Remixing Korn – Twisted Synths, Fieldy Bass and awesome free plugins!
Mixing tips from my remix of Korn’s ‘Freak On A Leash’ using Logic Pro 9.
Korn and dubstep make an oddly fitting combination. The California noise makers may not have outlived the death of the Nu metal scene they helped create, but their collaborations with dubstep artists like Skrillex, Excision and Kill The Noise on recent album ‘The Path of Totality’ (2011) made for a really cool hybrid sound.
Korn’s funky, frenzied basslines and primal melodies lended themselves greatly to the bass heavy, schizo rhythms and filthy synths of dubstep. Sometimes the dubstep was a little too much – in fact for one of my earlier remixes I took their lead single from the album ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’ and scrubbed most of the Skrillex sounds OUT in favour of a more compact rock mix. This time around, I wanted to take their most well known song and give it a fresh, glitchy flavour while still retaining the feel of what made the song a hit.
Freak On a Leash (1999) was an amazing song in its day. Drawing on influences from metal, rap, funk and hardcore, it had enough complex instrumentation and rhythmic innovation to appeal to music nerds, and a shout-along chorus to get the mainstream hooked. Also, anyone who grew up with MTV at the turn of the millenium surely has fond memories of the bullet-time centred music video, featuring some awesome animation from Spawn creator Todd McFarlane.
I’m not gonna bore you with every little tweak I made over the weeks I was working on this mix, but I will focus on useful tricks that may help your own mixing and free audio plugins that can help you along the way.
First off, the original song has a LOT going on – so many distinct sections, a lot of rhythmic variation and scarcely a second wasted in its 4:15 time length. I’m a big fan of chopping out everything I don’t need and building a new rhythm from one small section. In this case, I took the heavily syncopated bass & guitar riff from the beginning of the final ‘chorus’ section and made it my foundation.
Main riff, as taken from final chorus of original mix
Most of the bass and guitar you hear on my mix comes from this small section, and the starts and stops of the rhythm made it easy to chop and line up anywhere on my grid. This was really handy during the verses, whereby the original mix has this kind of ebb and flow rhythm and mine goes for a tighter, focused punch.
2nd Verse Original Mix
2nd Verse SC Remix
The kick drum and snare samples you hear come courtesy of Julian H – i.e. Beeza. He’s got some awesome video tutorials that I’ve found really helpful and well worth checking out. You can download the kick and snare I used from Beeza’s video for free here. With a little added EQ and compression they cut right through the mix beautifully. The crazy dubstep build at the start was also inspired by a Youtube tutorial he gave.
Central to Korn’s appeal is the organic, aggressive sound from Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu’s basslines, usually played finger pop style on an A string tuned an octave down, so that you hear this awesome combo of a really low tone and high fretboard noise. One thing I hate about remixes is when they take the natural life out of a song and make it too synthetic, which is why Fieldy’s distinctively resonant sound needed to cut through my mix at all times. I created a custom EQ (‘the aptly named “FieldyBass”!) to emphasise the frequencies I wanted and cut out whatever muddied the sound. Listen below to the original sound, and then the customised sound I created for my mix.
Fieldy Bass Sample (Original Mix)
Fieldy Bass (SC Remix – with custom EQ, some compression and reverb)
I made the twisted synths for the chorus and opening drop using TAL (Togu Audio Line) Bassline instrument, along with Logic’s distortion plugin Bitcrusher on my channel strip.
Just like Fieldy’s bass line, I wanted to keep the synth sounds organic and nasty, with an industrial edge and enough forward movement to keep the mix interesting. I programmed in the MIDI notes on my keyboard on a low octave, then duplicated the track and transposed the notes up an octave, and copied the higher track once more for a rich high end. So there were three MIDI tracks in total layered together – one low and two high, all playing the same MIDI notes. Then using Bitcrusher I automated the resolution and downsampling of different sections of the phrase for variation.
Here’s what the three sounded like layered together. The one other plugin of note on my signal chain (and the only one that requires any money) is Sugar Bytes Effectrix, which I talked about in my Girls on Film remix. It’s a great tool for any electronic artist – simple to use and well worth purchasing, this is what creates the cool juddering sound at the end of each bar as the notes trail off, and is used sporadically on different elements of the mix.
Nasty Chorus Synths (TAL AU Bassline with Bitcrusher and Effectrix)
Finally, to get that heavy-as-fuzz sound for the choruses, I added a drum squash preset from Tokyo Labs TDR Compressor to my kick drum and snare on the choruses alone. Another free plugin and easy to use. This is a delicate process – too much and the mix is squashed to death – so it helps to be subtle and find multiple ways of bringing out the dynamics more. This is where the mastering process comes into play after your mix. In my case I wasn’t relying just on the Tokyo Labs plugin to bring out the dynamics, and during mastering I lowered the threshold of my main compressor for sections where I wanted the mix to pump more.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my Korn remix! Like and share if you think it’s any good, and feel free to check out my other tunes and all the resources I mentioned above. More remixes to follow soon.