Sa'id, Author of the Books The BeatTips Manual and The Art of Sampling, Puts Out New Single and is Set to Release Album that Aims to Be "Meaningful" and "Demonstrates What's in his Books"
By G. Ferguson
BROOKLYN, NY — December 9, 2015 — Sa'id (Amir Said), founder of BeatTips, the popular beatmaking and music education website, the independent publishing house Superchamp Books, and author of the books The BeatTips Manual and The Art of Sampling, today announced his new album The Best of Times. The Best of Times, features beats and rhymes entirely by Sa'id, and in addition to being entertaining and thought provoking, it is meant to serve as an example of the ideas, methods, and practices found in his books.
"This album represents one of the best ways for me to further discuss the kind of information and insight that you'll find in both The BeatTips Manual and The Art of Sampling," says Sa'id. "Everything that I do with BeatTips is about continuing the discussion — finding new ways to help expand the beatmaking community at large. But of course, I'm also an artist: I rhyme and I make beats. So also it means a lot to me that have this opportunity to put out music on my own terms and watch it compete on the open market. Plus, I'm an advocate for beatmakers (producers) putting out their own projects. Whether it be as beatmaker-rappers or as part of duo or group, I believe that the most sustainable path for beatmakers (producers) is the path that includes creating and putting their own projects, rather than chasing or waiting for a beat placement. So I'm following my own advice."
Although The Best of Times has no features in the traditional sense, it does have an important co-star. "What makes this album really special to me is that I've done it with the help of my son, Amir Ali Said. Amir, who is the co-executive producer along with me, has been extremely instrumental — literally speaking — to this album. My son is living in Paris at the moment; I just recently returned to New York City from there. And we wanted a way to stay connected until I made my way back to Paris. So as a challenge, and a way for us to really stay connected, I asked him to dig in the crates — e-dig — and pick music for me to sample. No one knows my ear better than Amir. That's my son; he's on the cover of The BeatTips Manual. He's been hearing me make and talk about music his entire life. So I completely trust his judgment; I knew that he would send me stuff that I could catch wreck on. That's why Amir is the co-star of this album: He sent me handpicked music to flip, and I flipped it."
Coinciding with his album announcement, Sa'id dropped a new song called "Make It Mean Something." "I had to drop a new joint. I couldn't mention my new album and not drop a joint. So Here is 'Make It Mean Something,' the first song from my new album. Please share! And thank you for your continued support."
BeatTips has provided the most trusted information on the craft, culture, and business of beatmaking/hip hop production since 2002. The 1st edition of ‘The BeatTips Manual’ was published by Superchamp Books in 2002, the same year BeatTips.com was founded. Used by beatmakers and in schools around the world, in 2007, ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ now widely held as the standard for hip hop production education, was featured in New York University’s first course on beatmaking and hip hop production. Since then, ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ now in its 6th Edition, has been used in countless schools and institutions of higher learning, including The Berklee College of Music and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and it continues to be recognized as the definitive beatmaking/hip hop production book around the globe, confirming its status as one of the most important music studies of our time.
Press Contact: G. Ferguson, email@example.com
http://www.BeatTips.com | @BeatTipsManual @AmirSaid
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.
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 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.
In The BeatTips Manual, in the section on timestretch, I discuss why I don’t rely on timestretch as much as I do on rhythm matching and contrasting. One of the biggest problems dealing with any sampled phrase of 2-bars or longer is the tempo change. Let’s remember, when you sample a song, you’re usually sampling a group of live musicians that played in real time when they recorded the song. As such, the tempo ebbs and flows. Humans are not machines, so natural timing moves slightly. Thus, a song moving at let’s say 90 BPMs (Beats Per Minute) may actually move between 89.7 – 90.3 BPMs over a measure of four bars or more. So the shorter the sequence, the tighter the BPM will be. Conversely, the longer the sequence, the more the BPM is likely to move slightly up or down. All told, tempo change within a sample creates a sequencing and arrangement challenge, especially when it comes to building drum patterns.
