17 posts categorized "Sampling Drum Sounds"

September 24, 2012

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 4

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds


I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

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

Mavis Staple & William Bell – “I Thank You”

Were you looking for some bongos? I mean some funky bongos! with the ill sonic quality? Well, this Mavis Staple & William Bell delivers. Bongos and bongo/tambourine :0 -:10 mark. Open! Also, peep how the tambourine lands on top of the snare. Great lesson for how layering should sound.

The Sylvers – “I Remember”

All right, I'm sure some of you will get drawn in by the intro and other phrases on this joint. So have it—flip it any way that you can. But "remember", I'm sharing this joint primarily for the drum sounds. And the snare at the :08 mark is nice. Would go well in anyone's arsenal. I have it in mine. Of course, I further customized it. P.S., peep the kick and snare pattern, the time and the off-steadiness is a real lesson in drum programming.

Isaac Hayes - Use me

In this fantastic cover of Bill Wither’s “Use Me,” Isaac Hayes takes the original and opens up with a broader arrangement. Present here is a juiced-up brass section, a lively organ, and a wah wah guitar, all are elements missing from Whithers’ original. Although Hayes gives the number his quintessential lounge-funk touch, the basic feel and melody of the original still survives. This re-imagining of Withers’ subdued, acoustic guitar-led soul with heavy electric power rocks and jabs where the originally mostly coasted. Check out the Kick, snare, and mini break at the :29 - :31 mark

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

Truth Is, Creating a Loop is Only Part of the Equation


With regards to sampling, no statement is more misguided (and irritating to me) than someone saying, "It's just a loop." Whether sampling and then looping a 2- or 4-bar phrase of music, or piecing together spare-part phrases and sound-stabs, there's much more going on in the total creative process than some beatmakers care to acknowledge—or that some hip hop/rap bloggers even realize.

The gleaming misconception about sampling is that it's easy; that anyone can do it. While it's true that anyone can buy a digital sampler and press record, the notion that anyone can automatically acquire a skill for what goes on before and after they press record on that sampler is ridiculous. Truth is, no matter what any beatmaker samples, no matter how much or how little he or she samples, the total creative process of sampling requires any number of decisions to be made at various levels within the process. And these decisions, prompted by the residue of skill and understanding, are not always easy to make.

The Main Decisions Made Before, During, and After a Sample is Looped

What Should You Sample?

What to sample is obviously (well, perhaps obvious to those who actually make beats) the first decision to be made. And, of course, this decision depends on everything from one's mood to motive (purpose), to their style and sound preference, to their imagination and individual work ethic. For the purpose of this post, I've used the song "Heartbreak Hotel" by The Jacksons.

I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" for a number of reasons. First, it's a well-known hit—with a great groove—by a popular group (certainly a song easy enough for readers to locate online). Many people are familiar with the record; so coming up with a beat and song that references such a hit, while still creating something "new" and appealing, is a bit of challenge. Second, I wanted to choose a vinyl record that could readily be found in used record shops or at online vinyl record stores, or in a relative's basement or attic. Third, "Heartbreak Hotel" has been sampled before, and I wanted to demonstrate the versioning tradition that runs deep in hip hop/rap music's roots by offering up my version. Fourth, because "Heartbreak Hotel" has a dominant drum pattern; and as such, I wanted to show how even a sample with drums can be tailored to your style and sound. (Also, any seasoned beatmaker knows the type of obstacles drums in a sample can present.) Finally, I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" because I'm a big fan of The Jacksons, and this is as good as any reason to thoroughly listen to one of my favorite songs by them (actually, it's one of top 10 favorite songs of all time).

What Section or Part Should You Sample?

Now having settled on the song, what section of the song should I sample? The beginning? The middle? Near the end? Either way, it's gotta be a part of the record where the groove is "open" (well, as much as possible with a record like this). So that being said, it comes down to either the intro, the lead-up, or the bridge. I ruled out the bridge, simply because I heard something before with that part. And the strings intro isn't the part of the song that most people are familiar with.

