5 remix ideas for an ‘a cappella’ vocal

An ‘a cappella’ is, put simply, singing without instruments (or a backing track). When remixing, often an a cappella track is provided to the remixer. This is usually a track consisting only of the vocals from the original song, minus all the other instruments. It’s also incorrectly spelled as ‘acapella’, ‘a capella’, ‘acapela’, or any number of variations.

Oh, ok. You have an a cappella track to remix. Or maybe you’re working on a song and it’s just not working. Or maybe you just want to have some fun. There are many ways of taking an a cappella recording and transforming it into a new song.

  • Get active with pitch changing and timestretching. Modern pitchshifting and timestretching algorithms are excellent and, in a lot of cases, transparent in sound. This opens up a whole world of creative processing. You can change the melody or timing in a natural way and make as if the song was always sung that way. You could make extreme changes (or use inappropriate settings) and make the changes audible – making the processing part of the character of the sound.
  • Find a new hook. Approach the lyrics and performance as raw songwriting material. Pick out a different line or section and use it as a hook or chorus. Rearrange the lyrics to give the song a different angle, or a different twist. Doing this you can create a new song that’s based on the old one, but stands on its own – not in the original’s shadow.
  • Chop it up into little pieces and throw it to the winds (granular synthesis). Use the vocal recording as sonic material to be transformed into something completely different. This applies to any extreme processing. Create new sonic textures or other musical material that isn’t melodically related to the original performance. This can be particularly powerful if the processing retains some character of the original sound – so that the resulting sound is familiar but not recognisable.
  • Change the time signature. This can be a good idea if you’re feeling low on inspiration or direction. If the original is 4/4, recast it as 3/4. Or 6/8. Or 5/4 if you’re feeling daring! Taking this approach will instantly open up new musical ideas and provoke you to create something inventive.
  • Record another performance of it. This is verging away from ‘remix’ territory into ‘cover’ territory, but can be particularly effective if the new performance is combined with sonic elements of the original song – either original vocal snippets or other sounds and instruments. Interesting things can happen if you blend the boundaries between remixes and covers…

These ideas should kick start a few of your own ideas. Experiment! Be creative! Whatever you do, don’t simply add a dance kick drum and call it a day! There’s a whole musical world of transformations and recomposition – go exploring!


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