10 posts categorized "Customizing Sounds"

February 10, 2013

Do You Like to Pre-Treat Your Sounds or Make Major Tweaks to Them in Real Time?

Prep-Cooked Sounds or Made-to-Order?


Each week, I like to audition sounds that I discover (sometimes rediscover) in my MPC 4000. The reason why I consider these sounds to be "discoveries" is because I bought my MPC 4000 used, and as such, it contained thousands of sounds from the previous owner, who had it serviced at Forat. Anyway, while I was recently auditioning and organizing sounds, it got me to thinking about the perks of "prep-cooking" (pre-treating) sounds as well as making them to order.

Although I'm adept at modifying (customizing) any of my sounds to fit whatever beat that I'm working on, I tend to prefer to prep-cook my sounds. Reason why? Well, aside from speed and reliability, prep-cooking—pre-treating—my sounds, in particular my drums, allows me to focus on carving out a consistent style and sound (my own style and sound). However, that being said, I do concede that tweaking sounds made-to-order often creates more zones of spontaneity, which is a big plus for real-time creativity.

For this BeatTips Readers Poll™, the aim is to see which method—pre-treated or made-to-order—everyone prefers to use.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

December 15, 2011

Analog Sensibilities, Digital Realities: What Can the Right Signal Flow Do for Your Sound?

The Advantages of Hybrid Tracking and Mixing


Signal flow is an important part of beatmaking. Yet not all beatmakers invest much thought into the signal chains that they use. Below is a discussion between two BeatTips Community (TBC) members and myself about this particular analog sensibility/digital reality issue.

Pete Marriott

I'm not sure hybrid is the right term but hell I'm using it anyway to describe my practice of using analog gear like my Tascam M-2600 MKII console to track and mix my sounds to and from the computer. I know my mixing desk is not a Neve, API, Harrison, MCI or SSL but I love the sound I get from it because I know how to make it work for me.

I went back to my analog roots because I needed to return to the kind of workflow that makes sense to me. I didn't grow up behind a DAW system, it was something that I progressed to from my early days of cutting tape on a block with a razor blade to do my edits. It was hands on and much easier on my eyes because they weren't glued to a computer screen all day long. I needed to twist knobs and slide faders and push mute and solo buttons and insert patch cables again because clicking the mouse became mundane and it gave me a case of carpel tunnel.

But this not a "I hate digital" post because that is not true at all. I love the power of what I can do in a DAW. I just needed to have a strong sense of what I grew up on and the current technology so I came up with what I call the Hybrid solution to my problem. I don't know if I'm alone in taking this route but it would surely be nice to know if I'm in good company.


My signal flow for making beats:

Technics 1200--->Vestax PMC 07--->SoundCraft Folio Rac Pac mixer--->MPC 2000xl/S900/EPS-16--->SoundCraft Folio Rac Pac (post fader direct outputs)--->Digi 003R--->Pro Tools---> From here depending on the track I will bounce out a internal layback and sample rate convert.

Then open it in a new session 44.1K 24bit atempt to master the track add dither and bounce out a 44.1K 16bit PCM file.

I sometimes go out of the digi 003 into a cassette tape recorder and record to a cassette then fromt he tape recorder go back into my mixer then to a stereo track in pro tools and bounce out from there.

I eventually want to get a pro 2 or 4 track reel to reel tape machine and a pro cd burner (these are high on my music production grocery list.)


Pete, Brandon,

You are certainly not alone. Many beatmakers (and other music-makers) use a signal flow similar to the one you describe here. Like the both of you, I certainly appreciate the power and flexibility that a DAW offers. I use Pro Tools, and I can not stress how much it has helped to streamline my recording process, not to mention the fact that it makes it possible for me to record everything from my home studio.

Before I began using Pro Tools, I was locked into a time consuming and rather expansive studio routine. In order to get my beats/songs on to "tape" or to even secure a better quality CD mix, I would have to book studio time, then lug my gear in. In some cases, I was able to rent my setup, which at the time was an Akai MPC 60 II and an Akai S950. But more often than not, I simply brought my MPC and S950 in with me. And while bringing my gear in was one problem, having a reference mix for the engineer was yet another.

