35 posts categorized "Composing Beats, Programming Beats, Arranging Beats"

October 28, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time

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, you can jump down to the rankings and click on the corresponding name for a helpful breakdown of each beatmaker.


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 to it.


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 to mention here. But there are eight 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 eight distinct periods of beatmaking (In The BeatTips Manual, I examine and detail all eight periods).


(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.


(Homage to DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa — the grandfathers of modern beatmaking.)

#30 • Statik Selektah

#29 • Dame Grease

#28 • True Master

#27 • Bink

#26 • The Beatnuts

#25 • DJ Khalil

#24 • Havoc (of Mobb Deep)

#23 • Rick Rubin

#22 • 9th Wonder

#21 • Alchemist

#20 • Buckwild

#19 • Madlib

#18 • Nottz

#17 • Prince Paul

#16 • DJ Paul and Juicy J

#15 • Kev Brown

#14 • Showbiz

#13 • DJ Tomp

#12 • Just Blaze

#11 • The Neptunes

#10 • Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest)

#9 • J Dilla

#8 • The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Keith Shocklee, Chuck D)

#7 • Kanye West

#6 • Dr. Dre

#5 • Large Professor

#4 • Pete Rock

#3 • RZA

#2 • Marley Marl

#1 • DJ Premier


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

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 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.

January 21, 2014

Using Multiple Drum Sounds for Movement, Depth, Texture, Variation, and Masking

There Are a Number of Different Creative Uses for Drum Sounds and Drum Sound Arrangements

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

With the bevy of quantize (time-correction) features, plug-ins, and effects available in today’s EMPIs, the temptation is to over rely on them, especially when it comes to creating movement, depth, texture, and variation. But the truth is, there are a number of different ways to generate movement (particularly swing and shuffle) and to add depth, texture, and variation by creatively using multiple drum sounds. The key is to know and understand the different types of layering and arrangement schemes and the results that they’re likely to produce.

Working with Two or More Kicks for movement, texture, and knock
One of the most common methods for adding knock (a hard, dominate drum pulse) is to layer together two or more kicks. But this isn’t the only effect that two or more kicks layered together can produce. Two layering techniques that I frequently use are “punch and boom” and sound fattening.

Punch and boom scheme
The punch and boom scheme refers to a two-layer kick scheme involving a punchy kick in tandem with a boom kick. The effect achieved can be anything from a booming kick that punches through, to a rounded boom with prolonged sustain. Typically, this scheme involves layering a standard sounding kick over an 808. But even here, you’re only limited by your imagination. For instance, any kick, especially a sustained 808, can be adjusted in the sound envelope. Adjustments in, let’s say, the attack of each kick allows for even more stylistic customization.

But the punch and boom scheme is not only for creating unique sounds and texture, it can be used to create movement as well. When layered, the boom “moves” the punch. That is to say, the effect of the layering of the two kicks is that it increases the combined span of the kick sound. This means, even though there are actually two kicks present, they represent, in effect, one sound. And the manipulation of the sound properties of each kick (separately) effects the combined sound property of the two kicks together. NOTE: whether you use this layering scheme during the making of a beat or not, you can save considerable time by simply making the kick before hand. For example, I have a kick called “PB Kick”, which stands for “Punch Boom”. Whenever I’m making a beat that I think calls for a punch/boom layer effect, I just use my PB kick, and adjust its velocity and/or ADSR to the specific beat that I’m working on.

Important note about ADSR: Every sound (dynamic tone) has three components: attack, sustain, and decay. Taken together these three components (parts or dimensions) are known as the sound envelope. (I should also point out that I like to extend the definition of sound envelope to mean: the entire span—from start to go—of a sound.) With regards to synthesis techniques — synthesizers/samplers — there is a fourth component, release; taken together these four components are known as the ADSR envelope. When you modify or remove any one or a combination of these ADSR components, the sound’s properties change, rendering an array of different effects. Thus, it’s important to understand what each component within the ADSR envelope represents, if you’re to modify them in ways that best serve your beats’ arrangements. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss the ADSR and drum arrangement in even greater detail.)

