#jamuary2021 – Piece of Mine

This is the eighteenth track for #jamuary2021… only thirteen(?) to go?!

Picture is from my dog Amy… she was totally chilling the other day. Well, honestly, she chills every day! That’s her secret, she’s always relaxed. Except when the wind is blowing leaves around… then she’s full attack mode. Other than that though, she’s conserving her energy.

For you folks out there not making stuff… whether it is dope or whack… come on… get yourself out there! I’m definitely hearing some great stuff coming from folks just trying to put things down, but there’s quite a few peeps with a lot of gear just sitting on their laurels. Get your freak on and put something together!

I am trying to spend a bit less time the next time to put tracks together, just to work on myself. My knees or messed up a bit and I just need to get focussed back on myself. So, I just grabbed a few loops, chopped stuff up, and went to town. I know the track mutes for parts coming in and out is messed up, but I’m just done working on this fun track for today. As I have said before, there is some beauty in just dropping the track and moving on.

So what’s your excuse? 😀

You just bought an Akai MPC 500, what next?

MPC Bible

I will absolutely, highly, emphatically… suggest checking out (i.e. purchasing) MPC Tutor’s excellent Beat Making on the MPC500. This will answer a ton of questions for you, and gives some great exercises to work through if you are unfamiliar with the workflow, or have questions that the MPC 500 Manual doesn’t answer. And there are a lot of things that aren’t terribly clear in Akai’s MPC 500 Manual. Plus the Bible comes with some samples, so it will help get you off the ground and running.

Manual

You can find the manual at the Akai Website under the Downloads section.

MPC Tutor also has archived off a link for the Akai MPC 500 Manual, if you cannot get it elsewhere… such as Akai’s website.

You might have to dig around a bit to find the Akai MPC 500 Service Manual, but hopefully that link will get you something if you are looking for information about the internals of the MPC 500.

Firmware

To check the version of firmware that you are running on your MPC 500, press <Mode> <Pad 8 Other> and use the Data Wheel to scroll clockwise to “Version”. Firmware version 1.31 is the last version released for the MPC 500, and can be found at the Akai Website under the Downloads section. There’s also a handy set of release notes and manuals that you should check out while you are there. Some people swear by the 1.31 firmware, and others prefer older versions… this is something worth doing some research about, and there’s plenty of topics to search through over at the MPC Forums MPC 500 sub forum if you interested enough to dig around.

Power Supply

If you’ve just bought an Akai MPC 500, chances are that you don’t have a power supply, or that you’ve got an after market power supply. You might be wondering what is okay, and what is not okay to use. First thing to note, and you can find this on the back of your MPC 500, is that the power supply specifications are 12 volt, and 500ma. I’ve got a 12v power supply that can output up to 2000ma, and it works just fine. You just want to make sure that you have the proper voltage… and *at least* the minimum amperage for it to work properly. The specs for the Akai 500 allows for some small variance in voltage (so if you hit status and it reports 11.62v or so) it will also should work fine… anyways…

A lot of people have been using the ones provided by MPC Stuff for quite some time… so I wouldn’t sweat that too much if that is what you want to grab, though I do find the power supplies on MPC Stuff a bit pricey. The power supply that I purchased is from Amazon, and while it is a knockoff, you can check it out at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B015SDLCCI

Memory

The memory slot is actually an old style laptop memory expansion. It is nothing fancy really, but if you only have the 16mb memory installed, you’re likely going to want to have 128mb instead, since it will free up far more sampling time for doing things that you’ll want to do. What you’re looking for specifically is PC 133, 144 Pin, CL3 SODIMM that is 256mb of memory. If that makes sense to you great, if it doesn’t, just make sure you are searching for “PC 133 144PIN CL3 SODIMM 256MB”. It would be hard to point you in the right direction beyond that because there are so many manufacturers and things change in the tech space so fast. If you do have questions though, try heading over to MPC Forums MPC 500 sub forum and hopefully somebody can answer your questions.