In order to get a reference mix in my home studio, I'd have to record my beats straight to CD (and before that to *cassette*). But after DAWs like Pro Tools became more accessible—and more affordable—, I cautiously invested, and soon embraced them as a viable alternative to my old "studio routine." (I suspect in this regard, I'm certainly not alone.)

Today I can't imagine trying to do what I do without Pro Tools, or a comparable DAW. If not for the sheer savings in both time and cost, I've embraced DAWs because of the level of control it grants me over my recording process. And while you might *lose* some of the sonic essence (not noticeable to the average listener) when recording into a computer as opposed to let's say analog tape, I have found—just as you have, and others like DJ Toomp—that I can maintain and simulate that sonic quality (specifically the "umph" and warmth) by tracking through my analog Mackie 32/8 mixing console.

I route all of my gear (external samplers, keyboard, DJ mixer—which absorbs my turntable, CD player, and cassette deck) into my Mackie console. From my Mackie console, I track directly into my Digidesign Digi 002 rackmount interface, which of course, then goes into my computer (Mac G5).

This hybrid approach (I too refer to it that way) allows me to combine and utilize techniques from both the analog and digital realms. In particular, this approach gives me the added advantage of being able to instantly reference the sound that initially comes through my console with the new reality of how Pro Tools "captures" it. In this way, I'm able to mix "in the box" (inside of Pro Tools), in a way that matches—as close as possible—the sonic essence that I'm able to produce through my analog console.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

October 04, 2011

Using Percussive Elements and Sound Effects to Create Unique Textures

For Unique Texture, Percussion Elements and Sound Effects Work Well; For Example, Chimes and Police Sirens


So much of quality beatmaking comes down not only to how well you can create drum frameworks, but also how well you can match those drum frameworks with unique sound textures. And when it comes to the arrangement of textures, there are a number of different approaches you can take. In this article, I want to discuss an approach that utilizes unique percussive elements and sound effects.

One of the greatest things about beatmaking is its ability to absorb and convert literally any sound into hip hop/rap form. No more is this true than in the area of percussive elements and sound effects. Indeed, unique percussive elements and sound effects (combined or alone) can be used to create memorable arrangements and distinct sound textures that both fit and reinforce the hip hop/rap form. For example, I like to use chimes and sirens (typically police sirens) together. Here's my process...

In my customized sound library (comprised of sounds sampled and "treated" by me), I have a tailor-made sample of chimes as well as a sustained measure of police sirens. Each of these sounds—which I use differently depending on the beat—offer specific characteristics that fit the attributes and goals of my particular style and sound. My chimes sound offers an eerie, ambient-like (non-"emo," though) texture. And my police sirens sound keeps everything "airy," giving off a texture akin to late-night street corner or alleyway background noise. Whether I use these sounds individually or in tandem, I always have a clear grasp of how they will effect the overall arrangement and texture of the beat that I apply them to.

Finally, I should mention how I customized my chimes and police sirens samples. The fundamental way in which I customized both my chimes and police sirens sounds—and similar sounds—is by modifying the attack (how/where the start of the sound actually begins), sustain, decay, and release (how full the sound is on the tail end) of each sound. For my my chimes, the attack I have set as my default is like a fade (I like my chimes to fade in to the arrangement), and the release descends abruptly. On the other hand, the attack that I have set for my police sirens sound is minimum (I like my police sirens to almost drop in), and the release dissolves slowly. Also, for my police sirens, I added some reverb so that the end of the sound has a slight rumble. This slight rumble works well whenever I fold or loop my police sirens sound into itself.

*Editor's note: For more detailed information about modifying attack, decay, sustain, and release, see "BeatTips Tutorial: Modifying the ADSR Sound Envelope Pattern"

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

September 21, 2011

BeatTips Tutorial: Sampling Live Instrumentation: Guitar Riffs

Sampling Your Live Playing and Making It Sound Like a "Sample", Not Just Live Instrumentation Re-Recorded


Perhaps one of the most misused and misrepresented terms in beatmaking is “live instrumentation”. What does live instrumentation actually mean, anyway? On the surface, one might be quick to say that live instrumentation is the making of music without the use of samples. But given the fact that a great deal of so-called live instrumentation relies on the use of samples (e.g. sound modules, software samplers with stock samples, etc.) I’m not sure that’s an appropriate description. But I concede that generally speaking, live instrumentation simply refers to playing and arranging, in the traditional sense, any series of “notes” in a pattern or sequence.

