13 posts categorized "Setups In Action"

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."

January 27, 2011

Ty Fyffe Stresses The Importance Of Getting The Groove Going First

Sometimes Keeping It Simple Is All The Complexity A Beat Needs


I have strong admiration for Ty Fyffe's work. His beats all share a "no nonsense" quality. His drums are steady and always knock hard. And the overall character of his sound selection—usually made up of obscure, untraceable sounds—is sparse, but flanked my intricate nuances. In this video, Ty Fyffe illustrates making a beat through the use of multiple sound-stabs. Fyffe assigns the same sound-stab (I think) to roughly 8 pads on his Akai MPC 2500. For each pad assignment, he has the sound-stab set at a different pitch level, which allows him to play each sound-stab like individual notes.

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

Episode 1 Music Producer Ty Fyffe Shows You How To Make A Hit

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

January 10, 2011

Beatmaking Skills Prior to DAWs

Taking Short Breaks from Computer; Self-Imposed Refresher Course Helps Rejuvenate and Improve My Creativity


Every other week or so, I work on making new beats without the use of my computer. That is to say, without tracking my beat into Pro Tools, my DAW of choice.

What brought about this decision? Two things. First, I like to revisit the mind frame that I was once in, when I didn't have regular access to, or the convenience of, a computer. Second, and this is perhaps more important, I want my son, Amir Ali Said, to always view the computer as an aid, not necessarily a necessity, to his beatmaking skills.

My son, Amir (now 14), first began seriously watching me make beats when he was 4 years old. Back then, I didn't have a computer...I didn't even have a CD recorder. Nope. I had a cassette recorder, and that's what I used to record my beats to.

Looking back on that time, I realize how much I adjusted my beatmaking style to accommodate how I would be recording my beats. In fact, every new piece of gear that I added to my setup—that was supposed to improve my tracking (recording) process—actually prompted me to change how I made my beats. When I first got a mixing console, a 16-channel Mackie board, I changed up how I modified my bass lines. When I got my first CD recorder, I doubled the time I usually spent on "mixing" my beats. And, finally, when I first got Pro Tools, I tripled the time (if not more) that I spent on "mixing" my beats.

In the past 10 years, I've probably acquired five different mixing consoles, three different versions of Pro Tools and its hardware interfaces, four different CD recorders, and no less than seven pairs of speakers and monitors. And with each of these new acquisitions, I increased the time I spent tracking (recording) my beats, while at the same time, I decreased the time I spent actually making my beats.

Lately, this dilemma has been resonating much more. Particularly, because my son's understanding of, and interest in, beatmaking has grown dramatically—much more faster than it took me to understand certain things. So as Amir becomes more in tune with the art of beatmaking, I'm finding that some of the best things I have to teach him are the many things I learned prior to getting a mixing console, prior to getting a CD recorder, and prior to getting Pro Tools. And although I realize that's it's just plain practical to use a DAW, I specifically, think it's important for him to learn how to protect the imagination and creativity of his musicianship from an over reliance on particular music production tool.

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

November 26, 2010

MusicStudy: Gang Starr - "Moment of Truth"

For the Most Part, It All Comes Back to How You Flip the Break


Before I even knew what beatmaking was, the very first hip hop/rap song that got me interested in the ways in which beats where "put together" was Gang Starr's "Words I Manifest." I didn't know how DJ Premier did what he did on that song, but when I heard it, I knew (in hindsight) that he, and the art form that he was helping to pioneer, would be big (to say the least) one day.

Fast forward about a decade later, and what I felt (what I knew) came to fruition. And of the many heatrock beats that Premier has made over the years, the new Gang Starr stand out for me is the incredibly moving and honest "Moment of Truth."

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

Gang Starr - "Moment of Truth"

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

November 22, 2010

Programming Hi-Hats to Fit Your Style of Beats

A Solid Understanding of Time and Rhythm Leads to More Effective Hi-Hat programming


A while back, DK (BeatTips.com Contributor and core member of The BeatTips Community [TBC]), posed a question regarding a Remix Magazine interview of 9th Wonder. Fundamentally, DK's question had to do with hi-hat programming and what 9th Wonder meant by something he said. Directly below I have included DK's original question:

In this interview with 9th Wonder, it says: Nevertheless, he does reveal one clue about adding a little swing to the mix. “I learned this from producer J Dilla: Move your hi-hats, slidin' your hi-hats on the scale,” he says. He scatters the samples across the loops, resulting in hooks that move with the grace of the soul songs that Wonder loves, including his favorites by Curtis Mayfield and Al Green. From old-school singers to classic hip-hop producers, Wonder studies the masters. “I learned a lot from Premier and Pete Rock and J Dilla [aka Jay Dee] from bass lines,” he continues. “Wails and moans, I learned from RZA.”
Can someone explain what this means? to slide hats on the scale? and, how would one do this in FL Studio?


