40 posts categorized "Chopping Samples"

October 16, 2014

BeatTips Inside the Beat: Creating an Arrangement to Fit an Idea

Using Your Composite Idea as a Guide to Capture the Essence and Feel You Envision

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Eight years ago, my father died. He was the first person to introduce me to music... Because of his interest in "hi-fidelity" stereo systems, premium speakers, and recording equipment in general, I suppose you could say he was also the first person to introduce me to audio recording. But his love for music and audio equipment aside, he's also responsible for producing some, let's say, rather turbulent times when I was a kid. So while working on a new beat one day, I was playing back some of those times in my head, and it helped me to come up with a composite idea for beat.


I like to use the term composite idea to refer to the complete picture, i.e. the framework or blueprint that I get in my head for a beat/song. It's like a photographic snapshot that I both see and hear. Perhaps you could say that it's a little more than intuition. But for me it's a special moment in my creative process. So I like to dignify that moment by giving it a name.


For the song "I Remember My Dad," included below for study, the composite idea that I had was for a beat with some sort of overall challenging pitch/tempo scheme. Something that could audibly parallel the real shifts in happiness, anger, and disappointment that my father provoked when I was a kid. And, because above all, he really was a kind-hearted, no-nonsense sort of man, I wanted the framework of the beat to convey this conflict while honoring him as much as I could. I wanted a sound that not only expressed his tragedy, but a sound that also authentically reflected both the good and bad of those times, and how they filtered through to help shape who I am today.


With this in mind, I immediately thought about sampling some strings. So I went through a couple of albums that I have with female jazz vocalists. (Incidentally, there are some terrific string arrangements to be found with female jazz vocalists.) Among the records I listened to, I didn't find anything that quite fit my composite idea. But by listening to those records, I did get a clearer picture of it. And now with a sharper focus, I stuck with the female vocalist theme, and shifted my diggin' search from jazz to soul, where I found exactly what I needed to begin the foundation of my composite idea.


There was this really uplifting choir & harps section on this one record. By itself, it was light. But I knew that after I sampled it, I could add weight, i.e. bass, boom, dirt, etc., as well as some "color" to it. This way I could make it sound haunting and robust. Of course, part of boosting it up came before I even sampled it, when I adjusted the EQs on my mixing board, where I have my DJ mixer routed to before it hits the inputs of any of my samplers.


Having sampled this choir & harps spare-part phrase (I discuss compositional phrases in The BeatTips Manual) via my Akai MPC 4000, I chopped it (manually, not auto-chop) to spec. Then, I filtered it using my MPC's high-pass filter. Once I had the feel and the sound in place, I duplicated the sample and created two versions of it, one at the original pitch level that I sampled it at, and the other several pitch levels down. So now I had, C&H (choir & harps) pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2.


With the two choir & harps phrases, C&H pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2, I created a 2-bar sequence with C&H pitch 1 starting the first bar and C&H pitch 2 at the opening of the second bar. Together, this 2-bar sequence made up a "break" (in The BeatTips Manual I explain this concept of the break in greater detail).


At this point, half of my composite idea was already set. What I needed to do now was to work in the right drum framework. In keeping with the theme of contradiction (or contrast), I wanted to build a drum pattern that was solid enough to rock on its own. I didn't want anything soft or deferential to the choir & harps sound. Also, I wanted to use hi-hats and rides in a way that helped to push and shuffle the beat along as I rhymed to it. Note: I only used one hi-hat and one ride, BUT I used them in at least four different ways, ranging from different velocity and duration settings on the hi-hat/open hat to elongation and truncation on the ride hits.


After I created the drum pattern on my MPC, I recorded it into Pro Tools. In Pro Tools, I quickly added some reverb and light EQ to each of the drum sounds, then I sampled the pattern — not the individual drum hits — back into my MPC. Once back inside my MPC, I assigned the entire drum pattern to one drum pad. This is what I used as the drum framework: a drum break created and customized by me. Note: This didn't take long at all, because I only recorded about two bars worth of the drum pattern into Pro Tools. Once I sampled back inside the MPC, I chopped it down and looped it. Now the framework was nearly complete!


But I still wanted to add in some stylistic changes.... First, I sampled a vocal part (from the same record as the Choir & Harps) that had some bass behind it. I did this on purpose, because I knew that I was going to turn it into an elongated sound-stab that could play and rise up at certain parts of the verse section of the arrangement. Once I sampled it, I chopped it down. I wanted to make it rise and to sound somewhat brighter, so I filtered it with the MPC's notch filter and turned up the volume on it.
(I should point out that when I had the entire beat tracked into Pro Tools, I had to slap a limiter on this sound-stab so that it didn't rise too much.)


Next, I sampled a piano & guitar riff, which I chopped down and filtered with my MPC's high-pass filter. I had to cut a lot of the original treble to make it much warmer, and to make it blend with the fade of the choir & harps sample.


Finally, I worked in my customized floor tom. Here's where knowing your sounds really comes into play. I used my floor tom, at two different pitch levels, not as percussive elements but mostly as bass support for the choir & harps sample. When you hear the song below, listen carefully to how I arranged the floor toms. You will notice that the timbre of the floor toms work like a bass when pitched, arranged, and combined with the fade of the choir & harps sample. Because I know my floor tom sound, I know what it's capable of and how it can be used like a bass-stab.


When I was finished with the beat, my composite idea was realized. And the only thing then left for me to do was to write and record the composite rhyme that I had....

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

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "I Remember My Dad" by Sa'id


Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" beat breakdown

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

September 30, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #1

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added.


The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.


Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.


There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.


Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.


Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.


Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.


The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many mention here. But there are 8 main criteria that I used in making this list:


(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was, appropriately, given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.


(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the 8 distinct periods of beatmaking.


(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.


(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.


(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.


(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?


(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…


(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.


One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.


