42 posts categorized "Sampling"

September 04, 2015

Is EMI's Sample Amnesty a Good Thing for Sample-Based Musicians?

How Alex Black and EMI Just Became Friends of the Sample-Based Musician Community, and How they May Have Saved an Important Piece of the Music Industry’s Sample Clearance System

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


In September, 2015, EMI, the world’s largest music publisher, announced it’s sample amnesty program. Basically what EMI said to sample-based musicians was this: You have six months to come to us from out of the shadows and turn in your sample-based songs that utilize samples of songs from our Production Music Division’s catalog, in return we will give you a license and we won’t penalize you for unauthorized use. But here’s what EMI is certainly not saying: We recognize that some sample-based works may have made fair use (or de minimis) of our catalogs, and thus you do not necessarily need a license.


In other words, EMI’s amnesty offering, as forward thinking and innovative as it is, is a means to increase revenue form their Production Music Division catalog. First, the program allows EMI to expand their catalog with sample-based songs without having to grapple with adding sample-based songs that would otherwise be unobtainable due to either EMI’s unawareness of their existence or EMI’s unwillingness to mount a wave of copyright infringement lawsuits against musicians that they suspect have used samples from their Production Music Division’s Catalog. Second, and more importantly, EMI’s sample amnesty serves as a way to draw attention to their Production Music Division catalog and to invite sample-based musicians to sample songs from said catalog, which includes songs that they own both the master recording and composition copyrights to; a key point, since owning both rights allows EMI to easily and quickly clear samples.


In the press release that EMI’s sample amnesty program was announced, Alex Black, EMI Production Music Global Director and the main man driving the amnesty, said, “Our vision for this amnesty is to highlight the wealth of possibilities open to producers working with samples.” I take him at his word. Still, in addition to highlighting the possibilities of sampling their Production Music Division catalog, EMI is also interested in corralling perhaps a large swath of uncleared sample-based songs — songs which may have never needed to be cleared in the first place — and then monetize those “new” songs.


But, as I point in my book The Art of Sampling, all samples do not need a license (i.e. need not be cleared), because sampling itself (or all samples) does (do) not constitute copyright infringement. U.S. Copyright law explicitly protects de minimis (small amount) and fair-use usages of all copyrightable material. Thus, can encouraging someone to turn in a song that uses a single drum hit/sound, a small snippet of a sampled drum break, or an “electronic segment looped” — all staples of the art of beatmaking — be seen as EMI’s way of subverting U.S. copyright law? Most music industry lawyers promote the lie that “the law” says even a sample of a stand alone drum sound requires a license, even though some of them silently acknowledge that such usages are either de minimis or fair use. But, more importantly for their purposes, music industry lawyers also know that most people, especially sample-based musicians, are unaware of the de minimis and fair use doctrines.


There is a big difference between “the law” and how the law works. Copyright infringement must be proven in a court of law. Thus, pre-emption, not just a pre-emptive suit (for example, what Pharrell and Robin Thicke did in the “Blurred Lines” case), is often used to circumvent the law. So what do you do if you’re EMI and you want to add many sample-based songs (including those that may have made de minimis or fair use of EMI songs) to your catalog? Offer amnesty. Smart move.


By getting people to come forward and admit use, EMI gets access to the new sample-based songs, and there’s no worry of an artist claiming fair use later on. In essence, once licensed, the maker of the sample-based song has conceded that the song needed to be cleared, and has thus forfeited his right to argue that the song made fair use of a song owned by EMI. This concerns me deeply, as I wonder if de minimis and fair use — mainstays of U.S. copyright law — will continue to be overshadowed by yet another mechanism that further pushes all sampling towards the clearance trail, effectively obscuring the fact that the de mininis and fair use components of copyright law are critical safe harbors for sample-based musicians.


I applaud Alex Black and EMI for engaging with the sampling community in this way. It’s refreshing to see their support for sample-based music, particularly their description of the art of sampling in a creative context — it’s certainly a far cry from recent descriptions of sampling as “piracy”. Further, the fact that EMI will offer a licensing deal at current market rates, and that they will not, however, seek back royalties for any earnings made from songs that feature samples of their catalog is great. But if we put aside the actual implications of the amnesty itself and focus on the “license” component of EMI’s innovative initiative, there remains some serious questions that every sample-based musician considering EMI’s proposal should want to have answered.