So I go for the "2nd intro," or what I'm calling the "lead up," as in lead up to the first verse. But exactly where in the lead up? There's approximately 35 seconds between the beginning of the lead up and where Michael Jackson's first verse vocals begin. And within that 35 seconds, there are slight embellishments on the basic groove of the song. Not to mention, at one point in this lead up, we hear one of Michael's signature vocal exclamations. No one wants that in there, right? Wrong! I do. I think it's dope; so I decided that no matter what, it had to be in the phrase that I would sample. (In my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" below, you'll hear it.) Note: If I was using "Heartbreak Hotel" as source material for a beat for another rapper, I'm not sure what section I would've used. But since I'm rapping on this joint, I know which part of the song will suit my style, delivery, and flow.

So, How Do You Sample It?

Now that I've chosen the section of the record that I want to use, I have to decide how to sample it. Wait, what? You mean there's no one way how to sample a record? That's right! Some beatmakers sample in stereo, some in mono. Some sample wet—that is, with effects—, some sample dry, no effects. Some sample in 24 bit, 16 bit, even 12 bit.

For starters, I always sample in mono. Next, I always sample wet. I never sample any audio without its signal first flowing through my Numark DJ mixer (aside from the EQs on my mixer, a DJ mixer makes me feel linked to the earliest roots of our tradition). My DJ mixer routes into my Mackie mixing console, where I do further EQ'ing, like "beefing up" (making a sound heavier or warmer) the sample. Then I run the signal from there—the DJ Mixer's output on the Mackie—into either (a) My Akai MPC 4000; or (B) my Akai S950. For the sample below, I sampled a portion of "Heartbreak Hotel" into my Akai S950.

What about the pitch question?

Do you sample the audio leaving the pitch as is, or do you turn it up or down? This decision, like others in the creative process, mostly depends on the ultimate beat/song that you envision. For my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix," I turned the pitch up a bit before I sampled it, then I fine-tuned it as I arranged my drums (and note: NO timestretch function was used in the making of this beat/song).

Did somebody say chopping?

Of course, how to chop something is one of the big decisions in the sampling process. But I supposed the more complete a phrase is, the less difficult it is to loop, right? Not always! In fact, depending on what's actually in the phrase, getting it to loop "correctly" (according to your own rhythmic standards), it can be rather difficult finding and fine tuning the best start and end points. (In The BeatTips Manual I discuss looping, as well as composition, in greater detail.)

Here, let's remember that all of these aforementioned creative decisions have been made before the drum arrangement enters the picture. Of course, as those above decisions are being made, one should already be thinking about the ways in which to arrange the drums...

Which Way to Go with the Drums?

Even if one skips most of the aforementioned processes, he or she must still come up with a suitable drum framework. To pull this off takes a decent arsenal of drum sounds, a knack for choosing the right ones, and the ability to arrange those drum sounds into a drum pattern that works effectively with the so-called "loop" sample. So, again, decisions, decisions.

With audio that already has drums in it, you can fall back and let the drums in the sample do the work, only adding in light touches of your own drum sounds. Or you can also add your own drums to completely "mask" (cover up) the drums in the sample. Or you can match your drums with the drums in the sample; but this can be very difficult, especially if you don't posses the right kind of drum sounds.

Now, with a song like "Heartbreak Hotel," who could blame someone for going easy on the drums, that is to say, doing nothing much at all. Well, I never sample anything without a base idea of how I'm going to arrange the drums. Moreover, depending upon the extent of the groove—i.e., the feel and the level of kick and snare drums—that I've sampled and the ultimate groove that I'm going for, I will usually not only mask and match the drums, I'll flank everything with my own signature percussion. And this is exactly what I did with my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix."

*Editor's Notes:
The construction of the sample(s) is only part of the equation. Diggin' for the actual source material is another major part of the equation. Also, never forget the matter of the overall sound design. Here, I'm referring to the "color" of the sample that's achieved through sound modification techniques like filtering and EQ'ing, etc.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Sa'id - "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

February 29, 2012

Think Outside the Box for Custom Snare Sounds

Presets Get the Job Done, But Customized Sounds Help You Create Your Own Style and Sound


You know the deal—drum sounds are fundamental. Whether you made your 10th or 1,000th beat this week, you’ve learned the importance of dope drum sounds. And when it comes to drum sounds, you can get away with a limited number of non-descript kicks. But without a distinct group of snare sounds, your beats might suffer. Why? Because since the advent of the MPC 2000, widespread sample packs, and software programs galore, many beatmakers have taken to using the exact same stock snares. And, in the process, they’ve decreased the chance of giving their beats a distinctive sound.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been some beatmakers who have been able to get away with rocking one or two snares. But in those cases (most of the time), the snares have been cultivated to an ultimate level of distinction, a level in which they work almost with any non-drum arrangement. Keep in mind, however, in order to arrive at such snare sounds, some level of customization had to have gone on previously. So for this post, I want to discuss some different methods for customizing snares. Some of which were taught to me, and some of which I developed on my own.

