The Producer’s Guide To Remixing: how to pick tracks, get the rights and still release original music

Many of the biggest electronic music stars rose to fame because of remixing.

By picking the right tracks, they were able to piggyback on the popularity of new hits or renowned classics, creating a platform for their future original releases.

To remix successfully, you need to pick the right record, get the timing right, acquire the rights and add something special to the original.

And when your trajectory is on the up, you need to learn to combine it with releasing originals.

In this article we’ll show you how to do all of it.

Remix your way to success.

OK so you’re a producer.

You want to bang out an amazing remix and are looking for the latest EDM hit to work on. Chainsmoker’s “Closer” perhaps?

You envision the following trajectory…

  1. You crush the remix and put it up on SoundCloud.
  2. You send it to MrSuicideSheep and Trap Nation and they immediately upload it on YouTube. More about pitching in our article here.
  3. After tipping off a few of your favorite Hype Machine blogs, they write about it and you get indexed in the Hypem charts.
  4. A few Facebook posts of the Hypem link later, you’re in the 500+ Hypem hearts range and entering the Top 10 Hypem charts.
  5. The Chainsmokers hear the record and want to make it an official remix.
  6. Fast forward a few months and you’re direct support on their worldwide tour.

That’d be sick. And unlikely.

These scenarios do occur, where a great remix that gets traction leads to the remixer being supported by the original artist.

Sometimes they even make the remix official and take the remixer on tour. But… it’s rare.

Realistically, remixes are a great way to get traction and appear on the radar of your favorite labels and artists.

But if you take the wrong approach, you won’t even get further than uploading the record on SoundCloud, as it’ll get taken down immediately.

Remixes work because when selected strategically, they build upon the reputation of an already popping track–whether current or classic.

And they’re a great way to support a consistent release schedule, because most artists find them easier to write than originals.

You can work with the existing elements of the original, instead of having to start from scratch.

Labels and artists solicit “official” remixes because they want to extend the lifespan of the original and expose it to different demographics.

If the original record is a Trap track, the label might solicit Future Bass, House and Bigroom remixes to reach those untapped audiences.

This holds true from a marketing perspective too. Where a pop record may not work on Hype Machine, a melodic house remix could.

And then there’s the financial consideration. Typically, remixers aren’t paid royalties, which means that all the income goes to the label and original artist.

Peter Berry, founder of Aux London: “Turning unofficial (bootlegs) to official remixes is a risky process but often rewarding if you can collate a strong enough pitch to the master owning label.
This process of turning infringing material into gold, mainly revolves around generating serious hype on the track you are promoting . Once moving, pitching this bootleg to the major using the generate virality as leverage. Your pitch needs to emphasise how this viral bootleg could be used an asset to assist their goals e.g. as a promotional gateway for a Spotify release of the original or as an exposure generating mechanism for an artist involved.”

How to pick the right track to remix

Assuming your marketing game is tight and you’re a great producer, your remix’s success is largely based on which track you remix and the timing of your release.

Another factor is whether you can get the stems and rights of the original.

We’ll dive deeper into procuring these later in the article. First, we focus on picking the right record.

Technically, you could bootleg every record out there. But seeing as the goal is to get fans and plays, you’ll want to decide strategically, optimizing for exposure.

So, you either have to:

  1. Remix a future hit
  2. Remix a renowned classic

In both cases, you’ll want to make sure that there are no existing popular remixes in your genre.

You should keep searching until you find the perfect track, that’s just dying to get your service.

That’s how San Holo approached finding the remixes for his Don’t Touch The Classics series (where he remixes classic hip-hop tracks).

He found tracks he vibed with that didn’t have strong future bass remixes, then crushed those.

When choosing classics, pick one that everyone knows. Those are the greatest opportunities and can get hundreds of millions of plays.

You want to be the first to reinvent that long-lost or forever-loved classic in your style.

We don’t have to tell you that in EDM, everyone’s remixing the current hits.