First, how will this amnesty actually work on the publishing splits? In exchange for coming forward, will sample-based musicians simply receive a license and no penalty? Or will they also receive a split of the publishing? Better yet, will they have to forfeit 100% of the publishing to EMI? Furthermore, what will EMI’s boilerplate amnesty agreement look like? What sort of stipulations will it contain? Also, if you do come forward with a sample-based song that incorporates a sample of a song from EMI’s Production Music Division catalog, will you be required to submit the song first, offering up details on which songs from EMI’s catalog that you actually sampled? If you change your mind, EMI has the song and, because of you, they know the sample(s) used. Thus, if you disagree to the license and amnesty, does that mean you’ve now voluntarily put yourself in the position to be sued by EMI for copyright infringement?


One way to see this is: EMI has all of the leverage, all of the upside. Another way to see it is: By gaining a license, a sample-based musician now has chance to earn additional revenue by shopping the now-licensed works to artists and outlets that they previously didn’t have access to. Seems to me no matter where you come down on the copyright divide, that’s a good thing for sample-based musicians.


Any way you look at EMI’s amnesty offer, one thing is clear: This innovative program is a strong indication of where the music industry is headed with regards to sampling. The major labels and music publishers have left (and continue to leave) a lot of money on the table by treating sampling as some sort of bandit activity that requires a license in all cases; I think EMI’s move is a recognition of this fact. Moreover, I believe that Alex Black is sincere when he says that EMI’s program “aims to encourage new creative use of the expansive archives of the multiple participating EMI libraries.” But I also believe that Black is aware of the burgeoning realities of sampling and copyright law.

As more people take part in sampling in general (what Lawrence Lessig calls an ever growing “Remix Culture”), they will inevitably learn more about copyright law and aim for making works that are likely de mininis or fair use in nature. Thus, armed with a better understanding of copyright law, as well as the knowledge of recent court cases in which fair use prevailed, these sample-based musicians will be less inclined to seek licenses for their works and less intimidated by threats of lawsuits for copyright infringement. So I believe EMI’s amnesty offer — which I appreciate and support — is also the music industry’s sober acknowledgement of reality. About time.


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The Art of Sampling by Amir Said.
"The definitive guide to the art of sampling and copyright law."

April 17, 2014

The Notorious Fair Use: Why New Sampling Case May be the Beginning of the End of the Infringement Shakedown

Amid Leroy Hutson's Infringement Accusations, the Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Grows Stronger

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

It looks like the late Notorious B.I.G.’s impact on music may have a second act. Only this time, the impact will likely hold critical implications for sampling and U.S. copyright law. On March 31, 2014, in what was considered to be a preemptive lawsuit, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed for declaratory judgment in a California federal court, seeking relief that B.I.G’s 1994 song “The What” — off of the classic album Ready to Die — was not a copyright infringement of the 1974 song “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” performed by Leroy Hutson (co-written by Hutson and Michael Hawkins). While the suit raised the issues of valid copyright ownership, statute of limitations, and the doctrine of laches (waiting too long to file the claim), and producer indemnification, it was the fair use claim that undoubtedly had many of those on both sides of the sampling and copyright law quandary closely watching how this case would turn out.


The Complaint

According to the complaint filed by lawyers on behalf of B.I.G.’s estate, Leroy Huston “began a campaign of accusations against Plaintiff [Christopher Wallace PKA ‘Notorious B.I.G.,’ ‘Biggie,’ and ‘Biggie Smalls’], claiming that the Recording [‘The What,’ produced by Easy Mo Bee and featuring Method Man] violated his alleged copyright in ‘Can’t Say Enough About Mom.’” The complaint describes Hutson’s “campaign of accusations” as having began in 2012, when lawyers for Hutson sent Bad Boy Records notice of alleged copyright infringement, and having included numerous requests for financial compensation (as much as 50% of all income attributable to the recording) and part ownership (also as much as 50%); each request routinely made with the accompanying threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit. [source case: Notorious B.I.G. LLC v Lee Hutson, 2:14-cv-02415 (3/31/14).]


In other words, Hutson repeatedly harassed Bad Boy Records (and Atlantic Records, Warner Music Group, and EMI), likely in an attempt to force a quick financial settlement in exchange for not filing a copyright infringement lawsuit for an uncleared sample of Hutson’s song. These “ongoing, intensifying, and ultimately baseless accusations,” especially Hutson’s recent (and second) attempt to get a “legal hold” placed on “all royalties of the Recording” and to put a stop to “all distribution of the album [Ready to Die],” are what prompted the estate of Notorious B.I.G. to file civil action for declaratory relief.