The first set of snare sounds that I ever customized were part of a classic rock kit (on floppy disk) that came with the E-Mu SP 1200, the first drum machine/sampler I ever used. Some of the snares on the kit were OK, but they didn’t fit where I was trying to go sonically. So after finally being honest with myself about the fact that none of the snare sounds fit with the feel and style of music that I was going for, I went about customizing them. At the time, I didn't have an analog mixing console to run my sounds through; therefore, I couldn't easily boost up the bass (the low end) of the sounds I wanted to modify. I did have a dual *cassette* recorder and a lot of imagination, though.

So here’s what I did the first time I ever attempted to customize snare sounds. I recorded every snare sound that I had to cassette tape. Next, I dubbed (duplicated) them. After dubbing the sounds, I sampled them into my Akai S950. Once inside of the Akai S950, I was really able to get creative. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have chopped or filtered the sounds inside of my old SP 1200; I could have. It was just that the S950 gave me a different sound; plus I felt more comfortable working with its sampling functions than those on the SP-1200.

Next, I went around my room (at that time) with a Shure SM-58 live microphone sampling all sorts of sounds. I took a hammer and hit the bottom of a metal folding chair. I took a drum stick and rapped back and forth on a Nike sneaker box filled with socks—I should note that I sampled the sneaker box with and without the lid on; there was indeed a noticeable difference. Switching up between the hammer, the drum stick, and a wooden hanger, I hit the inside of a window pain. Needless to say, I sampled every sound that I could imagine, anything that I thought might be interesting. All of this sampling probably took me no more than 10 minutes, tops. By the way, I would also like to think that this process taught me more about acoustics, but I digress…

So having sampled this wide assortment of sounds—all in the same room, mind you—I went about "matching" the sounds with the cassette versions of E-Mu's classic rock kit as well as several other snare sounds that I had. Incidentally, this was around the time that I first began to understand the process of layering sounds. Particularly, I was discovering the potential for layering, both as a means for customizing drum sounds as well as other sounds. I was also learning how layering could affect the overall texture and tenor of a beat. Not too long after that, I began applying these techniques to all of the drum sounds that I used. And after while, I stopped buying other peoples' drum kits altogether, and I started sampling drums from records and literally making my own.

Special Note. Since I first began customizing my snare sounds, I have never used a pre-set drum sound again. Although pre-set drum sounds undoubtedly serve a purpose (I have heard some pretty nice pre-set drums), I've always found that customizing your own sounds goes a long way in helping you carve out your own unique style and sound. Still, if I come across a pre-set drum sound that I like, I'll use it. Of course, I modify it to make my own...

Short list of items great for customizing snares

*Live microphone...with a LONG chord to travel freely around your room.
*A tambourine. Any percussion instrument you can pick up from a music store will help you customize your snare sounds as well create sound composites that are unique.
*A wood block.
*At least one drum stick. You can use two in rapid succession on any hard surface. You’ll be surprised what you can come up with after you filter and adjust the pitch on a sound created by two drum sticks.
*A mallet AND a hammer
*A shaker.
*A real set of bongos are ideal but not absolutely necessary.
*A cassette tape player! Yes…they're dirt cheap now, and they allow for connection back to the analog age (if that matters to you). Also, nobody will ever be able to duplicate your sounds if you’ve used some combination involving a cassette tape.
*Some sort of wooden board, maybe a chef’s cutting board, something that you can strike with anything, like a bottom of a shoe, a mallet, a set of keys, a hockey puck, and, of course, a drum stick.
*Some studio foam.

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

December 27, 2011

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 3

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds


I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still, as always, I invite discussion. So feel free to post comments below; any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome. Also, if you have any questions, post those as well.