As it stands today, there are those in the beatmaking community who elevate the use of live instrumentation above the use of sampling, as if sampling's primitive and "unoriginal". An absurd notion, of course, especially when you consider the fundamentals of beatmaking and hip hop/rap music and the reality of modern music production tools’ use of samples. But nonetheless, there are those who tow the generic line that live instrumentation is original, and sampling is not; or that live instrumentation is more original than sampling—you get the picture! That being said, how should sampling live instrumentation be looked at? Further, does the process of sampling live instrumentation belong in the live instrumentation side of things or in the sampling column?

While some may stubbornly debate this, my view is that sampling live instrumentation is just as original and creative as any other beatmaking method. I draw no elitist or fundamentalist distinction. Moreover, I see the process of sampling live instrumentation as clearly being a fusion of both concepts and compositional processes, wherein the more skills and understanding that you have, the more likely you’ll be able to express your ideas in the style and sound that you want.

But how do you bring these two worlds together? That depends on you and the style and sound that you’re going for. My approach is always to convert my live instrumentation into the sampling form. In other words, whatever I play out live, in the traditional sense, I sample it (and chop it) then fuse it (combine it, blend it) together with other samples—either traditional vinyl record samples or other live instrumentation converted samples. Thus, in the tutorial below, I break down my method for converting live guitar riffs into samples.

Step 1: Understand and Respect What a Riff Is and Can Be

A riff is a short series of notes played in a pattern. A riff can be simple or complex. Further, riffs are most commonly associated with the guitar (“guitar riff”) but in fact, they can also be played on other instruments, e.g. a piano riff, a sax riff, etc. All popular forms of music employ riffs, and depending on the style, sound, and form, riffs can be used as an accompanying sub-melody (motif or melody within a melody) or as the basis for which an entire song is built upon. Because hip hop/rap music is a fundamentally rhythmic, grooved-based music form, riffs often play a central role in the composition of beats (in The BeatTips Manual, I discuss this concept, as well as hip hop’s/rap’s unique relationship with Western music theory, much more in detail).

Step 2: Live Instrumentation: Play Some Riffs on My Fantom S 88 Keyboard Work Station
(Note: You don’t have to use a keyboard, you can use a MIDI controller and a standalone software sound module like Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig to do the same thing.)

Before I began playing some riffs, I adjust the filter envelope on my Fantom. Usually, I’ll adjust the ARP RANGE and ARP ACCENT. I always leave the release and tempo the same as part of my custom “preset”. After I’ve made these adjustments, I play riffs based on the ideas and themes that I have in mind at the moment. For the audio example I included below, I had a scene from a 1970s movie in my head. It was a brief scene really, nothing major, just two cats walk into a pool hall. But the background music that was playing when they walked in was dope, so I used that as inspiration. I didn’t try to mimic the notes; Instead, I went for the style, sound, and feel of that entire scene. After I play a riff that fits what I'm going for, I hit the "Skip Back Sampling" button on my Fantom and record it.

Step 3: Get Riff into Pro Tools for Effects Processing

At this stage, depending on the riff itself and the type of idea I’ve got going, I will do either one of two things: (a) I Record the riff directly into Pro Tools (my DAW of choice); or (b) I sample the riff into my Akai MPC 4000, loop it, then record the sampled riff from the MPC 4000 into Pro Tools. (Either way, I'm routing through my Mackie analog mixing console into Pro Tools.) For the example that I’ve included in this post, I recorded the riff directly into Pro Tools.