You might be wondering if you’ve already got the memory upgrade installed. Power on your MPC 500 and press <Mode> <Pad 4 Record>… If you are on “Mode: Stereo” data wheel clockwise until you see “Free…” this should read 12m02s if you have 128mb of memory, or if you are on “Mode: Mono L” data wheel clockwise until you see “Free…” this should read 24m04s of memory… this is assuming you have nothing loaded. It’s possible that the memory could be seen as 64mb… 32mb… or 16mb… which would give you lower numbers in Free… I don’t know off hand what you would see for free sample time for lower amounts of memory.

As for a memory test on the MPC 500, I am not aware of one. You definitely could have stuck bits… and this would cause weird behavior… but it would entirely depend on where the issue was in memory to know what kind of behavior you’d get. Personally… I’d trust the memory… but you could always record off a long sample and play it back to see how it sounds… but given you’re looking at 23 minutes of listening… I’m not sure you’d do anything beyond hoping to get lucky to find something odd.

Storage

The MPC 500 uses compact flash as the way it loads and saves the majority of the data. I believe that the manual states that it supports up to a 2GB sized compact flash card, but I have used up to a 256GB compact flash card with no issues before. The important thing to know is that you will need to format the drive as FAT32, but beyond that it should be relatively straight forward to get things working on the MPC 500. Honestly though, with such a small screen, and limited sample memory, I wouldn’t suggest going crazy with a large Compact Flash card to start, just make sure you get a CF Type I or CF Type II card, and you should be all set.

I will note that some users have moved to purchasing a CF to SD card adaptor, and while I understand the interest in this space to avoid needing a CF card reader on the PC side, I’d personally avoid it. While it may be convenient, inserting and removing the CF card on your MPC 500 risks bending a pin in the CF card reader area, and once bent, it is quite expensive to repair. You’re likely better off to use the USB port to hook up your MPC to your computer. While slower since it is a USB 1.x connection, it doesn’t run the risk of breaking the MPC 500 in a way that is expensive to repair. Or you know… just be gentle when inserting your CF card.

Note: Memory & Storage

There’s plenty of good resource information on MPC Forums, and in particular if you’re curious to see what works I would start with the thread MPC1000 RAM AND CF CARD RECOMMENDATIONS. Although this is technically for the MPC 1000, the 500 and 1000 (and 2500) share the same platform, so what works for one will work for the other.

Display Contrast

The display on the MPC 500 is an LED display, and the contrast adjusts the angle that you can view the display… this may sound odd compared to how newer display technology works, but that’s how this old technology is.

The display contrast is a screw that is located in the battery compartment. You can read about it on page 5 of the manual, and it explains a bit more about the knob. If you want to skip the manual though, here is the excerpt:

2. [Contrast] Adjustment: Inside the battery compartment is a contrast adjust for the LCD display. This will be able to accommodate several different viewing angles. The [CONTRAST] adjustment can be changed by using a standard Phillips head screwdriver.

*** CAUTION! ***

This screw is a knob, which should move easily. It does not tighten like a standard screw. If the screw stops turning, DO NOT tighten it beyond this point. This could result in damage, which will require factory service.

~ Akai MPC 500 Manual 1.0, page 5

Just be careful and do not force anything… you’ll be good.

Batteries

The MPC 500 takes six standard AA batteries. I’ve used rechargeable batteries in the past, and they work fine, but do have a lower capacity than the highest end AA batteries you can find. It’s a reasonable way to get the MPC 500 out of the house and go do some work on the road or outside.

One warning though, those batteries can move around, especially if you’re knocking the pads real hard. This can be frustrating because it can turn off or lock up your MPC 500, and mess up all of your hard work. If you find this happening a lot, you’ll likely want to replace the foam material that helps hold the batteries in tight. I’ve also used tape to hold them in better to good effect, but the foam really does most of the job to hold the connection.

Note: One oddity that I have observed using rechargeable batteries with the MPC 500 in the past was that they would effectively trickle charge overnight if I left them in while the MPC 500 was plugged in. At first this might sound great, but I wouldn’t use this as an alternative charging mechanism. The MPC 500 is not meant to charge batteries, and the regular circuits in place to properly charge them to full, monitor for overheating, and all the other safety measures will be non existent. I would avoid plugging in the MPC 500 for extended periods of time with any batteries in it just to be safe.