Also, you should note that while there are various ways to blend/mix a punch and a boom, one general idea to follow is that the boom should remain at a low velocity and the punch should be light on the high and high-mids.

Sound Fattening
Sound Fattening refers to a two- (or three) layer kick or snare scheme wherein a weak or shallow kick or snare sound is fattened or rather “beefed up”. Often, like with the punch and boom scheme, sound fattening layering techniques are usually done to create more knock. However, this is not why I typically fatten up sounds. Instead, I use a sound-fattening layering scheme whenever I what my kick in the drum pattern to be more out in front, particularly when the volume of the non-drum sounds is too low. Think of a the effect of a louder break-beat inspired drum pattern. I also use this scheme when I’m thickening up a sample (part or whole) or the entire texture of beat. For instance, if I fatten up a sample or non-sampled sounds and I want the drums to match the weight and texture, I’ll fatten up the drums as well, or a I might just fatten up specific parts of a primary sample or the non-sampled sounds that make up the core groove.

Multiple Drum Sounds Arrangements

Syncopation is a mainstay in beatmaking. But lesser known is the many different ways in which drum sound arrangements can effect everything from the swing to the overall feel of the beat. For example, using the same hi-hat at two different pitch levels and filtered/EQ’d differently — one high, the other low — can push, shuffle, or pull a beat, depending on the actual hi-hat arrangement and other sounds within a beat.

Drum sound arrangements can also be used to mask gaps in sounds, loop-glitches, and pitch-shifts. Furthermore, they can be used to effect the feel of the tempo without actually changing BPM settings. This is especially helpful, as it’s an alternative to using quantize features to fix or correct unwanted blemishes. Personally, I try to avoid quantize features because I like my arrangements to be blended and cut together as natural as possible, something akin to a DJ cutting, mixing, and blending different sounds and rhythms together. This, plus other techniques and customized — NOT STOCK — drum sounds, help me maintain my own style and sound.

Below I have a included a beat that demonstrates some of the schemes and effects that I’ve discussed earlier in this tutorial. I recorded the beat to play through for about 40 seconds with all of its elements, 8 tracks, then for specific elements to drop out so that you can hear the changes and the immediate effect that each dropped element has on the beat. This way, you can reverse engineer the beat and get a better idea and understanding for why I added particular drum elements and structured the arrangement the way that I did. The 8 tracks include: kick, snare, hat 1 (“hat X”), break (primary sample), hat 2, clap, bass-stab (boom), and a tambourine.

Particular things to listen for:
How the clap alternates where it hits.
How hat 2 seems to play quarters, but there's never a fourth hit in the sequence.
How the tambourine shadows hat 2.
How the bass-stab (boom) fattens the front of the primary sample, giving it a rounder sound and thus sustaining its effect.
How hat 2 and the tambourine layered together shuffles the beat along, which creates a great pocket to rhyme in.
How "hat x", which is something like a crash, effectively represents a change.
How all of the variation gives the beat one solid texture and nice depth.

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

"Cut 1013" - Produced by Sa'id

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

December 24, 2013

BeatTips Tutorial: 1-Bar/Fast-Tempo Arrangement Exercise

Working Backwards from Faster BPM Settings Broadens Understanding of Probable Beatmaking Arrangements

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Coming up with fresh new arrangements and precise tempos can be a difficult thing to master. So I came up with a practice exercise that helped me conquer that challenge. I call it the "1-bar/fast-tempo arrangement exercise," and here's what you do.

First, establish a blank 1-bar sequence at an up-tempo, something like 110-120 BPM. Start/record the sequence and play a snare on the “2” and the “4” (second and fourth beats in the bar measure). After that, play a hi-hat in quarters, i.e. 1-2-3-4. Note: Because of the speed of the tempo, the hi-hats will actually move faster than true quarter speed at a slower tempo (e.g. low/mid 90s BPM).