Step 4: Track the Riff on Repeat, Then Duplicate the Track

Here, I try to give myself at least 50 seconds of the riff on repeat; this way I can work the effects as I listen to what the riff is doing, all the while I’m getting a better picture of how I should flip the riff, once the effects are set. After I’ve recorded the riff into a Pro Tools track, I duplicate the track and apply all the effects on the duplicate, leaving the source riff track as is. This allows for quick A and B references. (Note: This becomes particularly important when I make multiple duplicates).

Step 5: Work in the Effects

Usually, I only use three effects (plug-ins) on guitar riffs: reverb, 7-band EQ, and compression. (In Guitar Rig you could go even further with it, adding distortion and other effects.) For reverb, I like using a “large room” setting because it gives me the dusty airiness that I’ll need to make a riff from today sound old and in line with the types of vinyl record samples I like to use. In other words, I use reverb keeping in mind the overall texture and feel of the beat that I’m going to be making.

Step 6: Sample the Riff Into My MPC 4000

Once the effects are set, I sample the riff into my MPC 4000.

Step 7: I. Gets. Busy!!!

At this stage, I’m in complete sampling mode, so everything moves FAST. After chopping the riff to my liking (the initial chopping), I put it in a sequence, then loop it. I listen to the loop of the chopped riff to see what direction to go in. Do I pitch it up or pitch it down? It always depends on the style, feel, and sound that I’m going for. With the example below, I went with the “pool hall” theme from the movie that inspired the riff, which prompted me to pitch the riff up. At this point, I also made one more chop, completely cutting off the tail of the original guitar riff.

After I got the pitch of the riff right, I built a drum framework around it, using one of my 5 default kicks, “kick 4 S950”; a snare, “snare bucket lid” (yes, I literally made a snare from striking a small bucket with a lid on top, combined with my “snare 34”); two hi-hats (two strikes of my “hat vintage”); and my signature “gunshot snare”.

Once I had the drum framework rocking, I added in a piano/bass stab that I sampled off of a vinyl record. To make the guitar riff and the piano/bass stab sound as though they came from the same time and space (not necessarily the same record), I threw a notch filter on the guitar riff to blend and tuck it, then I opened up some treble on the channel where the piano/bass stab was being outputted (I could have used the Lo-Hi Pass filter on my MPC 4000 to get the same effect, but I was moving fast; I knew where this beat was headed and I wanted to finish so I could write a rhyme to it).

After a couple a couple EQ adjustments on the Mackie console, I dumped the beat into Pro Tools. Back in Pro Tools, I did some additional EQ’ing, created a master track, and bounced the beat to disc. Done…

Note: Below I have included both the original guitar riff as I played it and the beat made using the sampled riff. (Next week I might post the rhyme vocal I did for this beat)

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

Pool Hall Guitar Riff (Live riff played by Sa'id)

Pool Hall beat (prod. by Sa'id)

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

July 19, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Sa'id - "Before We Started Fightin'"

Getting to the Rhythm, So I Can Get to the Rhyme


"As a beatmaker, rhythm is fundamental to any structure I compose. As a rapper, rhythm is vital!" —Sa'id

A couple of weeks before I made and recorded "Before We Started Fightin'," I had been experimenting with extended bar structures. That is to say, rather than doubling up 1-, 2-, and 4-bar schemes, I was exploring the use of 8- and 12-bar frameworks. Throughout this exploration, I learned a number of different things. I learned new ways to anchor my beats with lightly syncopated drum patterns; I learned more about blending separate sampled pieces into single cohesive riffs; I learned more about why certain changes work better at specific points within a sequence, depending, of course, on the number of bars in the sequence; and I learned how "double time" tempos of longer bar structures could be manipulated in ways that allowed me to avoid timing correct (quantizing).

So it was the "double time"/bar structure manipulation discovery that had the most impact on how I made "Before We Started Fightin'." As a rhymer, I like to push past the typical AB AB AB AB rhyme scheme, and come up with new rhyme paths. So as a beatmaker, my focus is always on capturing the sort of rhythms that will allow me to create the vocal syncopation that best matches the idea, topic, or subject matter that I'm rhymin' about. Moreover, I don't see my vocalization as something separate from the mix; instead, I like to view my rhymes as just another instrument in the mix. (I will be writing more about that in an upcoming article.)