There's No Rule in Beatmaking that Says You Have to Use Timestretch: Rhythm Blending
Whether you like to call it rhythm blending (as I do), beat matching, or beat blending, the concept is all the same: combining/blending/mixing two or more rhythms to make one new rhythmic structure or sound wall. So instead of relying solely on timestretch to solve the arrangement and timing problems that can arise from tempo changes within a sample, utilize creative rhythm structures to achieve similar and often even better (more natural sounding) results.
BeatTip: Work on developing an ear for picking sounds, rhythms, or even melodies that go together or contrast nicely. This is better than forcing sounds and rhythms to fit simply because you have an idea (inclination) and the power of timestretch. Every idea that you have is not supposed to work. And if you’re not careful, timestretch can become a means for forcing some ideas that might have been better left alone.
In the song below, I use a 4-bar phrase that pounds on the initial hit (start of the sequence) then dips and rises three times before it gets to the loop point then loops over again. Instead of using timestretch to manage the shifts in tempo, I used three different hats—in three distinct ways—to shuffle and drag the flow of the beat and to keep the rhythm steady. I used a kick-drum scheme (six tumbling kick-hits) that seems to go against the flow. Finally, I used a straight forward snare on the “2”, which I heavily syncopated near the end of the fourth bar in anticipation of the entire four-bar structure starting (looping) from the beginning. Collectively, I used all of the drumwork to create cross rhythms and a contrast structure that masks the primary sample’s tempo and pitch changes.
Sa’id – “Remember Me” (produced, rhymed, & written by 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…
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.
"Soulsville," from the movie Shaft. That's my favorite Isaac Hayes joint. The scene in Shaft where this song plays is so appropriate. The images—which are certainly no Hollywood props, but instead, real glimpses of early 1970s impoverished Harlem—are heartbreaking and encouraging at the very same time. And what makes this montage rise and resonate is Hayes' "Soulsivlle."
"Soulsville," an incredibly poignant song, teeming with depth and force,
is one of the songs that has had the most effect on the ways in which I strive to underscore my music with feeling. The collective (often meticulous) processes of making beats can lead a beatmaker to create music that's audibly pleasing, yet devoid of feeling. And so to guard against this pitfall, I'm mindful of giving every beat that I make a "soul." In fact, I embrace the notion that every piece of music that I create is, in some way, an extension of me. Therefore, every sound that I craft and/or use, even down to the most truncated hi-hat, must fit within my own style and preferred audio composite. For when I do so, I know that I am indeed injecting soul and genuine feeling into my music.
The music video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
With regards to sampling, no statement is more misguided (and irritating to me) than someone saying, "It's just a loop." Whether sampling and then looping a 2- or 4-bar phrase of music, or piecing together spare-part phrases and sound-stabs, there's much more going on in the total creative process than some beatmakers care to acknowledge—or that some hip hop/rap bloggers even realize.
The gleaming misconception about sampling is that it's easy; that anyone can do it. While it's true that anyone can buy a digital sampler and press record, the notion that anyone can automatically acquire a skill for what goes on before and after they press record on that sampler is ridiculous. Truth is, no matter what any beatmaker samples, no matter how much or how little he or she samples, the total creative process of sampling requires any number of decisions to be made at various levels within the process. And these decisions, prompted by the residue of skill and understanding, are not always easy to make.
The Main Decisions Made Before, During, and After a Sample is Looped
What Should You Sample?
What to sample is obviously (well, perhaps obvious to those who actually make beats) the first decision to be made. And, of course, this decision depends on everything from one's mood to motive (purpose), to their style and sound preference, to their imagination and individual work ethic. For the purpose of this post, I've used the song "Heartbreak Hotel" by The Jacksons.
I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" for a number of reasons. First, it's a well-known hit—with a great groove—by a popular group (certainly a song easy enough for readers to locate online). Many people are familiar with the record; so coming up with a beat and song that references such a hit, while still creating something "new" and appealing, is a bit of challenge. Second, I wanted to choose a vinyl record that could readily be found in used record shops or at online vinyl record stores, or in a relative's basement or attic. Third, "Heartbreak Hotel" has been sampled before, and I wanted to demonstrate the versioning tradition that runs deep in hip hop/rap music's roots by offering up my version. Fourth, because "Heartbreak Hotel" has a dominant drum pattern; and as such, I wanted to show how even a sample with drums can be tailored to your style and sound. (Also, any seasoned beatmaker knows the type of obstacles drums in a sample can present.) Finally, I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" because I'm a big fan of The Jacksons, and this is as good as any reason to thoroughly listen to one of my favorite songs by them (actually, it's one of top 10 favorite songs of all time).