They Were Never Scared — the Law Was Always on Their Side

Rather than cave to the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit and settle out of court (as the labels tend to do), the estate of Notorious B.I.G. retained an expert to help assist them in analysis and comparison of the two songs at question. Citing in the complaint their expert’s findings and including Easy Mo Bee’s (the producer of the B.I.G. track) meticulous, multidimensional description of how he composed “The What,” the estate of Notorious B.I.G. — which did not deny the actual sampling — asserted in the complaint that the “use has not violated any valid copyright interest held by” Hutson, and, more importantly, that the “use” is both “de minimis and fair use.” Thus, B.I.G.’s estate rejected the common infringement shakedown and balked at paying Mr. Hutson or assigning an owner percentage to him, particularly without first doing their own due diligence. Having done their due diligence, B.I.G.’s estate concluded that “The What” did not infringe upon “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” and they demonstrated their preparedness to prove it in court. In other words, Hutson’s infringement shakedown attempt was thwarted mainly because the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was, unlike the labels and most established artists, never scared to affirm fair use.


Thing is, When determining unlawful appropriation, the courts engage in a substantial similarity analysis in which quantitative and qualitative factors are assessed. An allegedly infringing work is considered substantially similar when it is nearly indistinguishable from the copyrighted work it appropriated. Quantitative analysis examines whether the sample constituted a substantial portion of the appropriated work, NOT whether it made up a substantial portion of the allegedly infringing work. Qualitative analysis considers whether the sample (copied portion) is qualitatively important to the allegedly infringed work as a whole. This means how critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to the appropriated work, and as a whole, how similar are the allegedly infringing song and the song it sampled. In order to determine proof of substantial similarity in a copyright infringement case, the courts conduct a two-part test of extrinsic similarity and intrinsic similarity. The extrinsic test is objective in nature and requires the party who brought the infringement claim to identify specific criteria which it alleges have been copied. (For a more thorough understanding of fair use and a proper fair use analysis, please read my book The Art of Sampling.)


So at question were three things: 1) As a whole, how similar is “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” 2) How critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” and 3) Does “The What” sample a substantial portion of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?” In my own analysis and comparison, I found no substantial similarity between “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” In fact, if there ever was a more clear cut case of fair use, I haven’t heard it. Quantitatively and qualitatively speaking, the sample is a 4-second snippet of a barely audible fade out that appears — only once on the entire 5:54 long song — at the 5:50 mark. This snippet is neither substantial to the melody, rhythm, chorus, or main theme of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” And even an “ordinary person” could tell that “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” is a song about a son’s tribute to his mother, wherein he repeatedly professes his love and respect for his mother. Whereas “The What” is a braggadocios song about a skeptical worldview (the hook says, “Fuck the World!...”) in which the protagonists praise the values of being independent, street wise, and well armed. Certainly, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. came to a similar conclusion in their own analysis.


Origins of the Infringement Shakedown, and Why Hutson thought He Could Threaten His Way to a Nice Financial Settlement

To truly understand how the “infringement shakedown” came to be, you must first look at Grand Upright v. Warner Bros. and Bridgeport v. Dimension Films, two landmark court cases involving sampling and copyright law. (I cover both cases in greater detail in my book The Art of Sampling.)


In Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. (New York, 1991), songwriter/recording artist Gilbert O’Sullivan filed suit against recording artist Biz Markie and his then-record labels Warner Bros. Records and Cold Chillin’, charging that “Alone Again,” a song on Markie’s album I Need A Haircut, contained an unauthorized “digital sample” of O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit song “Alone Again (Naturally)." The court found that Biz Markie/Warner Bros., et. al had willfully committed copyright infringement, granted an injunction against Warner Bros. to prevent further copyright infringement of Grand Upright’s song “Alone Again,” and referred the defendants for criminal prosecution. But before sentencing, the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Although the question of fair use was never raised in Grand Upright, after the court’s decision, many labels took a better-to-be-safe-than-sorry stance, insisting that all samples be cleared. More importantly, following Grand Upright, the art of sampling was, in effect, criminalized and assigned a stigma of “theft” and “piracy.” A stigma that still plagues the art of sampling today.


Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films (Tennessee, 2001) centered around the use of N.W.A.’s song “100 Miles and Runnin’” in the 1998 No Limit Films produced/Dimension Films distributed film “I Got The Hook Up.” For part of the creation of the song “100 Miles and Runnin’,” N.W.A. had sampled a small piece of Funkadelic’s song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” This was all done without Funkadelic’s permission and with no compensation paid to either Bridgeport Music, which at the time owned the publishing rights to Funkadelic’s music, or to Westbound Records, which at the time owned the sound recording copyright to “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Bridgeport Music, Westbound Records, and other plaintiffs filed suit against Dimension Films, et. al, claiming that “100 Miles and Runnin’” infringed on their copyright in the song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Dimension Films/No Limit argued that the sample in question was de minimis (legally insubstantial), and therefore, it did not amount to actionable copying under copyright law. The district court found the de minimis defense to be appropriate, and granted summary judgment for Dimension Films/No Limit. However, the appeals court reversed the district court and ruled that sampling of a sound recording — regardless of length— was, in effect, unlawful without the permission of the copyright holder. "Get a license or do not sample…," the circuit court wrote, essentially making the outrageously ridiculous claim that any unlicensed sampling of a sound recording violates the copyright of the copyright holder.