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

Brother Soul - "Cookies"

The opening 4 four bars of this joint essentially contains a three-piece kit: snare, kick, hat. But for me, the snare is the real draw. It already has punch; it's round, and the reverb is already just the way I like on my snares. Aside from the drum sounds, as with many funk numbers from this period, herein lies a great MusicStudy record for rhythm and groove.

Garland Green - "Jealous Kind of Fella"

If you drop the needle (literally and figuratively) anywhere after 4 seconds, then you've missed the drum gems off of this record. The opening drum fill features dope snare and tom-tom combination. Otherwise, I still recommend listening to this soul ballad about man who punches another guy in a jealous rage.

The Soul Lifters - "Hot Funky and Sweaty"

Perhaps familiar to some, no doubt, but The Soul Lifters' "Hot, Funky and Sweaty" is one of the meanest slow funk grooves ever recorded. From visuals of 1970s hit men with old fashioned pistols, to B-grade karate flicks with big fights in small lounges, the groove smokes and refuses to simmer. Great MusicStudy from minimalism and use of silence. There are two plum drum breaks with the ill snare, one begining at the 0:49, and the other at the 2:22 mark.

Wilson Pickett - "Get Me Back on Time, Engine #9"

Wicked Wilson Pickett! Man, does the moniker fit this joint. This is an example of a soul/funk joint that simmers. The opening and the 0:23 mark has the snares.

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 2

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 1

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

August 15, 2011

BeatTips Shop Talk: !llmind and the Evolution of His Production Setup

From Time-Consuming Workflow to a Faster Means of Making Beats, for !llmind, the Sensibility Has Always Remained the Same

By !LLMIND, as told to AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Every week or so, I get together with !llmind, acclaimed beatmaker/producer and BeatTips.com Senior Contributor, for our regular “check-in” discussions. We talk about a lot of things, but of course, the conversations invariably shift to beatmaking. From the nuts and bolts of the craft; to theoretical concepts; to gear and equipment; to the business of beatmaking; to the beatmaking tradition's history, we talk shop about it all.

For this BeatTips Shop Talk, I thought it would be a good idea for !llmind to give a detailed account of the evolution of his production setup. For one thing, there's been some misinformation (and much speculation) about what !llmind actually uses and has used. Also, I believe other beatmakers/producers can always learn from the gear paths and choices of fellow beatmakers/producers. Therefore, what follows is a meticulous portrait of the setup changes !llmind has made throughout the last decade or so. Keep in mind, every piece of gear and software program and subsequent change helped !llmind cultivate his beatmaking skills and his overall style and sound. Finally, although this BeatTips Shop Talk is, on the surface, about !llmind's production setup evolution, it also reveals a lot about his process and willingness to always conduct research (as well as his consistent focus on extending his learning).

BeatTips: List all of the gear and equipment currently in your production studio, along with its significance, and why you have it, and how you use it.
!llmind: OK…So my main piece, I pretty much incorporate everyday when I’m in the studio…well, first the brain of the entire setup is a MacBook Pro, which I carry around with me wherever I go. And basically, I have a MacBook Pro with Pro Tools 8, which I use to sequence, sample, chop, edit; everything is in Pro Tools. All of my sounds are from VSTs and RTAS plug-ins, a lot of that stuff is from Native Instruments-based; you know, Komplete 7, Kontakt 4. Then I have XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums and a basic Oxygen 49 MIDI keyboard (semi-weighted) that I use. A pair of Sure SRH940 monitor headphones that I use a lot, especially when I’m on the road. And my home monitors are KRK Rokit 5’s, and I have a JBL sub-bass, 12” sub-bass. These are the tools that I use everyday. All of my sounds are literally on a hard drive. So I have just hundreds of gigabytes of sound files and patches and instruments. But then I also play a little bit of guitar and bass. Also, I have an Ensoniq ASR-10, which has been my main piece for the past, I’d say, 12 years now.

The ASR-10 is kind of where it all started. It was there in the beginning when I first kind of started to make beats. I learned a lot from using it. And it’s just one of those things, you know, that I just thought about a few times…I thought about possibly selling it, you know, or putting it into storage. But it just has this nostalgia to it. I have this J-Dilla sticker on my ASR-10. It’s been there for a while. It’s just one of things that I don’t want to get rid of, ever. So it’s sitting there [in plain site, actually a level below the Oxygen, easily accessible] collecting dust. But at the same time, it’s there. Just looking at it pushes me forward.