Now, as a patterns emerge to your liking, pull back on the tempo (decrease the BPM setting) to see how everything is turning over. By “turning over” I mean how things land in the arrangement when the sequence reaches the end of the 1-bar measure and “turns over”—loops back to the beginning. [Editor’s note: The BeatTips Manual contains a more detailed discussion of “turn over” rates and “loop points.”]

Benefits and Goals

This practice exercise will help you in a number of different areas.
In regards to sampling, in particular, sampled phrases, it will help expose the full potential of a lengthy sampled phrase, giving you an increased understanding of how sampled phrases can be paired down or extended.

This practice exercise will also help you develop new drum frameworks and approaches to different types of drum patterns. It will also help you further strengthen your sense of time.

Bottom Line
Working backwards from faster BPM settings allows you to hear and explore the range of a given sequence.

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

September 16, 2013

Using the Hi-Hat Adjusted Attack Technique for Better Groove and Feeling

Conquering the Hi-Hat Stiffness Problem

By BRANDON FEINSTEIN

One thing many beatmakers struggle with (myself formerly included) is getting their drums to sound more live and not so stiff. I specifically struggled with the most commonly repetitive element in a drum pattern: the closed hi-hat. This is a topic frequently brought up among beatmakers, and it has taken a long time for me to understand some of the more subtle techniques to add feel and groove to a drum pattern effectively and purposefully.

Here is a list of techniques I learned and used over the years in previous beats to achieve a more live and less repetitive sound with hi-hats:

• Layering hi-hats over each other.
• Using a few different hi-hats and alternating the velocity and pitch a little between hits (usually a little higher pitch on the harder velocity notice and slightly lower pitch on the softer velocity notes).
• Playing them in live no quantize.
• Quantizing them and then shifting them forward or backward.
• Sampling a breakbeat and filtering out the lows so you are left with a just the hi-hats and laying the filtered break over your programmed hi-hats.

These are all effective techniques especially when used in the right combination together. However, one of the more elusive techniques, which I discovered a few months ago, has turned out to be one of the most effective.

I started making beats on Propellerhead’s Reason 4, mostly using the Redrum virtual drum machine for my drums. Redrum is a great machine for adding feeling and dynamics to a drum beat quickly, as its user interface makes it very easy. A short while after using Reason, I transitioned away from the computer environment and moved to the Akai MPC 2000xl and then later the MPC 5000. One thing that caught my attention was how different the drums sounded, not only sonically but the feeling and groove of them, particularly with the closed hi-hats. In the MPC, my hi-hats seemed stiffer and un-alive compared to Redrum. I decided to do a comparison between the two to try and understand why Redrum was sounding more alive.

I loaded a drum kit I into Redrum, and then loaded the same kit into the MPC. The drum kit contained three drum samples: a kick, a snare, and a hi-hat. Then, I programmed into Redrum a simple drum beat (all events at the same velocity) and then used the same drum beat and programmed it into my MPC at the same tempo with quantize and no swing or shuffle (knowing this is going to sound robotic, but making any differences more obvious). As I noticed before, there was a very subtle difference, Redrum seemed a bit less stiff than my MPC in terms of the hi-hats. The hi-hats in Redrum sounded like they had more groove. I recorded the MPC’s output and Redrum output into Pro Tools and lined up the waveforms. They lined up perfectly and the waveforms looked just about identical.

