You’ve heard of mashups, right? They’ve been around for years. Guys like DJ Earworm and Girl Talk have made their names making mashups. Then you have Danger Mouse; he mashed up The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album, made a masterpiece, and now he produces for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Adele.
It should be easy, right? You take two great tracks that everyone loves and just mangle them together. How hard can it be? Think again. Let’s dive deep into mashups, and what you need to make the perfect one.
A mashup is essentially the vocals from one track overlaid over the instrumental part of another.
People like mashups because they’re a different way of hearing tracks they love. When you hear two tracks you really like, playing at the same time, fused together, it’s a real thrill. The incendiary live shows by 2 Many DJs bear witness to this.
To make your own mashup from whatever tracks you like, you need the right acapella vocal track (a track with just the vocals on it) and the right instrumental track. Those can be hard to find.
If the acapellas and instrumental tracks you want are available to download on a legal site like Amazon, then you’re in business. If not, you have to get a bit creative. acapellas4u has an amazing range of easily-downloadable acapellas, although they vary greatly in quality. Finding instrumental tracks is a bit harder, although with a bit of technical know-how you can find an instrumental part of the track you want, then loop it to last for the whole mashup.
Matching the tracks
OK, let’s assume you now have your desired acapella and instrumental track. Next, you have to get them to match. You'll probably encounter 3 problems. Here they are, and here’s how you can solve them.
1 - Your acapella and instrumental tracks are at different BPMs.
We’ve all been there when making mashups. You open your DAW, overlay your tracks, and it sounds like a singer and drummer falling down a flight of stairs. This is because your BPMs don’t match. One track is faster than the other.
Luckily, your DAW probably has a warping feature. This means you can speed up and slow down tracks to a certain extent, without altering their pitch. Decide which track you want to speed up, or slow down (or maybe make both meet in the middle?). Your DAW will be able to analyse the BPMs of both tracks, figure out where the downbeats lie, and well, the rest is magic!
2 - The song structures don’t match
The tracks you’ve chosen are probably structured in a conventional way, verses and choruses. What you want is for the verses and choruses of both tracks to match. So when the verse of your instrumental builds into a rousing, FX-laden chorus, your acapella does the same.
Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen naturally. It’s likely that your acapella’s verse will be 16 bars, while the verse of your instrumental will be 32. Or vice-versa. Either way, it won’t sound good when you mash them up together.
The way around this is to trim or expand the instrumental track in your DAW so the structures match. Don’t mess about with the acapella, if you start cutting out or repeating lines of vocals, it will make no sense at all.
If you need to lose 16 bars from your instrumental track, make sure the beats are properly lined up in your DAW, then trim away.
3 - The keys don’t match
If you’ve tried to make a mashup, but it sounds like two animals fighting, it’s because your keys don’t match.
Hopefully, you’re a music theory ninja, but if you aren’t, I’d advise you to research keys, as well as the circle of fifths. Basically, there are certain notes that sound nice together, and certain notes that absolutely don’t. You want your instrumental and your acapella to sound great together, so you need to get their keys to match.
There are ways to find out what key your tracks are in. Most DAWs have an analyser, and you can also find specialist software such as Mixed In Key which delve even deeper into keys. If you DJ with Virtual DJ or Traktor, they also have key analysers built-in.
If you need to pitch up or down either of your tracks, there should be a function on your DAW to do this. Be careful, however, because it can distort the sound quality. You don’t want chipmunk vocals, unless you’re mashing up nightcore.
Practice makes perfect
Like most things in music making, the more you do it the better you’ll get. When you first start making mashups, expect some awful car crashes. It’s all part of the learning process. Eventually, you might make something great.
Experiment, play, have fun. Also, trust your ears. They’ll tell you if you’re doing well or not.
Good luck on your journey to mashup perfection.