73 posts categorized "Sound Design"

April 07, 2014

Insights into Mastering and Sound Design: An Interview with Mastering Engineer Chris Athens

One of the Most Highly Regarded Mastering Engineers Breaks Down Mastering

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips: What is the fundamental concept of mastering?
Chris Athens: Mastering is the last creative step in the record making process, prior to an album being sent to a pressing plant for mass production. In general, the process of mastering usually includes the sequence of songs, the spaces between the songs, fades, any last minute editing that has to be done. Then of course, the last minute flavor, which usually has to do with EQ—compression, leveling.

BeatTips: What’s the primary difference between mastering and mixing?
Chris Athens: Mastering is an interesting stage, cuz when you’re a putting a record together, typically a mastering engineer is very objective about what you’ve done. Mix engineers tend to get involved really deeply into a record; it takes a long time. Mastering engineers usually come with a fresh perspective, and sort of a very immediate sense of how things should sound. So it’s opportunity for the record to be fine tuned, and really the best of the record to be brought to light. That’s the main function of the mastering engineer.

BeatTips: Is there a different skill set required?
Chris Athens: Yes and no. It’s hard for me to say specifically because I’ve done both. But I would say that what you’re looking for in mastering is to maximize the things that are best about the mixes. In general, I don’t know if the skill set is all that much different. Mix engineers have to have great ears, they have to be very creative. So the art of listening and evaluating tracks is really not that different from mixing and mastering. The techniques are a little different.

BeatTips: Is it generally understood that the mastering engineer should be someone separate from the mix engineer, or if a person could do both, do you recommend that they do both?
Chris Athens: The end result is all that really matters! But by and large I’d say there’s two advantages to hiring a mastering engineer that is a professional at doing that specialty: one, you get the aforementioned objectivity; the other is, from a technical standpoint, most mixed environments are compromised sonically. So when you’re mixing in a control room in a mix room, there are certain anomalies acoustically that usually happen that aren’t normally present in a well designed mastering room. And there’s a number of reasons for that. Usually it has to do with the quality of the acoustics and the focus on monitoring. Mix rooms focus on functionality, how to blend that many tracks into whatever. Mastering rooms tend to focus on the quality of playback sound. So it’s easier to evaluate something. So just as a quick for instance, a lot of mix engineers prefer to work off of small two-way systems—Yamaha NS-10s or your typical two-way monitors. My monitors are very high resolution three-ways with a really good sub system; I use Dynaudio C4s. So it can be really to difficult to be objective when you’re mastering a record on the same speakers you mixed it on.

BeatTips: What are the fundamental dynamics of mastering?
Chris Athens: You mean in terms of what we exactly do?

BeatTips: Exactly, like if you go into a mastering lab anywhere across the country, what are the main things that you’re going to get?
Chris Athens: When you go to a mastering session, the first process will be the mastering engineer will generally ask the client what it is they’re looking to accomplish. Sometimes the clients don’t have a clear idea of what it is they want to accomplish, they just want their record to sound good. But sometimes they will say something specific, say like, they might describe where they did it and how they did it and what they were hoping it would end up sounding like. Then you listen to the tracks that they actually have in your environment, and that actually begins the process of evaluating the mix. Typically, the way I work, some guys like to work a bit more linear, I like to load up the whole record, listen to it, see where the record’s at as a whole, kind of organically. Then you start to make slight adjustments, some songs may need more bottom end, some songs may need more top end.

Some songs need everything, then you work from there. Once you sort of hammered the whole record into place, so it sounds like sort of a cohesive whole, then the process of actually putting the songs in order begins… spacing them out the way you want them. Most urban records you listen to tend to be almost DJ style, people want stuff to kinda come in on the one, or on a beat that makes sense psychologically when they’re listening to it. Putting songs in order is a skill all in its own essentially. Not really putting them in order, cuz usually the clients know what they want, but actually spacing them out, fading them properly, getting them to come in so they feel right. And because it’s a beat-oriented music, and because so many producers are DJs, then tend to be really sensitive to how the record flows, timing wise.