BeatTips: So what was your very first production setup?
!llmind: That’s funny. My first, first production setup, if you go back to when I was 13, the first keyboard that I actually learned how to make beats on was a Roland KR4500. Now, this is a keyboard, if you go to Google and look it up, it’s one of those “home”, MIDI electronic keyboards. And back then, I remember my pops said he bought for like $7,000.00, something crazy. And it’s just this big thing, it’s really heavy. And that’s how much those keyboards used to cost back then. So that was the first piece that I used where I actually learned how to use MIDI. And I didn’t know that I was doing it. You know, it was just kind of this keyboard that had a sequencer and a bunch of sounds; and I remember I just used to program beats for fun. I was 13. So I was playing video games and making beats. That’s what I did with my free time.

BeatTips: So at 13, you were already into hip hop?
!llmind: I was already into it; well, I was into music. I wouldn’t necessarily say hip hop. I was just into music, you know. My father was a musician, so he introduced me to music when I was real young. He played guitar, he had keyboards and drums and stuff. That particular keyboard was one of the instruments that I started on. So fast forward to around high school, freshman/sophomore in high school, that’s when I really, really, really started getting into hip hop. I remember early days, I was into…that’s when Tribe Called Quest was out. That was early Roots. Rakim. Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Black Sheep. Arrested Development. Those was my golden years. So getting into hip hop in that way, the first piece of equipment that I actually bought with my own money was a sampler by Akai, an Akai S20, which I still have. The Akai S20 is kind of like a toned-down MPC. It came out before the MP; it’s got 12 pads on it, real dingy plastic pads. But the sampling on it was really great, ‘cuz back then I was into sampling with lower bit rates and things like that. I started to do my research on what Pete Rock and DJ Premier were using and things like that, and back then I couldn’t afford an MPC. So I got an Akai S20…I got it on eBay for like $200. So I got the S20, and I had a PC at that time, and I downloaded Cubase.

So my first official setup was Cubase, on a PC, MIDI output triggering the S20. And I figured it all out myself. I was like, ‘How can I trigger this stuff?’ So I went online and I did a little bit of research on how to trigger this thing and how MIDI worked. So I was doing research on different software music programs out there. Back then it was Cakewalk, Cubase, infant stages. So I found out about Cubase, got my hands on it, downloaded it, installed it, and somehow I figured out how to trigger this S20 with Cubase. That was actually like my first real setup. And then from there, I got a Korg Triton.

BeatTips: What made you switch?
!llmind: Um, I think I just wanted more sounds. Back then I was really into the J-Dilla/Pete Rock sound. Like those guys were the ones who really inspired me, they still inspire me. I wanted to expand my setup. Like I always knew, ‘Oh, I need sounds.’ I used to go diggin’ all the time, and I would sample drums and chop drums, and that was one big, huge part of my beatmaking. And I was just always fascinated with sounds, too, like, ‘I want sounds; I want keyboard sounds.’ So I went out and got a Triton.

BeatTips: Do you look at the Triton as a setup switch or as an add-on?
!llmind: Um…I kind of actually looked at it as an upgrade, because on the Triton you can sample and you have sounds, and it’s all in one keyboard. It’s got the floppy disk drive. So it was an upgrade for me.

BeatTips: So was it a long time before you completely stopped using the S20, or did you use it for a while together?
!llmind: I used it for a while. I kept the S20 because I loved the way the drums sound on it. So I would always run my drums into the S20 first, and then run them into the Triton.

BeatTips: When you ran them into the Triton, you sampled them in?
!llmind: I sampled them in. I would have my turntable output routed into my S20 first. And then I would sample a bunch of drums. And then I would bit crunch in the S20; I think it was like 16bit crunched down to like 12bit. And then from there, I would take those drums and sample them into the Triton. Because in the Triton, supposedly that Triton had a digital sampler, so it would pretty much just duplicate the sound, but I still wanted that grit, so I would run everything, especially my drums, through the S20 first.