There is no shortage of Chainsmokers and Ed Sheeran remixes. Doing that is the quickest way to get smothered by the competition.

Only if you’re first to remix a (future) hit do you stand a chance of rising above the noise.

With the current-hits approach, the trick is to establish what will be a future hit.

You need to find tracks that are just out and getting a lot of traction before they hit the top chart positions. If you’re a fast songwriter, this should allow you to get your remix out by that time.

Learn how to Find Future Hits here!

How to establish if there’s competition

Get your detective on by going to YouTube, SoundCloud and Hype Machine, searching for the original track and the word ‘remix’. See if there’s anything that has really connected with listeners.

On Hypem, filter for ‘most favorited’. You’re looking for 1K+ hearts. On YouTube or Spotify keep an eye out for 2 million or more streams.

Marvin Gaye Sexual Healing Kygo Remix

Marvin gaye sexual healing remix YouTube

 

If no remix has those numbers in your genre, it’s game time.

(We took “Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing” as an example as this is the bootleg that kickstarted Kygo’s career.

The track went viral on Hypem, got cleared and has accumulated over 1 billion plays on Spotify.)

What’s the difference between a bootleg, unofficial and official remix?

There’s a plethora of names for different versions of a track: bootlegs, unofficials, remakes, rework, flips, edits, VIPs… kinda confusing.

They are used to indicate everything but an official remix.

A bootleg and unofficial are the same. These names indicate that a remix is illegitimate.

The phrase bootlegging was popularized during the periods of alcohol prohibition in the US, where ‘bootleggers’ sold alcohol illegally.

A flip is just a trendy way of saying a track’s a remix. Most unofficial remixes are made without stems.

The remixers just rip the acapella or lead melody out of the original from the part where it’s least polluted by other sounds.

An edit is when the original is changed, usually by the original artist, for a particular use.

Radio Edits are popular examples, where the track is shortened to 02:30 – 03:00 minutes and the lead or chorus is introduced as soon as possible.

This maximizes listeners’ retention and is what radio programmers look for when compiling playlists. They want tracks that make people stick to the channel.

Reworks, remakes and VIPs (variance in production) are extensive edits. VIPs are mostly made by the original artist by amending the original project, whereas remakes and reworks are usually by others, who recreate the original song and edit it.

Remix copyright: how does it work?

Without going too deep into the subject it’s important you understand the following about copyright:

The original track you want to remix contains two key copyrights: a master recording and song copyright.

The master recording is the recording (or what’s exported from your DAW, if you’re a producer). The song consists of the composition and lyrics that are performed in the master recording.

Usually, producers both compose and perform simultaneously within their DAW, making them both the ‘performing artist’ and ‘songwriter’.

Master rights are usually licensed to labels, song rights to publishers.

A remix is what we call a derivative work of the original work.

And copyright law stipulates that the original copyright holder controls the right to publication, distribution and sale of the original work, making any unauthorized publication of derivative works illegitimate.

In other words: if you make and publicize a remix, it is illegitimate, unless the copyright holder has granted you permission.

Now, there is something called fair use policy, which stipulates that portions of copyrighted work can be used non-commercially for the public good. Remixes usually don’t fall under that.

But there is some debate about whether remixes made solely for practice — that aren’t publicized or monetized — constitute fair use. But as you’re looking for exposure and need to publicize your remix, this is of no use to us.

Remixes are usually solicited by the original artist and label on a speculative basis (‘on spec’), meaning that they only have to accept remixes if they like them.

The deals are usually work-for-hire contracts in exchange for one-time flat fees.

Work-for-hire means that the copyright of the remix master and embodied song become ownership of the label or original artist, as it’s made ‘in assignment of’ the hirer.

The term of this transfer is permanent, limited to the life of copyright (between 50 to 70 years after the death of the last deceased author).

Fees range anywhere from $100 – $20.000, depending on the clout of the artist.