What Section or Part Should You Sample?
Now having settled on the song, what section of the song should I sample? The beginning? The middle? Near the end? Either way, it's gotta be a part of the record where the groove is "open" (well, as much as possible with a record like this). So that being said, it comes down to either the intro, the lead-up, or the bridge. I ruled out the bridge, simply because I heard something before with that part. And the strings intro isn't the part of the song that most people are familiar with.
So I go for the "2nd intro," or what I'm calling the "lead up," as in lead up to the first verse. But exactly where in the lead up? There's approximately 35 seconds between the beginning of the lead up and where Michael Jackson's first verse vocals begin. And within that 35 seconds, there are slight embellishments on the basic groove of the song. Not to mention, at one point in this lead up, we hear one of Michael's signature vocal exclamations. No one wants that in there, right? Wrong! I do. I think it's dope; so I decided that no matter what, it had to be in the phrase that I would sample. (In my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" below, you'll hear it.) Note: If I was using "Heartbreak Hotel" as source material for a beat for another rapper, I'm not sure what section I would've used. But since I'm rapping on this joint, I know which part of the song will suit my style, delivery, and flow.
So, How Do You Sample It?
Now that I've chosen the section of the record that I want to use, I have to decide how to sample it. Wait, what? You mean there's no one way how to sample a record? That's right! Some beatmakers sample in stereo, some in mono. Some sample wet—that is, with effects—, some sample dry, no effects. Some sample in 24 bit, 16 bit, even 12 bit.
For starters, I always sample in mono. Next, I always sample wet. I never sample any audio without its signal first flowing through my Numark DJ mixer (aside from the EQs on my mixer, a DJ mixer makes me feel linked to the earliest roots of our tradition). My DJ mixer routes into my Mackie mixing console, where I do further EQ'ing, like "beefing up" (making a sound heavier or warmer) the sample. Then I run the signal from there—the DJ Mixer's output on the Mackie—into either (a) My Akai MPC 4000; or (B) my Akai S950. For the sample below, I sampled a portion of "Heartbreak Hotel" into my Akai S950.
What about the pitch question?
Do you sample the audio leaving the pitch as is, or do you turn it up or down? This decision, like others in the creative process, mostly depends on the ultimate beat/song that you envision. For my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix," I turned the pitch up a bit before I sampled it, then I fine-tuned it as I arranged my drums (and note: NO timestretch function was used in the making of this beat/song).
Did somebody say chopping?
Of course, how to chop something is one of the big decisions in the sampling process. But I supposed the more complete a phrase is, the less difficult it is to loop, right? Not always! In fact, depending on what's actually in the phrase, getting it to loop "correctly" (according to your own rhythmic standards), it can be rather difficult finding and fine tuning the best start and end points. (In The BeatTips Manual I discuss looping, as well as composition, in greater detail.)
Here, let's remember that all of these aforementioned creative decisions have been made before the drum arrangement enters the picture. Of course, as those above decisions are being made, one should already be thinking about the ways in which to arrange the drums...
Which Way to Go with the Drums?
Even if one skips most of the aforementioned processes, he or she must still come up with a suitable drum framework. To pull this off takes a decent arsenal of drum sounds, a knack for choosing the right ones, and the ability to arrange those drum sounds into a drum pattern that works effectively with the so-called "loop" sample. So, again, decisions, decisions.
With audio that already has drums in it, you can fall back and let the drums in the sample do the work, only adding in light touches of your own drum sounds. Or you can also add your own drums to completely "mask" (cover up) the drums in the sample. Or you can match your drums with the drums in the sample; but this can be very difficult, especially if you don't posses the right kind of drum sounds.