I then returned to the MPC to try to figure out how to get a similar groove like the one in Redrum. I started looking around in the MPC’s Step Edit window on my hi-hat track. I reviewed all the options I could use to edit the hi-hat events. There are filters, pitch, velocity, and then attack and decay. I knew Redrum didn’t automatically adjust the pitch or filtering to give it more groove, it seemed more subtle than that. Then I contemplated the attack parameter. I started to adjust the attack on the hi-hat events inside the MPC making the attack slightly less steep on random hi-hat events. Then when I played back the MPC it suddenly had that similar kind of feel as Redrum, but it had even a bit more with some bounce. My guess is, at the standard medium velocity Redrum slightly rounds the attack, whereas the MPC leaves it up to you to adjust the attack and velocity separately. Following this comparison between Reason and the MPC, I discovered how effective it is to adjust the attack time on hi-hat events.

After discovering this attack technique, I used it on the next beat I made. I played in the hi-hats on the MPC quantized to the beat with varying velocity. Then, I went into the step edit window on the hi-hat track. I looked at the various velocities I had recorded and started adjusting the attack time. I made a steeper attack for harder velocity hits and softer attack for lower velocity hits. I then adjusted the decay to shorten the duration of the lower hits to add more variety.

This hi-hat adjusted attack technique is one of the most effective techniques for livening up programmed hi-hats. I encourage beatmakers to try this technique when encountering stiff sounding hi-hats or other drum elements; it works great on kicks and snares as well. These subtle differences may seem small but they really add up when it comes to the groove and feel of a beat. If done properly these techniques can make a drum beat much more interesting, lively, and less repetitive.

Below are two audio clips of a drum beat. The second clip has the hi-hats with adjusted attack and decay.

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


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

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."

October 15, 2012

The BeatTips Community: Merging Your Sampling Skills with Live Instrumentation

Making Sample-Based and Live Instrumentation Arrangements

By DJ PAS, CASTRO BEATS, KREGAN, and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

DJ PAS, a TBC (The BeatTips Community) member, posed a great question about getting into DJ'ing to help his beatmaking skills, "Strictly Sample Based Chopper goes Komplete 8 Ultimate" In his comment, he mentioned his recent interest in incorporating Native Instrument's Komplete 8 into his setup in an effort to include live instrumentation ("keys, strings, and horns...") into his production. He specifically wanted ideas on how to mesh his sampling with his non-sampling. PAS's original question, followed by replies from Castro, Kregan, and myself. Note, the thread kind of went in a different direction after Kregan's post, but the breast of Kregan's comment, as well as my own, are nonetheless important to this discussion.

As strictly a sample based producer, I didn't think that I'd spend some money on instrument software. But as NI has done a crossgrade price drop, I couldnt resist.
So I'm starting to collaborate my sampling skills with live instrumentation soon.
It's less of a question than it is searchin for tips on how YOU do it as a non-sampling producer.

How you get your chords together?

I remember times that i tried to play the keys
(I had 4 yrs Keys education as a child) for producing, but most of the time it sounded for me like childish gibberish toy melody, you digg?
How do you get your shit together on a pro melody (Keys, Strings, Horns...)?

Thanx for tips n tricks how you get your non sample music groovin. —DJ PAS


Castro's reply:

What Up Pas,

Right out the gate I can truly appreciate what you're doing, furthering your means for which music can be created. What NI products are you looking into?

If I'm not mistaken, I believe what you're asking is how to arrange instrumentation as well as playing chords. As far as arrangement goes, that's entirely up to you. (It should be noted however that this is by far one of the most difficult things to do in music. It's one thing to play an instrument, it's another thing to know where and when it fits into compositions.) Strictly speaking, listening to artists like Queen, who were able to make a song into this rock opera style, is really impressive. The arrangements of songs like Bohemian Rhapsody are a testament to true musicianship. Listen to artists who do more than loop phrases, even a song like Ronnie Spector's Be My Baby is a good example of a perfect arrangement. Knowing where and when to make transitions is just as important as knowing how to create the actual sounds.

With Chords, it's a little less ambiguous than arrangements. http://www.8notes.com/piano_chord_chart/ That's a website for learning chords, use it. Most people who start playing stuff out on keyboards are generally limited by not being ambidextrous, which is natural, as it takes time to build up muscle in your "weak" hand. There are finger exercises to do in order to increase elasticity as well as speed across keys. Practicing with a metronome is advisable as well in order to learn how to stay with the time signature.

