Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Cut Up Boys Guide to Mash Ups

If you want to give your DJ sets a unique flavour and guarantee entertainment on the dancefloor, creating your own mash ups is a great way to go about it. A mash up can be defined as a song comprised of elements of two or more pre-existing pieces of music.

The undisputed kings of the mash up are Bournemouth based duo The Cut Up Boys having released 6 highly acclaimed Mash Up Mixes on Ministry of Sound. They took some time out of their busy schedule to come to the Point Blank studios and give us their secret recipe for a monster mash up! Check out what they had to say and for even more inspiration take a listen to our choice of Top 5 Monster Mash Ups.

"The aim for anybody putting a mash up together should be to create a track that not only juxtaposes two or more existing pieces in an interesting way but does so with production values equal to any piece of "non-mashed" music fresh out of a commercial studio. This usually involves a lot of hard work, tedious preparation and legwork if you really want your productions to stand out from the crowd. Don't look at mash ups as the easy option if you want to make something special.

The first crucial stage in achieving this is to ensure that the components you are using to make your mash up are of the highest quality. If you are using the classic mash-up ingredients of an acapella of one track and an instrumental of another, do whatever you can to find the cleanest, highest quality versions of these components possible. If these tracks are grainy and scratchy versions to start with, the extra processing and mangling that "mashing-up" usually involves is going to end up making the finished product even harsher. This is especially critical concerning the music/instrumental track which You want to be clean and as fat as possible. A scratchy acapella can still sound great over a clean and tidy backing if processed and polished right, but the reverse is rarely the case.

Next, you must make sure that the components you are putting together are in key and time with each other. A professional producer recording a professional vocalist would never let any vocals pass that were either out of tune with the backing track or out of time. Why should you have different standards with your mash-up? At this point it is very useful to have a high-quality time-stretching/pitch-shifting processor at hand. Most audio software packages such as Ableton, Cubase etc have these tools integrated. It can take time and practice to master the art of getting tracks in tune and time…stick with it... and be as critical as you can of what's going on. If it sounds dodgy... it's dodgy!

The tracks must now be arranged, that is, the vocal laid down over the music in a way that flows properly, drops in the right places and doesn't have any messy awkward moments where the components are fighting each other. The two (or more) tracks you are putting together are highly unlikely to work to the same arrangement and so will not "fit", with choruses and verse sections aligning perfectly unless you get in there and edit them. When doing this, look to keep all cutting and pasting as tidy and accurate as possible. Don’t worry if one of the components has to get brutally edited to fit with the vocal or vice versa... it's often the way. Sometimes you might find that whole sections of tracks are best avoided, especially if they involve key changes or other musical cleverness. Its going to be hard to bend the vocal over these sections if they don't pull the same moves.

Finally, take all the care you can in balancing the levels and tones of the tracks you are putting together. Listen to a range of similar tracks to get a feel for how the vocals should sit over the music, level and EQ-wise. Mash ups can often benefit from a touch of compression/ limiting over the whole mix. This can help stop the vocal from sticking out and feeling detached from the music, drawing it all together dynamically. Good luck and happy mashing!"

A massive thanks to the Cut Up Boys for that advice. Check out their myspace if you want to hear more from them.

And remember to have a listen to the Point Blank Top 5 Monster Mash Ups

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