Now, with a song like "Heartbreak Hotel," who could blame someone for going easy on the drums, that is to say, doing nothing much at all. Well, I never sample anything without a base idea of how I'm going to arrange the drums. Moreover, depending upon the extent of the groove—i.e., the feel and the level of kick and snare drums—that I've sampled and the ultimate groove that I'm going for, I will usually not only mask and match the drums, I'll flank everything with my own signature percussion. And this is exactly what I did with my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix."
The construction of the sample(s) is only part of the equation. Diggin' for the actual source material is another major part of the equation. Also, never forget the matter of the overall sound design. Here, I'm referring to the "color" of the sample that's achieved through sound modification techniques like filtering and EQ'ing, etc.
The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
For Unique Texture, Percussion Elements and Sound Effects Work Well; For Example, Chimes and Police Sirens
By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)
So much of quality beatmaking comes down not only to how well you can create drum frameworks, but also how well you can match those drum frameworks with unique sound textures. And when it comes to the arrangement of textures, there are a number of different approaches you can take. In this article, I want to discuss an approach that utilizes unique percussive elements and sound effects.
One of the greatest things about beatmaking is its ability to absorb and convert literally any sound into hip hop/rap form. No more is this true than in the area of percussive elements and sound effects. Indeed, unique percussive elements and sound effects (combined or alone) can be used to create memorable arrangements and distinct sound textures that both fit and reinforce the hip hop/rap form. For example, I like to use chimes and sirens (typically police sirens) together. Here's my process...
In my customized sound library (comprised of sounds sampled and "treated" by me), I have a tailor-made sample of chimes as well as a sustained measure of police sirens. Each of these sounds—which I use differently depending on the beat—offer specific characteristics that fit the attributes and goals of my particular style and sound. My chimes sound offers an eerie, ambient-like (non-"emo," though) texture. And my police sirens sound keeps everything "airy," giving off a texture akin to late-night street corner or alleyway background noise. Whether I use these sounds individually or in tandem, I always have a clear grasp of how they will effect the overall arrangement and texture of the beat that I apply them to.
Finally, I should mention how I customized my chimes and police sirens samples. The fundamental way in which I customized both my chimes and police sirens sounds—and similar sounds—is by modifying the attack (how/where the start of the sound actually begins), sustain, decay, and release (how full the sound is on the tail end) of each sound. For my my chimes, the attack I have set as my default is like a fade (I like my chimes to fade in to the arrangement), and the release descends abruptly. On the other hand, the attack that I have set for my police sirens sound is minimum (I like my police sirens to almost drop in), and the release dissolves slowly. Also, for my police sirens, I added some reverb so that the end of the sound has a slight rumble. This slight rumble works well whenever I fold or loop my police sirens sound into itself.
The Wah Wah Guitar Back Story; First Series Release
By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)
In 1999, I started my first company, Wah Wah Guitar Recording and Filmworks. The plan was for Wah Wah Guitar (named as my homage to the proverbial "wah wah" guitar sound featured in many 1970s films, particularly those commonly known as blaxpoitation movies) to serve as my umbrella entity through which my independent interests in music and films would be commercially realized.
Prior to 1999, I had been rhyming and studying the art of rapping for seven years, and I had been developing a skill for beatmaking for six (I began rhyming as a teenager in 1992; I began making my own beats a year later), but for various reasons (distractions, other interests) I had yet to attempt to go pro, so to speak. So when I started Wah Wah Guitar in 1999, it represented the first carnation of my understanding of commerce and entertainment, specifically, independent production, manufacturing, and distribution.
Although I had set up an entity to pursue a career in music, the truth is, I never went after it with the sheer narrow focus that many have. Aside from my strong reservations about how the music industry was ran (and some of the specific industry types who ran it), I also held deep reservations about being a “rapper.” So even though I had the talent and dedication to carve out a music career (indeed, at one point I received legitimate label interest and I passed on the opportunity, see Sa'id's Mental Memoir: DJ Tony Touch Thought "Milk" Was A Monster"), as the year 2002 drew near, my goals shifted.