Some of the more modern labels, such as ourselves (Heroic, bitbird) and Monstercat, actually grant the remixers rights on a license basis.

The original artist usually receives 50% of the artist royalties made from the master, whereas the remixing artist receives the other 50%.

We even allocate 50% of the publishing rights to the remixing artist. Terms range from 10 years to life of copyright.

Particularly the grant of publishing rights is unheard of, as when a remix license expires after say 10 years, the song (that’s embodied in the remix master) becomes illegitimate.

The only way for the remixer to use it after expiration would be to extract their contribution and repurpose it elsewhere, leaving the original parts.

If you’re a beginner, getting official remix opportunities can be hard. You may not have everyone knocking on your door like a Tiesto, Garrix or San Holo have.

But you can definitely reach out to people. We’ll teach you how later in this piece.

But there’s also a middle ground. Bigger artists and labels may not be interested in your official remix or might not like what you’ve made for them ‘on spec’.

But you may still be able to get upload permission for YouTube and SoundCloud. We call these social-only remixes.

The reason you don’t just upload unofficial remixes without upload permission is audio-fingerprinting software.

YouTube and SoundCloud use this to scan for tracks that sound similar to the ones ingested to their database by labels.

When you’re caught uploading an unofficial remix to SoundCloud, it’ll result in a takedown and strike. Three strikes on either platform and your channel gets taken down.

Written approval per email usually suffices. And if you want to play it safe, you can whip up a one-page document outlining the rights granted and get that signed off by the rightsholder.

The latter is important — that the actual rightsholder grants approval. Artists often exclusively license their rights to a label while still granting approvals for remixes and uploads — without the label acknowledging.

This results in strikes for the remixer and YouTube or SoundCloud channels. Only the party controlling the rights can grant approvals and licenses, unless agreed otherwise per contract.

Pitching for remixes

To make a killer remix, you’ll need stems of the original. You don’t need them all, but ideally receive the lead melody (synths or whatever), vocals and perhaps drums. The best remixes are largely original, so receiving fewer of the original’s parts may actually be beneficial as it’ll force you to add more yourself.

A strong remix pitch is a value proposition to the label and original artist. You’re looking for the win-win.

It shouldn’t impose any work on their part and they should have the freedom to approve or disapprove your request for getting the remix rights.

When they disapprove, you should request ‘upload rights’, suggesting that you could give away the remix as a free download via a download gate, including the original artist and label in the unlock steps, as well as social links.

That way, if they disapprove, they still stand to gain followers and exposure by permitting your self-release.

Building a database to pitch from

Not everyone you reach out to is going to be interested in your proposal, so you should maximize the odds and reach out at scale.

Find 5-10 tracks you’re interested in and gather contact details of the original artist and label for each track in a Google Sheet.

It should look something like this:

Because we’re sweethearts, you can download the template here.

Who to pitch to?

You should pitch from all angles. If a track’s licensed to a label, you can pitch the artist, their management and the record label.

The label and management usually approve who gets a shot at remixing, whereas the final decision is typically made by the artist.

To show you how to research this data, we’ll take a recent release of our management artist WRLD on Monstercat as an example.

Here’s what you do:

    1. Search for the track on Spotify.If your track is on Spotify, it’s probably signed to a label and distributed there by them. Or it could be independently distributed by the artist. You can find out by looking at the © and ℗ line at the bottom of the release page.

WRLD Everything Spotify

    1. If your track isn’t on Spotify, it has either been withheld intentionally, or not distributed at all. Run a search on Discogs and Wikipedia to see if you can find any info about the record.

Discogs

    1. If you’ve found the label, scan their website, SoundCloud page and Facebook page for contact details. You’re looking for the name and email address of an A&R or Label Manager, rather than a generic submission address.

Monstercat Facebook

    1. If you haven’t found the right person yet, check out their LinkedIn.

  1. For the artist you repeat the same process. You’ll typically find the manager’s email on the artist’s SoundCloud description or on the management company’s website. Managers need to be accessible.
  2. If you only found the name of the A&R or Label Manager of the label, but not their email, resort to some good ‘ol Googling. We know you can do it.

