just statistics. Aim to have a lot of your favorite loops sampled before going all in to compile a performance or a good bunch of remixes. I'd say aim for about two thousand samples and you'll have work for a few weeks.
Also, doing highly mixed music takes practice. It might be a bit difficult to get a good grasp about structure in the beginning, and also about what constitutes a decent combination. But think of it as your way into production, as these skills will be very important if you're planning on making the jump someday.
I hope this tutorial inspires you to go beyond traditional mixing. All the best, good luck, and great mixes.
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