Mashups have been around in various stages of development for decades, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the composition style exploded in popularity. A basic mash-up today, which may also be called a blend, mesh, bootleg, or particularly when the composition style was burgeoning: bastard pop/rock—typically consists of a vocal track from track A and an instrumental track from track B. One of the most famous examples of this format is Linkin Park and Jay Z’s “Numb/Encore” (see below).
Although this particular example was officially released and went on to become an official single, this is actually an exception to the rule. Indeed, many mashups never get an official release; rather, they typically float around on the internet, where they often get an underground following, often being played in clubs or as a live DJ set on radio stations, for example.
Mashup artists such as DJs from Mars, DJ Earworm, and Party Ben have all made successful careers by specialising at producing and playing mashups. However, many DJs and producers—even those who are primarily known for completely original work will still often use mashups to complement the rest of their work.
So, now that we’ve established what mash-ups are and how they are used, let’s take a look at the actual production process. Many industry insiders who are on the DJ/producer circuit will often have exclusive access to stems, which serve as the building blocks of recorded music.
You may already be familiar with what stems are in the context of recorded music, but for those who don’t know, stems are typically comprised of separate vocal tracks and instruments, and are able to be arranged by music producers and engineers to enhance or alter the sound of a recorded song.
As you can imagine, the individual stems can be repurposed for other songs, which served as a catalyst for the proliferation of mash-ups that we have enjoyed over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, however, not everyone has access to stems, and a lot of them are hoarded by music labels indefinitely even for prominent producers.
A lack of freely available stems can severely limit a budding mashup producer’s choice when it comes to creating a mashup. To create a great-sounding mashup, you will need a studio-grade acapella, which are generally quite rare to find, even if you know where to look. Failing this, a DIY acapella is an acceptable substitute, although these can range drastically in quality and are far less desirable than studio acapellas, especially if you plan on releasing your mash-up online or otherwise.
Once you have found two (or more) candidates to blend together, there are three critical things you need to keep in mind:
1) Time signature. Tracks with different time signatures just won’t work. Period.
2) BPM (beats per minute). It is rare (although not impossible) that your two tracks will have the same BPM, so you will need to synchronise your BPMs. Which track you decided to alter is up to you.
3) Pitch. It is quite common for tracks to have a different key, so you may need to adjust the pitch of one of your tracks to ensure they harmoniously mix together.