BeatTips: Then how did you get it into the Triton exactly? Would you just press playback on the S20?
!llmind: Yes, press playback, then sample it into the Triton. So I used the Triton for a while, then in 2001 (I believe, maybe 2000) I copped the ASR-10.

BeatTips: And what lead you to that [the ASR-10]
!llmind: I went to Guitar Center to buy a Motif Rack, which I bought that day, and I was messing around, I was looking in the keyboard section and I saw an ASR-10 there for $500. So I scrounded up my last dollars, whatever dollars I had, to buy it. And I bought it, because I had just heard so many storeis about the ASR-10. A few of these others producers that I knew told me how great it was. Then I found out that the RZA used it, so I was really interested in it. So I looked at it like an advanced S20. Like this is a sampler that samples at a lower bit rate, which I liked. It had a really analog, warm sound to it. And it was a keyboard. AND you could sample a lot longer than the S20.

BeatTips: So what sort of effect did it the ASR-10 have on you?
!llmind: I think the ASR-10 brought me back to the gritty approach of making tracks. When I had the Triton, it was a lot of keyboard stuff. Not as much sampling, more keyboard. But the few years that I used the Triton really taught me how to…it kind of polished me a little bit more, as far as making beats from scratch. So I got the ASR-10; the Triton got dusty—eventually I got rid of it. So now I got this ASR-10 and I’m back to doing the sampling, sample chopping, sampling piano sounds into it and playing them out on the ASR-10.

BeatTips: Because the ASR-10 has no sounds in it. A lot of people didn’t realize that it didn’t come with sounds, and they got a rude awakening when they got it.
!llmind: No, it didn’t. To me it was the best of both worlds, because I could sample my own sounds and then play them out on the keyboard, which I wasn’t able to do on the S20. So I was on the ASR-10 for a while. Eventually, I upgraded to a Mac; it was like a G4. And I think around ’03 was when I got Pro Tools. And I started to learn how to use Pro Tools. So the ASR-10 and Pro Tools was like my setup. So I would I sample and create beats on the ASR-10, then I would dump [track/record] them in Pro Tools. So I’ve been sequencing and arranging and dumping my beats into Pro Tools since around ’03. So late last year I decided that I needed to upgrade again. And it wasn’t one of those things where like, ‘Aw, man, I feel like I have to.’ It sort of kind of happen. I got a G5 last year, and I was using Reason and Pro Tools, and still the ASR-10.

BeatTips: What were you using Reason for?
!llmind: Sounds! What I would do is play stuff out on a MIDI keyboard, on Reason, but then audio out from the computer into the ASR-10. So I would still sample into the ASR-10, but the sounds were coming from Reason. So that was like kind of…my setup was pretty much hardware and software together.

BeatTips: Right, the hybrid.
!llmind: Yes. I was sequencing in hardware but my sounds were in software, which is kind of a weird setup, but that was my setup for a long time. So then kind of keeping up with technology, I just decided to go and look for more sounds and see what else is out there. So I knew that I needed to get a better computer. I knew that I needed to try and figure out a way to be more…I wanted my setup to be more effective, as far as cutting time to what I’m doing, you know. When you work with the ASR-10, you have to create the beat on it, and then you have to dump each track one by one and mix. I wanted to cut my time.

BeatTips: Stay right there for a moment. Contrast the workflow of the ASR-10 to the Triton to where you are now.
!llmind: OK. With the ASR-10/Pro Tools setup, everything was done on the ASR-10. I would start with sampling drums, you know, from a record or a CD; I had CDs where I compiled a lot of drums. So I would make the beat in the ASR-10—sample, chop, do the normal stuff. If I needed keys, I would load up Reason on Pro Tools and I would play certain riffs and then sample those riffs into the ASR-10 and treat those like samples. So in a way, I was playing keyboards, you know, keyboard sounds and things, but I would treat them like samples still. Let’s say I had a piano riff of like 2 bars. I would play it and then I’d sample it into a single key.