So when I came up with the idea—a semi-autobiographical story about a guy who realizes (almost too late) that his girl has just double-crossed him—, I wanted a beat structure that was aggressive, but not overpowering. I wanted something that would rumble in the beginning, then taper off at the end of the sequence. I also wanted something that didn't easily fit into 4/4. After re-arranging what was initially a *12-bar* sample, I chopped off 3 bars (shaving the tail of the main sample), and started experimenting with a 9-bar sequence, adding a lone snare on "the one" (rather than a kick) with a piece of silence, right before the main sample starts. Then I added in a hi-hat that I played straight through, live, with no timing correct. After that, I color everything with random low-velocity kicks. I had also added another guitar sample, but it distracted me when I was writing my rhyme; so I stripped it from the beat, and added one more hi-hat, and I was done.

For the mix, I EQ'd the bass in a way that turned up the rumble that I wanted. In contrast, I peeled back the highs to temper the vinyl static and to allow my vocals to come through stronger without using any compression. I tucked the hi-hats and kicks in the mix, so that they blended more with the main sample.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

Sa'id - "Before We Started Fightin'" (prod. by Sa'id)

Download Sa'id - "Before We Started Fightin''

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

July 16, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Syl Johnson, the Soulful Belter

Behind Al Green at Hi Records, But Syl Johnson Just as Valuable to Hip hop/Rap Music


Blues-Soulman, songwriter, and producer Syl Johnson is an ironic example of how being second on the depth chart can sometimes work out for the best. In front of him at Hi Records was a more well-known legend: Al Green. Even still, Johnson carved out his own name and niche.

Like Green, Syl Johnson had an arresting, soulful sound. But if Al Green was the crooner, Syl Johnson was the belter. Syl Johnson distinguished himself through a vocal delivery that was piercing, and way, way out front, a style no doubt owed to his blues roots. His seminal hit, "Different Strokes," (which he recorded at the age of 41), offers a glimpse at the powerful phrasing that could have made him as big--if not bigger than--Al Green, had either been on a different label.

Still, for my deep diggin', I prefer the virtual obscurity of Syl Johnson over the popularity (and most often sampled) Al Green...

And if you didn't know Syl Johnson, check out a couple of these cuts. Listen, and see if anything sounds familiar.

For educational purposes...

Syl Johnson - "Wind Blow Her Back My Way"

Syl Johnson - "I Hate I Walked Away"

Syl Johnson - "Could I Be Falling Love"

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

June 22, 2011

BeatTips "Setups in Action": Akai MPC 1000, Fantom Xa, and Propellerhead Recycle

Profile of Pat King's Hybrid (Hardware/Software) Setup


Complete Setup:
Akai MPC 1000, Roland Fantom Xa, M-Audio BX5 monitors, (2) Technics SL-1200MK2 turntables, Vestax PCV-002 mixer, Vestax Handytrax turntable (Portable), Sony MDR-7506 headphones, iMac G5 PPC (Tiger OS 10.4.11, 1.8 GHz, 2 gigs of RAM), Digidesign Mbox with Pro Tools, Waves plug-ins, Propellerhead Recycle 2.1, Record collection.

Signal flow:
MPC stereo out to TRS inputs on the M-Audio BX5 monitors. I keep Auralex MoPads on stands beneath the speakers in order to decouple them from the surface it rests. I use the Roland Fantom Xa mainly for sounds like bass, or melodic strings to layer on tracks in the MPC. Whenever I want to use the Fantom Xa, I route the Fantom’s output A mix into the MPC record in. This gives me standard audio quality (44.1KHz, 16-bit). When I’m not sampling from the Fantom, the way that I audition (listen to) sounds through is that I listen through my headphones. As for my Vestax DJ mixer, when I want to get a vinyl record sample into my computer for editing, I go from the turntable to DJ mixer. I route from the L/R record output of my Vestex DJ mixer to the Mbox source 1&2 line inputs, then I record sample on to a stereo audio track.

Though my production setup consists of several pieces of hardware and software, the main unit and sequencer that I use is the Akai MPC 1000. I transfer drum sounds and samples, (that I usually edit on the computer), to the MPC through a USB connection. I store everything on a 1GB compact flash card.

