How do you actually make a digital mixtape?

How do you actually make a digital mixtape?

Sampling master Dub Rosa is back to explain the specifics of what he does.

During our chat the other week, Dub Rosa told us how to actually make a mixtape. But the interview was already too long, so we cut out that part and saved it for now. Get stuck in with this great advice!

Start with a concept

First, I just listen a lot. If my planned mixtape is one hour of themed tracks (my previous mixes have been mostly based around themes, eg. Crime, Power, Soundtracks, Winter-Summer…) I want to approach the set theme in a unique way, not just with the most obvious music choices. So I listen to as many artists and genres as I can and even hunt down films, TV shows and internet videos and podcasts for a few oddball samples to spice things up a bit. So I will spend hours on YouTube and raiding my music collection in the first few days before I start a mixtape.

Throw in everything you’ve got

Once I have amassed between 60 to 100 tracks and a good collection of samples I put them all on a software DAW (digital audio workstation) and start throwing tracks and samples together on a big non-linear audio editing timeline. It’s like a word processor for music files. How I order them is really quite organic and not pre-planned very much. I usually start with an original intro set-piece. Once I’m happy with a track choosing the next song to follow it is mostly just pure instinct. Usually something contrasting rather than similar – juxtaposition keeps it lively. And brevity. I usually will only include around 60-75 per cent of a tune, sometimes much less than that especially if it’s jazz. Often just an intro, chorus and maybe the bridge and I’m out into the next song. That way if a listener is bored the next track is there quickly to keep up their interest. Plus I can fit 30-40 tracks into a mix rather than just 20 or so if I only include part of the track.

Find tracks that blend smoothly

Mixing two similar tempo tracks is also great fun, aligning beats or overlapping melodies can create some lovely musical marriages. Some mixers mark up all of their song files with their BPM (beats per minute) and even their keys (C major, B minor etc.) personally I just use my ear and look at the visual waveform in the clip for its peaks for the dominant beats. Many software apps offer “beatmatching” analysis, too. This makes seamless tempo mixes easier which are critical in Dance/House music mixes. Often for a transition between songs a quick cut is effective, too, or maybe a rapid panning sample to cover the transition. Looping a musical section is cool, especially under a fading incoming dialogue sample. I don’t think mixes or mixtapes should be a uniform, seamless wall of music; it’s good to have a breath of sorts here and there. Personally I find dance mixes fatiguing!

For best results, go the extra mile

Some sampled dialogue pieces I include in my mixtapes take a lot editing work; trimming lines of dialogue, re-arranging or even manipulating what is being said in the sample. I once mixed a Leonard Cohen song over dialogue samples from a hilarious 1980s self-protection instructional videotape for my “Power” mix and it took around three hours of clipping it and pasting it together to get it right. A labour of love!

The final touches are important

Once I have an hour or so in total mixed it’ll usually be mostly done. Minor tweaks here and there; fades, pans or reverb and plug-in effects on the samples perhaps (a VST plug-in is a free or purchased effect patch). Then I’ll listen to it a few times and make a few inclusions or subtractions, but not usually too many, I find shifting things around too much at that point can make a huge mess and undo lots of good work so I try to be meticulous from the very outset; it saves time later. Finally, I’ll throw a multi-band compressor plug-in (this plug-in is a bit like Apple iTunes’ SoundCheck button) on the Master output track to even out the volume on the whole mix and export a WAV or MP3 file for upload and write up its tracklist.


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