Here's a trick I learned regarding chords: Take a scale from any note, pick out a couple of notes from that scale and play it in a chord like fashion below C 0 (or down 1 octave). Then take some of the remaining notes from the scale you haven't triggered in the lower octave, and play them one or two octaves above. This is a kind of "cluster" chord or scale chord that tends to have real full and pleasing tone.

Piano notes are measured in halves, so a white key to a white key is full step. In other words, if you go from C to D, that's a full step, but if you go from C to C#, that's a half step. So in order to figure out the Major Scale for any given note, here is the formula: 1 w(hole) 2 w 3 h(alf) 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h. This means if you start on C, the next note in the scale is D, then D#, then F and so on. For a minor scale, the formula is: 1 w 2 h 3 w 4 w h 6 w 7 w. The 8th note will always be the note you started on in the octave beneath it.

There are also some VSTi's, as well as hardware, that have a "Chorder" option, like the Fantom X. You can create and program your own chords and then trigger them by touching just one key. The only problem is that most chorders only allow a single chord at a time, (not just that you can only press key at a time, monophonic, which is true in most cases), but you can't put two or more different chords across the keys at once. It acts as more of a "hit" than actual piano playing.


I hear good things about Komplete 8, let me know your thoughts on it after you've had some time to explore it.

I must admit, I'm still somewhat confused by what you mean as far as "process of finding chords". I can't say that I've personally gone into a beat with the mentality of let me start in the key of C or play a diminished chord etc etc, I just go with what feels right. Sometimes I create my own chords, a combination of keys that just sounds pleasing to my ear that I run with, might not even be a "real" (major, minor etc) chord sometimes. I will say however that once I've found that initial chord, depending on its complexity, finding the next appropriate chord in the progression can be tricky, sometimes I even have to play it out key by key. It's in doing this though that you start to understand how one chord moves to the next, and it becomes simpler to do with other chords.

Again, arrangement is entirely up to you. There is no "right" way, there may be some templates for certain genres, like hip-hop having an 8 bar hook and a 16 bar verse with a 4 bar breakdown or bridge occasionally. Arrangement should compliment the sounds/instruments that comprise it and vice-versa. Sometimes you might have a dope patch, something totally unique or just dope for whatever reason, but rather than obliterating the track with the same noise in a repetitive fashion, maybe you just throw in a pinch here and there. Think of arrangement like cooking, you don't have to over-do it on the spices in order to get flavor, they just have to be balanced.

If you are not a trained pianist, then you should not expect yourself to perform as such. You know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! It might sound "childish" to you right now, but that could be more than just your ability to play. Sometimes, even the simplest melodies/notation, are brought to life by how they sound and not how they are played. (Interestingly enough, the counter argument, that it's how you play it, is just as important, so it's quite the paradox) Consider adding reverb, adjusting the Cutoff or Resonance, ADSR etc etc.

What might be most beneficial to you at this juncture would be to learn more about sound design. The more you know about wave shapes and what goes into creating a "voice", the deeper you will be able to edit and modify sounds according to your specifications. I would recommend the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook, technical read, but worth it. There's also the tried and true method of just messing around as well, even though if you wind up making something dope, you might want to know how you did what you did (of course you could always work backwards but hey).


Kregan's reply:

I experimented with synths and such a couple years ago after I had been sampling for a year or so. When I did, I didn't even really stress about melodies, I made a handful of beats that were right there in quality with my sample based beats very quickly.

However I wasn't using traditional sounds like pianos, I was using more atmospheric sounds, tweaking the patches, then laying other random sounds over the top and that sort of thing.

If you want to learn how to play melodies and such that's cool, more power to you, but don't think it's required or even necessary especially since we are talking about hip hop music.