BUT, it’s important to note that the circuit court did not consider fair use (as they should have) in their decision. In fact, the court expressly noted that its decision did not preclude the availability of a fair use defense, even in the context of sampling. Which implies that the court, despite its nonsensical ruling, actually recognized that some instances of sampling do qualify as fair use.


Since Grand Upright and Bridgeport, RIAA labels have sought to clear samples — no matter the nature of the use — rather than take the chance of being sued for copyright infringement; “sample trolls” like Bridgeport Music have gone wild with infringement suits; and just the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit has prompted lopsided undue settlements. This has lead to a tepid approach to sampling by the RIAA labels and many music makers. In turn, an ad-hoc (mostly one-sided and useless) sample clearance system has emerged. But as I make clear in The Art of Sampling, clearance of all samples isn’t the law, it’s just become industry custom!

Mud and Deception on the Profile of Fair Use

The profile of the fair use doctrine has all but faded in the music industry, as the RIAA labels have demonstrated no will to test fair use in the courts. But the lack of will to test fair use in the courts isn’t surprising. When it comes to the question of sampling and fair use, the RIAA labels and many well-known music lawyers, notably Dina LaPolt, have long tried to discredit fair use, typically misrepresenting it and even attacking its very concept and role in U.S. copyright law. Of course, these attacks have not been born out by a proper reading of the fair use doctrine as it's codified in the U.S. code. Strikingly, LaPolt and other similar opponents of fair use routinely mis-define fair use: On one hand, overlooking the fact that fair use is a critical safeguard meant to protect against the expansion of the "limited monopoly" of copyright holders, and on the other hand, consistently describing fair use as nothing more than "JUST a defense," rather than a right of the public.


The Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Continues to Grow

Whether the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. was simply shielding itself from any potential lawsuit from Leroy Hutson or aiming for some grander statement, I think it’s clear that this case, one way or the other, is a watershed moment in the history of the sampling and copyright law quandary. Notwithstanding the other issues raised in the filing, namely the validity of Hutson’s copyright ownership (sorry, a Wikipedia citing certainly does not establish Hutson’s copyright in a song), this is a perfect test case for sampling and fair use.


On April 2, 2014, two days after the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. filed their complaint, Hutson formally filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in Manhattan — Hutson et al v. The Estate of Christopher Wallace et al — against the estate of B.I.G., Bad Boy, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. This New York case was stayed, pending a resolution of Hutson’s Motion to Dismiss the California case.


On July 3, 2014, the preemptive suit brought by the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was dismissed (as perhaps it should have been, given that the California court had no jurisdiction), and legal action continued to move forward in the New York court — where the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed a motion to dismiss on September 5, 2014 — all the way up until October 24, 2014. On December 21, 2015, the New York court filed its decision, granting B.I.G.’s estate’s motion to dismiss.


However, none of the fair use issues raised by B.I.G.’s estate were addressed in the court’s decision. Instead, the court held that since Hutson could not prove ownership of the copyright in “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” (Hutson acknowledged a settlement that he made with Rhino and Warner Records in 2008 over Curtom Records recordings in which he granted copyright ownership of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” and other recordings to Rhino), he lacked standing to sue B.I.G.’s estate for copyright infringement.


So what now? Does this mean that B.I.G.’s estate will face a lawsuit from Rhino for the same alleged infringement? I highly doubt it. But if they do, I can’t see the defense by B.I.G.’s being any different or less persuasive. So while Judge Sullivan didn’t get into the fair use issues that B.I.G.’s estate raised in its defense, this case is still important. For one thing, B.I.G.’s estate had the will to fight this copyright infringement lawsuit; their aggressive action will only serve to prompt others to do the same in the face of similar lawsuits. Second, and more importantly, the action taken by B.I.G.’s estate raises the profile of fair use and helps make the will to test fair use in other sampling/copyright infringement cases much stronger. I’ve long held that the infringement shakedowns in music sampling would end sooner or later. On the heels of this B.I.G. case (and the Jay-Z TufAmerica v. WB Music Corp. et al case, which I cover in the following section), it looks like the ending’s going to be much sooner.