Here's My Response...

I never read or heard Dilla's original quote, so it's difficult to assess exactly what he said or what he may have meant. However, I interviewed 9th Wonder for The BeatTips Manual (full interview included), so I'm confident that 9th wasn't using the term "scale" in the music theory context of the word. Instead, I think he was using "scale" as in the scale of the beat—an adjective to describe the scope and length of the sequence. So what Dilla most like meant is: playing hi-hats hits (and other drums) much more naturally on or rather across the pattern, sequence, etc. However, that being said, it must be noted that since 9th Wonder used FL Studio (at the time of the interview) and J Dilla used an MPC 3000, 9th Wonder had to translate and transfer Dilla's knowledge and method to a software environment.

Programming through the use of a software program is different than with an MPC. This is not an endorsement of way or the other, it is simply a fact. A fact that must be considered whenever one seeks to emulate ANY method, technique, and/or concept that was first developed and formalized through the use of hardware EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments). Again, I'm not necessarily saying one setup approach is better or worse, I'm pointing out the fact that certain aesthetic approaches and techniques were first developed using hardware, and are therefore, often more suited for hardware. But this doesn't mean that those aesthetic approaches and techniques can not be translated and transferred to software EMPIs.

For example, hi-hat programming techniques can indeed be achieved (realized in) with FL Studio. But, before one moves to modify and adjust any functions (parameters) within FL Studio (or any other software solution), they must first grasp the notion of how hi-hats work in beats as well as the common hi-hat pattern types (i.e. 1/8th and 1/4 note placements, etc.) In that way, it's not about making hi-hat programs like Dilla or 9th Wonder or any other beatmakker. Instead, it's about understanding how to make hi-hat programs that fit your own unique style of beats.

Another thing want to point out is that to view rhythm abstractly through mathematics can actually be counterproductive to making dope beats. Just as with other black music traditions, rhythm has always been a major aesthetic of hip hop/rap music and its main compositional practice: beatmaking. But rhythm isn't just a mathematical concept, it's a 'time' concept as well. Rhythm, fundamentally speaking, deals with how musical elements move through time. When you attempt to reduce (or pin down) rhythm to a solely mathematical principle or equation, you actually subtract away from the "natural essence" of time in music. For instance, think about timing correct. Timing correct is the "mechanical correction" of time. It corrects or perfects—depending your aims—the value of timing that you set in your sequencer. But another way of looking at timing correct is that it disrupts (if not absolutely destroys) the natural—live—sense of timing, by making time artificial.

Finally, it's important to note that when we make beats, we are essentially moving between artificial and natural (live) realms. And the more artificiality we incorporate into our beats, the more likely they are to sound more mechanical, stiff, "stuck," or just plain lifeless. On the other hand, the more naturalness that we are able to incorporate into our beats, the more likely they will have a 'real' feeling to them, more vibe. Hence, hi-hats (and other percussive elements) are ideal for incorporating a more natural feel to your drum patterns and your beats overall. Therefore, the less corrective measures you take with hi-hat programming, the better the chance you'll retain some naturalness and vibe in your beats.

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

November 19, 2010

BeatTips Daily Favorites: "The Mad Scientist;" Large Professor

Unsung Hero of Creativity, Large Professor Mastered the Art of Bass-Filtering and Drum-Sound Customization


On "The Mad Scientist," one of Large Professor's best beatworks, it will serve you well to notice how the drums and the sample move together. Each drum sound is its own sample, yet when this song came out, many critics of sampling could not—did not—distinguish the individual drum hits that Large Professor used. Instead, in various "reviews," the drum sounds were incorrectly lumped together with the sample, and described as being simply "a part of the sampled riff." I can even remember reading one critic's assessment of "The Mad Scientist" as having a "lack" of creativity.

Well, the true fact of the matter is, there's a lot more going on with this track than many would easily recognize. First, each drum sound is customized and well-suited for the main sample, (which Large Professor uses like a break). The kick has what I like to call a rubber bottom. I use the term "rubber bottom" to describe those kicks that have significant bottom, but still manage to bounce. The snare, which sounds like a straight-forward snare sound with loose skin, snaps and suspends in mid-space, sustained by just the right amount of reverb. This is most pleasing to the ear, as it makes the snare sound much more fuller and balanced, unlike the over-compressed, "squashed" sounding snares in far too many of today's beats. Then there's the shaker-like hat that glides across the entire measure. (Underneath the main hi-hat there appears to be another light, truncated hi-hat that whispers.)

