2 posts categorized "Pro Tools and Beats"

January 28, 2011

Jewel Droppin': Mixing with Cus

For Mix Engineers, Hip Hop/Rap Presents a Set of Challenges

As Told to AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips: What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to mixing hip hop/rap music?
Cus: [Laughs] The biggest challenge to me, and it’s not really a big challenge for me anymore, but it’s one of the things that I would tell people is that Hip Hop is really drum driven, so understand: once you turn up one thing, you gotta turn up other stuff. So once you try to make the drums as big as you can, you gotta make everything else bigger, especially the bass line. So the whole thing is to try to give it as much maximum power as you can, without over killing it.

BeatTips: What sets mixing hip hop/rap apart from other genres of music? Is it more challenging mixing a typical rock song or a typical Hip Hop-Rap song?
Cus: I do both, so I don’t have a problem with any of them. But an engineer more so used to mixing Hip Hop would have a problem mixing rock. You have to understand that the bass lines in Rock music are not really over everything, they’re just an undertone just to keep along with the drums. Whereas a bass line in hip hop a lot of times is the actual melody, (in a sense), ‘cuz it may not be that much instrumentation. Plus, the bass line is supposed to drive everything. So the bass line is supposed to be on top, where as opposed to Rock music the bass line is supposed to be just a simple undertone to carry the drums, where the guitars are on top!

BeatTips: How did you become a mix engineer?
Cus: I went to Queensborough Community College for Audio Engineering. I started in ’91. In ’93 I started interning at the infamous Powerplay Studios in Long Island City. I graduated [from college] in ’94… Powerplay was a studio that used to house such clients as Diggin’ In The Crates, EPMD, Boogie Down Productions… everybody came through Powerplay. One of the first mixes that I assisted was the “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” Remix with Nas, produced by Large Professor. Interning was interesting, ‘cuz I was able to get into the rooms more. And as I was assisting, I started to get small gigs engineering… After I really started engineering, this was like the tail end of ’95, the beginning of ’96, I started to do some assisting at Unique [Unique Recording Studios-NYC], so I was back and forth engineering at Powerplay and assisting at Unique… Then in ’97 I was full fledge mixing at Unique!

BeatTips: What was the thing that took you to that next level, from assistant to full time engineer?
Cus: I don’t really remember what session it was but… people just like throw you in the fire. Other established engineers would be like, I don’t feel like coming in, all they’re doing is vocals. Yo, you go ahead and do it. (So that’s how I caught a lot of gigs, in the beginning).

BeatTips: What areas should you be concerned with, when mixing Hip Hop-Rap music?
Cus: DRUMS! After you get your drums right, everything else falls into place. Once you get your drums right… I’ve been in situations where I’ve mixed songs and something was wrong with the drums and it made the whole mix go haywire. And as soon as I got the drums perfect, to my liking, I didn’t even have to do anything to the other stuff. If you get your drums in place, then every thing else follows suit.

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

January 10, 2011

Beatmaking Skills Prior to DAWs

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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