Method & Process:
When I get new vinyl records I start off by sitting down and listening to them on one of the turntables through the Vestax DJ mixer, with everything set to zero, no EQ frequencies accentuated initially. The minute I hear something that catches my attention I make a note of it on paper. I write down things like the instruments I want to use and what part of the song its located at, then continue listening for more parts to assemble a new arrangement. If the sample is complex I record it into Pro Tools and (bounce it to disk). What I mean by “complex” is that to me, it’s a sample that has a lot of nuances. In order to control those nuances I use Recycle to chop them up and manipulate those sample more precisely, then I export the results a WAV. files to the MPC.

For me, the advantages to editing on the computer rather than on the MPC is that it's less time consuming, and that increases productivity. But I can see how it could be the reverse for someone who does edit on the MPC, especially older MPC models, like the MPC 60 II or even the 2000. Another reason that I like to edit on the computer rather than the MPC is because I like seeing the waveform of the sample on a 17-inch screen, versus the small screen on the MPC. To me, its easier to work with and break down. If its a simple sample like a one bar drum break, I just record into the MPC; maybe use the slice feature and some filters. I should point out that the MPC is not limited in editing capabilities, it’s just not as efficient as a computer is in my production process.

Sequencing, Tracking and Rough Mixing: The first track of the sequence I start off with is usually the sample, then the drums, then the bass, I just continue to build sequences and tracks until the beat is complete. When I finish all of my sequences, its time to get them into the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). First off, I disconnect the MPC stereo out from the speakers inputs. I use the Mbox source 1&2 line inputs and connect to the MPC stereo out. I connect the line outputs on the Mbox to the speakers. I then record into Pro Tools, two tracks at a time. I can then control the dynamics of each track. Depending on what I want to achieve, I use different Waves plug-in's. Before I finish the session I record a 2-channel stereo track of the entire beat to Pro Tools from the MPC. When I'm mixing I use headphones to get closer to an accurate mix. Stereo imaging is essential, it’s is how the audio image is placed and meshed during mixing for the listener's ears. After I sequence my drums I leave the kick and snare centered, add some reverb to the snare for depth and pan the hi hat to the left to give off that feel that a real drummer is in that position on the stage. The contrast between mono and stereo instruments is important to understand. Panning and balancing the levels allows room for all of the instruments to breath and have their own space in the mix.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

June 12, 2011

TBC Thread of the Day: "Proper Signal Chain for mixing samples?"

Finding the Right Signal Chain for Your Style and Sound, When Your Mixing Samples in Your DAW


DK: "Is there a proper signal chain for mixing samples (pre-recorded material off records) such as drums, basslines, and non-drum sound instruments?"

Sa'id: dk, First thing. When you say "*signal chain* for mixing samples," do you mean to ask about what signal chain to use to when tracking (recording) into your DAW? The reason I ask is because, if you're at the *mixing* point, you're already past the signal chain point...

Second thing:
I don't think that the use of the word "proper" is the best way to phrase your question or kick off this thread. Perhaps the word "effective" is better. "Proper" sounds dogmatic, as in there's only one way. In regards to signal chains, there are multiple effective ways that different people like to choose, for various reasons

If you are asking about what signal chain to use before the mixing point, well, then consider the fact that an *effective* signal chain completely depends on the beatmaker (and mixer) and the style and sound he or she (or they) is/are going for. Different sounds produce different signals, but the degree of difference changes with the sample. For example, a stand-alone bass sample will generate one kind of signal; while a sample that contains basslines, drums, and non-drum instruments will generate yet another kind of signal.

DK: First of all, thanks the reply.

Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly that "effective" would have been a much better word for what I'm asking. The best thing about TBC is that we have no "know it all's" here that claim to know everything and therefore bring down the integrity of the boards. Amen to that.