As for the main sample tha drives the beat, Large Professor speeds up its pitch, in a way that streamlines its warmth, without distorting its sonic value, or disrupting the drum framework. And the way that the sample is chopped, the beginning and end points are masked quite well, making the loop sound like two overlapping parts that dissolve into each other. Finally, there is one notable change: the ascending violin phrase (sample) that streams through the chorus section.

Looking back, I remember how I thought to myself that once critics start to challenge the creativity of drum patterns/programs, sampling would really come under attack by other beatmakers. Unfortunately, I was right. But I also believed that there would be more beatmakers who would disagree with the mostly uninformed critics of beatmaking and its various creative, often meticulous practices. Fortunately, I was right about that, too.

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

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

Large Professor - "The Mad Scientist" (Instrumental)

Large Professor - "The Mad Scientist" (Official music video)

November 03, 2010

Hank Shocklee "Turns Off His Brain" With Reason; Says "Public Enemy #1" Came From Pause Tape

Beatmaking Pioneer Says Propellerhead Reason's Possibilities and "Simplicity" Is Crucial; Tells How He and Public Enemy Created Their Own Sound After Shunning Radio Early On


Earlier this year I was invited to Syracuse University's Replay Symposium on copyright law and Sampling. The event, which sought to explore the complex relationship between copyright law and policy and the art of sampling, was impressive, as it featured much more nuance and depth than I've typically found at these sort panel discussions. Equally rewarding was the fact that the event featured several knowledgeable (and "spirited") panelists. Among them, Hank Shocklee—veteran beatmaker/producer and leader of the infamous Bomb Squad production team of Public Enemy fame—often stood out.

After the symposium, I was able to speak with Hank Shocklee one on one. In our conversation, I found him to be someone who shares the same concern for the scholarship of beatmaking (especially the art of sampling) as I do. Moreover, I also recognized that his efforts in support of this concern were similar to mine own; we both in our own ways work to advance the importance of the study of beatmaking as a musical process. Thus, I wanted to share two recently released Propellerhead video interviews of Hank Shocklee, as I think each video does a great job in demonstrating the scholarship of beatmaking.

In the first video that I've included here, Hank Shocklee sits down with Propellhead and speaks about how their Reason software program has revolutionized his production methods and overall workflow. Specifically, he recounts how Dr:Rex, Redrum, and Kong gives him infinite manipulation possibilities. Shocklee's so impressed with Reason that he goes so far as to say that it allows him to "turn off his brain for a minute." (Some endorsement, huh.)

In the second video, Shocklee goes more into detail about his early start as beatmaker, revealing that he "stumbled across filtering." He also discusses how and why he intentionally broke from the common BPMs of the time. He also points out that the song "Public Enemy #1," Public Enemy's first hit, was actually spawned from a "pause tape," and that he "stumbled across" filtering.

For the purpose of scholarship...

Artist Interview: Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad)

Artist Interview: Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad) Bonus Footage

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

August 29, 2010

Nottz In Action

Impromptu Nottz Interview Delivers The Goods

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

This Nottz video's been around for some time, but a lot of people have slept on it. Real good closeups of Nottz's setup. And another thing, peep all the keyboards... Puzzled how he gets his sound. I think it has a lot to do with the Ensoniq ASR-10, but I'm not yet certain.

For educational purposes...

Notts Interview in the Studio

August 22, 2010

Needlz Breaks Down His Workflow With Akai MPC 2000XL, Kurzweil K 2661

Acclaimed Beatmaker Gives Glimpse Of How He Triggers Sounds And Routes His Gear

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

In this video, Needlz illustrates how he uses his Kurzweil K 2661 keyboard to trigger samples from the Akai MPC 2000 XL. Pay very careful attention while watching this video. Of course Needlz drops science, but there's also a nice glimpse of his routing chains. And notice how he does use the 8 individual out from his MPC 2000 XL. Also, he points out how he's actually more into vintage gear... hmmm... A post-90s era producer who uses vintage equipment to make contemporary music. That's dope.

*Editor's note. Recent reports and videos have surfaced showing Needlz now using the Maschine by Native Instruments as his main production tool.

For educational purposes...

Needlz In the Studio

August 20, 2010

BeatTips Pick Of The Week: Alchemist Still Finds It Unbelievable

Master Beatmaker Talks Shop About His Path To Music Success

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Alchemist Making Beats 3

Alchemist Sample Library | "Tell Em' I'm Here" | Freddie Foxx

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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law

    "Sampling is piracy."
    WRONG! Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different.
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    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
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    "If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
    WRONG! A free mixtape does NOT permit you to use samples from copyrighted recordings without the permission of the copyright holders.
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    WRONG! Sampling is an art form that requires technical skill, imagination, and artistic understanding.
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