Mounting USB

So… you want to hook the MPC 500 up to your computer over USB. Good on you! Just be prepared, this is going to be slower than you’re likely used to, so be patient. To get into USB Mode, press <Mode> <Pad 2 Load> and turn the Data Wheel clockwise to “USB”. This will read “Not Connected” until you hook up the cable to your MPC 500 and your computer. Once you’ve connected both ends it will read “Connected” and will immediately mount the CF card onto your computer.

NOTE: Before proceeding, you should make sure that you unmount your MPC 500 driver properly before you disconnect the USB cable, otherwise you risk corrupting the files and filesystem on the CF Card.

Once connected, you can copy files to and from your CF card and your computer to do things like backup projects, add new files to your MPC 500, and all that fun stuff. When you are done, eject your Compact Flash card from your MPC. If you end up having problems ejecting the card, your best bet may be to shutdown your computer before you proceed in disconnecting the MPC 500 to ensure that it is unmounted properly.

Personally, I have had problems unmounting the card from my OS X system, and it seems waiting while the computer “does it’s thing” helps. I suspect that the computer was looking through all the files to see what it had mounted, but since the connection is so slow over USB 1.x, that it just needed a lot of time. At any rate, it is worth noting that even when you have unmounted the drive the display on the MPC 500 will continue to say “Connected”, even though it is no longer mounted. As long as you no longer see the drive mounted in your computer it should be safe to disconnect at this point and you should see the display change back to “Not connected”.

Internal Samples

If you’re looking for the factory internal sounds… see what setting you have for auto load. <Mode> <Pad 2 Load>… right arrow over to “Program” then data wheel clockwise to “Autoload”… if you down arrow you can change OFF/ON. Personally… these sounds are just “okay”… but if you just want to see what is there they it’s a good place to start.

To free up your sample memory again, just run the procedure to set Autoload to OFF, and then it will not load any of the content from startup again. I have had a problem ejecting the MPC 500 on my computer, and if you have a similar problem ejecting because the computer keeps mounting or maintaining the drive without letting it go, your best bet is to turn off your computer so that it can safely unmount the storage as part of the shutdown procedure.

Samples

The MPC 500 supports the .wav file format, with 16-bit depth and a 44.1khz sampling rate for both mono and stereo samples. The MPC 500 may be able to handle a few other formats, but this is what you are going to want to work with 99.9% of the time. If you do not know how your samples are formatted, get software such as Audacity (it is free and open source… so you don’t need much of anything special to use it), and you can use the software to both determine what format a file is in, as well as exporting files to the proper format for the MPC 500.

Output Volume

One thing you are likely to notice once you play around with the sounds is how much louder it sounds compared to anything you sample in… so a few things to note:
* It has the compressor on <Mode> <Pad 9 Effect> Data wheel clockwise to Master : Comp… you can check settings here, but this will give a bit more oomph
* It has all program levels set to 100 (versus the default assignment of 70)… so <Mode> <Pad 6 Program> Data wheel clockwise to Sample level and adjust

While you’re digging around… you should go to <Mode> <Pad 8 Other> and see what your “Master Level” is set to… for maximum loudness… you’ll want to set this to 0db… but you will run the risk of digital distortion and clipping your audio… so likely you’ll want to go to -6db or -12db depending on how you work. At least remember it is there so if you hear everything going wonky you can change it.

Pad Sensitivity

The pads on the MPC 500 are not great… so you might look up the electrical tape fix… basically some folks put tape on the button of the pads to fill the gap between the pads and the sensors… it’s an okay fix… and you can tell if you want it based on if you can slowly push the pad down… some of them may have as much as a half millimeter of play… this is something you can search around on MPC Forums for, or check out MPC Stuff to get thicker pads that don’t have such a large gap to help improve sensitivity (the fat pads in particular).

You can also adjust how the software handles pad sensitivity by pressing <Mode> <Pad 8 Other>, and Data Wheel to “Pad Sensitivity”. You can look up all kinds of charts for this, but personally I’d stick with the same setting for each pad. Also… you have to adjust each pad, so if you make a change to one pad, you have only effected that one pad, not all of them. So for “PAD1” through “PAD12″… go through to make your change. Personally I’ve just settled on 16 (max) and Curve:A for the time being… but definitely feel free to experiment. The value from 1 to 16 sets what amount of velocity gets output from a pad tap… so the value of 1, effectively means that a harder hit is necessary to product a max velocity of 127, while a value of 16 means a softer hit will produce a max velocity of 127.

