Francis Preve wrote the book on remixing — literally. He's the author of the Remixer's Bible, 248 pages of creative tips for taking songs to the next level through artful electronic manipulation. But Preve doesn't just preach; he's an accomplished producer himself, with six Billboard Top 10 remixes last year alone.

Through his writing at Keyboard, BeatPortal, and more, Francis has shared countless tips on music production, and this interview was no exception. We started with remixing basics and quickly moved to listening tips, percussion secrets, and gear — you won't believe how little equipment he uses to work his musical magic. I recorded far too much material for one episode, so stay tuned to the RSS feed for more. (DMI 01-04-2008: 40 minutes 56 seconds)

Production Notes

Because Francis and I live in different states, we did the interview by Skype, but used the classic "two-ender" trick to get better audio quality: Each of us recorded simultaneously into our computers at higher resolution. Later, Francis sent me his side of the conversation as an MP3, and I synced it up with mine. He recorded into Ableton Live with a Blue Snowball mic; I recorded into Ecamm Call Recorder with my trusty Logitech 250 headset.

Call Recorder captured both sides of the conversation (the direct signal from my mic plus the low-quality Skype signal from Francis) to two tracks of a QuickTime file. I then used QuickTime Pro to export the recordings into a mono WAV file of my voice and a stereo WAV file with my voice in one channel and Francis's Skype signal in the other. I loaded the two WAVs plus Francis's direct MP3 recording into three tracks in Ableton Live and slid Francis's track around until it lined up with his Skype signal. (See Figure 1.)

Track Alignment
Using the dual-mono Skype recording (track 2) for reference, I slid Francis's vocal (track 3) to the right until it lined up. Then I muted the Skype track. Track 1 was extracted from my side of the Skype recording, which had higher quality because it was local. Track 3 is also dual-mono.

Annoyingly, the MP3 track didn't maintain sync over the duration of the recording. By several minutes in, there was a noticeable echo when I played it against the reference track. As an experiment, I used Live's Warp feature to time-stretch the MP3 by a tenth of a BPM, and it locked up reasonably well. That saved me from having to snip out silent bits every minute or so to maintain sync.

Another challenge was that some of Francis's Skype audio leaked into my side of the call. I don't know if that was headphone bleed or crosstalk in the Call Recorder software, but it added a distracting reverberation to his voice. In the past, I've manually silenced the parts of my track where I'm not speaking to hide such background noises. But this time I was traveling with my Windows laptop and didn't have my normal high-powered audio editor, BIAS Peak. So I applied a gate effect with Izotope Ozone instead, and it silenced the background noise nicely. By taking Live out of snap-to-grid mode, I was able to edit the remainder of the audio, snipping out ums and P-pops, though I missed Peak's crossfading option at edit points.

Voiceover and Assembly

Because I was on the road, I recorded my voiceover with the Logitech headset mic as well, then chopped out the false starts in Live. Next, I imported it, the music examples, and the background music into a new Ableton Live session, enhanced the vocals with Ozone, and rendered the mix as a new WAV file. Finally, I converted the WAV mix to an MP3 in iTunes, where I added cover art.

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Francis Preve
Producer, remixer, sound designer, and author Francis Preve offers many more remix examples on his site. You can learn more about his books there, too.

People and Products Mentioned in the Show (In Order)

  • Francis Preve — Remixer, producer, writer, sound designer.
  • Gabriel & Dresden — Remixers Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden; also see the O'Reilly interview with Gabriel.
  • Joe Bermudez — Boston-based DJ and producer.
  • Roland CR 78 — A vintage electronic rhythm machine.
  • BeatPort — An online music store aimed at DJs and remixers
  • Ableton Live — A music recording and performing program for Mac and Windows. I use it to produce this podcast; Francis Preve is also principal sound designer for Ableton.
  • Dave Smith Instruments Prophet ’08 — A new analog synthesizer from the "father of MIDI."
  • M-Audio EX66 — Powered studio-monitor speakers
  • Apple Logic Studio — A music recording and arranging program for Mac. Comes with virtual instruments including Sculpture and ES2.
  • Clavia Nord Lead — The first popular hardware synthesizer to digitally model analog synthesis.
  • Arturia Jupiter-8 — A software version of the classic Roland analog synthesizer.
  • GForce M-Tron — A software version of the Mellotron, a classic analog tape-based sample-playback keyboard.
  • Rob Papen Blue and Predator — Software synthesizers.
  • Full Sail — A trade school for recording and multimedia production.
  • Jim Aikin, Craig Anderton — Pioneering music technology journalists.
  • Doug Beck — A top remixer turned soundtrack composer. (Look for our upcoming interview!)
  • Remixer's Bible: Build Better Beats— Francis Preve's acclaimed compilation of digital music production tips for dance music.