“There are no rules in the world of mash-ups, the weirdest combinations can have the best results.” These words are from Al Fingers, a London-based musician, producer and DJ, who recently orchestrated the Greensleeves/Stüssy collaboration resulting in a book, a mixtape and t-shirt line.
Al Fingers has made blends using two decks since he was a kid – often for mixtapes, but sometimes to play out live in clubs and at parties. The first mash-up he put out was Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On over the powerful Take A Ride rhythm, originally produced by Coxsone Dodd.
− At that time I was putting together a themed mixtape called Serious Times. All the tunes were about the state of the world – a musical attack on George Bush and his minions. I wanted to use Marvin’s What’s Going On and Johnny Osbourne’s Truth & Rights, because they both fit the theme. I had the Marvin acapella so I tried blending it with the Truths & Rights instrumental and it worked, writes Al Fingers in an e-mail to Reggaemani.
“Presenting the song in a new light”
He writes that a great mash-up is one that sounds natural, like the singer was really singing over that particular beat. But you need to be patient and put in a lot of time.
− I spend a lot of time tweaking the phrasing of the vocal, so that it sits on the beat in the right way. The main thing is that it needs to sound believable and not forced in any way, he writes and continues:
− At the same time, I think a good mash-up reinvents a tune, in a way that is unexpected, sometimes bringing out parts of the vocal that you may not have noticed in the original. A great mash-up needs to be musical but also interesting – presenting the song in a new light.
Interest in different kinds of music
According to Al Fingers, a great mash-up producer needs a good ear, but it also helps to have an interest in different kinds of music as the mix of genres can produce unexpected and interesting results. He also points out one thing that French producers Bost & Bim thirst for.
− Ideally, you also need a big selection of acapellas and instrumentals, and a lot of patience, because although some mash-ups can be put together in no time, others can take a lot of fine tuning.
Trial and error
In producing mash-ups, Al Fingers tries a lot of different combinations and develops the ones that sound promising. He always combines tunes that are already in the same key and doesn’t mess with the pitch too much, although sometimes uses a bit of Auto-Tune to fine tune the vocals.
− For example, sections where the singer has been slightly out of tune may not have been noticeable in the original, but can stand out more over a different beat. Tempo’s obviously also important. If the tempo of the vocal needs to be changed too much, it won’t work, he writes and gives an example:
− I recently tried a well known Motown vocal over the Usher/Lil Jon Lovers & Friends instrumental. In terms of feel and key, the vocal worked great, but because the beat is so slow and for longer phrases the song sounded ridiculous being slowed down so much, so I dropped the idea. It’s a shame because I could hear that it would have been a sweet slow jam.
Hassle with clearances
Al Fingers writes that he hasn’t got many comments from the artists he has mashed and doubts that the artists have actually heard them.
− Mark Ronson liked the Bob Marley No woman No Cry remix I did over his Love Is A Losing Game beat and I’m trying to get the Kings Of Leon to listen to a mash-up I’ve done with one of their acapellas with a view to putting it out, but it’s difficult, he writes and continues:
− I’ve approached a few labels to suggest that they release some of the remixes I’ve done. But generally they seem to see it as too complicated with all the clearances, and aren’t that interested. It’s a shame because there are some great mash-ups out there that don’t really get heard because they don’t get the exposure.
He mentions some mash-ups that have had proper releases, for instance Mark Vidler with Blondie & The Doors and the Mashed album for EMI, and Gloria Estefan over Mylo’s Drop The Pressure. However, he thinks they are too few and far between and reveals a dream.
− Recently I was lucky to be able to produce some legit Greensleeves mash-ups, using Junjo Lawes’ instrumentals. Ideally I’d like to be approached by a label like Motown, and pair them with another label like Studio 1. That would make for a wicked mash-up album! You just need someone at the label to have the vision and belief in that kind of project.
Curious about how Al Fingers productions sound? Check out his web site or download a mash-up of Cher’s Believe and the Declaration of Rights rhythm.
Believe (Declaration Remix). (Right click, save as).
This was the third and last part of Reggaemani’s interview series on mash-ups. The previous two was with Bost & Bim and Max Tannone.