Click here to see the breakdown for #3 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.


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

September 23, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #8

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added.

The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.

Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.

There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.

Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.

Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.

Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.

The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many mention here. But there are 8 main criteria that I used in making this list:

(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was, appropriately, given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.

(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the 8 distinct periods of beatmaking.

(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.

(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.

(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.

(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?

(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…

(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.


One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.

Click here to see the breakdown for #8 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.

September 16, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #15

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added.

The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.

Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.

There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.

Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.

Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.

Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.

The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many mention here. But there are 8 main criteria that I used in making this list:

(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was, appropriately, given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.

(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the 8 distinct periods of beatmaking.

(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.

(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.

(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.

(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?

(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…

(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.


One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.

Click here to see the breakdown for #17 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.

December 10, 2012

Flipping Samples Without Auto-Chop

Why I Prefer Manual Chopping, and Why an Over-Reliance on Auto-Chop Can Dictate a Limited Arrangement Path

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When is a short-cut just a “short-cut”, and when is it just a crutch? I find myself asking this question whenever I think of those beatmakers who believe that auto-chop has always been the primary way for chopping up samples. I also ask myself the auto-chop question whenever I see an online beatmaking video where someone works the auto-chop button, then arrogantly says that they "flipped" a sample. More importantly, I often wonder does process and tradition even matter to some beatmakers, or is it all just about speed? Workflow and final results aside, I still believe that much can be said for process and tradition.

Handcrafting a Japanese sword (dig it: I know beatmaking's not entirely parallel here, but stick with me on this analogy), or making a pair of quality Italian leather shoes. Sure, both the Japanese sword and the Italian leather shoes can be mass produced faster and much cheaper, and sometimes with similar results (or close enough). And even today, I’m certain that many of the traditional Japanese sword craftsmen and the hand-craft Italian shoemakers make some modern-day concessions in their creative processes. But whether it be materials used or a narrowing of the number of steps taken in the process, I doubt any of these concessions ever become a crutch to these artisans. This is because tradition and quality takes precedent over technology in their world. This does not mean that new technology is bad. On the contrary, technology serves at the disposal of the craftsman and his tradition. In other words, technology that helps the process and does not circumvent the role of the creative and experienced mind is good.

In the beatmaking tradition, core concepts of creativity echo and continue to permeate. Still, technology has naturally sped up the beatmaking processes for many beatmakers. And while I certainly believe that this is a good thing (generally speaking), I also believe that there’s one unfortunate side-effect: To some beatmakers, process is no longer a matter of tradition, but instead, it's a matter of speed and simply keeping up with an unsustainable pace of beat distribution.

Prior to auto-chop functionality, sample-based beatmakers relied on the predetermined chop schemes that were imagined in their mind. But for many beatmakers today, auto-chop serves as an artificial mind. And as artificial minds go, it’s worth mentioning that auto-chop does not come with any of the same kind of instinct or intuition exhibited before its advent. Instead of predetermined chop schemes imagined in the mind, many today are satisfied with utilizing the ridiculously long sampling times that modern samplers are equipped with to (1) simply sample larger portions of songs, (2) auto-chop them into 16-32 regions, and (3) come up with a chop and arrangement scheme based more on what auto-chop dictated to them than on their own predetermined chops. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this method (in fact, it can result in a dope beat), it’s worth noting that such a method requires all but no ear for music, i.e. diggin’ in the crates, and less skill or ingenuity on the part of the beatmaker.

I suspect that most beatmakers with developed ears don’t always use auto-chop like this. For those with developed ears, auto-chop is usually just a short-cut, not a crutch. Still, for others, I fear that auto-chop is increasingly becoming a sort of fools gold. Above, I mentioned that auto-chop often dictates the chop-schemes for some beatmakers. Here’s what I mean by this. Take a 4-bar phrase sample, auto-chopped into 16 regions on an Akai MPC. With the sample perfectly sliced up by auto-chop, you are presented with the sample as it's spread out over 16 drum pads. For many, the creativity begins and ends here, as randomly pressing and holding drum pads until something sounds like a possible arrangement becomes the process. Typically, this process doesn’t include the use of different sample-phrases from other source material or even the same record, as auto-chop dictates chopping schemes that utilize only what was thrown in the slicer—fast and neat. Incidentally, this process/method is one of the root causes for thousands of DJ Premier knock-off and sound-alike beats. But you won't find auto-chop functionality at the core of Premier’s process and method. On the contrary, his style and sound is more the product of a good ear and his unique manual chopping schemes and other individual tweaks and personalized nuances.

So this raises an important question: How does one distinguish the difference between random raps on MPC drum pads, and the predetermined arrangement pattern—a predetermined compositional vision—that usually accompanies a manual chopping skill-set?

In fact, I’m concerned that this auto-chop crutch “process” gives off the illusion that some great level of creativity or imagination is going on. And what happens next is a compound problem: On one hand, a false sense of skill, and on the other hand, an actual skills deficit. This is because when auto-chop is used as a crutch, it lowers the threshold of creativity, and things like understanding sounds, textures, and arrangements cease to be important for some, as auto-chop dictates all of the possibilities, and lulls one into believing that the random drum pad-punching of perfect sample slices will get the job done.

But none of this should surprise anyone. After all, technology has long raised questions about musicianship, musicality, creativity, and imagination. And now it would appear that technology is reshaping what it means to have “skills” in beatmaking, especially in the area of chopping. So where does the skill enter into the equation when it comes to using auto-chop? Is it the source material selection? Is it simply the process of setting the parameters of an automatic 16 to 32-piece/slice/chop—a feet previously only achieved through a beatmaker’s careful selection, good ear, and meticulous manual chopping? I’m not sure where skill begins or ends when this now go-to functionality is used, particularly in the manner I described above. But one thing’s for certain: Auto-chop, and it’s ability to make some beatmakers appear to be doing much more than they actually are, has become more than just a tool for evenly chopping up samples—for some it’s become their main path to creativity.

