Playing DropMix over the last few weeks has gotten me to think about music in a new way. This card game with digital elements allows players to mix bits and pieces of songs together by simply placing instrument cards on the board. Want Ed Sheeran to sing over the bass line of LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It”, the synth strings from Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, and the drums from Rick James’ “Super Freak” while all mixing together in perfect harmony? Simply play the four cards and watch DropMix work its magic.
Having said that, not all DropMix cards or DropMix songs are created equally. In one of the expansion packs we bought, there’s a Beethoven card that’s seemingly impossible to work with. Certain other cards, such as the drums from “Radioactive”, seemingly work with everything. This got me thinking: going beyond personal preferences such as artist and genre, what elements make for a great song in DropMix?
Guiding Principle: Great DropMix cards mix well with many other DropMix cards
The whole point of DropMix is to mix-and-match elements of different songs to make your own creation. Having played it for a number of hours now, I find key difference maker between good cards and bad cards is their ability to mix with the other cards in the game. Certain cards seemingly go with everything, while others seem impossible to mix with anything. I base the following rules and guidelines with the goal of versatility in mind.
Rule: Needs to have a consistent tempo
The technology underneath the hood of DropMix assumes that every song is running at a consistent tempo. There are ways of faking tempo changes through your instrumentation, but songs that have true tempo changes simply will fall out of time with everything else. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a fantastic song, but it’s simply not going to work.
Rule: Needs to be in 4/4 time signature
Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is an all-time bop, but its 5/4 time signature isn’t going to mesh with the music already in the game. Everything in the game is using a standard 4/4 time signature, which is common in most popular music. That means no waltzes either!
Guideline: Generally speaking, certain genres work better than others within the context of mashing up music
DropMix has gone out of their way to cater to a number of genres. Country may not be the first genre you think of when the thought of mashing music together arises, but there is a country music expansion. Putting aside personal preference, I think there are certain genres that generally work better than others.
Hip-hop translates really well, as it’s a genre that’s rooted in mashing together elements of different songs into one. Also, the non-melodic nature of rapping lends itself well to applying vocals on just about anything. EDM works well, as much of the genre moves at a high tempo and features instruments that don’t eat up the frequency spectrum (more on that in a second).
Rock and metal, while not impossible, are generally harder to work with. The instruments within rock have more distinct melodies that don’t work as well when taken outside of the context of their original song. On top of that, electric guitar tends to eat a lot of the frequency spectrum (more on that in a second). That said, it makes it even more impressive when you can make a great rock mix!
Guideline: Musical instruments that have tight frequency ranges generally work better
Bass sounds exist within the low end of the frequency scale while high-pitched sounds exist on the opposite end. Instruments that tend to exist within one “zone” in the frequency scale give you room to add other elements to it. For example, electronic synthesizers like the “siren” on Afrojack’s “Take Over Control” is a distinctly high-pitched sound that leaves room in the audio mix for guitars, bass lines, and other instruments of lower frequencies to accompany it.
Meanwhile, the teeth-grinding guitars of “Down With the Sickness” eat so much of the middle and high ranges that you can’t really mix much with it beyond a drum beat. The worst offender I’ve discovered so far is the Beethoven card, where an entire symphony eats almost the entire spectrum, making it almost impossible to mix with anything.
Guideline: Musical instruments have to have catchy and distinct melodies, but not too distinct
Regardless of how you feel about Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, but when you play that synth card, your mix as a whole immediately becomes “Call Me Maybe”. That’s not necessarily the song’s fault, as in isolation, it’s just an orchestral synth string riff. But it has this undeniable effect on the song where that distinct sound takes over the whole mix.
I like melodies and beats to be distinct, but still somewhat generic enough that you can separate them from the context of their original work. It’s in scenarios like this where the cards from artists we’ve never heard of can really help round out a mix. When you just need a great drum part or a great guitar part to compliment everything else, you can really close it down with a track that people don’t already have a preconceived notion of.
Even in the face of this 1,000-word post detailing what I think makes for a great DropMix song, I don’t blame Harmonix for going in the direction they have with the game. They’re trying to incorporate as many different sounds from across genres as possible, so that anyone playing the game can find cards they love to mix with. Even with my rules and guidelines in mind, you can probably find all sorts of exceptions that sound fantastic! Mix things up and see what works for you!
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