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

The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Method Man – “The What” (Prod. by Easy Mo Bee)

Leroy Hutson - “Can't Say Enough About Mom<"

NOTORIOUS B.I.G. LLC vs. LEE HUTSON d/b/a SILENT GIANT PUBLISHING COMPANY

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

April 11, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 5

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

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

Mike James Kirkland – “Together”

Two different snares, nice tom, closed hat, and kick at the 0:00-0:06 mark. Also, take a listen to the bass line. Listen for how it moves, less complex, like a soft accompaniment. Great modelt/lesson for how to build less complex or "busy" bass parts (support bass) for your beats. And, of course, this is a serious soul joint.


Marva Whitney - “Get Together”

A funk staple and popular cut amongst seasoned collectors. Not just that, the drum sounds on this record are undoubtedly in the drum sound libraries of many early '90s beatmakers. I built a couple of different snares from the snare that I initially sampled off of this cut. At the 0:00-0:06 mark: kick, snare, hi-hat, open hat, and break.


Smoked Sugar – “My Eyes Search a Lonely Room For You”

Far as drum sounds, the only thing to catch on this cut are the toms at the very opening, 0:00-0:02. Still, an introduction to Smoked Sugar is a good thing. Remember, all music is a gateway to more music.


Lafayette Afro Rock Band – “Hihache”

For its opening break, this Lafyette Afro Rock Band cut is one of the most well-known breaks amongst funk aficionados and vinyl collectors. The break itself has been sampled a lot, and has shown up in a number of songs over the past 20 or so years. But take the break apart, and what you have is a true drummer’s delight—19 seconds of open drum-hits! At the 0:00-0:19 mark, snare (at least 3 different velocity flavors), kick, hi-hat, open hat, closed hat. And the break works as an added bonus, as it serves as a great drum pattern practie session. I used to practice recreating this opening drum break using the same sounds and different sounds. And note: I practiced making the break with time correct on and off to help develop my sense of time and my overall drum programming/arraning skills.

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

February 14, 2014

Sampling Non-Percussion in Mono or Stereo, What Should You Consider?

It Usually Comes Down to the Source of the Sound

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When deciding whether or not to sample any sound — in this case, a non-percussion sound — in mono or stereo, the decision should really come down to the "source" of the non-percussion sound that you want to sample. To keep it simple and straightforward, (and not getting too technical), consider these three factors:

(1) Has the Non-Percussion Sound Been Recorded Prior to the 1980s?
By and large, music recorded between the 1950s and mid-1970s used mix schemes that included hard pan assignments. (Note: some people still use hard pan assignments today; it depends on the mix engineer and their style). This means that most sounds were either panned hard left or hard right. That being said, sampling a non-percussion sound—from this era—in mono will not hurt. Conversely, sampling a non-percussion sound—from this era—will not improve the "quality" of the sound. Furthermore, I routinely sample certain non-percussion sounds in mono, then after I've recorded the whole beat in Pro Tools, I duplicate the track. Here, my aim is not to emulate a "true" stereo sound, but instead, to manipulate the texture and "character" of the sample, by enhancing, highlighting, and/or undercutting certain elements within the sample.

(2) Is the Non-Percussion Sound First Generational or Second Generational?
Sounds played by someone on a keyboard (synth)—directly from its L/R outputs are "first generational;" whereas a typical sample from a record played by someone through an MPC, etc. is "second generational"—a pre-recorded sound as opposed to a live recorded sound. For example, most of the time I play something from my Fantom (keyboard), I'll sample it through my MPC 4000 in stereo. This allows me to capture to true stereo signal that's being sent. HOWEVER, if I want the sound coming out of my Fantom to have an "old" sample feel to it, I'll sample it in mono through my Akai S950.

(3) What Kind of Sound (Sonic Texture/Impression) Do You Want to End Up With?
Perhaps most important of all is the aim of the final sound. With the given beat that you're working on, are you going for a brighter, fuller sound? Or are you going for a warmer, (fatter), perhaps older sound? In either case, this is why I'm a big fan of having a DJ mixer—preferably, one with L/R 6-channel band EQ.

Final comments. Although I do concede that in some cases the decision to sample a non-percussion sound in mono or stereo is a personal taste one, I also believe that the decision is more often predicated upon the "source" of the non-percussion sound that you want to sample.