With the Flip of a Bass Line, You Can Make Something Dope
How I Turned a Snippet of “Don't Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey Into a New Song…Without Auto-Chop

I’d heard “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey plenty of times before. When I was a kid, my father used to play it a lot (along with Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder). He (we) had the album Hang Together (1980) on vinyl, what else, right? When I grew older, I doubled up on Hang Together after seeing a good condition vinyl copy of it for $12 bucks at one of the record conventions that used to be held at the Roosevelt Hotel, here in New York…In other words, my ears were familiar with this record, especially its textures and tones.

So when I came across “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” one day while rearranging my record shelves to make room for new records, I took it for a spin (no pun intended). Soon as I heard the intro, my ear told me what textures would go with it, and what drum sounds would best compliment the core groove and tempo I imagined in my mind. Again, it was my ear—and equally important my sound reference, which has been built up from years of diggin’ in the crates—that immediately told me what bass parts would fit with the bass tone and style of the “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” bass line. So I stopped the record, spun it back, and sampled it.

All together, I sampled about 5 seconds of the intro, then I increased the pitch of the snippet by a couple of steps. Next, I further chopped the snippet, then I duplicated the new sample into to two copies of the same sample. One copy (“copy 1”), I left as is; the other (“copy 2”), I fine tuned the pitch (pulled back the pitch just a bit), and faded out the end. I filtered both copies to bring out the sample, but with copy 2, the slightly slower pitched copy, I filtered the bass—beefed it up—even more. Then I layered the copy 2 over the top of copy 1 and ran them through the same channel on my mixing console. This is how I made a fatter sounding bass line that had a dragging feel to it.

Next, I went to work on the drums. Because I understood the source material, I knew what kind of drum framework would go well with it; a simple fK--fS fK fK--fS pattern was all I needed for the base drum pattern. (In chapter 5 of The BeatTips Manual, I cover drum patterns in great depth and detail.) And although the base pattern for this beat is pretty straightforward, there is some complexity, as I used a combination of three different hats and tambourines in a couple different syncopated patterns. The main hat—1/8 notes—is flanked by my custom ride-tambourine hybrid hat, which moves along on the 1/4 notes, making the drum framework shuffle. Then, during the hook (chorus) section, I added another tambourine (lighter sounding and truncated) as ghost notes. I should also mention that for the hook, I altered the base drum pattern, and used a fK---fS----fK-fS---fK---fS pattern.

For the change that leads up to the verse and doubles as the hook section, I used a bass line from a reggae record that I chopped and sped up. I filtered this bass line to match the tone and texture of the bass snippet that grew from the snippet of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her.” Clearly, auto-chop couldn’t have helped me here, as I used an entirely different record—from a different genre and period—to match with the style and sound that I was creating. Thus, the point that I want to make here is that it’s important to develop an ear for music and sounds, and blends and textures, and cuts and ruptures. You can’t always just play a record, sample it, then slice it up over 16 drum pads, then do some random playing around without at least some level of intuitive creativity. No! You’re much better off when you have a pretty good idea of how you want to cut the source material, and how you want to blend and match everything into one cohesive arrangement. This is why taking the time to really listen to music outside of hip hop/rap music is an important part of your development, whether you make sample-based beats or non-sample-based beats. But if sampling serves as the diesel of your compositional outlook, then my friend, listening to music outside of hip hop/rap music—regularly—is an absolute must!

Next, I added a sub-change to the primary change, using a bass sound-stab made from another piece/section of the “copy 1” sample that I used for the core groove. Listen at the 0:28-:29 mark. It’s subtle, but it serves the transition back to the core groove well.

Finally, the real test of the beat came when I wrote my lyrics to it and kicked my rhyme over it…

Bottom Line:
Your imagination is better than auto-chop functionality, so use auto-chop to your benefit when it can be helpful, but don’t rely on it as a crutch! Furthermore, developing your ear is critically important. And one of the best ways to do this is by listening to records, not just sampling them as you come across them. Finally, I have to point out that there’s no way that auto-chop could have helped me in the making of the beat below. For one, I was interested in the composite opening phrase itself of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her,” not micro-pieces of it. Also, if you notice, I cut one piece of the new sample and made it a stand alone sound stab that gets cut off every time the bass line plays. This chop and arrangement scheme (and other subtle cut-offs that were included in this beat) could have never been thought of had I simply auto-chopped the intro.

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

Odyssey - "Don't Tell Me, Tell Her"

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

February 27, 2012

BeatTips Jewel Droppin': An Interview with Upright, January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Winner

TBC Member Upright on Music Process and How Community Sparks Creativity

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

California based beatmaker Upright is a humble, thoughtful music maker who takes the art of beatmaking seriously. After years of studying the art form and sharpening his craft, he as emerged with a style and sound that he's finally pleased with. Find out how one of The BeatTips Community's own has developed his skill and hit on a new direction.

BeatTips: Where are you from, Upright?

Upright: I was born in LA [California]. But right now I’m living out in San Bernardino. Basically, about an hour and half from LA.

BeatTips: How did you first get involved with hip hop/rap music? What drew you in?

Upright: Well, in the ‘90s, I was pretty much a big, big, big fan of East Coast hip hop. So basically, that’s where it really came alive at. Man, so many artists. But yeah, back in the ‘90s is when I first got hip to hip hop. I was probably like 16 or so.

BeatTips: Who put you on to it? Friends or family?

Upright: Friends, definitely friends.

BeatTips: So describe you in the ‘90s.

Upright: I would go to the club scene, you know, just like a hip hop dancer. So in the ‘90s, I was dancing and just listening to a lot of music. And that’s really how the love for hip hop kind of started.

BeatTips: Wow, a dancer. So what were the first hip hop songs you heard?