Full Level and 12 Levels

Don’t be afraid to mix using Full Level so you don’t have to hammer on the pads so hard… and/or 12 Levels… 12 Levels Velocity will get you a lot more play in changing up notes without having to engineer a fix for the pads/sensors while you get a feel for the box.

Noise Floor

Like any device that operates in the analogue realm, you’re going to get some noise. Hopefully it doesn’t bother you too much… or you like the grit. I will note though, that the MPC 500 is known for having used some rather poor capacitors, especially in the part of the device dedicated to keeping the noise lower… so you might want to check out the MPC Forums thread NOISY MPC500? LOOK NO FURTHER. If you’re up for soldering work, you may just be able to clean up some noise and get a better signal. Be warned, if you don’t know how to desolder or solder, while not terribly difficult to fix, you also run the risk of burning the board, yourself, or otherwise breaking the MPC 500. So check it out… but this probably isn’t a project to learn soldering techniques.

Repair

I’ve been through a few MPC 500’s… and maintenance is something you’ve got to keep up with, especially as they get older. It has especially been some work on fixing an MPC 500 on Reverb that I purchased last year.

The MPC booted up just fine, but boy was it bunged up. I documented the repairs I had to do for the Q-Link slider board at Akai MPC 500 Repair. I did some general cleanup in the post Akai MPC 500 Tact Switches.

Anyways… good luck and have fun!

#jamuary2021 – Fears for Tears

Day 17…

The picture is from a painting I did years ago… I think I gave it to my mom? *shrug*… somebody probably still has it.

This track came together pretty fast. I started with a pretty basic drum beat and bass line, and tweaked the FX, pitch, etc… a bit to get a bit more of an interesting sound. It wasn’t long before I added in the piano. This is just a chopped up loop, and I decided to do something different, and work on make a 32 bar playing of the chops, instead of doing my usual 4 or 8 bar play through and then working with the loops. I’m going to have to consider this in the future, as it was both fun to see different ways I could utilize the sample, but I also got a few interesting places I normally wouldn’t get to.

Since there wasn’t so many programs to work with, and I wasn’t using any external synths, it actually gave me more time to think about using what little I had for sounds in this program. I think all told, it is around 30-60 seconds of samples, and I probably only used about half of that really. This is where it is in the space that, if it were setup, I’d probably have considered loading the samples into the S950 and then flipping it from there. I might consider doing that later just to see if it has any interesting effects on the track.

Stay cool folks!

#jamuary2021 – Almost There

Day 16… it may be cold outside but it is getting warm in here…

The picture is a chocolate cake we had for Valentine’s Day… really good… I’m pretty sure my wife picked it up at Whole Foods… if I remember correctly.

For the track it’s another mix of chops and synths… and auto sampling… and mistakes. I spent a lot of time looking for sounds that I felt would work together, so this track feels pretty good. Normally I’d upload the auto sampled synth… but it has echo in it… making me have to record every single note for the group, and then this makes it hard to use outside of a 96bpm standpoint… as well… it also only works for the notes I sampled which… put it in the rather not so useful category for a general standpoint. I may try and find a good delay/reverb match to make it into a generic MPC patch… but for now it just felt kind of strange to upload something so rigid and honestly kind of single purpose.

Today was another round of uploading mistakes. I forgot to route all of the audio to Sub 1 when using the YAM suite… which made for lots of distortion… then I also forgot to spend some time tweaking the mix based on what the mastering was doing… so the bells were ear splitting. Honestly… I should just write down a bunch of workflow check boxes to make sure I am doing everything properly and in the right order. Sounds like something to do once I wrap up this month of daily tracks.

#jamuary2021 – Awkward Forgiveness

Fifteen tracks for January… woo!

The picture… I believe is from Disney, from the animal park resort. I am pretty sure I mentioned how much my daughter loved that trip. We had a blast, and it was great to see all of the different animals.