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

December 16, 2013

Kanye West Flips “Strange Fruit” for “Blood On the Leaves,” and There’s Nothing Wrong with That

Sampling in Hip Hop/Rap Need Not Be Politically Correct

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

First, it was “Blood on the Leaves.” Outrage from all over for how Kanye West appropriated Nina Simone’s heart wrenching rendition of “Strange Fruit,” a 1939 song about lynching (a song some today curiously describe as being sacred). Then, it was “Bound 2.” More group-think outrage about a decadent song and video which features a topless — and unapologetically erotic — Kim Kardashian, the mother of Kanye West’s daughter and his soon to be wife…

Typically, I avoid publishing commentary on matters like these, opting, at most, to share my brief thoughts among close friends and colleagues. That was my reaction when “Blood on the Leaves” was blasted by a broad swath of different people, all seemingly jockeying to prove just how distasteful “Blood on the Leaves” was. But wait: Hip hop/rap need not be politically correct to be dope. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself…
And more recently, that was my initial reaction to the “Bound 2” fall out, which was dismissed as old hat, in poor taste, and un-genius like, as well as parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogin. But what’s all the fuss about? A well-known, modern pop culture figure making pop art? Got it…

Now, before I continue, please let me preface the following by simply stating that I’m acutely aware of the history of lynching in the United States, as I am of the history of black American music and 20th century popular American music for that matter. I’m also adept at speaking about Colonial America, American slavery, and the Ante-bellum and Reconstruction Periods. That said, I’m also very aware of a number of different twentieth-century American popular music and cultural developments, in particular, the art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition. And that is what I’d like to speak to.

The art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition can be celebrated for a number of different reasons by music makers, fans, and scholars alike. But particularly for those who make sample-based beats or those in tune to hip hop’s power to convert anything to its own sensibility, the art of sampling is deeply celebrated for its power to reconceptualize, recontextualize, and repurpose sound recordings in ways that express the hip hop attitude, style, and feel. But that aside — if it can really be put to the side — for the moment, I get it: Some (maybe many) might disagree with Kanye West’s politics or, specifically in this case, his crass flexibility with one of the most profound black American songs of the 20th century. I get that. But whether you’re politically correct (allegedly), indifferent, or not too informed about the lynching and slave histories of the United States isn’t the point here.

Kanye West is pop artist. And by “pop” I mean popular, in the sense of what that word meant almost a half-century ago, not an underhanded way of saying lack of creativity or vision or worse still, today’s mainstream. Yes, Kanye West is a pop artist — one who’s pedigree is rooted deeply in the sampling tradition of hip hop/rap music. Does all of this buy him a pass? No. Does all of this excuse his appropriation of Nina Simone’s wonderful rendition of the beautifully dark and dreary “Strange Fruit?” No. But who said West needs a pass? And who says that he has to excuse himself from making use of his musical training, production skill set, or pop cultural influences and ideas? Moreover, who says he has to excuse himself or apologize for combining his training, skill set(s), and creativity in ways that he chooses, ways that he deems useful for exercising his imagination, emotions, or even observations — no matter how absurd — of culture and society?

Is Kanye West’s sampling of Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” vulgar? Perhaps. But then again, so is a lot of the sampling that makes up the hip hop/rap canon. Is West’s sampling of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” outrageous? Again, perhaps to some. But pop stars — especially those who are creatively capable and riding the high of decadent self-awareness, superficialness, and reality-t.v. like absurdity — are outrageous by the nature of the fame construct that they’ve created and are typically compelled to fuel. But, unlike many a pop star who’ve been lead by a thousand of wizards behind the curtain, this guy, Kanye West, knows his shit! Call him an asshole, say he’s arrogant, say he’s always looking for attention, tell him he’s a fake genius. He’s no doubt heard it all before. Still, the man is an artist. Or if you like, he’s an artiste. Again, that doesn’t give him a pass. But that also doesn’t mean he has to be bound by convention, especially when the art of sampling, by its nature, has the power to transform and reconceptualize convention. So, however you fancy him, Kanye West is a student of music history and music production (and, like it or not, pop culture). Which means, when it comes to the art of sampling, he’s schooled in the “cut”, the “rupture”, the “break”, the “sound-stab” and, of course, the (sped-up) “vocal sample”.

So is West’s use of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” shallow? Listen, if you’re critiquing “Blood on the Leaves” based on political science, or on the (misguided) notion that “Strange Fruit” is sacred, then maybe it is to you. Even as great and meaningful as it is, “Strange Fruit,” like any sound recording, is, in the end, source material to the sample-based musician. And one of the greatest traits that a sample-based musician or a rapper can have is objectivity. While I do not know if the idea for the song came before the beat was assembled or if the track was made prior to the beat, what is clear is that a piece of Simone’s vocals on “Strange Fruit” was flipped, sonically and conceptually, and transformed into something new. If you have a hard time with a talented, self-aware, outspoken, and vane music artist converting a line from one of Nina Simone’s better known recordings into a backdrop for rhyme-rants about 21st century bitch problems or the gaps of socio-economic status, cool. Maybe one of those cable talk shows can use your (useless) outrage. But don’t bother trying to describe “Blood on the Leaves” as a bad musical move, especially when you may not quite get the art of sampling.