Upright: The first song I heard was the Geto Boys. And that was really like, uh, gangsta rap kind of, you know. So Geto Boys. That was like my first taste of hip hop. And I don’t know where I got that from. And then from there it was like Brand Nubian. So I went directly into East Coast stuff. I stayed with the East Coast phase for a long time, man. I wasn’t really too much into anything West Coast. Even though I lived on the West Coast. Not that it wasn’t good; I just wasn’t in to it.

BeatTips: What was it about the East Coast that you preferred over West Coast Music?

Upright: It seemed like the rap was more…it seemed like it had more substance, more style, more just creativity. The beats sounded better, you know, to me; that was to me. And out here on the West Coast, man, it was more like, the big guys like Cube, there was a lot of them. But they were mainly into like gangsta rap. See, me being on the West Coast, I was trying to get away from that type of mentality, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Exactly.

Upright: So the East Coast, the East Coast was more about lyric flippin’, you know, flippin’ lyrics and just the skill behind the rapper more so than the gangsta lifestyle.

BeatTips: You mentioned beats. When did you start? How long have you been making beats?

Upright: I started making beats about 13 years ago.

BeatTips: How old were you at the time?

Upright: I was 23 when I first started producing, trying to produce beats. And I got started on the little—man, it’s crazy, it was the little, uh, Sony Playstation. They had this little thing called Music Generator. And that’s really where I started trying to make beats. It all kind of started from there. And I was always a guitar player. And it kind of came together because I would want to play my guitar and kind of have a beat to play my guitar to. So that was kind of in there, too, a little bit.

BeatTips: Wait. You were playing guitar before? How long were you playing guitar before you started making beats?

Upright: I was playing guitar, that was probably about four years before. No, no, no, you know, when I was about 14, I got the guitar. But I didn’t play it much. I had it since I was 14, but a few years before I started making beats, I started playing the guitar heavy. I was playing the guitar real heavy before I really started making beats. And then I started making beats, once I felt like I had a little bit under my belt on the guitar. I wanted to move on to something else. So that’s when the beatmaking came into it.

BeatTips: That’s dope right there. How did you make that transition? What made you say, ‘You know what, I’m going to put the guitar on the side for a minute, and I’m try this out?’

Upright: Man, it was just that—really, it was the availability of that PlayStation game…I mean, I was playing a lot of PlayStation at the time, and just sitting around playing my guitar. And then that game popped up, and I was like, ‘Man, this game is…’ ‘Cuz really, it was like a production tool. But it was in the form of a game, you know what I mean. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Man, this right here is something I could probably use,’ you know. So I sat down with that, and was really getting into it… I didn’t know that it was really like a starting tool, you know. I really didn’t know about your MPCs and your SP12s and stuff like that. I really had no idea that there was real, like, where I would even go to try to make a beat, as far as hardware. Earlier in my hip hop, like just when I was listening to hip hop and going to clubs dancing, and I saw this one cat. He hand a drum machine; at the time, it looked so complex to me. I didn’t even know what it really was, how you could even use something like that. I figured, man, you gotta have all kinds of money to get something like that. But then years later, I came across that little Sony Playstation thing, and that was it for me.

BeatTips: So did you have a teacher, or did you just start doing everything on your own?

Upright: I just started doing everything on my own. And for years, I really didn’t—I was trying to do my own thing, so I messed with that [Music Generator] for a good couple of years, just that by itself, before I even began to branch out and really try to get some real equipment.

BeatTips: Wow. Two years. So what was the first setup that you had?

Upright: The first real setup I had was Sony Acid. I was messing around with Acid in a computer, just a computer a friend gave me. And I was playing around with that. But I couldn’t really figure out the software side. So it was kind of frustrating, because I knew that I wanted to stay software at the time, because I had came from that game. And that was cool for about a year a so. And then my brother, he was into house music, and he was starting to buy a lot of hardware. He had an old Yamaha drum machine, and then he had this crazy sequencer, man, it just looked like a straight typewriter, like a computer keyboard. He told me that was his sequencer, and I was blown away. But he was really the first one that got me into hardware. So I went out and bought a Korg Electribe (sp). That was the first real piece of hardware that I had.

BeatTips: What’s the Korg Electribe?

Upright: The Korg Electribe, it’s basically like, it kind of looks like a 808 a little bit. Or no, you know what, maybe more like the 303. Roland had a bass module; it kind of looked like that…It’s basically just a synth, and you know, it had drum sounds in there, too. You could program it and do all kinds of stuff in there.

BeatTips: And how long did you rock with that?

Upright: I rocked with that—I had that in my main setup for a while. I got that in ’04. And I had that up until 2009.

BeatTips: So wait. You were using the Korg Ectribe along with Acid? Or at that time, had you left Acid alone?

Upright: Yeah, I had left Acid alone. I was just messing around with that by itself. And I wasn’t even really, you know, making anything…I was really just trying to figure out what hardware was at that point. And since my brother got me into hardware, he had so much hardware. We would MIDI up his machine with my machine and then run it into a mixer, and we would just kind of collaborate on music. So it wasn't really hip hop, it was his house stuff with what I was trying to do.

BeatTips: So your brother taught you a lot about music-making in general?

Upright: He taught me a lot about hardware, how to MIDI-up stuff, how to connect two modules. And so from there…he had a sequencer, and I needed something more. Then I remembered, my mind went back to the ‘90s, I was like, 'Man, I can sample!' My buddy said I ought to get some records. And I was like, 'Yeah, records!' So when I got some records, I needed something more than just that Electribe because I can’t—No, actually, you know what, that’s backwards. He was telling me that I need to sample. So then my mind went back to the '90s. So I went and bought a SP606. Which was like a kind of knock-of the, really, the MPC. Roland was just trying to knock-of the MPC. So then I realized that the 606 wouldn’t really chop, it wouldn’t chop like the MPC would. So I got rid of the 606 and I got the MPC 2500.