There's so much flexibility and customization with a good synthesizer that being able to play a melody won't even come up, unless of course that's what your aiming for which is also cool.


Castro:

What's Up Kregan, I was hoping you could elaborate further about the end of that statement, the "especially since we are talking about hip hop music" part.


Kregan:

Hey Cas

I was referring to how in hip hop music rhythm is the main priority, and melody and harmony play a secondary role to the rhythm.

I learnt this from the beattips manual and have made it a focus in my own practice.

Out of curiosity what is your compositional style? I would guess your either sample based or you take the hybrid approach.


Castro:

A part of me agrees with that initial statement about rhythm but it seems somewhat quixotic or somewhat of a paradox. I don't wish to derail this thread by going into it, but I'm not sure if it's as simple as rhythm>melody>harmony.

I try to cover all sides of the spectrum when it comes to my style, a little bit of sampling a little bit of keyboards etc etc. For the most part I do not sample anymore, unless it's just one of those "have-to-flip" scenarios. It's been more rewarding creating my own material by far. As of late my interest is in playing the actual instruments, because the one thing that synth's don't replicate is the "air" and "warmth" from certain recording processes. Aiming to be a one man band, so one day someone will want to sample my material.


Sa'id:

Peace Castro,

With regards to hip hop/rap music, I don't think Kregan was trying to simplify the roles that rhythm, melody, and harmony play. In nearly all twentieth-century popular American music, musicians can not escape the principles of rhythm, melody, and harmony—typically, all are always in effect in some form or fashion. However, it is a *fact—objective, and nothing to agree or disagree with—that certain musics and music traditions (here in America and around the world) prioritize rhythm over melody and harmony.

That said, people are welcome to make music in any way that they prefer. This means that people can play up the role of melody and harmony in the music they make, and decrease the role of rhythm whenever they want to. Of course, in hip hop/rap music, this is where subjectivity meets the crux of the tradition.

Thing is, everyone has there preferences for styles, sounds, and methods. And it is this choice of each beatmaker that represents the *subjective realm. The *objective realm involves the facts. Fact is, hip hop/rap music began as a music tradition that focused squarely on the rhythm. Over time, starting with the Studio Band Period of beatmaking, the role of melody and harmony grew in hip hop/rap music amongst a number of beatmakers. Again, these are the objective facts of the tradition over 30 plus years.

So naturally, where we stand today is, there are beatmakers who hold tight to rhythm more than they do melody and harmony. Conversely, there are beatmakers who hold tight to melody and harmony more than they do to rhythm. And that's where the subjectivity comes in to play. Some beatmakers prefer to stick closer to the crux of the tradition, the more fundamental or primary tropes. For others, however, such an approach is less important, as they're less interested in that and more interested in creating a style and sound that prominently infuses tropes from other music traditions. One compositional path might focus more on sampling; the other might focus on live instrumentation. Both choices are valid, and as such, they should both be respected. However, this does not mean that we should ignore the fact that one style is closer to the roots of our tradition than the other.

But let's be clear, here: The methods, styles, and general approaches that we choose keep us squarely within, on the margins of, or outside of one music tradition or another. Each music tradition has its own boundaries. And that's a good thing. These boundaries help us identify, understand, and distinguish one music from another. However, for years, musicians have been pushing these boundaries, merging the edges of multiple traditions into a new style and sound. This is called "fusion" (which I'm sure you know). Fusion is responsible for a lot great music. For example, British ska, seriously one of my all-time favorite music traditions, relies on a blend of reggae, Jamaican ska, punk, and pop. But it's important to remember that a fusion of styles and sounds is not necessarily better or worse than any of the singular styles that comprise it.

