Creating a remix is about putting your own spin on an already established idea. When listening to a song on Spotify, I often hear my own melody or expectation of the next verse before the actual verse starts playing.
These differences in expectation mean the original producer is either creating very original tracks, or failing to meet your standards for that type of music.
Rihanna – Work (Feat. Drake)
“Work” was a song that always intrigued me as a successful, catchy and fun song, with some very interesting vocal techniques. The chorus of the song has Rihanna singing the word “work” many times over, but not too many to where we forget the whole meaning of the word.
But maybe Rihanna did loose the meaning. In the later portions of the song, “work” looses it’s annunciation and sounds more like a “whur”. This semantic satiation dislocates the idea from the music, and the catchy rhythms take over, making the song very easy to dance to.
The Original Beat
The original production on the Rihanna’s “Work” is a laidback summery vibe with an unrelenting groove. During the chorus, slightly larger bass kicks will hit, but nothing too crazy. The tune is mostly carried by the bass guitar notes that pluck throughout the track, accompanied by some sub bass.
With the original beat being on the more subdued side of electronic music, I felt a harder hitting house/dubstep beat would be a nice way to contrast the original. The Hous3 remix includes an electric buzzing bass line, hard hitting kicks and a dubstep-style chorus with explosive wobble.
In a lot of cases, a remix will take on the structure of the new genre the remix is creating. For instance, the structure of a dubstep remix will usually include a long build up sequence that drops into lovely wobble-fest. But in this case, I chose not to change the structure of the original song at all.
When I was first looking at the pieces of the original song, I started to dissect the timings and flow of the track and found some interesting deviations from typical song structure. These deviations may have been due to a compromise of trying to make the track shorter, or a way of making the track feel faster in getting to the good parts.
Typically when writing a song, you want to subdivide everything into 4ths. 4 beats is a bar and 4 bars is a phrase. In this song, the choruses are 6 bars long, adding an additional 2 bars to the typical verse length of 8 bars.
Using this same song structure in the remix was a fun limitation to work around, that helped produce interesting results. Although I wanted to have dubstep elements in the remix, I am not a big fan of the long buildup sections. With the limitation of the song structure in mind, this allowed me to leave the buildup moments to just a couple bars before the chorus.
A Remix is like an Onion
Layering the new elements of the song with the existing elements of the original track can be a great challenge when remixing a track. The only elements I wanted to keep where the vocals. Rihanna sings beautifully and I didn’t want to remove any of the beauty by having my new instruments interfere with her vocal lines.
In early iterations of the remix, the dubstep bass wobbles were harsh and would introduce their own rhythm to the already rhythmic vocal lines. I needed to use wobble elements that reinforced the existing groove of the vocals.
Thinking back to how the repeating “work” line was being reduced to a “whur”, I wanted to use a dubstep wobble that also sounded like a “whur”. In my testing, I found a pre-recorded wobble that fit the criteria and layered in pretty well.
Next up on the remix agenda is the hard bass. This was an element of the song that I knew I wanted from the start. It needed to be a total contrast from the original melodic bass, and something that felt powerful and electric.
To make the bass sound powerful, I needed a lot of low-end punch. And for that electric feel, I wanted to add some high-end frequencies as well. Most of the high-end comes from distortion of the bass signal. Importantly, if this bass was going to mesh in with Rihanna’s vocals, it needed to leave some mid to higher frequency ranges a little softer. The resulting bass sound is crisp, with room for vocals to come right through.
The other element of the mix that I wanted to come through was the kick drum. With the hard bass competing for the same low-end space as the kick, I used side-chain compression to automatically reduce the bass whenever the kick came in.
Wrap it up
With the vocals, hard bass, dubstep wobble and punchy kick drum in the mix, the remix was simple and effective at conveying the idea of a contrasting-style remix. The rest of production was adding the bells of whistles of a dubstep/electronic song, like the drums and effects.
Because the vocal stems were already well processed, the only techniques I used on the vocals were some compression summing, minor EQ and some reverb. These processing steps were to further mesh the vocals in with the rest of the mix.
You can listen to the remix at the top of this page, although the sound quality is extremely compressed. But until I find a place to host high quality remixes, you can find a slightly better quality version by watching/listening to the music video for the remix below (be sure to play at 1080p quality).
Thanks for reading 🙂