BeatTips: And what did you notice when you got the 2500? What happened to you as a music maker and your whole understanding of beats?

Upright: When I had the 2500, I was starting to really get into sampling records. So I started realizing that there was a lot more control. Like, you could take a sample and really manipulate it and do a lot with it. That’s what the MPC first introduced me to—so much I could do with just recording a sample. Because before that, I hadn’t really tapped into what could be done with just a piece of audio. I was just programming beats and trying to make synth lines and stuff like that. But once I got the MPC, I started realizing you can take a sample and manipulate it and flip it and take it to another level and really make it your own. So that’s what the MPC really opened me up to.

BeatTips: And at that time, what were the things that you were studying? As far as like, people, tools, books, anything? How were you learning?

Upright: Well, at that time, man, I wasn’t really–I still didn’t have a direction that I was trying to go. I know I wanted to sample, but I didn’t know...I didn’t think to go back to some of the music I was listening to. I didn’t really think to do that until a while later. But at the time…my mindset was like, O.K., I’m going to take these records and do my own thing. As I was doing that, I noticed that things just didn’t sound like I wanted them to, you know. It was a sample, I was flippin’ it, but something was missing. And I think what that was...I didn’t have any structure, any inspiration.

BeatTips: So where did you find that inspiration and structure at?

Upright: Well, I really, I just started dissecting people like Kev Brown. He was one of the first ones that I really was like, 'Man, this cat’s pretty fresh right here.' I started dissecting what he was doing and just getting inspiration off of people like that.

BeatTips: When did things start to click for you? Like when did you start to get the hang of it?

Upright: Man, to be honest, I think that was like last year! It hasn’t been that long since I really felt like things are starting to click. And for me, I guess it was slower because I didn’t go to people and try to look at, like, ‘O.K., what is this dude doing? What makes his tracks dope?’ until recently. And then what really brought it together for me, man, was the EQ’ing and compression. Cuz I had my drums, and I’d listen to other people’s tracks, and I’d be like, 'Man, they sound so much fatter, so much more.' It still didn’t click with me that it was the drum track that was really driving hip hop. I don’t know why, man, it just never clicked with me. But my buddy, Matt Hoffman, and he does more like his own compositions of rock and stuff like that, I would listen to him and his stuff sounded so dynamic. And I was like, 'Why does his track sound like that?' I could hear everything real good. And the drums were crisp and the sounds were crisp. And so, just talking with him, he introduced me to compression and EQ’ing and stuff like that. And I started studying that stuff. He would tell me, “EQ this and compress that,” and I really didn’t know what he was talking about. So I started looking into that, then I would go back and listen to people’s beats, then I put 2 and 2 together.

BeatTips: What’s your current setup?

Upright: Right now, I’d say my main piece is Reason 6. That’s my main tool. And then I have the Maschine, too. I can just stand alone with Reason 6, but Maschine is pretty dope, too. And then I have the MPD. I had the MPC 2500, but when I saw what Reason could do, I had to check out Reason. Once I started messing with Reason, I realized that basically everything that I can do in the 2500, I can do in Reason. So I got rid of the 2500.

BeatTips: So translate your workflow for how you use Reason 6, based off of your experience using the 2500. How does that translate?

Upright: So like a comparison between those two?

BeatTips: No, not necessarily a comparison, but how are you able to achieve on Reason 6 what you used to achieve on the 2500?

Upright: O.K., I see what you’re saying. Well, basically, the 2500—you know you could slice up samples and then it had 16 levels. So those were the two things that I was like, 'As long as I can do that, then I’m going to be O.K.' So I had to get Recycle. That was the thing. You chop up in Recycle. And then from there, once it’s a Rex file, it’ll go in the Rex player. So there’s your chops right there. And then anything you have chopped up, you can throw into one of the other samplers, and get basically your 16 levels. So for me, it was those two things; and then being able to record whatever I want. My turntable runs right into my computer. If I need to record a guitar, bow, it’ll go right into Reason like it would the MPC.

BeatTips: What interface are you using? How are you going into your computer?

Upright: I’m just going through a ProFire. It’s a little M-Audio interface, ProFire 610. It has 4 ins, MIDI, and 4 outputs.

BeatTips: And what are you using to control Reason with?

Upright: I control Reason with a MPD 32. And then I have a MIDI keyboard, an Ediorl M30…the MIDI keyboard for playing like chords and stuff like that.

BeatTips: So break down your music process. Are you systematic or more organic?

Upright: Lately, I’ve been real systemic. Because I feel like if I can get the melody that I like first, if I can really feel the melody, that’s what I want there first. Because I know I want to bring the drums in hard…If I get a good melody that I like, then I know that behind that I can bring a drum track in that’s going to hit and compliment the melody. So I’ll pull all my drums off of vinyl. That’s where I start. I’ll get my melody going, then I’ll find a break on a vinyl record. And then find one that matches that melody, that goes good with that melody. And then I’ll chop up the drums and lay the drums down; and basically that’s the foundation. Then from there, I’ll probably add something subtle or light on top of that to kind of compliment the groove. And then from there, I’ll got to the bass line.

BeatTips: Let’s go back to Recycle for a moment. With software, have you found that it takes you longer or just about the same time?

Upright: Uh…[thinks long about it] To me, it seems faster, because if I have an idea, I know everything is in the computer already, pretty much. Unless I want to get something from another record and throw it in there, too. The only thing that I’d say is the extra step is when I have to chop something up. So that’s kind of why I got the Maschine. Because the Maschine is just like a chopping beast. Where the MPC 2500 could have 64 slices, the Maschine can have 4,096 slices! You can put one Rex file on one pad of the Maschine. A Rex file can be 92 slices, so now you have 92 slices on one pad.

