Creating your own mashups can be an exciting way of making your sets a bit different from every other DJ in town. They are also great for reviving “forgotten” tracks and putting your own modern twist on them.
If you have never tried making a mashup before it can seem a bit daunting, but getting the fundamental things correct at the beginning can really help make the finished track sound much better.
Before you start
Mashups can be made directly in your DJ software or, for a better result, I recommend using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). You can use a free program like Audacity if you like.
So how do I make a mashup?
The following is the process that I follow when making a mashup. It might not be the correct way and you may find that you need to tweak it slightly to suit your own workflow, but it should be a step in the right direction.
1) Find an instrumental track (or loop)
I always find that my mashups are better if I choose the instrumental part of the project first. More often than not, I will use the instrumental part of a modern track and pair it with either a modern or classic acapella.
It isn’t always possible to obtain a fully instrumental version of your chosen track, so you may need to extract a loop from the track and extend it to suit your needs. Alternatively, most hip hop record pools offer instrumental versions of their tracks as do the main house music record pools.
2) Choose a famous acapella or sample
While it may be the melody of a track that makes the crowd throw their hands up in the air, it is the vocal part that will encourage them to sing along and keep them engaged.
I would recommend to always choose a famous acapella over a famous instrumental. As long as the acapella is well-known, people won’t worry so much if the instrumental part isn’t familiar to them.
If you are struggling to find some good vocals for your project, I recommend checking out my article where to find the best studio acapellas which lists 16 of the best websites for sourcing studio acapellas.
3) Ensure that the key is compatible
There are few things worse in life than hearing a mashup that has been made in differing keys! If you have a good ear for music, you should be able to tell by listening if both parts are matching harmonically.
If you aren’t sure, many of the industry-leading DJ software developers include key analysis within their programs. Alternatively, you may prefer to use software such as Mixed In Key to detect the key of both the instrumental and the acapella.
Furthermore, if you aren’t musically trained, it is a good idea to check out the Camelot Wheel. This will allow you to see which keys are compatible with each other and possibly open up some key combinations that you didn’t think were possible.
4) Sync the BPM
Most DAWs will have time stretching or warping functions to enable the tempo of both tracks to be synced easily.
Although techniques are advanced nowadays, be mindful that if you are speeding a track up or slowing one down to extreme tempo differences, they may not sound good in your project. In some cases, if the tempo of the acapella is close to half of the tempo of the instrumental, you may be able to match them perfectly with only a little adjustment (e.g A 120bpm instrumental with 60bpm acapella).
Whenever I am creating a mashup, I always ensure that both parts are the same BPM before I start the project. It is easier if I can do this within my DAW, but if that isn’t possible, I will use a third-party piece of software to make sure that everything is ready.
For the majority of my projects, I keep the instrumental track at (or close to) its native tempo and adjust the speed of the acapella to suit. Of course, there are times when that isn’t possible, so I suggest making small adjustments until both parts sound correct.
5) EQ the vocal
Failing to EQ the vocal correctly could be the difference between a mashup that sounds great or one that sucks.
When making a mashup, the ultimate goal is to make the instrumental and vocal parts sit together as seamlessly as possible. This can be achieved with some EQing.
Typically, vocal frequencies will range anywhere from 85hz to 255hz. This means that you can apply a high pass filter to any frequency below this threshold to ensure that there is no clashing with any sub bass from the instrumental track.
There is so much more to EQing vocals, but if you are just starting to make your own mashups, I would encourage you to follow the above before developing your own skills further.
6) Apply FX
It is possible to layer a dry acapella (one without any FX) over the top of a professionally mastered instrumental track and it sound acceptable. However, the likelihood is that it will sound much better if you apply some FX to the acapella.
There are many tips and tricks that you can try, but I always find that applying some reverb to the acapella will put the sounds in the correct space and make the final track sound more polished.
While it is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a reverb plugin, it really isn’t necessary and you can achieve the desired results even with the native reverb included with some DAWs.
7) Consider additional plugins
You don’t have to stop after applying reverb to the acapella.
There are a host of plugins available which will allow you to take your production to the next level by adding sidechain, delay or even filters to the acapella.
I recommend experimenting with some different techniques to see what suits your production style the most.
8) Adjust the volume
It is unlikely that the volume of your acapella will sit perfectly with your instrumental straight away.
I tend to make subtle changes to the volume of the acapella until I feel that it sits correctly with the instrumental track.
Always ensure that you monitor the master channel to prevent any clipping.
9) Listen with fresh ears
Once I have got to a point where I am relatively happy with my project, I will click save and go back to it several hours later or even the following day.
The reason for doing this is that I always notice some small adjustments that I want to make which I didn’t hear during the initial creation process.
Any changes can be easily made and you can then export your finished mashup as an MP3 or WAV (or whichever audio format you prefer).
Practice makes perfect!
If you are just starting out making mashups, you probably aren’t going to create a masterpiece straight away.
I recommend sharing your first mashups with your close friends and ask them for their constructive feedback. You may also want to play them out in your own sets and you will be able to identify where there is room for improvement in your next projects.
Once you have started making mashups regularly and you feel they are of a high enough standard, you can start to make them available via the various online sharing platforms and even submit them to record pools for possible inclusion.
Making mashups can be a fun way of differentiating your sets and are a good insight into the world of music production.
If you are just starting out making mashups, then I hope that this guide has helped you in some way.
Or if you are an experienced mashup artist and have some techniques that you would like to share with me, I would love to hear from you in the comments.