Some of the songs I'm most proud of producing are the ones I didn't write. Writing songs can be hard. It's rewarding when they work out, but terribly frustrating when they don't. It's hard to know when a song is finished--when adding or removing one more sound will really help the song to evolve into the thing it wants to be. Thankfully, remixes aren't like that.
I've had the good fortune to work on remixes for a ton of people over the years. Sometimes these efforts were commissioned for a specific release. Other times they were opportunistic attempts at label synergy. Sometimes I just lived in the same town as other cool people and we talked about a remix, no matter how unlikely that collaboration might be. Still other times they were passion projects of mine with no release or commercial plan at all. After about 20 years of taking other people's sounds, melodies, voices, and beats, and turning them into something else, here's what I've learned.
- You have to respect the work, but you don't have to like it. I've heard remixes from artists who are clearly just having a laugh with the source material. I've even gotten one or two of those back from other people before. When someone gives you access to the building blocks of a song, they are trusting you with their art. I haven't liked all of the stuff I've remixed, but I've always found SOMETHING in the work that I respected and that spoke to me. Turning in a half-assed remix or a track that bares no resemblance at all to the source material isn't fair to the artist you're working for.
- You need to have your own sound. In the best cases, a remix is more than a cynical way to take one song and create more product from it. It's an interpretation or a reflection--not merely derivative. In fact, most of the time, my remixes are additive. They answer the question "what would that songs have sounded like if I had written it?" And that's the beauty in a remix. I don't write the material, but I get to interpret it in my own style. If a Larvae remix doesn't sound like a Larvae song, well, I just don't hand it over.
- You have to relinquish control of the final product. As a remixer, you are a gun for hire. Your production work might be incredible and inventive and unique and so specifically YOU that it sounds like your own song, but it's not. Nothing gets under my skin like someone asking to remix a Larvae song and then assuming that they can do whatever the like with the output. When you take on remix work, you are still playing in someone else's sandbox. If I don't like your remix, I don't have to release it. If you don't want people to hear my version of your song, that is your right. I've had remixes go off into the void never to be heard from again, and I've just had to come to terms with the fact that work for hire still belongs to the author, and it should.
- You can try new things, but you have to honor your commitment to the song. One of the first times I really got into playing many layers of guitar for a song was on the remix I did for Cdatakill for a track called "Mingi." I love the way that came out, and it sounds like a true marriage of Cdatakill's original track and the Larvae sound that was evolving at the time. I experimented with chiptune emulators when working with a track from Curtis Chip, and with absolute minimalism when remixing a singer songwriter named Ben Trickey. These songs provided great opportunities for me to work with new tools and in new styles with an existing template of a song written by someone else!
Many thanks are due to the following folks for trusting me with their songs at one point or other. I hope I did you proud.