This track is a mix of chops, and synths. I started by chopping up a break, and then moved on to finding some guitar sounds to fill out some of what I thought was going to be a lead and the bass… but well… the bass sound was decidedly not inspiring… and I kind of drowned up the guitar sound in a lot of this track with some of the synths (whoops). So not the end of the world, and something that could be patched up with some mixing, but my intent here was to work on keeping things in key, or as in key as I could without totally knowing what I was doing.

This resulting in a few awkward parts of the song, where some of the chords just clash a bit… and I’m confident that this is due to some of the sounds I used from samples being in one key… I pitched it appropriated to change the key, but since I wasn’t considering that there were chords involved, it just kind of doesn’t sit right. I suppose I could go load the content up in Melodyne and figure out what the problem is… but I was trying to do it by ear. Which worked to some varying extent… for various definitions of the word worked.

Yeah… it is definitely wrong, but it also wasn’t exactly unpleasing… if you’ll let me say as such. So not going to win any awards… but I was just playing around, and it definitely is continuing to push me in a way that I’m not comfortable with in this space, which is fine. I’ll keep going and I suspect eventually something will click and I will have one of those “ah ha” moments, but for the time being… I’m not quite where I want to be. Gotta keep hitting the music theory books, just messing around with different scales, and really… I have been taking some notes so that I can match what I “think” is true, with what I’m seeing be the reality. For real, I think it’s mostly math (for how I think about it)… so partly I just need to get the right formulas and framework situated in my head. Shouldn’t be too hard, and I keep making spreadsheets to keep myself grounded, but this is not a space where I am entirely comfortable.

Why? Well in the past I’d just dial in a scale in Ableton or whatever, and have all of the keys be in tune… or I just wouldn’t care. With this philosophy there comes a certain kind of ignorance is bliss feeling… where yeah… who cares if the kicks are tuned to the snares… because it’s just “noise” right? Even if I’m fine with it being noise, I do feel like there is value in my pushing against this nature of mine and trying to learn more about how all of this fits together in a traditional sense. That way I can knowingly ignore rules, guidelines, or whatever… but with it does come the burden of actually taking the time to appreciate it.

#jamuary2021 – It is Gone

Wooooo…. as my daughter would say

The picture is from ages ago when we took my daughter to the Friendly Farm to see some animals when she was a toddler I think… the FX may make the bunny look like it is taking off… but if we’re being real, it was just laying on some concrete and could not care about us. We had no food, so the meat bags weren’t of any importance to it :D. Miss the days when she was excited to spend time with me, but now that she’s a teenager, well… she’s got other interests.

This track guys… I feel like I’m redeemed an awful lot, especially given the junk I’ve been doing for a few days now. Just getting back into the groove of work, my wife coming home late, and my daughter’s crazy new schedule… it’s been hard to juggle everything… and still put out a track a day. Yesterday I was just about ready to throw in the towel and call it quits… but yo… this track feels *good*… and even though it came together pretty quickly I didn’t feel like I phoned it in.

Honestly… a lot of things I have been learning, re-experiencing, pushing myself in, all that… just felt like it’s come together quite well in this track. I picked my battles with the sequencer and tracks, used track mutes and song mode to build something up, and then went back to add in some flair and really kick the track up a notch. It’s feeling good I say!

On the other hand… the tragedy of having to upload it three times… because I phoned in the upload… well… that’s entirely on me for being a bozo. What happened you ask? Well the first upload entirely missed the “keys” track… I’m not sure what I managed to do wrong there exactly, but I munged it up for sure. So to make things better… I added the track in and re-uploaded it… but *damn* I didn’t mix it in properly… which left me with this instrument that was a bit too punchy and needed to be tamed back into submission.

So the upload process was a bit of an adventure, but here’s another track I definitely want to work on when I get back from my dropping a track a day.

#jamuary2021 – What The

Ooo… this is bad… like… probably the worst thing I threw against the wall…

The picture is a sunrise from the other day while I was on my way to take the dogs out for a walk. It is absolutely the best thing about this track.

So what happened? Well… I wanted to try to do some production on a different machine… and figured I’d dig up my MPC 500. You know… the one I have only goofed around with once in a while over the last few years, so pretty much forgot how to do everything on it that I wanted.