Before I ever wrote one rhyme or made one beat, I was a writer, one with a particular interest in film, history, and culture. And while I was serious about music, I had to embrace the reality that I wanted to do more than rhyme or make beats. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t want to maneuver from the “inside” of the music industry. So I committed myself to bypassing the exhausted deal-shopping path, and I focused instead on working from the outside. The aim being to create a platform that would allow me to do my own music on my terms and to be flexible enough to pursue wherever that took me.
As I saw it, Wah Wah Guitar would become the entity through which I realized my music goals. It would be the independent company that would permit me to do music completely on my own terms. But an ironic thing happened (well, perhaps not too ironic) three years into this plan: I wrote a book about beatmaking (The BeatTips Manual)! Soon, my rapping and beatmaking aspirations subsided; and it became less important for me to release my own music and more important for me to examine and thoroughly research the hip hop/rap music tradition—specifically, beatmaking—and publish my findings. In short, it became more important for me to document the beatmaking tradition and to work towards preserving the hip hop/rap music tradition as a whole.
Still, this huge shift in focus aside, in the three years that Wah Wah Guitar remained active, I recorded a great deal of music; the overwhelming bulk of it I never released or even let anyone hear. In fact, some of it, I've only heard once or twice—on the day that I made and recorded it! So what exists now is a catalog of complete and incomplete songs and beats; complete and incomplete verses, both one-takes and outtakes; commercial studio session recordings and home practice sessions; and more. And in an effort to continue to help more beatmakers and rappers, I’ve decided to release most (if not all) of this music here on BeatTips.com.
Thus, for the purpose of scholarship (discussion and study) and to extend my work in the study of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, I will, at least once each month, post a recording (at random) from my Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog. And along with each recording, I will include as much commentary as possible, which shouldn’t be hard to do, since I’ve kept notes, often very meticulous ones, of every beat and rhyme that I made and recorded during the Wah Wah Years. It is my hope that by releasing this music and personal commentary, fellow beatmakers and rappers will (1) learn more about the fundamental ways that the two art forms—beatmaking and rapping—affect each other; and (2) be able to incorporate some of my ideas and approaches (if helpful) into their own processes.
As always, I encourage any questions, observations, or anything else that will be helpful. So post your comments and get into the discussion.
Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)
The concept for this song (which I never completed) was about a young "good girl" in the hood gone bad. I wrote one verse, just to see if my rhyme matched my initial concept and the beat. But as with a number of my unfinished rhymes, with this joint, I was mostly concerned with further developing control of my delivery, particularly at a quick pace.
For this beat, I used a one-bar framework that I copied into 2 bars. The beat is driven by a sample that I duplicated. I filtered one copy of the sample with high treble; and I filtered the other copy with dull treble. The main effect of the way that I filtered two copies of the same sample is that it made both copies sound like they had different pitch levels.
For the drum framework of this beat, I built a drum pattern that sounded like it was tumbling over. I had the kick sort of rumbling, while I tucked the snare-hits. The open hi-hat is where I tried a couple of things out. First, I experimented with the open hi-hat in a way similar to how I filtered the primary sample of the beat, in that I filtered it differently on alternating events within the sequence (meaning I programmed the high-filtered part to land, followed by the dull-filtered part). Also, I played the open hi-hat in a way that "pushed" the beat along.
I never built this joint out into a complete song, but it helped me work out different aspects of my rhyme delivery and breath control. Furthermore, it helped me gain a better feel for how to use my hi-hats, something that would soon come in handy.
The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (prod. by Sa'id, from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)
How I Regained My Rhyme and Beatmaking Focus, and Connected It to My Interest In Writing
By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)
It was the end of 2001. Nearly six months before I would decide not to pursue the major label opportunities that were being presented to me (read). More importantly, it was a hectic time in my personal life. Relationship woes; chaos from "street stuff" in the past was creeping up and increasingly posing a serious threat; and a close friend of mine had just got hit with a bid, right at the moment of some of our plans. Further, my son, Amir Ali Said, was just beginning his acting career.
