Simon Langford Interviews Fellow Remixers
Chart-topping Producer and Remixer Simon Langford recently interviewed a group of well-known, accomplished remixers for his book, The Remix Manual with the goal of providing his readers a bigger picture of what it is like to be a professional remixer.
The group includes some of the biggest remixers in the business, past and present – Glen Nichols, Adam White, Phil Harding, StoneBridge, Max Graham, Ben Liebrand, Justin Strauss, Mark Saunders, Vince Clarke, Bill Hamel, Ian Curnow, Ian Masterson, and Alex Sowyrda.
One of the many questions Simon asked them was:
Can you talk us through one of your best known remixes and give us an insight into how that came about and let us in on the “process” of doing it a little?
Below are a few of the answers.
I remember getting a call from Bobby Shaw, who was the head of dance promotion at MCA Records at the time, saying he had a new record by the Fine Young Cannibals that he wanted me to remix and I should hear it. I went to meet him at his office and he played me “She Drives Me Crazy.” I was like “Wow that’s great, I’d love to remix it.” It was different from their earlier record, produced by David Z. from the Prince camp. The process for me of doing mixes back in the late ’80s/early ’90s was we would get the multitrack tapes and then make copies so we could do our overdubs, or “additional production” on the song. I would then go to a small studio to do the overdubs typically Prime Cuts, I.N.S., or D&D studios, with my keyboard player at the time Eric Kupper, who played on 90% of the mixes I did. I was using my SP-12 drum machine, hooked up to an Akai sampler for the drums, which would be the first thing I would start working on for a remix.
Back then, we didn’t have the luxury of time-stretching the song to speed up the tempo so we worked with the original tempo of the tune. I gave the drums a more club feel by laying down a 4/4 kick adding fills, different hi-hat rhythms, and percussion bits. We’d then start trying different bass lines and get a solid groove going. Then we’d add some keyboard overdubs, nothing too heavy for this particular track as I wanted to keep it kind of sparse in feel. We added some samples, and sampled the vocals from the song and chopped them up a bit, and played a pattern on the keyboard. After the overdubs were finished, in the next day or so, we booked a bigger studio with an SSL mixing board. For this one we went to Soundtrack Studios in New York, where I did a lot of my mixes. I hired Daniel Abraham, an engineer I worked with a lot, who I met while working on a Duran Duran remix. Depending on the budget for the mix, we’d either have two days to mix or one 24-hour studio lock out, which was hard. We’d spend a lot of time EQing the sounds and making sure the drums were sounding awesome and build on that. After that I would do the “passes” where I would start building the song, building it up from the drums. With the SSL board it was “computerized” so you could save your work and go back and add parts, or take parts out or however you wanted. After doing all the “passes” I wanted, doing vocal mixes, instrumental mixes, dub mixes, I would then work with an editor, either Chep Nunez, Tuta Aquino, or Todd Culver, and have them construct the passes into the finished versions. It was like having your remix “remixed.”
We turned the finished mixes in to the label, who loved it. They would, in turn, play them for the band for approval. In this case I found out the band wasn’t too happy with the mix, for some reason that I really couldn’t figure out. I thought it was one of the best things I had done. The label loved it and thought it could really help break the record and put it out. The record went to number 1 on the Billboard charts and I was very proud of the work I did on it and it still gets played to this day.
I don’t know if it’s the most famous but it’s one of my favorites. The Cure’s “A Forest (Tree Mix).” It was an unusual remix project from the start because the original multitrack recording of this classic Cure song was nowhere to be found! So, I had to record the song again from scratch in order to have something to remix. I don’t remember that much about recording it to be honest, but the band had played it a gazillion times live over the years and it was really quick to get it laid down. In those days we were still syncing computers up to the multitrack tape machines, which was always a bit a scary because there had to be SMPTE timecode recorded on the edge track of the tape (usually the last track, number 24). The scary part is that after hours of rewinding and playing the tape, the edge track could get worn down and it was not uncommon for the SMPTE code to drop in and out, completely buggering the sync between computer and tape machine, which could be disastrous and usually at 3 am after you’d been working on the remix for a long time. I was probably only using an Atari ST computer and Cubase (not an audio version—they didn’t exist yet I don’t think). My only way of manipulating or moving audio was to sample it into my Akai S1000 sampler and trigger the samples from Cubase. It seems archaic now! I didn’t have a lot of synth power back then. I probably used an Oberheim Matrix 1000 rack synth for most of the synth riffs.
I would create sections of the remix using the automation on the SSL board to mute and unmute tracks. When I was happy with a section I would lay it down to a two-track half-inch tape machine. I would then create a new section, lay it down, and cut and splice the tape to join the two sections together. There was no “undo” back then so if the edit didn’t work then I’d have to peel the bit of sticky tape off from across the join in the tape and redo one the sections to make the edit work. It was a very time-consuming and fiddly process which I don’t miss in the least! Most of the time it would take two days for a remix, and the second day would nearly always be a 24-hour day and I’d leave the studio at 10 or 11 in the morning when the studio’s next client was knocking at the door trying to get me out so they could start.
I guess it would have to be one of our most recent remixes “Twist Of Fate” by Bad Lieutenant. It was an interesting one to do for us because of the nature of the original song. Because it was more “rock” in nature, it presented a different set of challenges. It had some really strong melodies as well as a very strong identity, so we were very careful in trying to preserve as much of its personality as possible while shifting it into our genre. One thing we decided really early on was that it would have to be pretty energetic, so we started off by building up some really powerful and driving drum and percussion parts. From here it was a case of working on the bass line which would, in conjunction with the drums, drive most of the track. We used a few different layers for the bass sound in the end but the main bass sound comes from DiscoDSP Discovery which is an “unofficial” software recreation of a Nord Lead and is something that we have started using more lately. Once we had this basic groove laid down (using the original chords because they were just so epic!), we started listening through all the parts given to us and decided to use quite a few of them to really pull the original version into our remix. In the end we used most of the guitar parts and even a couple of the synth parts that we were given. It was such a good song to work with that we didn’t mind incorporating so much of the original. Normally we try to take things a little further away but, in this instance, about 50% of what you here in the final mix is from the original track with our beats, bass line, and little stabs, pads and arpeggios backing that up.
Building on the beats and bass line, and original synths and guitars, was really just a case of trying out little riffs and chords and giving the overall track a more “synthy” feel but without dominating the original parts. It is very rare that we get to work on a track with great guitars and, to be honest, it is pretty rare that we get to hear great trance sounds mixed with great guitar! Trance and orchestral have long been known to work together but, for us at least, the trance/rock blend is just as good and also a little “refreshing.”
Anyway, other synths that we used for the rest of the remix included Tone2 Gladiator, ReFX Nexus, and Korg Legacy Cell, along with drum sounds pulled from various sources including a couple of the Vengeance sample collections. They ROCK! Mixing and audio plug-ins were largely UAD stuff but, for the most part, it was just a little bit of EQ and compression here and there (with reverb and delay where used coming from Logic plug-ins), and final “mastering” was again UAD.
The full interviews can be found in The Remix Manual and on its companion website.
Simon Langford, is a professional music producer and remixer, with close to ten years of experience. He has worked on over 300 remixes, and has had tracks of his own in the UK National Top 20 Singles Chart and the US Billboard Dance Chart. Simon has remixed artists including Rihanna, Robbie Williams, Sugababes, INXS, and many more. He has written a series of articles for Sound on Sound magazine on remixing.