BeatTips: And what were you using to play Reason?
!llmind: A basic MIDI keyboard. So I would sample my own playing into the ASR-10. After the beat would be done—meanwhile, I’m doing all of this in mono, everything was in mono because it doubled my sample time in the ASR-10. So after the beat’s completely done, I would track each instrument, individually, in 8 bars, into Pro Tools. So that alone took me an additional half hour. If I had 18 different instruments, I would have to record each instrument, one by one, into Pro Tools. Then after all the tracks are in Pro Tools, I’d have to go into Pro Tools and line it all up. So I would line them all up into the grid. Then another kicker is, a lot of people don’t know that the ASR-10 grid is slightly different than the Pro Tools grid. So if my BPM on the ASR-10 is set for 90, and then I set Pro Tools for 90, they won’t match. It’s slightly off. So I couldn’t work in the grid in Pro Tools. Which is a huge inconvenience. So I what I would do is record a click track into Pro Tools for, let’s say, 8 bars. And then I would use the clicks as my visual points to where I would have to line everything up. So it’s kind of like I make the beat, then I deconstruct it, and then put it back together again. And that took me an extra 30 to 45 minutes.

And I’ve always been one of those producers where I always love to mix my tracks, too. Some producers 2-track and call it a day. But I think mixing is another art form. Mixing is a part of the creative process. So I would spend even more time, after dumping into Pro Tools, I would spend even more time mixing the beat. And after it was all said and done, it was [just] one beat made. And I remember I used to just keep banging them out all day, early morning to late night. So that was my workflow. It sounds…when you think about it, it sounds like it’s so much, but I’ve been doing it that way for so long, and I’ve been so comfortable doing it that way. That was my workflow. And so with just that, and then also the fact that I wanted to kind of just broaden my sound and explore. I wanted to continue my full heights of expression. I knew that were some limitations having that kind of setup. So working with certain artists, that really kind of opened my mind. Working with artists like Jared Evan—Jared Evan is an artists signed to Interscope, who’s a rapper, a singer, a producer, and a musician. Approaching things as a true musician really led me to want to expand my setup, get a more effective setup. And also my band, Smokey Robotic, meeting those guys really opened up my mind, too.

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

July 06, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Traffic's "Glad" Taught Me How To Shuffle

Lessons From One Of Progressive Rock's Most Engaging Bands


Beatmaking, the chief compositional method of hip hop/rap music, allows for one to pull from a wide variety of musical forms (and sources) for instruction. For instance, progressive rock has always been a mainstay influence in my style and approach. And no other progressive rock band—other than Led Zeppelin of course—has had a direct hand in how I construct drum frameworks, and subsequently, my sense of time, more than the group Traffic.

Here, in their song "Glad," listen to the percussion hats that strike with suspenseful urgency on the quarter notes. And see if you can make out where the kick "hits" on the up-tempo sections of the overall arrangement. Then around the 5:00 mark, the arrangement dives into a slow, milky smooth bluesy-funk jam session that drummer Jim Capaldie laces delicately, with the sense and craftsmanship of a cat burglar. Indeed, there have been few songs that have shown me how to incorporate—and more importantly, account for—the "shuffle" element in music, while at the same time helped me improve my sense of timing.

The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Traffic - "Glad" (from the John Barleycorn Must Die album)

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

June 28, 2011

5th Seal Vlog #7

Brooklyn Beatsmith 5th Seal Drops His Latest Beat Vlog

For vlog #7, 5th Seal raids the infamous (and well-tread) dig spot A-1 Records in New York City (and runs into one of the greatest ever on the beats). As per his other installments, he offers a glimpse of the making of one of his beat gems. 5th Seal is a friend, so I'm happy that he's gaining a new level recognition.

The video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

5th Seal Vlog #7

5th Seal Vlog #7 from 5th Seal on Vimeo.

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 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)

April 04, 2011

Boog Brown Passes My MC Lyte Test

Amid Questions Surrounding the State of “Female Rappers,” Boog Brown Impresses…Without the Hype


Discussions about "female rappers" carry little weight with me, because I rate the rapper and their rhyme, not their gender. However, when pressed about my list of top female rappers, I always began with MC Lyte. For me, MC Lyte—in her prime—sits comfortably in the 1st tier of great lyricists, regardless of gender. But as far as any list that excludes male rappers, I rate MC Lyte #1. Therefore, before I can rate any female rapper that has appeared after MC Lyte, I first have to hold them up to what I call the "MC Lyte Test."