BeatTips: A lot of people’s misconception of mastering is that it’s basically volume boosting.
Chris Athens: Well, the truth is at this point, anybody can make a record loud! It’s gotten so easy that most people actually make records too loud. And I’m talking about producers, mix engineers and the mastering engineers. I frequently get records sent to me for mastering that are already louder than I would’ve made them when I was done mastering them; and sufficiently distorted and all these other things… Listening to records to evaluate their distortion and their dynamics is really a skill. Not everybody has it. You would be amazed at people that are actually really good at producing and being an artist, but are really terrible at listening to records, in terms of what they think sounds good. Lot of times people will evaluate stuff in their car when their car system isn’t really that good; or on speakers in rooms that aren’t set up that well and they think it sounds good and it actually doesn’t.

BeatTips: So in situation where somebody brings to you a project that is mixed particularly well, what do you bring to the stage, what do you add to that?
Chris Athens: If it’s an album, what I’m bringing to the table is evaluation. I’m sort of the last double-check that everything is cool…

BeatTips: Like quality control?
Chris Athens: Almost like a quality control, exactly. And typically what I do to a record that sounds really good is similar to what I do to a record that doesn’t sound good. I just do less of it. I use my level of taste and experience to not step all over it, to let it be what it is and to find whatever weak links it may be in the record and fix them.

For more information on Chris Athens, visit chrisathensmasters.com

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

May 24, 2013

Different Methods for Adding Bottom to Kick Drums

Techniques for Giving Your Kicks a Unique Low Sound

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Getting the kick drum to have that "right" amount of low-end isn't always easy. To be sure, it's a tricky thing to do, especially considering the risk of distortion that is always ever present, when the bottom level of the kick is boosted. So when the topic was raised in The BeatTips Community (TBC), there were a number helpful responses.

Here are several notable replies:

From TBC member BrandoF42088:

"Have you played around with parallel compression(NY drum trick)? This can make for some really nice sounding drums that bang...
Parallel compression is where you take take two copies of a drum signal or all the drum signals (you can do it on just the kick or your can do it on the kick and the snare and the hat Its up to you.) You leave one the 2 of the signals just clean and open not compressed at all. Then you blend it with the other signal which you compress heavily and eq to bring out the lows. With the open signal the drums sound natural and the compressed eqed signal brings out the bump.
Edit/Delete Message."

From TBC member NCVerdict:

"Hardware compression is particularly useful if you are recording a real drummer because the volume levels fluctuate widely and you want to keep a good level for recording that doesn't clip the inputs. In beatmaking though, the volume of your drums are already programmed into your machine before you put it into your software so getting the correct volume is just a matter of setting the correct level on your soundcard or beat machine. I think that there are some bad sounding software compressors just like I think there are some bad sounding hardware compressors. If you're looking for a good (and relatively cheap) stereo hardware compressor, I got the FMR Audio RNC and I really like it. And if you're looking for a "'warm" sounding software compressor, my buddy has the one that came with his waves renaissance plug-in bundle and it sounds really good to me.


Here's my reply:

Of course, one of the best ways to get your kick to have the low sound that you desire is to give it that sound before you actually enter the mixing phase. Although I can and do mix (and pre-mix) my own beats, my strength is in coming up with unique sounds before they even get tracked into my DAW.

once I've tracked my kicks into my DAW, I rarely ever have to do much to them at all, maybe a little pull up or down of the volume leveling but very little to no EQ. Reason why? I KNOW my sounds—especially my drum sounds—and especially my kicks. I've gone through several intricate steps to craft the no more than 10 (or so) kicks that I have and use. For instance, I've recorded kick hits through my analog mixing console straight to CD. I've also recorded kick hits to cassette tape, sampled them, than tracked them into Pro Tools, where I duplicate the hit and sample them again.

