6 posts categorized "Beatmaking Gear and Equipment"

October 11, 2012

BeatTips Advice Column: Should I Switch Back to the MPC from the Maschine?

Feel, Nuance, Needs, and Approach Holds they Answer

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Each day, I get emails from BeatTips readers asking for advice on a number of different topics. Some questions are quite specific, but most share common themes or at least present consistent parallels. Therefore, I will be compiling an ongoing list of the questions that I receive daily, and I will present them here in the BeatTips Advice Column, along with my complete answer and any additional insight that comes to mind.

I should further point out that if I'm ever asked a question that could be answered more thoroughly by another BeatTips contributor or colleague, I will be sure to post their answer here instead.

For each installment of the BeatTips Advice Column, I welcome and encourage everyone to chime in with any additional questions or accounts of their experiences as it pertains to the particular BeatTips Advice Column question. Finally, I want to make it clear that it is my hope that readers will gain the level of insight necessary to act on the various questions and concerns before them.

If you need any advice on any issue involving beatmaking or your music career, email me at beattips [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

—Sa'id


QUESTION:

"Wanted to get your advice on something. I've been making beats since 1990 and came up on the sp12 and s900 than went to the sp 1200 to s950 than the mpc 3000 til I sold it and went over to a software-based setup, where I now use Maschine. As cool as it is with being able to use plug ins with it and all that, I just ain't getting that boom bap, golden era shit I love. I recently MIDI'd up a s950 I recently got to it, and I did get some really good results. But im trying to decide if I should cop an mpc 60 that i recently got offerd as a trade for maschine. Im tryin to decide if to rock wit mpc 60 MIDI'd to my Mac using Logic pro 8 or maschine and my s950."

ANSWER:

I completely understand...
Here's the thing. When it comes to the musical instruments or gear that you use, more important than anything else, you have to feel good about the instruments that you're using to make your music. Regardless of what anyone might try to convince you of, the way you feel about your gear translates directly (and indirectly) into the music that you make! Remember, creating music is more psychological than it is physical.

As for software gear options, certainly software programs are capable of achieving the technical steps. However, achieving the nuances, in this case, a boom bap feel and such, is another dimension. Can the nuances of boom bap be achieved with software-based setups like Maschine? I believe so. BUT, how are these nuances captured using software vs. using hardware? That's the critical question. Someone with a background on an Akai MPC or an E-Mu SP 1200 is more likely to capture that nuance differently when they switch to the Maschine than someone without a background with those standalone hardware instruments.

I have experience with Reason, and I understand its flexibility and its appeal. But I prefer my MPC/S950 rig. I use my MPC 60 II/ S950 combo prominently. I also use my MPC 4000 by itself and MIDI'up with my Akai S950. Personally, my production setup makes me feel more like a musician; software, on the other hand, makes me feel more like a computer programmer, even though obviously my MPCs and S950 rely on an internal computer and operating system.

Thing is, I just turn on my MPCs and S950, and I just start playing. I don't get the same feeling with software. However, I suspect that there are many people who do connect with software-based setups in the manner that I just described. Incidentally, that's one reason why the Maschine is popular—it offers a bridge between the a hardware instrument and a software environment. There are tremendous advantages to that setup if you feel you need them for your style and sound.

But my advice in your particular case, especially since you know what style and sound that you're going for and you have a solid grasp of software, is to cop the MPC 60, then MIDI it up with the Akai S590. Two notes: Make sure that the MPC 60 is in good shape and fully functional. Also, make sure that you have full memory in your Akai S950.

Bottom line: Go in the direction that you feel, never convince yourself of anything based on flexibility specs alone. Instead, go for the capability/functionality that matches exactly what you know that you need (and will likely use) for your particular beatmaking approach and the style and sound of music that you want to make.

—Sa'id

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

January 16, 2012

BeatTips Readers Poll™: Which Studio Monitors or Speakers Do You Use?

For Many Beatmakers, the Monitors or Speakers that They Use Can Be a Strong Point of Debate

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Over the years, I've used an assortment of monitors and speakers, each complete with its own sound character. And what I've learned is that no matter what monitors or speakers that you use, your unique environment (space/room) always plays a key role.

Every room has its own unique dynamics—shape, width, length, height of the ceiling, wall density, furniture, etc. Hence, your room (production space) has to be learned, in order for any pair of monitors or speakers to truly be beneficial to you. 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." In short, you have to learn the unique acoustic nature of your room/production space. Once you really learn your room, in tandem with whatever monitors you're using, you'll be good to go.

For this BeatTips Readers Poll™, the aim is to see which monitors or speakers everyone prefers to use.


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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

By PATRICK KING

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.

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

January 22, 2011

9th Wonder and Cutlass Reid Show Off “Eviction Notice”

With Cutlass Reid feature, 9th Wonder Continues His Series of Dope In-Studio Close-Ups

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

For the past year or so, 9th Wonder (who I have an exclusive interview with in The BeatTips Manual) has been giving a number of in-studio close-ups that feature him and often others as they proceed through various stages of the music making and recording process. Although this video certainly continues that line of 9th Wonder centered videos, where it excels is in how it features rapper Cutlass Reid and 9th Wonder on the mic. Yes, for those who are yet to be aware, 9th Wonder also rhymes...and he's pretty solid with it. And take heed to 9th's move to the mic, as I long-maintained the time for the era of the dope beatmaker/rapper to begin is now!

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

9th Wonder X Cutlass Reid - the Making of "Eviction Notice"

9th Wonder X Cutlass Reid - The Making of "Eviction Notice" from Monsee' on Vimeo.

*Editor's Note: The BeatTips Manual contains one of the most detailed and expansive interviews with 9th Wonder to date.

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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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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.

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

December 05, 2010

iPad as Handy Music Production Tool

Using the iPad as Wireless MIDI Controller

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Continuing their support of the electronic music production community, computer and hi-tech electronics maker Apple has added MIDI control functionality to the capabilities arsenal of their recently launched iPad. Upon first hearing the news, I envisioned such usage of the iPad in a mobile setting. However, the various videos that I've seen thus far detail the iPad in use as a MIDI controller within a static studio setting.

So does iPad's bonus power mean that some beatmakers will replace their favorite keyboard/drum pad MIDI controllers with the iPad? Probably not. But for users of the Logic DAW (also by Apple), the iPad just might come in handy. In the videos below, both by electronic music producer and all-around tech guy Noe Ruiz (@Ecken on Twitter), the iPad is used similar to how Digidesign's table top (non-rackmount) hardware interface works with its Pro Tools software. The first video is really a demo of the iPad at work, and I must say, it looks quite impressive. The second video is more of the "nuts and bolts" of how to set up the iPad to work with Logic.

For educational purposes...

Making Music with the iPad, video via videopixil


Pixil.info - How to Use iPad as Midi Controller for Logic, video via videopixil

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

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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