Moving from Ableton Live to an MPC

Here are some explanation I gave over at MPC Forums to help explain how an MPC works if you’re coming from and Ableton Live environment.

I came from Ableton myself… and it’s a much different environment.

The main things to get your head wrapped around on the MPC is sampling and sample management, programs (drums and key groups mostly), tracks and how to drop notes across various tracks to group things, and sequences to hold each section of your song.

Where you can do really cool things with samples in Ableton along the lines of warping and such, you don’t have this facility as much on the MPC. On the MPC you really want to be thinking about One Shots (or Note On) for a sample, and for loops you frequently want to chop it up so you can flip the sample. Learn how to do trimming and chopping… while similar on Ableton in Simpler and Sampler… if you get into it you’ll also get a sense for what makes it different and creates a different sound.

Ableton Drum Rack is pretty much equivalent to the MPC Drum Kit Program… and where I appreciate the MPC style more is in the space of leveraging 16 LEVEL and Q-Links… I don’t have a Ableton Push, but I imagine this feels similar in some ways. Ableton Sampler is pretty similar to MPC Key Group Programs… you can probably functionality think of them as similar as far as programming instruments and sounds go.

I would suggest considering Ableton Clips as comparable to MPC Tracks. Though I will caution you… where a lot of folks tend to make mistakes is that they’ll create a drum program with lots of cool sounds, one shots, chords, fx, Vox, and such… and then just record everything onto a single Track. For practicing and playing around this is fine, but if you are trying to build a song you really want to think of each MPC Track as an Ableton Clip. Just like you typically do not want an Ableton Clip to have a full combination of your drums, bass, instrumentals, etc… in one clip most of the time, similarly you generally do not want to do this in an MPC Track either. Just be warned… you’re best to get in the habit of making each track Kick/Snare/Hat/Bass/Piano, or at least Drums/Bass/Lead… trust me, it will help you keep your sanity later on from having to Track -> Copy and then Erase events from each track… or having to do a Track Explode and then join things back together that are related.

Finally… I’d highly suggest thinking of your Ableton Arrangement similarly to your MPC Sequence, in particular… consider that you want your MPC Tracks and Programs to be the same Sequence over Sequence (but maybe playing different patterns), because similar to Ableton Arrangement… it gets complicated to have Snares in your Hats Ableton lanes… and in particular on the MPC… things can get wonky.

All that said… these are all suggestions and gross over generalizations. Don’t feel like any of this is hard and fast, but just things to keep in mind when trying to learn how to think about the MPC with an Ableton mindset. None of this is set in stone, but there are things that are made easier to understand if you can grasp this.

Good Luck!

Audio Book Vocal Processing

My sister has released the book SOMNIUM Beyond the Darkness on Amazon as a kindle book and as a paperback book, which is an excellent read for young adults and adults alike. She’s been looking to expand out into the audio book space, which makes sense to me!

She had been looking into some voice actors who could read the book. When I heard the audio quality of the demo, it was rather poor. We were hoping that it was just a quick demo, but it suffered from a lot of background noise. My sister passed on links to the voice actor, and the demo’s she had on her website were great. After I gave my sister a few questions to ask and suggestions for contract negotiations, unfortunately it fell through. We suspect that the voice actor recorded her website demo at a professional studio, and likely recorded the demo she produced for my sister at home. Total bummer, but it’s better to both live and learn, and get through these miss steps early is what I always say.

This lead somewhat naturally into a conversation with my sister about how she could do this recording work herself. I warned her that the deeper you dig, the more picky you get, and that it can turn into a budgetary sinkhole, but so far she’s been digging into figuring out how to get this going herself.

She pretty quickly knocked out the reading of her first chapter, and did it on her Apple Headphones, and honestly, I was shocked at how decent the audio quality sounded, especially since she has had little to no experience in voice recording, and honestly I always thought the Apple headphones were okay at best. I ended up helping her out with some additional de-essing, eq’ing, compression, and reverb for some post treatment, and at first she seemed pretty happy. (Un)Fortunately she listened to her audio tracks, and compared them to what she heard other amateur audio book recordings sounded like. She pretty much immediately picked out a lot of qualities she didn’t like in these other amateur recordings, and then quickly realized she had a lot of the same problems in her recording.

This put her back to the drawing board, and I ended up discussing with her about microphones, recording technology, audio processing technology, as well as vocal speaking and positioning techniques. Do not misconstrue and of this that I know what I am talking about, I just know enough to be dangerous, and at least get her into the top rung of the amateur level, but I doubt I’d be able to compete very well even at the bottom of the professional level.

From here, she decided to pick up a Blue microphone. I am pretty sure she picked up the Blue Yeti, though I’ll have to ask her to be sure. Likely because this was the easiest way for her to hook it up to the computer without having to go through the hassle of using a pre-amp, converting the line audio to a digital format that the computer can understand. I am absolutely guessing here though. Once she got a few tracks recorded, she reached out to talk to me about whether her breaths were too heavy. They were very noticeable! Not super loud, but as anybody who’s done vocal recording knows, the closer you are to the microphone to get a good audio level and presence, the louder all your mouth sounds such as plosives are. She was using Audacity to process her vocals, and I think she spent some time removing the breathing and mouth sounds by hand. If you’ve ever done this before, you know how much work that is!

So oops… but we ended up talking about de breather plugins, and she was definitely interested in the Waves Debreath. I looked into the description with her, and it sounded like what it said “on the tin” as it were is what she was looking for. Fortunately this plugin worked for her in Audacity to do the vocal processing without having to deal with any further hassle.

She doesn’t have a lot of the software or hardware I have, so she’s been asking me to put together some audio processing chains together. I have some hardware compressors I was thinking of using, but honestly I just used the chain I put together in Ableton Live, and reprocessed it. My sister was asking how it was going for me, and I told her the most time consuming part for me was just visually adjusting the audio levels for the clip, to which she decided to record her microphone at a higher level. This made the compressor work better without having to normalize the clip, and seems to have had no negative side effect on the noise floor post processing.

One thing we played around with was the reverb, and I had been using about 9% wet, but this was too much for her taste. I dropped it down to 6%, and she felt it was still too much. We’ve settled on about 3% wet reverb, which is just enough to add some presence to the audio, but you hardly hear the difference.

I’ll keep some updates going in the future for how things progress, but for now my sister is happy with the process, the amount of work, and the overall quality of the output.

If you’re interested in the signal chain, feel free to ask. I may take some time in the future to write it up a bit more and possibly provide the project file that I have put together.

No More Technology – #Jamuary

No eurorack modules were harmed in the making of this video. The PO-32 (Tonic) makes up the drums, the PO-35 (Voice) is how I got the “No More Technology” hook, and… the lead/bass came from some Eurorack mess. I recorded all of this into Ableton Live for some FX processing. All of this was recorded back in October/November, and I’ve meant to create a finished track.

In the spirit of #Jamuary though, I figured I’d break out some gear and refine the track a bit more. I’m really trying to cap myself to about 30-60 minutes of production time this month for each song. This is good in some ways because it’s forcing me to get ideas down, but it is bad in a few other ways since I’m really not mixing/mastering anything. Leaving this track with a bit more of a tinny sound than I’d like, but hey it is what it is.

I used to be a master with Ableton Live back in the day, but I haven’t touched it much lately. First, I have been kind of a hardware snob… so there’s that. Second, most of my productions were done between Live 1.1 and Live 6.0. I’ve really fallen quite behind in a lot of features, so I’m going to have to learn the software again.