Because tweaking kicks in the mix can have a profound effect on what the overall final sonic impression of a beat (song) sounds like, I'm always focused on choosing the right kick for the right beat. For me, this saves time in the mix; moreover, it allows me to focus much more on the "color" of the non-drum sounds.

Now all the above being said, in those extremely rare times that I find that I need to do some additional EQ'ing of my kicks, it's never a question of getting a "low sound," it's a question of getting a "lower" sound. If I'm making a beat and I want a low (bottom-heavy) kick, I choose that kick sound from my small arsenal of kicks. Again, I know my sounds; it's not like I set out to find a *new* kick every time a make a beat. And in the case where I'm starting out with a low-sounding kick, (for me, it's usually my Kick 17), it just becomes a matter of boosting the bottom. So there's usually one of two things that I do.

(1) I just duplicate the kick, and "round out" the levels. For instance, I'll lower the volume on one of the kicks, leaving the other as is. And sometimes, I'll call up the 7-band EQ in Pro Tools, where I shave some of the highs off of the kick. But I never like to add much (if ANY) compression to my kicks. Being mindful that a mix engineer will most like have the beat, if and when it becomes a song, I'm only interested in representing my sound and leaving room for a more qualified mix engineer to tweak the compression. And in the case where I'm doing the final mix, I'm certainly not keen on compressing the kick UNTIL I have the vocals.

(2) I simply add a more truncated or pitched-down version of the kick I already have in the beat. Usually, until I have a rough mix of a beat, I still have the beat called up on my MPC. So if I need to add anything, I add it to the beat, NOT the Pro Tools session. After I'm satisfied with whatever additions I've made, I mute all the Pro Tools tracks, and I only record the additional sound.

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

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

Truth Is, Creating a Loop is Only Part of the Equation

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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."

*Editor's Notes:
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.

Sa'id - "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

December 15, 2011

Analog Sensibilities, Digital Realities: What Can the Right Signal Flow Do for Your Sound?

The Advantages of Hybrid Tracking and Mixing

By PETE MARRIOTT, BRANDONF42088, and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Signal flow is an important part of beatmaking. Yet not all beatmakers invest much thought into the signal chains that they use. Below is a discussion between two BeatTips Community (TBC) members and myself about this particular analog sensibility/digital reality issue.

Pete Marriott

I'm not sure hybrid is the right term but hell I'm using it anyway to describe my practice of using analog gear like my Tascam M-2600 MKII console to track and mix my sounds to and from the computer. I know my mixing desk is not a Neve, API, Harrison, MCI or SSL but I love the sound I get from it because I know how to make it work for me.

I went back to my analog roots because I needed to return to the kind of workflow that makes sense to me. I didn't grow up behind a DAW system, it was something that I progressed to from my early days of cutting tape on a block with a razor blade to do my edits. It was hands on and much easier on my eyes because they weren't glued to a computer screen all day long. I needed to twist knobs and slide faders and push mute and solo buttons and insert patch cables again because clicking the mouse became mundane and it gave me a case of carpel tunnel.

But this not a "I hate digital" post because that is not true at all. I love the power of what I can do in a DAW. I just needed to have a strong sense of what I grew up on and the current technology so I came up with what I call the Hybrid solution to my problem. I don't know if I'm alone in taking this route but it would surely be nice to know if I'm in good company.

BrandonF42088

My signal flow for making beats:

Technics 1200--->Vestax PMC 07--->SoundCraft Folio Rac Pac mixer--->MPC 2000xl/S900/EPS-16--->SoundCraft Folio Rac Pac (post fader direct outputs)--->Digi 003R--->Pro Tools---> From here depending on the track I will bounce out a internal layback and sample rate convert.

Then open it in a new session 44.1K 24bit atempt to master the track add dither and bounce out a 44.1K 16bit PCM file.

I sometimes go out of the digi 003 into a cassette tape recorder and record to a cassette then fromt he tape recorder go back into my mixer then to a stereo track in pro tools and bounce out from there.

I eventually want to get a pro 2 or 4 track reel to reel tape machine and a pro cd burner (these are high on my music production grocery list.)


