Creating a Bootleg Remix with Ableton Live

There are a lot of DJ’s and performers out there. It can be a monumental task climbing up the endless heights to be known as a performer.  One way you can quickly rise above the crowd and get recognition is through bootlegs and remixes. You can take any track and make your own spin on it. By taking popular dance tracks and adding your own spin you can quickly get your sound and vibe out to the world.

I just created a new Bootleg Remix Pack to help speed up the process and wanted to share some techniques and tips I use a lot in remixing.


To start, lets define what a Bootleg is.

A Bootleg is one type of remix of a song  in which the remixing DJ uses an entire song or samples from a popular song without the explicit permission of the original artist. A bootleg remix generally uses the stereo master track and or accapella of the track.

This differs from a Stem Remix.  When you are working with stems, or the separate parts of the track, you are generally working directly with the artist.  This means when you are doing a bootleg you have to use all sorts of tricks to make it unique and cut parts out of the original track without having the separate parts.


There is a wide range of techniques you can use to mash up your bootleg and make a unique new remix. Here are a list of tried and true ways of creating your bootleg.

Identify the Key Elements

When you are working on a bootleg it is really important to know what is special about the original track. Sometimes this is the vocal hook. Other tracks, it’s about the unique 808 bassline.  Every track is different, but there should be a recognizable aspect of the track you want to have throughout the bootleg.

What might be the key element:

  • Vocal Hook
  • Lead instrumental
  • Bassline (expically if 808 music or dubstep)

Eye on the Prize

When doing a bootleg it is important to remember why and what you are doing. You might be taking an Adel track and making it ready for the dance floor. If that were the case, your composition and remix should be DJ friendly with a solid beat.  You might be taking a Daft Punk song and making it a more lounge style. That would be a totally different way of using the original track.

So when you are working on a remix remember what you are doing and keep true to that for the entire track.

Know the Keys

When you are working on a Bootleg it is important to know the tracks original Key. Use a tuner VST in live, or Mixed in Key to figure out the key of the original song. Sometimes I just look up the song on beatport for the key and BPM information.

Make sure that you are writing in either the original key or a related key. This will insure that your track sound coherent with the original. Also, when you are DJing you might want to move from the original 1/2 through the track into the bootleg you made. Keeping the same key and BPM will help in mixing the track live.

Software to analyse Key and BPM:

Separate the Parts

After I know the basics of the track, such as the key element and scale, I can start getting the track ready for some remix magic. The first step is to Splice up the track to it’s different parts. I like to do this by making the initial loops based on the tracks composition.

Here is an example of me cutting up the track Royals by Lorde in Arrangement View:

Royals Lorde Remix Ableton LIve

If you like to start in Session View then you can still cut it into different sections to jam with.

Royals Bootleg Remix Session View

Changing the Composition

Now that you have the composition of the track cut up you can start rearranging the different parts.  This way you can have the chorus twice as long, cut out the bridge, and so on. If you are taking some 3 minute pop song and making it into a DJ dance track you will want to make the track a lot longer with build ups and breakdowns.  Get experimental in rearranging the parts.

Isolation of the Vocals or Leads

Another common trick in Bootleg’s is to EQ the track to isolate certain elements. You might want just the vocals of the song Royals. One of the easiest ways to do this is EQing out the main harmonics and frequencies of the human voice.

Isolating the Vocals in Live

Above is an image of an Effect Rack in the Bootleg Remix Pack I made to help isolate vocals. You can see I cut out a lot of the low end and high end and kept the range of the human voice. This did a fairly good job of capturing just the vocals by Lorde.  Granted, there will still be a lot of noise and extra sounds, but by the time I add new drums and elements you won’t be able to tell that much.


Isolate the Vocals with the Acapella

Another technique of isolating the vocals is by using the instrumental and phase cancellation. Ryan McAllister, a fellow trainer at Warp Academy, made this fantastic video that walks through how you can get a decent Acapella if you have the Full version and an instrumental version.

Adding your Signature

As you build out your Bootleg Remix it’s important to remember it add your unique sound to the mix. This can be a new baseline sound, added percussion, or anything to make this track stand out.  When I am doing a bootleg I like to add 50% new elements to the track.

Explore and Create!

A Bootleg is also something you play out at gigs and never release online. Feel free to be more experimental with your sound because of this. Enter into new genres and territories.

I would love to hear whatever tips or tricks you have for making Bootleg Remixes. If you’re up for sharing some ninja remix skills comment below.  Feel free to share the Bootleg Remixes you have done with a little tip or technique you used. Out of the comments below I will pick a few to showcase in a future article.

If you want to look deeper into the Bootleg Remix Pack and how it can help speed up the songwriting and give you access to some fresh new remix tools, then check out the walk-through video.

By | 2017-06-28T19:56:19+00:00 August 13th, 2014|Music Theory, Producers Blog, Sound Design Tech|9 Comments


  1. King Cheetah August 13, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    This article came out just in time as I released a bootleg yesterday! haha Love all the tips you shared.
    One that I can pass along is to take a loop, say 4, 8, or 16, bars long and slice it to midi in ableton.
    This allows you to play the loop on a midi controller like a drum pad. You can get some really interesting new grooves with the original sounds of the song you are remixing.

    • Subaqueous August 13, 2014 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Yes! Slice audio to midi is an awesome trick. I didn’t think about that. Great Bootleg there mate!

  2. beatdriver408 August 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    I found that figuring out the music, or getting the sheet music, really helps for Ableton artists as you can do “covers” for part of it and then use the original for the rest. I find that really helps because in other words when you don’t have stems and only a flattened source track you only have the standard “DJ,” type toolset as opposed to “producer,” toolset .. but there is nothing stopping you from in essence “making” your own stems and opening up all the “producer,” type possibilities.

    For example, I used my own instruments for a bassline and synth at about 0:25 onward for this dance bootleg of Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap”:

    • Subaqueous August 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      Awesome techniques Beardriver. Like the remix you did as well!

  3. Storme November 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Thank for this! All very helpful tips. I actually just heard about the phase cancellation method the other day and have yet to try it but what a great idea! Not a ninja yet so nothing much to share but I just wanted to say thanks! Looking forward to more articles.

    • Subaqueous November 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm - Reply

      Your welcome. Glad to share the example and knowledge around mixing. Great to hear you got something from it.

  4. DarkTown Hype February 19, 2015 at 11:21 am - Reply

    This is really helping me, as i am currently working on a hardstyle remix of California Love. But i only have Ableton Live 9 Lite, so do you know of anything to help me with that?

    • Subaqueous February 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      Sadly Live Lite limits you to 8 tracks and takes away a few plugins. Sorry… This will not work with Lite.

  5. lost BPM March 18, 2015 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Can you make a tutorial on how to make a downtempo (chillout,ambient) song? Or to remix a dance song into a downtempo version? I am asking you this because I like this genre in particularly and I have listened some of your tracks which I think are great (that Indian/oriental touch).
    Thank you!

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