BeatTips: But tell me what’s the benefit of that? How have you used that capability before. Give me example.

Upright: So you can drop a Rex file on one pad, and then use your keyboard to play that melodies and those chops, or whatever you have on that Rex file on that pad. And so that’s just one pad. So instead of having, you know, a whole MPC dedicated to your melody or something, let’s say you chop something up that extensively to where you have all those chops on there, now that’s just on one pad. I have all those other pads for whatever else I may need them for. The Maschine is crazy because I could put a compressor on one pad and run my chops through this pad over here to pad 16 in group A. It’s just a whole nother work flow on that thing. That’s why I got the Maschine, to speed up my chopping. Because when I want to chop and get something going, and I don’t want to start in Reason, I’ll open Maschine and do it that way. And then I’ll export everything out of Maschine and drop it over into Reason. But regardless, I always finish everything in Reason. No matter where it starts, the final product is gonna go into Reason.

BeatTips: So if you have all of those slices on one pad, how do you take out, let’s say, just two or three that you want to use? Do you take them out and assign them to a different pad or what do you do?

Upright: Yep, yep! You can take ‘em out. So like if I have a little sound that I want to accentuate or do something to, flip it, reverse, whatever, you can just extract just that one sample and put it on another pad and do whatever you want to it.

BeatTips: Clearly, listening to your music, you use a combination of sample-based and non-sample-based approaches, but are you more of a sample-based beatmaker or non-sample-based? What do you consider yourself?

Upright: I consider myself…If I had to choose one, I’d say sample-based. If I couldn’t use any synths, I’d do my bass lines, grab a little piece and just make my bass lines like that.

BeatTips: So you’re probably more like a hybrid?

Upright: Hybrid! Definitely! Definitely!

BeatTips: About your drums, you mentioned that you sample them. Do you use sample packs as well or stock sounds from your gear?

Upright: No, I really don’t get into those kinds of sounds. I generally just keep it records because I want to have that grit, that grit sound that hip hop sound that you can only get from when your drums come off records. So that’s what I really, really want to have in my tracks. One example of what I had to do lately is, I sampled a kick and a snare from a break, then I chopped it up. Once I got it in the track, I realized the kick wasn’t cutting through like I wanted to. So what I did, I kept that kick there, but I blended in something that had some more high frequencies that could punch through, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Right.

Upright: So it still had that underlying grit sound, but the kick was cutting through because of that little tiny layer that I had on top. So I do stuff like that. But really try to keep it vinyl-based drums. And there was one tip you gave on BeatTips that really took me to the next level, man. When you talked about sampling just stuff, you know you were talking about, take your microphone and hit on boxes and do this and that. And I hadn’t really considered that, man. That took me to a whole nother level. That helped me to really branch out, and see that there was more to defining your sound. You know, and how when you talked about how to make your snares. I read that, too on the BeatTips website, and I was like, 'Man, this is some really good stuff right here.'

BeatTips: Do you sample your drum sounds dry or do you EQ or amp them up in any way?

Upright: I sample them straight dry. I keep them where their way below clipping, way below being hot at all. So once their in there, and they sound good just like they are on the record, at that point I’ll EQ them and do different stuff to them. You know, maybe pitch them down, or depending on what it takes. You know, whatever it takes to get them to sound like my ear is feeling it should sound.

BeatTips: What’s the signal flow that you’re using when you sample?

Upright: Turntable going into a DJ mixer. It’s just a Numakr PT-200, nothing special, just a basic mixer. I think it’s their bottom of the line “cheapy” mixer.

BeatTips: From your Numark, where do you got to?

Upright: That runs into the computer interface and then straight into the computer…Then I sample it into either Reason or Maschine, either one of those.

BeatTips: What determines whether you’re going to sample using Reason or the Maschine?

Upright: Really, it’s just what I feel like, where I feel like I want to take it. Like, where my inspiration is feeling like I want to go. So if I feel like in Maschine...they have like different synths…so if I feel like I want to use a VST, I’ll go to Maschine because Reason doesn’t host VSTs…you know, Massive or whatever, Absynth, or something like that. But if I feel like I want to use some Reason synths, then I’ll go into Reason.

BeatTips: Tell me about your main creative influences. Be it music or any other creative art forms. Specifically, what and who are they, and how do you incorporate them into your music?

Upright: I listen to, man, it’s a lot of stuff. A lot of my influence comes from what’s there on the record. But a lot of times, you know, I’ll just vibe on what other people are doing and just kind of let that spark my creativity. Because I feel like…If you separate yourself from what people are doing, then you really can’t grow as an artist. And that’s really what I feel like. So basically, it’s a community. So if you’re part of a community, the community sparks everybody. You spark off one another. That’s like big for me. Like, if you have an artist over here, and he’s creating by himself, you know, his stuff will be dope. But if you have five guys, and they’re really learning, and these five guys are kind of sparking each other, I feel like their art will go to a whole nother level, you know, than just the one dude by himself, you know what I mean. Because he knows only the techniques that he knows. And so you got these five dudes who know…You got five vibes, and five vibes are thinking five different ways. And so, you put all those methods together and all those guys will go to another level.

BeatTips: I completely understand. It’s similar to how bebop developed in jazz.

Upright: Yeah.

BeatTips: From the beginning, like when you first started, did you understand that beatmaking was an art form, or was it something you came to learn recently?

Upright: I do understand it’s an art form. Recently, I’ve come to learn that, within the past, let’s say…and I know it’s cliché to say, but Dilla, the Donuts album. Because that, for me, you know he was doing some pretty crazy stuff on there. And that’s when my mind kind of clicked. I mean, I know there’s a whole spew of people that have been doing stuff like that and being creative and being artistic before that. But when I heard that—and I’m not a huge Dilla fan—when I heard the Donuts album, I was like, 'Man, I can listen to this and really appreciate it for what it is.' It doesn’t have to have an MC on it. And I’m not in love with every track on there, but you know, that’s when I realized…there’s a lot of creativity in the expression just within the beat by itself.