The MC Lyte Test (a test that could equally be used for male rappers as well) is a set of parameters that I use to rate any female rapper. These parameters include: style, delivery and flow, word mastery, sound, feel, non-contrived attitude, and raw edginess.

Since MC Lyte graced the mic in 1988, various female rappers have emerged with respectable skills. In fact, there have been a number of female rappers that many music critics and fans alike have lauded with great acclaim. But political correctness aside, since MC Lyte's prime, there's only been two female rappers who have passed my MC Lyte test, and a couple more who had the potential to, but never did.

Well, now I'm compelled to let it be known that Boog Brown passes my MC Lyte Test.
Like MC Lyte, Boog Brown understands the rhythm of words. She molds them, folds them, blends them, caresses them, and snaps them. Equally comfortable with straight and slant rhyme, Boog Brown chooses words for their full value, not for the brevity of writing rhymes. Moreover, she doesn’t rely on gimmicky deliveries or overly wordy rhyme schemes and phrasings. Such rhyme tricks have impressed (mesmerized) some, but I’ve always found those sort of rhyme gimmicks to be cliché and boring. I dig rhymes straight up. Gimmickry, particularly the borrowed and oft-used type, is usually less engaging, if not outright whack. Straight forward inflection/intonation, especially when it's delivered with believable—non-contrived—attitude, is dope.

What also impresses me about Boog Brown is her delivery and flow. It's agile and multi-directional, not grounded and predictable (listen to "Masterplan" produced by Apollo Brown). Moreover, she utilizes superb breath control; you never hear her take extreme gulps of oxygen or stumble over her pauses, both marks of a complex lyricist with just as much style as substance.

On "Understanding" (also produced by Apollo), Boog Brown shows off how she presses go, then drops a string of well-measured lines of dense poetry that regularly come together to give insider looks at various snap shots of life. And in the tradition of the most advanced lyricism, she drives by each bar of her lyrics without glancing at its effect, without giving a glimpse of uncertainty or exhaustion. Such confidence echos the pedigree of all dope complex lyricists, male or female.

Then there's Boog Brown's sound. It's effortless, smooth, and genuine. Even when she's romantic (check out “Hey Love”), her sound and feel is in tact, not compromised. And while many female rappers fall pray to a lack of expression in their rhymes (perhaps a side-effect of a male-dominated tradition), Boog Brown strikes through with a clarity and feel that never sounds forced. Rhyming, in its highest degree, is an art wherein words are made to grab, dance, punch, rock, and shock, all with style, and no sense of effort on the part of the rhymer. Once you can “hear” the effort—the forced flow, the superficial borrowed style, the clumsy lyrics—the magic of rapping ceases to exist. And this is where Boog Brown excels. She doesn’t fall into the “Look at me, I’m a female M.C. mantra.” Instead, she soars on her own lyrical terms, without the benefit (or detriment) of “female M.C.” charity praise.

What's Next for Boog Brown

Although Apollo Brown’s beats have certainly served Boog Brown well, most of the beats off of their stellar Brown Study album carry a similar texture and form, and they usually move in the same “mid”/mid-tempo range. That’s no knock against Apollo Brown—that sound is dope. In fact, he’s mastered that sound and feel; it compliments the drum frameworks that he favors for most of his beats. I'd just like to hear Boog Brown on a couple of slightly uptempo joints, or some beats with a different type of swing to them. To Apollo's credit, the “U.P.S.” beat, I think his latest release with Boog Brown and a joint I really dig, finds him using a bit more “bounce” in the beat. Promising signal for what's to come from the the Boog Brown/Apollo Brown enterprise.

Still, the thought of Boog Brown branching out and incorporating beatwork (and different production nuances) from other perennial beatsmiths (I’d really like to see her paired up with Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, The Alchemist, or Kevlaar 7), is something I can’t help but consider. Currently, Boog Brown is sitting on the cusp of league MVP-caliber talent. But I believe if she maneuvers right—that is to say, split the wig open of the hype machine by matching her rhyme skills with other key beatmakers—she could be looking at a hall of fame career.

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

Boog Brown "UPs" [prod. Apollo Brown]

Boog Brown – “Hey Love”

Boog Brown & Apollo Brown – “Masterplan”

MC Lyte - "Paper Thin"

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
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Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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