Producer Pro Tip: Remixing In Key

Resident studio wizard Dave Pezzner has some advice for finding the right sample.

I’m not going to pretend to be a classically trained musician, nor am I going to claim to have an extensive education in audio engineering. However, I will say that in the years that I’ve been producing electronic music I’ve learned to be a masterful guesser. Trial and error make up the better part of the core foundation of the music I produce. I find that this lack of intention in my music lends itself to unexpected results, which I’m then able to turn around into crafty and sometimes unlikely pieces of music. Case in point: Home & Garden’s Domesticated on Om Records. Compare the original version of the song with my remix.

The original version of Domesticated contains live instrumentation, a full band, and backup singers. My remix is a completely different take from the original but uses enough of the original parts to keep it recognizable as a derivative of the original piece.

Remixing with Samples

Digging for the right sample is a tireless process that every producer can agree is the fun and the frustration of producing dance music. Remixes need to be produced with the original song in mind. A record label sends you the original “stems” or tracks from a tune that needs to be remixed, and then you need to figure out how to fit your work into their audio tracks. This can be done by simply writing midi synth hooks and programming beats, but if you want to use samples, chances are you will be left to trial and error in order to find the right sound.

Here’s the thing, sometimes “trial and error” means mostly error leaving you to try, try, and try again. It can be frustrating and time consuming and most of all counter-productive. You may be able to find great samples, but will they be on beat and in key with the song that I am remixing? How can you produce timely and expected results from pure experimentation? There is one tool you can use that makes it a little easier, Mixed In Key.

Mixed in Key, originally developed in 2006, is technically harmonic DJ mixing software. Its intended use is to analyze the harmonies and melodies in songs and tag the meta data with a “Key” tag. This allows DJs to sort their music collection by key so they can select tracks that are harmonically fitting with each other. Using Mixed in Key as a production tool has become somewhat instrumental (if you will) to my production arsenal.

How It Works

MIK - CamelotMixed in Key is a pretty simple application. There are two main parts to the program, the Analyze Songs section, and the Browse Collection section. Simply drag your audio file into the Analyze Songs section and Mixed in Key will automatically return Key and BPM data. If you like, you can set the software to update the file name or just the meta data in the sample or just store the information inside Mixed In Key itself. Key information is produced in two different ways: using Mixed in Key’s proprietary Camelot system, which allows the user to sort songs by musical key or using the standard notation in sharps or flats.

The Camelot system labels the files with a number from 1 to 12 followed by either “A” representing Minor or “B” representing Major. For example, 10A = B Minor, 10B = D Major, 11A = F Sharp Minor, etc. This information is included in Mixed in Key’s tutorial. Sounds that are the same number, or one number apart are in key.

Picking Samples with Mixed In Key

Like many producers, I’ve amassed quite a collection of songs that I’d like to sample from. I’m constantly listening for songs that catch my attention. I take essential breaks, clips from movies, radio rips, vinyl and CD cuts, and store these audio clips for later use in the studio. For lack of a better term, I call this my “sample pool,” and by now, there are thousands of these clips stored in there. Any time I want to sample something I usually refer to this directory because these are sounds that I know I want to use.

MIKEvery one of these sounds has been analyzed by Mixed In Key, so that any time I want to use a sound from my sample pool, I can use Mixed In Key as a starting point. First I export the piece I’m working on and analyze it in Mixed In Key to find my song’s root key. From there I’m able to compare it to the sounds I have already analyzed in my sample pool that are the same key.

More often than not I find that by doing this I am able to take a sample selection process that would be completely left up to chance, and reel it into something that is almost always usable. It’s digging made easy.

Lets take another look at this Home & Garden remix to get a better idea. Analyzing “Domesticated” by Home in Garden, I learned that the original song was in E Minor. In my sample pool I pulled 4 songs in E Minor and laid them over the vocal and piano stems. Doing this allows me to compare multiple samples and choose the one I think is the best for the remix.


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