Remix Techniques, Sidechain Tricks, and Successful Collaborations with Crystal Knives

This week on the podcast we spoke with Crystal Knives, real name Spencer Mutsch, who is quickly becoming very well known for his incredibly melodic bass-driven tracks.

It was his ability to make really unique and catchy remixes that first caught my attention, but it should be no surprise that his original tracks are just as exceptional.

During our discussion we dive into everything from his production process, how he approaches mixing, advice he has for upcoming artists and much more.

Specifically, you’ll learn:

  1. How to create a remix that stands out
  2. Strategies for making room for each sound in your mix
  3. A unique way to widen any sound
  4. How to approach mixing and mastering
  5. Tips for successful collaborations

 

Check out these lessons from Crystal Knives below (or listen to the podcast episode for even more details).

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1. How to create a remix that stands out

If you’ve ever heard a Crystal Knives remix, you’ll know that they are exceptional. Always borrowing bits and pieces from the original song, but with unique style and twist.

When it comes to creating these remixes, Spencer has two different approaches he will use, depending on the stems he has available to him.

Creating bootleg remixes

If he only has access to the original song itself (no acapellas or stems), he will begin by combing through the song, looking for isolated elements he can sample. Ideally he’s looking for sounds he can take out and use in a different context within his own track.

He then begins creating his song structure using these sounds, and will choose to use more complete parts of the track as necessary. The challenge with use more complete parts of the track is its more difficult for you to manipulate them and make them your own

Making a full remix

When Spencer has access to stems of the song, he takes a slightly different approach.

He will take that main element, perhaps an acapella as in the case of his “Havana” remix, and build the track around that. The original chord progression is also used as a foundation for him to build from.

In these types of remixes especially, Spencer tries to listen to the original song as little as possible. This enables him to keep an open mind producing the remix and adding his own style to the track.

 

2. Making room for each sound in your mix

When producing a genre with a lot of different sounds going on at the same time (like future bass for example), it can be difficult to find space for each individual sound in your mix.

If not processed correctly, certain sounds will clash with others and create a lot of mud in your mix. Not good!

In order to avoid this, Spencer will sidechain almost everything to his kick. His basses, synths, percussions – all sidechained.

How to sidechain effectively

When sidechaining all these different channels, Spencer will set the compression settings for each channel individually. Although this takes a bit longer than compressing groups of channels, it gives him a greater degree of control over his sounds.

One of his favorite sidechain techniques lately is staggering the release times on the different compressors.  His low end elements will have a very quick release time, his mids will have a slightly longer release time, and his high end elements will have an even longer release time.

This creates a feeling like a wave of sound coming in after each kick. Subtle techniques like this are what can really help your tracks stand out.

Creating smooth low end

Spencer said the key to having a full, clean low end is to make sure none of your sounds are clashing. Both along the frequency spectrum, as well as in the stereo field.

On his recent “Little Doubts” remix, he had to actually use a midside EQ on his leads to make more room for his basses in mono. This allowed him to make those synths still feel big and powerful, while also making space in the mix for those lower end basses.

This is why its so important to understand where each of your elements will sit both along the frequency spectrum, as well as in the stereo field.

BONUS: Want more tips? Learn the layering, mixing, and goal setting strategies used by PeaceTreaty

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3. A unqiue way to widen any sound

I asked Spencer about any unconventional production techniques he uses, and he responded with an interesting way to make his sounds wider.

Once he has a sound he’s happy with, he will bounce it to audio. He then duplicates it, giving him two instances of the same sound.

From there, he will pitch the duplicate sound down one octave and consolidate it as a new clip. He then takes that sample and pitches it back up an octave, now brining with it a lot of new artifacts resulting from the pitching process.

Now he pitches one sample to the left, one to the right, and his sound suddenly feels extremely wide. The slight differences created during that pitching process are great enough to trick your ears into thinking the sound is wide.

If you had tried to simply duplicate the sound and perform this process, you would have just ended up with some weird phasing issues.

 

4. How to approach mixing and mastering

When approaching the final mixdown, Spencer will begin with his most important elements first. First his kick, then his snare, then basses, slowly moving up the frequency spectrum.

By prioritizing his elements in this way, he ensures his most important sounds get the attention and space they need in the mix.

This is very similar to the strategy used by IYFFE when mixing and mastering.

Practice mixing at different levels

Too often producers will mix their tracks as loud as possible. Some might want to be able to “feel” their song, others just think it sounds good louder.

The downside of this is that everything sounds good loud, so you lose a lot of perspective needed to get your levels just right. It will also fatigue your ears much faster, and can even cause permanent hearing damage.

Spencer likes to mix pretty quietly, and will even drop everything in his mix by a few dB when he gets to the mixdown stage. This gives him some additional headroom for when he starts to master the track.

Mastering process

Spencer will begin with an instance of FL Studio’s default compressor to begin what he calls the “squashing process.” This enables him to get the dynamic range of the track closer to where he wants it to be.

He’s also a huge fan of FabFilter’s Pro-MB, which is their multiband compressor. It allows him to compress each frequency band individually, really giving a lot of control over how he compresses his mix.

Spencer is also a big fan of Oxford Inflator by Sonnox, which he likes to use instead of a limiter. To him it seems to “squash” the sound less than most limiters, while also brining up the volume.

From there, he will use FabFilter Pro-Q to make any final EQ adjustments. Lastly, he will use a stereo imager on the end of his mastering chain to spread his high end elements as much as necessary.

BONUS:  Learn how to strategically approach songwriting, sound design and promotion with Dack Janiels.

 

5. Tips for successful collaborations

When it comes to collaborating with other producers, Spencer really likes to sit down and work on the track together when possible. He tries to always come to the production session with a couple melody ideas in mind, allowing him and any other artists to quickly start composing the track.

Each artists takes turns adding portions to the track, constantly communicating what they are liking, what they don’t like, and any other suggestions they have for the direction of the song.

Sometimes collaborating in person just isn’t an option, and in these cases there is a lot of back-and-fourth. One person will create the initial structure of the track, and once they  have a structure they are both happy with, they will each take turns adding and subtracting elements.

Throughout this process, Spencer made it clear that transparency is key. He is very blunt about whether he likes the direction the other person is taking the song, and he hopes they are just as clear with him.

 

Subscribe on iTunes  –  Subscribe on Android  –  Subscribe on Stitcher

Want to help out the show? Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.

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