Side note: I think Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of the most important Black American songs ever recorded. And often, when pinned down for my single favorite song, any genre, I offer “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Yet, if Kanye West, or DJ Premier, or any other sample-based musician flips it well, more power to them. Because, you see, in hip hop/rap, whether we like the political correctness of a sample flip or not, if it sounds dope, it’s dope!

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

October 03, 2013

Rhythm Blending and Masking Constrasts vs. Timestretch

Creating Cross Rhythms to Lock Up Timing

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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)

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

September 09, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: "Keep It Thoro;" Prodigy and The Alchemist

A Menacing Apparatus; Song Personifies How Light and Heavy Textures Co-Mingle and Combine, Giving Beat a Powerful Sonic Impression

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When particular names in beatmaking get tossed around with praise, it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly what all of the acclaim is for. But then, there are some names where it ain't hard to tell. For me, some names are heavy weight for a collection of songs, while others are big time for just one song in particular. Such is the case with beatmaker/producer, The Alchemist. Although The Alchemist has an impressive catalog, my favorite Alchemist beat is the joint that underscores Prodigy's (of Mobb Deep) "Keep It Thoro."

"Keep It Thoro" is an absolutely menacing audio composite. Aside from Prodigy's heavy New York slang-laced phrasings and dead-pan, masterfully confident delivery, it's the beatwork of The Alchemist that makes the song so defiantly hard. The core groove is built around a dusty, lounge-act sort of piano sample that jabs the exact same tone—in 1/8ths—for a count of 7 times, before there's a change in the phrase—a loose note kicks off, and moments before the sample loops back to itself.

For the bass parts, Alchemist doesn't go with a bass line. Instead, content with the rhythm of the hypnotic piano sample, he uses just three bass sound-stabs to anchor the groove. Two of the three bass-stabs are simply low- and high-pitch versions of the same exact sound stab; the third bass-stab—which Alchemist uses to slide into one of the others—has a slick, boom texture to it. Here, I want to point out that even though this third bass sound-stab is "different" from the others, its own texture and sonic qualities actually makes it fit perfectly with the other two bass-stabs. Alone, these other two bass-stabs are very understated. But by balancing out their spacing, and NOT overusing them, Alchemist positions them as vital pieces of the overall sonic composite.

Historical Analysis and Experience

Some beatmakers might not—at first—understand The Alchemist's arrangement of higher tones with lower ones, but reality is, this technique of clashing textures and levels is one of the most fundamental mainstays of the beatmaking tradition. Such a technique was first (necessarily) implemented with hip hop/rap's earliest DJs, who were charged with the task of mixing songs—using turntables and a DJ mixer—with varying tones, textures, and tempos. In order to mix such songs in what was then known as the "hip hop DJ style," these early sound architects learned to highlight the use of repetition in the songs they were playing and mixing, focusing specifically on the "breaks" of each song that could further be extended through even more repetition—that is to say, looping, via various turntable tricks like the "backspin" or "the spin-back."

So on "Keep It Thoro," The Alchemist is acutely aware of the fact that it is the repetitive nature of the sampled piano phrase that actually makes the bass parts sound even more pronounced; which, in turn, gives the overall track a "booming" sonic impression.

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

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

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy, produced by The Alchemist


"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy (Official music video)


June 21, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: Willie Henderson – “Off Into A Black Thing”

Early 1970s Funk That Rumbles And Rolls

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Whenever I hear an early funk number like Willie Henderson's "Off Into A Black Thing," I always imagine what it was like for the original b-boys (early/mid-1970s) to hear this music, and just simply go buck wild on the dance floor. Energy! It's that same energy that I try to channel into my approach to beatmaking. After all, when you come down to it, it is the source of what I do.

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

Willie Henderson - "Off Into A Black Thing"

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

January 14, 2013

Demystifying the Art of Mixing, Part 1

How to Use EQ to Get the Sonic Effects You Desire

By DAVE WALKER (IMPERIAL)

Mixing can appear to be a black art to the uninitiated. In this article I will break down how I have used EQ (Equalizer) in my remix of ‘Memory Lane’ by K.I.N.E.T.I.K. I will focus my attention to application of EQ on the main sample, drums and bass.

