A Guide to Mashups

How can you make mashups? Where did they come from? Are they legal? Answers to these and other mashup questions are here.

A Guide to Mashups

The mashup resurgence is upon us. What seemed like a fad of the early 2000s is now a widespread phenomenon, with thousands of people riding the trend on TikTok, YouTube and other platforms. If you are often on social media, you already know how surprisingly good Madonna’s “Frozen” and Linkin Park’s “Numb” sound meshed together.

Of course, not all songs can be successfully intertwined with one another. There is a secret recipe that you must know to create a good mashup. In this article, you will learn all about mashups – what songs work together and why, the legalities of posting meshed songs online, the history of mashups and how you can become a part of it.

What Is a Mashup

Let’s first get the definition of mashups out of the way. In a broad sense, a mashup is a mixture of two or more elements from different sources. The term is applied to various types of creative work including visual art and literature but in most cases it’s used to describe a blend of several pre-recorded songs. Mashup music is also called “bastard pop”, “bootleg”, and “mesh.”

The Difference Between a Mashup and a Remix

A mashup is a song created by superimposing the vocal track of one song over the instrumental track of another song. A remix is a rearrangement of a piece of music that often includes various changes like subtracting and adding elements, adjustment of dynamics, pitch, tempo, and equalization.

A mashup usually features two elements from two different songs unchanged while a remix is a more complex mesh of various musical components that result in something new. Remixing requires more skill than creating mashups. Remixers are mashup artists by default whereas mashup artists are not remixers.

The Difference Between a Mashup and a Medley

Both a mashup and a medley are combinations of several songs. However, medleys consist of several whole unchanged songs (usually by one artist) placed one after another. Mashups combine parts of several songs by different artists in a single track.

The History of Mashups

It may seem like mashups are a relatively recent phenomenon, but their roots can be traced back to the beginnings of conceptual art. Dada artists such as Marcel Duchamp were the first ones to introduce pre-existing objects being rearranged and combined into collages. The idea behind it was that the meanings of any individual artifacts could be altered by reorganizing them and putting them into a new context.

Central Park in the Dark” by Charles Ives, an American modernist composer, is considered to be one of the very first sound collages. This piece was created back in 1906, but it was still a long way before the rise of mashup culture in music.

Almost 100 years later, in 2004, mashups gained widespread acknowledgment. In January of that year, music producer Danger Mouse released “The Grey Album.” It was a mashup album featuring acapella of rapper Jay-Z's “The Black Album” and samples from The Beatles’ “The White Album.”

The Gray Albumlaunched the mashup genre into the mainstream. A buzz around it resulted in EMI, The Beatles' copyright holder, attempting to cease the distribution of the album. However, it only brought more attention from the media and listeners, and both Jay-Z and the surviving members of The Beatles approved the album. It received a positive review in the February 9, 2004 issue of The New Yorker and was named the best album of the year by Entertainment Weekly.

It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn't have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that.”

– Danger Mouse on mashup music.

Mashup Culture Today

There are several key mashup artists, such as Super Mash Bros, DJ Earworm, Milkman, and the best known of them is musician Gregg Gillis with his project Girl Talk. The latter started to release mashup albums back in 2002 and is doing it to this day.

Mashup-making is extremely easy and accessible in the digital age – with the help of uncomplicated audio software and a pinch of creativity anyone can become a mashup artist. And many actually do dabble in mashing songs up! Since about 2019 and to this moment mashups are popular on TikTok and gen Z’ers are actively participating in the trend.

The Recipe of a Good Mashup

Before we dive into the concrete steps of how to make a mashup, we first need to determine which songs work well together. Of course, you may trust your ear but if you’re not an attentive listener that can pinpoint matching tempos and other elements on the fly, the results will highly likely disappoint you.

Don’t take any guesses, follow the tried and true recipe. To cook up a good mashup, you need to check for several basic ingredients – the two songs you want to combine should have similar or the same musical key, rhythm and BPM. Let’s break it down.

  • BPM is a tempo or speed that’s measured in the number of beats per minute. Songs in your mashup shouldn’t differ by over 30 BPM. You can quickly find BPM of your tracks online on SongBPM.
  • Rhythm is how music is organized through time. This pattern of sound, silence and emphasis is indicated by a time signature. Most popular music and danceable songs have a regular 4/4 pattern, so it’s more likely than not that you won’t have to bother with time signatures.
  • Musical key is a harmonic foundation of a song. A good mashup consists of songs that are in the same or matching key. Check the guide on how to find the key or use SongKeyFinder to determine the musical key of your song picks.

Once the key of each song is known, you need to make sure they match – obviously, if they are both in C major, they are a perfect match. What’s less obvious is that, for instance, C major and C minor won’t work together in a mashup. Use the chart below as a reference for key matching.

The Mashup Equipment

In terms of gear, you don’t actually need much – just a computer or a laptop and audio editing software like Audacity, Ableton, FL Studio, Logic Pro, Virtual DJ, etc.

You also need to prepare the songs to be mashed up – split them into the components and pick those that will be used in the final mix.

As previously mentioned in the article, mashups are usually made of vocals from one song and instrumental part from another song. If you want to use other parts, like drums from one song, guitar part from another, and vocals from the third song – it’s all fair game as long as they sound good together at the end.

How to Extract Vocals and Other Stems

With the help of LALAL.AI, an AI-powered stem splitter, you can quickly remove and extract any parts of songs online. Here is how it goes:

  1. Open LALAL.AI in the browser.
  2. Select the stem you want to extract. If you want to extract vocal and instrumental parts, go to the next step. In case you need drums, guitar or other instruments, click the Vocal and Instrumental button to open the list of stems, then click the one you want.
  3. Drag and drop the song file onto the page to upload it.
  4. Listen to the stem previews and click Process the Entire File.
  5. Sign up and download the extracted stems. They will be saved in the same format as your original file, without quality loss.
  6. Repeat the above steps for your next song(s).

How to Make a Mashup

Once you’ve got separate stems from different songs, it’s time to mesh them together. Specific steps to creating a mashup may vary depending on the software you work with.

Check out this in-depth instruction on how to make a mashup using a free audio editor, Audacity.

The Legality of Mashups

Showing your friends the mashups you created via DMs and messengers is great, but can you share it with the world on social media without legal repercussions? This question pops up in the minds of many people, and it’s no wonder why! Nobody wants to spend time and energy on something only to see it taken down due to copyright infringement.

The answer is not as straightforward as we might have wanted it to be. It’s hard to tell for sure whether you will get into legal trouble after posting a mashup. Unlike cover songs, mashups do not fall under fair use, and trying to rearrange the songs in an effort to make them eligible for copyright protection of their own won’t likely help either – the line between new work and an old (and copied) one is thin.

In most cases mashups are illegal but and the outcome of publishing them online is up to the copyright holders. They may consider mashups to be a tool for gaining more popularity, as well as enforce IP rights if they don’t want there to be any derivative work.

If you decide to take a risk and post your mashups, at least try to protect yourself as much as possible – don’t monetize it, cite all sources used it detail, and don’t take your samples from licensed mediums (DVD, iTunes, and the like).

It’s also a good idea to look up the copyright holders of the songs you use and check for IP-related cases. If a musician, label or other entity that owns the rights has been to court because of covers and remixes, don’t post your mashup, otherwise, it may not end well.

Don’t let this information prevent you from being creative, though. Instead of going with your mashup to YouTube (its copyright monitoring algorithm is the most ruthless), post them on Twitter and TikTok and site the sources, give it a chance at least once – your work deserves to be seen!

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