Once a year, I try to make a seamless musical mix (“mash-up”) of the year’s top pop songs. This is not a quick and easy thing to do. Making a mash-up is like completing a huge puzzle (not every piece goes together). Fortunately, my brain was made for these kinds of puzzles. The whole process takes me about three whole months.
FIRST MONTH (GATHERING)
This is my least favourite part of the process because it feels so unproductive. All I do for one month is gather my ingredients (vocal parts, instrumental parts, video clips, etc.). Like Jiro, the master sushi chef I wrote about in my last blog post, I sacrifice my efficiency to get the best ingredients. I search all over the internet and use my sensitivity to compare all the different versions of the same puzzle pieces. If good quality audio parts are not available on the internet, I will then make my own audio parts (using audio engineering techniques like phase cancellation) as a last resort. I then start compiling an organized list of the best puzzle pieces.
This is what my list looks like from A to C
[ Song Title (Part) - Key - Tempo ]
SECOND MONTH (PLANNING)
Once I have all my audio parts, I then start planning out a way to fit them together. Audio parts must be in the same key AND in the same tempo in order to fit together. But it is not as simple as digitally manipulating all the tracks to one key and tempo (though many other mash-up artists do this). If vocal parts are pitched more than one semi-tone from its original key, the vocalists no longer sound human (they either sound like chipmunks or like king Xerxes from “300”). The tempo of instrumentals cannot be changed too much either. In order to find the perfect key to work with, I make a key chart.
[ the numbers above refer to the number of songs in that key ]
Looking at this chart, I can tell that C minor is a great key to work with and F# minor is a terrible key to work with. In the end, I decided to use four different keys and three tempo changes.
THIRD MONTH (ARRANGING AND MIXING)
In the third month, I finally get to work on my favourite part of the mash-up making process, arrangement! This is the part when I get to have fun putting my puzzle pieces together. The part that feels like work, however, is the very technical part of mixing. I must adjust the volume and EQ of about 150 individual audio parts. I get very OCPD about mixing because everything just sounds so imperfect and messy to me. This is the part when I listen to Rihanna sing the line “Shine bright like a diamond” on loop, over and over again, as I make my changes.
Hope you enjoy it! It was a lot of work! For an entire month, I went to sleep every night with ringing in my ears :p
Q: Is it easier to make a mash-up of pop music because it all sounds the same?
A: No. I can just as easily mix the Beatles and other “more complex” music. Different time signature does not make a song less easy to mix. All you have to do is find another song that is in the same time signature. Mixing live classical music can be a little bit more challenging only because of its inconsistent tempo (those inconsistent conductors!). Quantizing can easily fix this obstacle (I use “flex view” in “Logic Pro” and manually compress and stretch the audio for classical music). The biggest challenge I can think of would be mixing songs that are using completely different scales. So mixing western music with something like classical Arabic music or Gregorian chant would be challenging. But even those can be mixed after changing the pitch of some of the notes using tuning software. Mixing pop music the way I do is not all that simple either. I mixed together the music of “We Are Young” and “Brokenhearted” between 2:29 and 3:00. After putting them in the same tempo and key, “We Are Young” has the chord progression F, Dm7, Gm7, A#, C while “Brokenhearted” has the chord progression F, Dm, A#, C, F. Do you notice how only the first two chords work together? I had to find the parts of “Brokenhearted” that played the bass notes without too many other sounds, copy that sound to all the down beats of the instrumental of “We Are Young,” and then use a professional tuning software called “Melodyne” to change the individual notes of the bass to match the chord progression of “We Are Young.”
Q: Why put in all that time and effort in something that you cannot earn any money from?
A: I do it simply because I can. That is what I believe separates us passionate artists from the rest of the world. That is probably why the term “starving artist” also exists haha.
Q: What did you use to make this mash-up?
A: MacBook Pro (Computer), Logic Pro (DAW), Melodyne Editor (Pitch Correction), Final Cut Pro (Video Editor)
Q: Where can I download the mp3?
Q: Can I play this on my radio show, during my DJ set, on my wedding, etc.?
A: Yes, you at least have my permission. But I’m no lawyer. So you might want to check first before playing it on something that you are making money off of :p
Q: Why is Taylor Swift and other big artists of 2012 missing from this mash-up?
A: I extracted some of the audio parts of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and really wanted to use it. Unfortunately, the tempo of the song is too different from the tempo of the section of my mash-up that is in G major (the key that Taylor Swift’s song is in). The key is also too different from the key of the section of my mash-up that is roughly around the same tempo. If you did not hear some of 2012’s hit songs, it is simply because I could not find a way to fit them in or the audio parts that I had for them were in such poor quality that it would have compromised the quality of my mash-up to include them. Also, 2012 was not a big year for Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. Please check out Pop Danthology 2011 to listen to them.