8 posts categorized "Hip Hop Production Setups"

October 03, 2012

There's No Quick Fix for a Core Setup

Building Out the Setup That’s Right for You Means Taking No Shortcuts

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When it comes to beatmaking setups, if there's almost one sure thing, it's the likelihood that you will, at some point, add and/or subtract something from your setup. Indeed, the right core setup is not something that most beatmakers obtain easily, or early. Although some beatmakers are still using the exact core setup that they began with, many more are using a core setup that is different from the one that they began with.

For years people have asked me one of the most deceptively simple questions, "What do I need to make beats?" Well, the truth is, what I need, what someone else needs, and what you need are three entirely different things. Because each of us are different—in terms of taste, creative style, and work ethic—it naturally follows that each beatmaker needs the music production tools that are best suited for them. Now, it's certainly understood that beatmaking requires specific electronic music production tools. However, although these tools may share some similarity in the functions that they embody, the ways in which these functions manifest themselves in an individual's own music-making style and workflow differs dramatically.

This brings me to the point of the article: No quick-fix core setup. I've received many questions about "how to make my drum sound like MPC drums," or "What's the best way to customize .wav file sounds?" Typically, these sort of questions are followed by, "Should I just get...?" Thing is, many beatmakers approach building a setup like they're trying patch multiple holes in a broken water pipe system. Sticking with this analogy, one must recognize when it's time to not merely add or replace a pipe here and there, but instead, to replace the system itself.

Thus, when building out your beatmaking (music production) setup, I strongly recommend that you do not take the "quick-fix" approach. That is to say, take no shortcuts! Whether you have the financial resources at the time or not, invest in the sort of music production tools that fit your personal approach to creativity and your preference for working within a hardware or software environment. And keep this in mind: More often than not, the beatmaking tools that are right for you are usually the tools that are perhaps most right for the sound and style that you're trying to achieve.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in 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."

June 28, 2011

5th Seal Vlog #7

Brooklyn Beatsmith 5th Seal Drops His Latest Beat Vlog

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

The video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

5th Seal Vlog #7

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

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

June 22, 2011

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

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

By PATRICK KING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 12, 2011

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

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

By DARRELL KELLOWAY (DK) and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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


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

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

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


DK: First of all, thanks the reply.

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

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

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

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

Thanks


Sa'id: Dk,

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

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

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

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


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

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


April 30, 2011

Learn Your Room; It's Not the Monitors

No Matter the Monitors, Your Unique Environment is the Key

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 10, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Love Come Down"

Personification of the polished, post-disco sound of 1980s R&B

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Whether you're into the most rugged boom bap or the cleanest orchestral sound, at some point, you learn to value the ability to add a level of polish to your beats. One thing that all of my beats share, to some degree, is "sheen" or polish. No matter what base style of beatmaking that I'm working from or what overall sound that I'm going for, I always incorporate an element of polish. In fact, for me, giving my beats—even the most grungy, hard core joints—some sheen is an important component to my own style and sound. But this approach, subtle as it may perhaps be, is something that I developed from listening closely to early 1980s cuts like Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Love Come Down."

If it could be said that the musical arrangements of early 1970s soul, funk, or rhythm & blues were best characterized by raw, organic or wide open jam-session like sketches, then it might be best said that the arrangements of early 1980s R&B was characterized by slick, streamlined and heavily formulaic arrangements. Although I favor the music of the early 1970s over the early 1980s, I'm still able to appreciate the technology influenced slickness that the early 1980s R&B ushered in.

One of my favorite songs from early 1980s R&B was Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Love Come Down." Released in 1982 (the same year as Michael Jackson's Thriller), "Love Come Down" featured an arrangement scope that captured the nuance and possibilities of the newly minted synthesizers of the time. Furthermore, "Love Come Down," which utilizes a smashing electric snare on the "2" and a bouncing synth-bass,
personified the slick arrangement style that would go on to characterize the sound of 1980s R&B. But that's not all that "Love Comes Down" exemplifies.

Listen to "Love Come Down" (especially the drum sounds) and you will notice that the vibe of the arrangement is highly electric, with an assembly-line like formula quality to it, something akin to modern beatmaking structures. In fact, you could see why "Love Come Down's" arrangement could more easily be achieved with today's EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments) than the rougher—warmer—sounding music scopes of the early 1970s. (Also, on King's song "I'm In Love," listen to the hand-claps layered over the smashing electric snare, another technique utilized in modern beatmaking.) Yet for all of the formulaic qualities that "Love Come Down" has, the song still manages to simmer with both warmth and polish, while it avoids sounding "too mechanical." That's a lesson that I think of every time I craft a new beat.

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

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Love Come Down"

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "I'm In Love"

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

April 02, 2011

No Quick-Fix Core Setup

Building Out the Setup That’s Right for You, Means Taking No Shortcuts

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When it comes to beatmaking setups, if there's almost one sure thing, it's the likelihood that you will, at some point, add and/or subtract something from your setup. Indeed, the right core setup is not something that most beatmakers obtain easily, or early. Although some beatmakers are still using the exact core setup that they began with, many more are using a core setup that is different from the one that they began with.

For years people have asked me one of the most deceptively simple questions, "What do I need to make beats?" Well, the truth is, what I need, what someone else needs, and what you need are three entirely different things. Because each of us are different—in terms of taste, creative style, and work ethic—it naturally follows that each beatmaker needs the music production tools that are best suited for them. Now, it's certainly understood that beatmaking requires specific electronic music production tools. However, although these tools may share some similarity in the functions that they embody, the ways in which these functions manifest themselves in an individual's own music-making style and workflow differs dramatically.

This brings me to the point of the article: No quick-fix core setup. I've received many questions about "how to make my drum sound like MPC drums," or "What's the best way to customize .wav file sounds?" Typically, these sort of questions are followed by, "Should I just get...?" Thing is, many beatmakers approach building a setup like they're trying patch multiple holes in a broken water pipe system. Sticking with this analogy, one must recognize when it's time to not merely add or replace a pipe here and there, but instead, to replace the system itself.

Thus, when building out your beatmaking (music production) setup, I strongly recommend that you do not take the "quick-fix" approach. That is to say, take no shortcuts! Whether you have the financial resources at the time or not, invest in the sort of music production tools that fit your personal approach to creativity and your preference for working within a hardware or software environment. And keep this in mind: More often than not, the beatmaking tools that are right for you are usually the tools that are perhaps most right for the sound and style that you're trying to achieve.

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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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