Back to my original question though, I meant once the samples are tracked into the DAW, is there a certain signal chain on the inserts that would help me mix my samples more efficiently? For example, say that I have a high-pass filter applied on my primary sample track (the sample contains a guitar, strings, piano chords, organ etc) and I planned on "bumping" the sample like you described in the BeatTips Manual. Say, I wanted also wanted to compress the sample and add some reverb as well. Would the proper plugin sequence on the inserts be 1) high pass filter 2) compression 3) reverb, or should I compress the sound last? If so, is there a reason behind doing so?

I remember you posting here a few months ago that it helps to know your sounds, and to have that sound available if possible before entering the mix phase (eg. using a kick drum with lots of low end in your beat before tracking it into your DAW).

Before sampling, I also use your trick of playing around with the DJ mixer so I can get the sound that I'm looking for before sampling. What I mean in this case is that for this particular I noticed that the bassline didn't really stand out, but I wanted the strings and the organ sounds (the mids and the highs) to stand out so they would be easier to chop. Doing so, I turned down the low end on the dj mixer so the bass was less audible when I sampled it. This did help me get the sound I was looking for, but if I was looking to tweak it even further in my DAW, which plugin effects chain would be the most beneficial for what I'm trying to do with the sample?


Sa'id: Dk,

OK, now I get what you're asking...
Generally speaking, compression would be last on the chain you described. As for the high pass filter and the reverb, that depends on what you're trying to achieve. I usually work my levels (EQ/Filters) before I apply reverb. But then there are other times (for instance, sometimes when I re-sample my own snare sounds) where I apply the reverb (for the elongated sound and roominess) before the EQ. In cases like these, I'm interested in the "shape" of the sound before the "color" (feel, EQ) of the sound. So once I get the shape of the sound (the duration, spacing), I can then go about modifying how it knocks (or doesn't), shuffles, or tucks through the mix, etc.

It's often a good thing to compress last because compression actually "squashes"/restrains the fullness of a sound. In fact, with my style and sound I tend to avoid compression as much as possible. This is why I've spent a great deal of time knowing my sound before I track into my DAW... The idea is to have the sound as close to complete as possible before I mix. This way, when I mix it or turn it over to someone else to mix, there's no guess work—The sound scope is already there, like a map... Check out my interview with mix engineer Steve Sola in The BeatTips Manual where he discusses receiving a near-finished mix, before he even touched it.

As for the DJ mixer amplification/EQ, please note: I pretty much have the left and right EQ bands (channels) set to a default! In other words, I don't adjust my mixer for every record (or other source material) that I sample. Instead, my DJ mixer's EQs stay the same... But remember, I route my DJ mixer through my analog Mackie board. And it is there where I may modify the Hi's and Lo's of the source material, before I sample it. Keeping my DJ mixer with my custom default EQ setting helps keep my own style and sound.

Finally, remember, once you get any bass part into your DAW, you can just duplicate the tracked bass part (as needed) and boost the low end (I like to use the multiple band EQ) on the duplicates or turn their volume up.

Participate in this TBC thread here: "Proper Signal Chain for mixing samples?"

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

April 30, 2011

Learn Your Room; It's Not the Monitors

No Matter the Monitors, Your Unique Environment is the Key


Picture this.
You're in your room, you're cooking up a beat, it sounds great. The bass is tight, the treble is balanced right where you want it; everything sounds like a perfect audio collage. So now you save the beat. You track it out, burn it to disk, and make your way out of the lab with a copy for some trusted ears to listen. You meet up with a fellow beatmaker or a rapper, and you pop the CD in his player. You can't wait until he hears the impact of the beat; then it begins to play...and hey, wait a minute. Where's all the bangin' bass? Where did the fresh clear highs and balanced mids go? After making excuses to your audience about why the beat doesn't sound entirely dope, you vow to get some new monitors.

If you can relate, listen up: It's not usually the monitors that's the problem—monitors don't lie! It's your understanding of the acoustics of the room you make your beats in.

It's most certainly the acoustics of the particular room you create your music in. "Better, more expensive monitors will not necessarily correct this problem. The real solution is to learn the unique room where you make your music in. Every room has its own unique dynamics: shape, width, length, height of the ceiling, wall density, furniture, etc. Therefore, no two rooms can ever sound exactly the same. Hence, rooms have to be learned. You have to learn how your room renders bass and treble. You have to learn where your room offers the best play back. You have to learn where your room puts out a lot of "slap-back." Once you really learn your room, in tandem with whatever monitors you're using, you'll be good to go.