Queue me just experimenting, trying to figure out why the headphone volume is so low, why the pads aren’t very response… you know… a lot of things not focussed on making music. Wouldn’t be a problem if I was not trying to make a track a day, but instead turned into a giant distraction. One that, if I’m being honest I probably needed… because doing a track a day is kind of intense, even if you’re cutting corners to get things completed.

So… this left me with sampling off of a few different devices to get some audio, between PO-32, Reason, and a few other sources, and I was getting pretty happy with how things were coming. From here I was trying to remember how to extend a sequence from 2 bars to a 4 bar or 8 bar loop… and then how to copy tracks, explode notes, whatever… and just remembered that I used to have the muscle memory for the MPC 500, but have definitely lost it.

I certainly had fun… but wasn’t sure what to make of a 4 bar loop. I didn’t want to sample it all back into the Live because I didn’t have time, and I didn’t want to brute force my way to something bad. So I just tried to kick start/stop a few sections, and boy was that brutal… Play Start on the MPC 500 does not work the way it does on other MPCs as I remember. But… I was committed to delivering something. I told myself no matter how good or bad, I was going to post a track a day… and boy is this a doozy.

When the dust settles, I probably deserve it to myself to come back to this and see if I want to mess around with the MPC 500 again. I was enjoying myself… and for how tiny it is… well you can do a lot of cool stuff, but… boy not remembering everything took my hamstring out from me 😀

#jamuary2021 – Salt in the Wound

Day twelve…

I tried to slow the track down here… and… well… I kind of like the sound of it, but you can tell just listening to it I drifted off into some mental space that wasn’t so focussed on the track… I suspect this is what happens for creating a new track a day for a month and a half. I wanted to like it, and I wanted to feel like I was being productive, but instead I felt like I was just slamming content together. Worse, this was me just chopping loops up… which normally I dig, but I think being the first day back to work, I just kind of got ‘meh’ about it. Oh well… there’s another three weeks to go of this?

I suppose I wanted to feel inspired, but just missed the mark. This is coming off of yesterday where I literally threw in the towel too, so it kind of hurts. Need to dig deep to keep this up!

#jamuary2021 – Come on Over

Trying to pull things I’ve been learning over the last month and a half together into a more coherent type of track…

The picture is from one of my trips to the Czech Republic… forget when… there’s definitely a lot of stunning architecture out there, and absolutely worth checking out. About a third of the organization that I used to manage was out there, so I’d probably be out there two to three times a year to check in on everybody, see how things were going, get feedback, and make sure the the remote team members knew that I was a living and breathing human being.

This track was started and completed today… so nothing carried over from the day before, I just tried to focus for a couple of hours once I woke up. I also considered running it through YAM, but chose not to because I kind of liked how everything sounded mixed together. Is it volumed out to the max? Nope… but that’s okay sometimes!

I took some time to work on pulling together some transpose changes, mixed in different instruments, and played around with track mutes to bring different sounds in and out. I did trip into a little bit of a problem with tracking the midi tracks out to audio tracks, but that’s mostly due to having only two inputs for L/R, more than anything wrong with the MPC for this… so kind of my problem for routing two synths through the same using input/output on one of the synths. Honestly… probably a good reason to have a proper mixer… but we’ll see how much longer I can go without one :D.

#jamuary2021 – Old Haunts

Day ten… was on a roll… and then I fell off 😀

The image is from a trip years ago that we took our daughter to the Boston Commons and is of the paddle boat that you can take a little tour around the duck pond. Our daughter was never super excited to get on the boat, and I’m not sure we ever did at that age, now she’s probably too old to think it would be something fun to do. Honestly, having done the ride before myself, it’s a little pricey, and you don’t really get too much excitement out of it.

The track is decidedly unfinished, but I still dig it, and will likely come back to it later. My wife was getting aggravated at my taping on the pads while I was trying to pull it together, so I figured I’d just work on a quick wrap up and not get into doing track mutes or anything else. Instead I just spent some time trying to properly have some sequence built up to leverage track level transposes and see if I could make something more coherent than the previous day. I think for an overall impression, I’m much happier with this over what I had tried before, so to that end definitely a success, and likely something to continue to play with and see how I like making the changes in this manner.