Before I get into the breakdown of my use of EQ in this track, I should briefly point out what EQ permits you to do and how it’s often used. EQ allows you to change the tone of an instrument. It’s used to remove unwanted frequencies and boost desired ones. In the context of a mix it allows you to carve out pockets in the frequency spectrum (20Hz-20kHz) for instruments to reside in. EQ will need to be used on the majority of your parts to help blend them all together to create a cohesive mix. When you understand EQ and how to use it effectively, you should notice immediate results in your production work.

One more point before we dive into the mixing analysis: It is always worth noting the lyrical content and ‘feel’ of the track. Establish this first, as it will affect your mixing decisions (as you’ll read later). For this track, I started with the acapella and worked backwards to create the beat. ‘Memory Lane’ is about reminiscing back to the days of childhood, when life was simple, you listened to Hip Hop, played video games and your world was turned upside down when you were told wrestling was fake. This nostalgic theme had an impact on how I used automated EQ.

Application of static EQ

Using EQ is more about reducing and removing unwanted frequencies than boosting pleasant ones. Therefore, the biggest tip I can offer when using EQ is to always have a HPF (High Pass Filter) on all tracks that have no need for low frequency content. Essentially, this is everything except the Kick drum and Bass. There is more often than not unwanted low frequency content on signals. This will build up without you realizing, and take valuable dB of your mix. You can use 100-150Hz as your starting point.

In “Memory Lane,” I applied a HPF at 165Hz to the main sample. I have done this as I have then added my own sequenced bass line underneath. This prevents both signals from fighting for the same space and creates a cleaner mix. The sequenced bass is comprised of 2 tracks playing the same riff. One played by a bass guitar software instrument and the other a sine wave. The sine wave is very low in the mix, but helps boost out the fundamental frequency of the bass line. I have a LPF (Low Pass Filter) on the bass guitar at 530Hz (see image below) removing the higher harmonics, as I wanted the bass to sound ‘round’ and ‘full’.

Listen to the audio examples below of the bass mix, with and without EQ.

Bass without EQ:

Bass with EQ:

The drums have a modest amount of EQ, just enough to bring out the sweet spots of each drum sound. Below is a list of the EQ applied to each drum and what it is achieving.

Kick: Peak boost of 8.5dB centered around 100Hz. This is the key area to be boosting if you want more ‘boom’.
Snare: HPF at 65Hz, a peak boost of 7.5dB at 200Hz (add fuller tone) and a high shelf boost of 6.5dB (for more ‘slap’ and brighter tone) beginning at 4.1kHz.
Hi Hats: HPF at 160Hz, high shelf cut of 4.5db beginning at 8.4kHz. I used this because I deemed the raw hi hats too bright for the track.
Shaker: This is used in the chorus and has a HPF at 350Hz and high shelf boost of 9dB beginning at 5.4kHz (for brighter tone)
Toms: HPF at 47Hz and wide Q peak boost centered around 200Hz (add fuller tone)
Cymbals: HPF at 200Hz and high shelf boost of 5dB beginning at 5.3kHz (for brighter tone)

Listen to the audio examples below of the drum mix with and without EQ.

Drum mix without EQ:

Drum mix with EQ:

Application of automated EQ

At the end of the chorus I have used the “Synthetic Substitution” drum break by Melvin Bliss. I included this break as it is used on many hip hop records and projects that takes the listener back into an earlier golden era of hip hop. I have added a LPF with the cutoff being automated (moved over time) from 20kHz down to 700Hz through the duration of the one bar break. This helps the transition down into the verse and also emphasizes the nostalgic lyrical content mining the depths of your memory.

In addition to this I have a LPF on the sample chop that opens and closes through automation during the verses. It generally opens at the end of every 4 bars, then is reduced again. Artistically, this adds some tonal movement to keep interest in the beat during the verses. Practically, it creates space in the frequency spectrum for the vocals so they don’t compete for the same space. The LPF opens up into the chorus giving the desired lift for the hook.

(Image below shows the automation of the LPF for both the sample and the break)


Full Beat Comparison

Listen to the audio examples below of the full beat with and without EQ. I haven’t done much more than use EQ appropriately, but the difference is obvious. There is a noticeable lack of clarity and unwanted low frequency rumble on the version without EQ. When EQ is added, the mix is clear, tight and sounds alive.

Full beat without EQ:

Full beat with EQ:

You can listen to the full track in the player below.

Dave Walker (Imperial)
imperialbeats.co.uk

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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."

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    "Sampling is piracy."
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    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
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