BeatTips: Do you mix your own beats?

Upright: Yep.

BeatTips: What do you use?

Upright: I do everything right there in Reason. Reason 6 has that SSL 9000 emulator in there. So basically, it’s like a replica of the SSL 9000 mixing board. So I got real comfortable using that, man. And that’s where I mixed down everything.

BeatTips: Do you save a level of creativity for the mixing process?

Upright: Definitely! Definitely! Definitely! And to me, mixing is like real subjective. It’s like, one person my think, you know, “Your hi-hats are a little too loud.” But for me, I want them to really cut your ears in a certain section. And that’s the subjective part of mixing. Once you figure out what you’re doing, as far as mixing down your tracks, you can really put your touch or your creativity or your stamp, your signature, on the mixing process.

BeatTips: How did you find out about The BeatTips Community, and what made you join TBC?

Upright: I found about The BeatTips Community through Saint Joe. I was checking out his website…He had a list of websites that he likes, you know. And it had BeatTips there, and I hit it. And ever sense, man, it’s just been one of my favorites.

BeatTips: I appreciate that. And what made you ultimately join TBC?

Upright: Man, the level of insight, especially you. The way you break down your analysis; your perception of beatmaking, it’s just like you want to be around that, man.

BeatTips: And what was cool is that you joined TBC recently, and then you won the first battle of the new year. And you see how our battles get. So I definitely want to congratulate you on that again. And for your winning beat, “Bear Fruit,” that was a formidable composition. So tell me how that beat came about.

Upright: Basically, I got this old 45. Let me—I have the 45 right here. It’s Lee Davis, and it’s either “Two Ships Passing in the Night”…or “Everybody;” so it’s one of those two. I can’t remember, but there was an organ on there. So I got that organ and then…I chopped it up and laid those chops down. And then from there, I got the drums off a record and then laid the drums down. And I was doing that in the Maschine. And that bass line, I got that from Massive, that’s a Native Instruments synth.

BeatTips: You’re saying the bass parts? Because you played the bass line, right? Or was that whole bass line a phrase that you sampled?

Upright: No, no! I played that on the MIDI keyboard from Massive, the synth, Massive. So once I had those couple elements right there, I threw it over into Reason. And I started working from there. I sampled a shekere, well, I call it a cabasa, you know, it’s got the little beads on it. So I sampled that and then a couple of things, like a knock. And I layered the knock with the snare. And just kept building it...basically, adding little elements and tightening up the mix. And it was a wrap.

BeatTips: Coming back to your process, it sounds like you use the Maschine now to get your ideas going and to develop the main framework of where you want to go.

Upright: Definitely! I start a framework in Maschine, then shoot it over into to Reason and work out the rest of it there, you know, maybe add a few instruments.

BeatTips: Now, is that “Bear Fruit” beat an old beat or a recent beat?

Upright: Nah, I made it for that [BeatTips.com] beat battle.

BeatTips: Was it a late night joint or day time?

Upright: That was a late night joint, man, sure was.
***

Below is "Bear Fruit," the beat Upright won the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle with.

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

"Bear Fruit" (prod. by Upright)

*To hear more of Upright's music, check out his SoundCloud page at: soundcloud.com/upright

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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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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)

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

August 22, 2011

Things to Remember when Diggin' in the Crates

The BeatTips Community (TBC) Thread of the Day: Diggin Tips

By SIGMUNDFRED, BRANDONF42088, SMELLYPANTS, and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Diggin' in the crates can be an arduous task, to say the least. But without some kind of "system" or approach, diggin' can be down right intimidating. Recently, TBC member sigmundfred started a thread for diggin' tips, so here in this article I wanted to share some of the replies as well as my own.

From TBC Member Sigmundfred:

"I'm just new to the diggin'...
and want to know some basics tips to choose record wisely (all type of music, classical include)...
hahaha right now, it's often the chick on the cover who guide me ... LOL...
nah... the year, the disc compagny, the persons who work on the project, etc...

Other question, do you listen to all the record you bough entirely or do you skip to severals points of each song and let luck be your master?"

From TBC Member BrandonF42088:

"First of all I must state than I am not an master digger by any means. I am however able to find records with samples I like that have the certain tones and moods I want.

Things that I look for when I am digging for records are like you said, the year it was recorded (I usually go for records for the 60-70s but have found some ill cuts from the 80s as well other decades*) , the record label, the people that are playing on the record and who produced the record. I also will buy a record if I like the cover if its for a decent price. To be honest you never know what you will find until you listen to the record and I find lots of little gems in records I had low expectations for.

*I know DJ Premier has flipped some really ill samples from the 1910s. Just some food for thought.

When I dig I go to a few spots: the chain stores (Amoeba, Rasputin, & Streetlight) I usually rock the dollar bins and buy anything that looks good from the 60s and 70s I have found lots of good records in the dollar bins and in fact some of my favorite beats I have made are from dollar bin records.

When I want to buy rare records and originals I go to a few local spots around my area. I keep a ongoing list on my phone when I go digging in certain spots so I sometimes know exactly what I am looking for. I have had the most success on finding what I want on ebay. I have also found private dealers on soulstrut.com forums that have annual auctions where you can bid on tons of rare records from their collection. I must give warning that buying records on ebay can be a dangerous expensive habit. When I buy expensive records I check the data bases: Popsike, GEMM, and Music Stack to make sure I don't spend too much.

Always check the record you are buying before you buy it in a store to make sure it isn't totally scratched up or even broken. Also beware of warped records because they will sound bad and pitched up an down the needle goes over the warped area which will sound weird and not something you generally would want to sample."