Notwithstanding the factors that were causing great angst in my life at that time, I had resolved that I no longer wanted a career as a rapper. I mean in hindsight, I don't think I ever really did have those aspirations. I've never liked the notion of touring (close friends know this very well). I didn't like to live in the studio like many of my contemporaries. And as far as some of the perks of a "rap career," namely money, fame, and women? Well, I've always been a more "independent," go-my-own-way kind of guy. And fame has never held much of my interest. And when it comes to women, I've done all right in that area without having to use money or fame as part of the attraction. (In fact, women was one of those "chaotic factors" I alluded to earlier.)
But more than anything else, what made me finally pull-back from carving out a career as a rapper was the realization that what I really wanted to do, more than anything else, was write. Thing is, long before I started rapping or making beats, I was writing. Rapping, which was a natural engagement for me, considering the fact that hip hop/rap culture was always in the backdrop, became just one of several conduits through which I was able to express my writing. Overtime, this was a fulfilling experience. But the closer I got to a "deal," the more disenchanted I became with rhyming—or at least rhyming as my main profession. Moreover, from the start of my rhyme journey, I had a plan: Rhyme just long enough to create a platform from which to write. But as I developed as a lyricist and, subsequently, gained the respect and admiration of my peers (something that no doubt boosted my rhyme ego), I drifted away from my plan of writing.
And so, one night in December, 2002, I'm at home in Brooklyn, reflecting on the direction things had gone and thinking about which moves I'm soon gonna have to make, when I come across an old sales receipt from Unique Recording Studios. On this receipt, there was a balance of 4 hours of unused studio time. Now when it came to studio time, I was always thorough. I prepared for and planned out sessions way in advance; and this made my time in the studio go by quickly. So I would often rack up lots of unused time, which the studio owner Joanne Nathan (a kind, wonderful person) would allow me to use whenever there was a slow night; all I had to do was pay the engineer. Well, immersed in thought of what rhyming used to mean to me and what it had become, I made a beat, wrote a rhyme, and created a song called "When I'm Famous."
In many ways, "When I'm Famous" would prove to be the most important rhyme that I would ever write. The concept of the song dealt with me imagining, or wondering out loud, how much of "me" would still be in tact after I became "famous." And the underscoring premise of this theme was this: "Fame" (or success) doesn't matter, if you don't do what you really feel, and if you don't retain the respect and love of the people closest to you. So it was in that moment, that precise time when I was writing "When I'm Famous," that I finally realized that the joy I found in making beats and writing rhymes was not something mutually exclusive to having a rap career. In other words, I had finally come to understand one thing: that for me, having a rap career was not necessarily a natural progression to having rhyme skills; I could make music without forcing myself down the wrong path.
Thus, it was from this context that I went to Unique Studios that night and recorded "When I'm Famous." I only recorded one take of the song, as the rhyme was written. I never had any intentions of ever releasing it; if anything, I made the song to help me get through a hectic time. I wasn't even in the studio more than an hour before I returned home and let my son hear what I had recorded. He loved it, though at that time he probably couldn't quite grasp everything that I was saying in my rhymes. But what stood out the most about his reaction to "When I'm Famous," was his interest in the beat and the rhyme itself. It was then that I vowed to teach him how to write rhymes and make beats. Some peace of mind had come, and within a year, I wrote and published the First Edition of The BeatTips Manual.
Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.
BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers
Build Your Skills
Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law
"Sampling is piracy."
Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different. Read more
"You can legally sample and use any recording up to 1, 2, 3, or 4 seconds."
Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that
is “legally” permissible to sample. Read more
"If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
A free mixtape does NOT permit you to use samples from copyrighted recordings without the permission of the copyright holders. Read more
"Sampling is easy; there’s nothing to it. Anyone can do it well."
Sampling is an art form that requires technical skill, imagination, and artistic understanding. Read more
"Sampling involves the use of pre-recorded songs only."
While the art of sampling is most commonly understood to include the use of pre-recorded songs (traditionally from vinyl records), source material for sampling includes any recorded sound or sound that can be recorded. Read more
BeatTips Essential Listening
BeatTips.com is a website dedicated to music education, research, and scholarship. All the music (or music videos) provided on this site is (are) for the purposes of teaching, scholarship, research, and criticism only! NOTE: Under U.S. Code, Section 107 “Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use” of the Copyright Act of1976: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching… scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."(U.S. Code)