Sa'id

Pete, Brandon,

You are certainly not alone. Many beatmakers (and other music-makers) use a signal flow similar to the one you describe here. Like the both of you, I certainly appreciate the power and flexibility that a DAW offers. I use Pro Tools, and I can not stress how much it has helped to streamline my recording process, not to mention the fact that it makes it possible for me to record everything from my home studio.

Before I began using Pro Tools, I was locked into a time consuming and rather expansive studio routine. In order to get my beats/songs on to "tape" or to even secure a better quality CD mix, I would have to book studio time, then lug my gear in. In some cases, I was able to rent my setup, which at the time was an Akai MPC 60 II and an Akai S950. But more often than not, I simply brought my MPC and S950 in with me. And while bringing my gear in was one problem, having a reference mix for the engineer was yet another.

In order to get a reference mix in my home studio, I'd have to record my beats straight to CD (and before that to *cassette*). But after DAWs like Pro Tools became more accessible—and more affordable—, I cautiously invested, and soon embraced them as a viable alternative to my old "studio routine." (I suspect in this regard, I'm certainly not alone.)

Today I can't imagine trying to do what I do without Pro Tools, or a comparable DAW. If not for the sheer savings in both time and cost, I've embraced DAWs because of the level of control it grants me over my recording process. And while you might *lose* some of the sonic essence (not noticeable to the average listener) when recording into a computer as opposed to let's say analog tape, I have found—just as you have, and others like DJ Toomp—that I can maintain and simulate that sonic quality (specifically the "umph" and warmth) by tracking through my analog Mackie 32/8 mixing console.

I route all of my gear (external samplers, keyboard, DJ mixer—which absorbs my turntable, CD player, and cassette deck) into my Mackie console. From my Mackie console, I track directly into my Digidesign Digi 002 rackmount interface, which of course, then goes into my computer (Mac G5).

This hybrid approach (I too refer to it that way) allows me to combine and utilize techniques from both the analog and digital realms. In particular, this approach gives me the added advantage of being able to instantly reference the sound that initially comes through my console with the new reality of how Pro Tools "captures" it. In this way, I'm able to mix "in the box" (inside of Pro Tools), in a way that matches—as close as possible—the sonic essence that I'm able to produce through my analog console.

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

July 27, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Snoop Dogg and Pharrell - "Beautiful;" Well Constructed Arrangement

Non-Sampled Beat with Well-Thought Out Arrangement; Rhythm Track Flanked by Unique Percussion Scheme Serves up Warmth in Typically Cold Style

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When The Neptunes (Pharrell and Chad) first burst on the scene with Noreaga's "Superthug" (1998), it was clear that they would soon be a production force to be reckoned with. Using the non-samples featured style as their base creative beatmaking approach, The Neptunes carved out a new sound; and in the process they created an alternative lane for other budding beatmakers to follow.

Unfortunately, far too many beatmakers moved into this lane with Neptune knock-off tracks rather than original interpretations of the sound that The Neptunes created. Indeed, within four years of Nore's "Superthug," the level of Neptune "biters" was so widespread that some began openly questioning the genius and contribution of The Neptunes themselves. Enter January, 2003. Snoop Dogg and Pharrell drop "Beautiful, one of the most well-arranged beats I've heard.

To understand how Pharrell might have come up with the guitar arrangement for "Beautiful," all you need do is listen to The RZA's work on Liquid Swords,' or perhaps even the beatwork of True Master—Pharrell no doubt studied them both during his prime developmental years. Although Pharrell doesn't use sampled sound-stabs to construct the core guitar-based groove of "Beautiful," his use of a shuffling, semi-closed hi-hat and tambourine—which spread throughout the composition like a multi-layered shaker—shades the otherwise brightness of the first generational (non-sampled, module/keyboard/live) guitar sound. And with the shine of the brightness dimmed by his creative use of percussion, Pharrell is able to work in organ bridge phrases that bookend every fourth bar. It should also be pointed out that these organ riffs, which are subtle and relaxed, are used more to sure up the rhythm and groove of the beat than they are to firm up the main melody—itself a secondary product to the rhythm in the "Beautiful" beat..