Here's one way to learn your room. Take three different beats of yours that you know really well, and three different songs (mixed and mastered) from your favorite artist and put them on a CD. (I recommend using at least one Dr. Dre produced record, as he has some of the surest mixed and mastered music in hip hop/rap.) Inside of the room that's giving you trouble, listen to each beat and song and take notes on what you hear. In particular, you want to pay attention to the low and high levels. Determine if the bass sounds lower or higher, thicker or flatter, distorted or not inside of your room. Then check the conditions of the highs. Are they screaming? Are they barely coming through? Are they just way too flat? Also, move around your room, learn its response, learn its "sweet spot," where everything sounds as it should.

As you listen to the audible inconsistencies of each beat that appear inside of your room, make a note of what you need to do to hear things properly in that room. For example, through this cross reference process, you'll know whether to increase or decrease the bass when you're making a beat in that room. Likewise, you'll know how to tweak the highs and mids.

I've recorded in several different rooms in my home before. Each room was WAY different. In some rooms, I had to really boost up everything, especially the bass because it barely registered on outside playback systems and environments that I trust. In other cases, I had to learn to minimize the low-end because it was distorting and too overbearing on outside playback systems and environments that I trust. In each case, it was never a problem with my studio monitors.

Bottom line: it's not that one room is necessarily better or worse, it's more about how well you know the manner in which a particular room renders sound.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

April 17, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Royal Flush - "Ice Downed Medallion" Prod. by EZ Elpee

Hungry Beatwork and Rhyme; Appreciated More in Middle of a Storm


"Motion picture/analyze your world Flush'll hit ya..." That's the emphatic declaration that Royal Flush makes to open the New York hood classic, "Iced Downed Medallion" from his debut album, Ghetto Millionaire (1997). Speaking from the rapper/lyricist part of me, I've always considered Royal Flush to be one of the illest lyricists in rap. Cut from the same Queens lyricst bloodline that bled inside of areas like Corona, Queensbridge, Lefrack City, and Astoria Projects, Flush was a street-respected M.C., circa 1996-98. Unfortunately, however, Flush never rose to the level of notoriety that I felt he deserved.

Thing is, Royal Flush came on the scene—with the right skills—at the wrong time. It was 1997/98, right in the eye of Diddy's (formerly known as Puff) storm. This was when Puff was throwin' shit in the New York rap game with the shiny-suit, bubble gum-rap mystique. (Note. Puff's reign would eventually help lead to the undermining of New York's hip hop/rap structure—a near fatal blow that New York has yet to recover from.) The years in rap 1997/98 would also serve to mark the beginning of Jay-Z and Hot 97s (New York's #1 hip hop/rap radio station) meteoric connection to the top. Had Royal Flush come on the scene just two or three years earlier, he would have missed what I like to call the New York Kill Zone of '97/98, and in all likelihood, he would have gained as much (perhaps more) shine as Mobb Deep, AC, or O.C.

Speaking from the beatmaker (producer) part of me, "Iced Down Medallion" was one of the most aggressively programmed beats I've heard. Produced by EZ Elpee, the beat utilized a straight-forward, two-bar loop of a 70s music phrase (I don't name sample sources that I'm not sure about their cleared status) with the bass frequency of the phrase filtered milk-smooth, and the high (mid/treble) levels left just as warm and even when let out. For the drum framework, Elpee went with a standard double-kick snare pattern. Wisely, he tucks the kick while exploding the snare with a handful of reverb. And the hat, which is truncated (no prolonged sustain), is a shaker that he politely sprinkles over all measures. It is further worth noting that because of how the bass frequency of the sample is filtered so fat and warmly, the kick—which is actually truncated short—sounds so much more rounder and booming every time it lands on the one, and as it sets up the two.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Royal Flush - "Iced Down Medallion"

Royal Flush - "Iced Down Medallion" (Official music video)

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