From TBC Member Smellypants:

"I have never sold records back to a record store, nothing wrong with that, but I've gone back to records I've deemed useless before and found like a dope drum break, groove or even just one shots etc.

I think the more you dig and make beats the more your ear develops, it allows you to hear things you might have previously overlooked, and as ones chopping skills improve your more likely to use a sample that you might have considered too challenging before.

I'm no master digger either but I have never ever had a problem finding ill records and ill samples, and I frequently dig in thrift stores, to start off keep your eyes open for the record label, artist, year pressed and even album cover, if you start to get into the whole digging thing you'll find good stuff, do research online, listen to music on youtube, some people have entire channels dedicated to listing drum breaks and such, it may seem overwhelming at first but digging is a win win for me, I think you can extract value from almost any record so don't worry about it too much just get ya hands dirty, you'll make distinctions as you go."


Here's my reply:

As for what to look for? Absolutely you want to check:
The Front and Back Album Cover

The album cover is obviously the first thing that you see and the first "clue" that draws you in. I've seen some horrible, crazy looking LP covers for albums that have had MASSIVE gems (from phrases to drum sounds) on them. However, I've also seen some exquisite cover designs that yielded equally valuable music. And I've also seen some really great looking album covers with less than stellar source material. Ha, but generally speaking, in my years of diggin' for records, I've found that you can't go wrong with any cover with a beautiful lady from the 1970s on it, or a pic of drums (and bongos), or a mean looking group in a field of grass or some other scene like that.

Next, no matter what's on the front cover, the back cover is crucial!!! This is where you'll find musician, producer, engineer, and studio credits. Who performed on the recordings is just as important of a clue as who produced and engineered them, as well as where they were recorded. It's worth getting familiar with the popular music producers and song writers of the 60s and 70s. Also, regardless to where your musical sensibilities lie, get familiar with the regional and global sounds. This way, when you're not familiar with any of the names of the performers, you'll be able to get a sense of the feel and direction of the album based on where the music was recorded. This is particularly important for soloist without their own band, because the musicians performing will likely be drawn from a pool of local session musicians. And there was a distinct difference between session musicians around the country. (For example, between the 1960s and 1970s, a distinct style and sound can be heard in New York and the North East; Chicago/Detroit; the South East: Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi; the South West: Texas; and the West: Southern California and Northern California.)

The Label

Of course the label is an important indicator as the album cover; even more so when you're trying to determine to the sound and scope of music and the style and tonal quality as well. I great reference point is to check for the household names like Atlantic (went major in '67), Motown, Curtom, Buddah, Salsoul, CTI, Stax, Blue Note, ATCO (a subsidiary of Atlantic specializing in soul), V.L.P., Columbia, etc. Each label had a specific kind of artist roster, and each label used its own unique production and recording "system". Thus, getting to know the labels and their corresponding output goes a long way, when you're diggin'. But be careful not to just get stuck looking for the "known" labels, because in the '60s and '70s (lesser in the '80s), there were lots of smaller indie labels (with "one-off" recordings and the like) to go along with the household names.

After You Get the Records Back to the Lab

After you've gathered your records and you're back at the lab and the REAL diggin' begins, the number one thing to remember is PATIENCE!!! I always recommend giving every record that you get at least one full listen. This can be painstakingly slow, especially if you're early into diggin', but trust me, patience in this regard pays off big time for two reasons: (1) you will undoubtedly be able to catch gems that you would have otherwise missed; and (2) regardless of what you actually find, you are doing MusicStudy—listening to and learning more about music; in particular, you're learning new musical patterns and textures that go into your individual musical well of ideas.

One more thing about given each album a full listen: PLAN your listening sessions. For example, literally take each album one song at a time. Look at the song length of the album and listen throughout the duration. You can stop while you're listening, especially if something immediately moves you to create a beat. But remember EXACTLY where you left off, and do not check the next song on the album until you've listened fully to the previous song. On most albums of the late 1960s through mid-1970s, there are usually 4 to 5 songs on each side (remember, 8 songs qualified for an album then). So if you plan to treat each song equally, your listening sessions will be less daunting... Also, keep this in mind: A full listen of an album allows you to get familiar with the music direction of the LP. This is helpful not only because it will guide how you listen (screen, survey) the album, it will also help you learn more about how to create consistent music themes of your own.

Aside from Patience, It's Important to Keep an Open Mind.

With each new record, you never know exactly what you're going to get. Sure, certain clues (such as the aforementioned album cover and performance credits) will give you an idea about what to expect, but what you expect and what's actually on the record doesn't always pan out. This is one reason to have an open mind: to accept the record on its own musical terms before you sample it.

Another reason that it's important to keep an open mind before listening to your records deals with your mood and intent. Let's say that you're in a grungy, hard core mood, and you're looking for bass parts and "dark" sounds. What happens when you drop the needle on the record and you hear a bunch of harps and bright strings? An open mind let's you shift your mood and intent and go where the source material takes you. Now, I'm not saying that you have to abandon your mood or your creative intentions. I'm pointing out how helpful an open mind can be, especially when you've already got your mind made up about what you're going to do sounds that you've yet to hear. When I first started out diggin' for records, I would bypass a lot of good source material, just because it didn't fit my predetermined ideas. What I later learned was to let the music "talk to me." Instead of trying to dictate to the record what it had to be, I learned how to see/hear what it could be. This was a turning point for me, not only because it broadened and strengthen my sampling approach, but also because it led me to listen to music much more closely and carefully. And this helped me to understand the different ways that certain types of arrangements and sounds could be manipulated to fit my style and sound. Further, it also helped me to learn how to better craft riffs and phrases using a keyboard (live instrumentation)...which I then, of course, sample. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss composition in great detail.)

—Sa'id

*Click here to read the full "Diggin' Tips" TBC Thread

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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.

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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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"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''

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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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