For the drumwork, Pharrell is intent on letting us know that this beat comes from the stratosphere of The Neptunes. Therefore, he uses their trademark stomp-kick as the most forceful percussive element in the track. Often in most beats, it's the snare that gets the top billing while the kick co-stars. But with "Beautiful," Pharrell reverses the roles, giving full priority to the appropriately placed stomp-kick while opting for a short-truncated snare that's barely more than a snap.

Far as the rhyme goes, lyricism takes a vacation...literally. But then "Beautiful" isn't the sort of song that you even want to hear a complex rhyme scheme on. The beatwork invites a straight-forward rhyme, and Snoop delivers something that's steady and not too hard to follow. And because of the strength of the chorus—sung surprisingly well by Pharrell—any ambitious rhyme structure and/or theme would only have distracted, not enhanced, the well thought out arrangement of the instrumental.

"Beautiful," perhaps more than any other song from either Pharrell or Chad, proved that although a beatmaster's style could be bit and copied, more seasoned beatmasters are able to rework their sound into something even more unique.

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

Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell - "Beautiful"

Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell - "Beautiful" (Official music video)

July 16, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Syl Johnson, the Soulful Belter

Behind Al Green at Hi Records, But Syl Johnson Just as Valuable to Hip hop/Rap Music

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Blues-Soulman, songwriter, and producer Syl Johnson is an ironic example of how being second on the depth chart can sometimes work out for the best. In front of him at Hi Records was a more well-known legend: Al Green. Even still, Johnson carved out his own name and niche.

Like Green, Syl Johnson had an arresting, soulful sound. But if Al Green was the crooner, Syl Johnson was the belter. Syl Johnson distinguished himself through a vocal delivery that was piercing, and way, way out front, a style no doubt owed to his blues roots. His seminal hit, "Different Strokes," (which he recorded at the age of 41), offers a glimpse at the powerful phrasing that could have made him as big--if not bigger than--Al Green, had either been on a different label.

Still, for my deep diggin', I prefer the virtual obscurity of Syl Johnson over the popularity (and most often sampled) Al Green...

And if you didn't know Syl Johnson, check out a couple of these cuts. Listen, and see if anything sounds familiar.

For educational purposes...

Syl Johnson - "Wind Blow Her Back My Way"

Syl Johnson - "I Hate I Walked Away"


Syl Johnson - "Could I Be Falling Love"

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

July 06, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Traffic's "Glad" Taught Me How To Shuffle

Lessons From One Of Progressive Rock's Most Engaging Bands

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Beatmaking, the chief compositional method of hip hop/rap music, allows for one to pull from a wide variety of musical forms (and sources) for instruction. For instance, progressive rock has always been a mainstay influence in my style and approach. And no other progressive rock band—other than Led Zeppelin of course—has had a direct hand in how I construct drum frameworks, and subsequently, my sense of time, more than the group Traffic.

Here, in their song "Glad," listen to the percussion hats that strike with suspenseful urgency on the quarter notes. And see if you can make out where the kick "hits" on the up-tempo sections of the overall arrangement. Then around the 5:00 mark, the arrangement dives into a slow, milky smooth bluesy-funk jam session that drummer Jim Capaldie laces delicately, with the sense and craftsmanship of a cat burglar. Indeed, there have been few songs that have shown me how to incorporate—and more importantly, account for—the "shuffle" element in music, while at the same time helped me improve my sense of timing.