Sending those pitches

This is simple. Just be kind, clear and forthcoming. After all, you’re asking them for a favor, not the other way around.
A strong pitch looks something like this, more on pitching here.


If you don’t have a previous release that did well, substitute it with another success story of yours. And if you don’t have that, just leave it out altogether.

Do make sure to add a link to your SoundCloud channel or Spotify page, so they can get an impression of your music.

Timing is of the essence, as most labels will issue remixes 1-3 months following the original’s release date.

Nowadays, these are often put out sequentially, then packaged together on a Remix EP upon the final remix’s release.

That’s why — when pitching to remix current hits — you want to pitch before the track is a hit. This takes some prediction skills.

Add another plug for the content upgrade.

When you’ve pitched, go back to the database and enter the date. If you don’t get a response within 7 days, follow-up in the same email thread with a short note.

Something like this:

Then enter the follow-up date into the database. If you don’t get a response within 7 days after that, you can send a final follow-up to the same thread.

Just say “Hi guys, just following up again. It’d be great to hear from you. Thanks.”.

What if they say “No.”?

If they don’t like the idea of giving you the stems to remix on spec, or when they don’t respond at all, you should move on.

There are some scenarios where an unofficial remix does so well that the rightsholders eventually reach out and clear the remix (as with Kygo’s remix of Marvin Gaye), but it’s rare.

And risky. A few years ago this was something you could do more safely, but audio-fingerprinting today is strict and the chance you’ll get striked is high.

That’s why we strongly advise against bootleg remixing.

If they give you the stems but don’t like your remix enough to release it officially, remember to ask for the ‘upload permission’.

Clarify that it would be for non-commercial use and that you could include them in the download gate. Such an email would look like this:

In either scenario, whether they approve your remix officially or give you social-only rights, you’ll want to include all the social links of the label and original artist, as well as the Spotify link, in all the pitches you send to market the track (for example when pitching to Hype Machine bloggers).

Setting up the download gate

If they say no to the official release, but still approve your social-only release with a download gate, no sweat.

You can still grow tremendously from having a SoundCloud / YouTube / Hypem hit.

You can learn how to set up your download-gate to maximize the release here.

How often should you release remixes?

Good question.

From an output and content creation perspective, remixes are great. Most artists find remixes easier to write than originals, as they can build on the original’s recognizable elements.

Our guys usually find they need less inspiration to make a solid remix than they do to write an original. Yet originals are what make you truly stand out.

From a management perspective, remixing is only something we encourage at the start of an artist’s career.

If you’re able to write great originals and have labels willing to put them out, emphasizing originals is almost always a better strategy. Both from an exposure and financial perspective.

You’d rather get artist royalties from your originals than flat-fees for remixing.

Both WRLD, DROELOE and San Holo are now solely focusing on original music. But for all of them it’s been a part of the come-up strategy. For San this is especially true.

In 2015 we put out 19 records, of which at least 5 were remixes. But bootleg remixing nowadays is a bad idea. We just did it at the right time.

When starting out, the smartest strategy is maintaining a consistent release schedule.

If you’re at 0 – 1000 followers, you should release every month. One way to do that is to alternate remixes with originals, so one every month.

As you get more traction, you’ll notice that people will reach out to you for remix opportunities. But at the same time your opportunity cost increases.

The bigger you are, the more impactful your originals become. So every remix decision needs to be carefully calibrated, both artistically and financially.

And at some point, your answer to remix requests should become “Thanks for the offer, but not right now.”.

Because when you finally have a breakthrough success, you should focus on making more great original music — that’s what cements a career.

That’s all we’ve got guys, hope you enjoyed our article. Let us know some of your favorite remixes or remix strategies below and be sure to pick up the free copy of our guide on finding future hits!

 

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