So Kregan has simply made an educated choice. He's looked at the history of our tradition, he's considered the mainstays and numerous developments over the last 30 plus years, he's factored in his own sensibilities, and he's concluded that he'd like to identify with a style and sound that's closer to the roots of our tradition, which means opting for a more rhythm-based style and sound. However, another person could read the exact same history and information in The BeatTips Manual and come to an opposite conclusion, opting for a style and sound that's further away from the roots of our tradition, going for a style and sound that prominently features melody and harmony and reduces the role of rhythm. That's certainly not beyond the pale of things. But for the prior choice (Kregan's case), a focus on melody and harmony is not a requirement, "especially since we are talking about hip hop music."

—Sa'id

*Editor's note: To join The BeatTips Community (TBC), register here.
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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."


April 11, 2012

BeatTips Tutorial: DSS Beatmaking Exercise

A Sequencing and Structure Exercise that Increases Your Understanding of Arrangement

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

To increase my understanding of arrangement in beatmaking, over the years I've come up with and practiced many different exercises. In this article, I want to focus on one specific arrangement exercise that I do that involves the development of core sequences.

DSS (Duplicate Sequence Structures), the name I gave to this exercise, deals with duplication and experimentation of sequences. That said, the aim of this exercise is to better understand how to build 8-bar (or longer) structures. Why 8-bar structures you might ask? Well, for me it's simple. When creating "songs" in the Song Mode of my MPC, I prefer to deal with 8-bar sequence blocks rather than 2- or 4-bar sequence blocks, particularly because it allows me to better manage any changes (e.g. bridge, breakdown, embellishments, ect.) that I might want to add to the arrangement of the final beat.

Before I continue, I should note that I have in the past (and sometimes still do) literally written down the schedule of exercises for any given practice session (this is very helpful). For instance, whenever I wanted to practice DSS exercises, I would simply write a note to myself like, "DSS, 1hr." This way, whenever I was due to practice for the day (or week), I wouldn't sit down just to make a beat. Instead, I'd set a practice plan of action, then I'd naturally segue into actually making (completing) at least one new beat or more.

All right, on with my DSS exercise...

step 1

I began with a 2-bar sequence of music. Something fairly simple, just a drum framework and some non-drum elements. Please note: Whether I'm practicing with a sampled-based or synthetic-sounds-based beat doesn't matter, because I practice this exercise universally.

Step 2

Having settled upon a 2-bar sequence, I'll duplicate it to give me 4-bars of music. Then, I copy that 4-bar sequence into three "unused" new sequences on my Akai MPC (4000 or 60), essentially setting up three separate "beat starts" or rather "shell beats," all with the same 4-bar structure.

Step 3

I duplicate each 4-bar structure, giving me three "shell beats" (just sparse grooves) of 8-bars each.

Step 4

I work on each "shell beat" one at a time. For the first "shell beat," I'll add in one new musical element. This could be anything, an elongated sound stab, a brief keyboard phrase, a sample of a break of some sort, whatever I'm feeling might work at the moment. But here's the key: No matter what add-on element I choose, I add a modified version of that very same element to each "shell beat."

Step 5

I make modifications to the drum frameworks of the "shell beats." Usually, I leave the drum framework of the first "shell beat" as is. But I always change, in some fairly noticeable way, the drum framework of the 2nd and 3rd "shell beats," making modifications that better match up with the added elements.

Step 6

I build each 8-bar "shell beat" out to fully developed beats, and I listen to each beat to see which one has the tightest, gut-moving feeling—the one that moves me the most. Usually, what happens is that I end up using one of the "developed beats" for the verse section, the main part of the song; and I use another one of the "developed beats" for the hook section, the featured part of the song. If the remain "developed beat(s)" is (are) decent, I'll strip it down to 4-bars and use parts of it as an intro, bridge, or extra change that I add to the final beat.

Final thoughts

Using this exercise, I'm able to better capture the core groove that suits my style and sound. Also, this exercise really helps my timing, and it sharpens my overall understanding of and approach to creating drum frameworks. Finally, I should note that my DSS exercise has always come in handy on those occasions where I used to have beat block.

---
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

---
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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