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

Traffic - "Glad" (from the John Barleycorn Must Die album)

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

June 28, 2011

5th Seal Vlog #7

Brooklyn Beatsmith 5th Seal Drops His Latest Beat Vlog

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

The video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

5th Seal Vlog #7

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

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

June 24, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Talking Heads - "Once In A Lifetime;" Rhythms In Motion

Brian Eno's Rhythmic Genius—by way of Fela Kuti— Produces Talking Heads' Most Enigmatic Song

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When I first heard the Talking Heads classic "Once In A Lifetime," I immediately knew that it would have a profound effect on me musically (and culturally). Although I'd had some minimal familiarity with African multiple rhythm styles, I hadn't yet gotten into Fela Kuti, the towering Nigerian figure and creator of afrobeat. So hearing "Once In A Lifetime" was like being smacked with five walls of rhythm, all at once. In fact, it wasn't until I went back and really studied "Once In A Lifetime," did I began to figure out how to incorporate the concept (and sensibility) of multiple rhythm structures into my style and sound of beatmaking.

Just the use of the tom tom drum alone was a musical shock to my system. But on "Once In A Lifetime," it doesn't stop there. There's the clapping, hiccuping and skipping snare drum. There's the cowbell and triangle, both moving independently in their own space, seemingly away from the base drum structure. There's the simple up/down 3-note, rippling bass line. There's the shuffling, not quite wah wah rhythm guitar. And then finally of course, there's Brian Eno's waterworld ambiance touch, streaming throughout the song like a music sync for flashback scenes in a science fiction movie.

Finally, I should add that as far as "gateway music" goes, "Once In A Lifetime" (as well as other Talking Heads songs) opened up a plethora of musical directions for me to explore. And the fact that Talking Heads leader David Byrne was one of the early supporters of hip hop/rap music truly confirms for me how similar musical influences most often rotate in the same circles.

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

Talking Heads - "Once In A Lifetime"

June 21, 2011

"If I Can't" Gets Cue From Sampling

Hard Hitting No-Samples-Featured Beat by Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo Follows Sampling's Lead

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"If I Can't" was one of the best songs off of 50 Cent's smash hit debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003). The song had a catchy hook, a danceable groove, and a decent—uniquely-styled—rhyme. But as much as I liked the song for its overall achievement, I like it even more today because of the lesson in beatmaking it offers.

"If I Can't," produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo, is one of those rare hip hop/rap songs that gives a great window into the way in which certain beatmaking recipes work. More specifically, "If I Can't" demonstrates how the art of sampling has influenced the structural approaches to traditional live instrumentation.

For its core phrases, "If I Can't" uses a straight-forward two-bar alternating AB BA BA AB pattern played with bass piano keys (either from a real piano or a keyboard piano patch). It is this core phrase (structure) that drives the song; therefore, every other element in the beat works to enhance and showcase its impact and feel throughout the song. The next thing that should be pointed out is that the first of four phrases the make up the core phrases starts on the kick ("the one"); it does not come in on the snare ("the two"), and that's important to note.

Thing is, sample-based beatmakers typically chop down music phrases into smaller components that can be triggered by the pushing/playing of a single drum pad, key, and/or mouse click. Because of this, most sample-based beatmakers are often, in effect, "riff makers." That is to say, they (myself included) take various small, medium, and large-themed sound components and literally break (chop) them down into sliced variations that can then, and often are, be played as riffs. In some cases, these chops are broken down together and grouped into one main riff, and in other cases, they are merged together into a series of riffs. Thus, the core phrases in "If I Can't" is essentially a series of riffs (chops) that are played in a pattern (AB BA BA AB), structure, and nuance that owes more to the influence and programming of the art of sampling—and the new structures and forms that sampling has generated—than it does to traditional live instrumentation.

For example...

"If I Can't" - 50 Cent (produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo)

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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law


    "Sampling is piracy."
    WRONG! Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different.
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    "You can legally sample and use any recording up to 1, 2, 3, or 4 seconds."
    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
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    "If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
    WRONG! A free mixtape does NOT permit you to use samples from copyrighted recordings without the permission of the copyright holders.
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    "Sampling is easy; there’s nothing to it. Anyone can do it well."
    WRONG! Sampling is an art form that requires technical skill, imagination, and artistic understanding.
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    "Sampling involves the use of pre-recorded songs only."
    WRONG! 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.
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