Beat Battle Workflow

There are at least as many workflows as there are people doing it. There are certainly wrong ways to approach it, but don’t let anybody fool you by saying they know “the one way”.

For a beat battle, the two most important things are to familiarize yourself with the rules, and familiarize yourself with the samples. These two things will likely be the most important for setting your direction and where you want to experiment or challenge yourself, and knowing where you can safely stick to basics.

The following will likely make more sense for MPC X/Live/One users due to terminology… though much of it applies to other MPCs, DAWs, and what have you.

Chopping Samples
One of the most important things to do is to listen to the sample, and determine what you like, and what you think you can pull out. Listening for isolated drum hits, vocals, instruments, and all that… this will give you what will be the easiest building blocks to work with. Sure, you can EQ and filter out sounds, but it can also make some of the sounds muddy. For me this is usually one of the first steps, and I’ll just go to sample mode and keep moving the start marker and playing the sample to see where I can hear and extract clean or relatively clean hits.

Chopping Loops
While listening for samples, I often have a notebook and will jot down start markers for interest loops from the audio. Sometimes you’re lucky and can get a breakbeat or instrument solo, and sometimes there are quite workable mixed loops. I’ll go through these and tend to set start/end markers with looping on and listen for 1/2/4/8 bar loops. It’s great when they loop perfectly, but sometimes you just don’t get so lucky. Once I’ve extracted the loops, one way I will use them is to set the chop mode to regions and try and depending on the sound have enough regions for 1/8 note, 1/4 note, or whatever happens to work.

Drum Pattern
Usually I’ll try and use drum hits I have extracted to create a rudimentary drum pattern. It really doesn’t have to be fancy, but just something you feel you can jam to. Sometimes I’ll use the above chopped loops for reference to use the same tempo, but usually I don’t worry about it too much. The tempo is often dictated by my energy level when I kick off the project.

Loop Tempo Alignment
Remember how I said I don’t care about the tempo? Well, it can make it so loops sound janky because if you play them out they will either stutter, or they will be cut off too short. This *can* sound cool, but if you want to reasonably line them up to roughly play at the same speed, you’ll need to tweak something. That something for me is regularly the pitch that the loop chops play at. For me, what I do is load up the pattern into a new track and just knock out a01, a02 … a16 for example, at the appropriate tempo of the drums, regardless if it is too fast or too slow. Then I play the loop to the looped region and go to Program Master, and change the master pitch for the Loop program so that you don’t hear any silence or harsh overlaps. Again, this is trial and error, and sometimes it will sound great being janky… so just play around. If you want to keep the rest of the loops in key, you’ll want to do similar semitone changes to your other chopped loops, and possibly to your single hits as well. It all depends on the sound you are aiming for.

I could keep going, but let me know if this is a good start for you?

Track – MPC Forums BB 280

The beat battle is active for another couple days, if you’re interested check it out at BB 280. The rules are pretty simple, just use the two samples provided, and no outside content. Also, a 1:30 time cap, so no run on pieces.

The image comes from a picture I took while on a work trip to Bangalore. Which reminds me…

I spent a couple of hours and created a lot of different sequences to play with. Some of the components vibed better than others together. Parts were either too high energy or too low energy, so I ended up taking the components I liked the most and putting them together into something that I felt was as coherent as possible without killing a lot of time on this.

Overall I am just mildly happy with this track. My last few submissions have been fine, but either I need to get more optimized in my workflow, or give myself more time to put these beat battles together. I’m partially thinking I am just getting too complicated in the compositions, and then having to spend time mucking around in areas I am unfamiliar with. I am far more used to producing something from components that I have control over, and working with fully mixed content and chopping it up is not very familiar territory for me.

The biggest difficulty that I had was that I wanted to change up the drum progressions after I had copied the sequence 10 times. I came to realize that in the MPC X, standalone mode doesn’t seem to have a way to copy a track to a different sequence. My work around for this was to copy and paste, which created a lot of manual work. This wasn’t impossible to work out, but it definitely was far more fiddly than I would have liked for a workflow. Perhaps people don’t get hung out with this too much, but it did seem sub optimal to me.

Keep on dropping tracks!

Track – MPC Forums BB 279

I have been trying to get back into flipping samples again lately, and done a few other beat battles. Maybe I’ll post them. If you’re interested in seeing some of the discussion and submissions check out the MPC Forums BB 279 Thread. There’s definitely a lot of good content there, and some really great flips.

My approach has been to just spend 60-90 minutes on each battle, so instead of trying to get a full track or perfect mix, just go for speed of getting something workable and putting it together quickly. This battle was no different, and while I’m not excited for the track exactly, it was fun.

Danoc provided the track from Diana Ross “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which is an excellent track on its own, with plenty of material to pull from no matter how you want you want to approach it. My approach was to listen to the track a few times and take some notes and pull some hits/loops. Initially I was considering taking some full on portions of the song and mixing them, but what I ended up gravitating to was some of the bass note hits I could isolate, the strings were pretty easy to grab at the start, and I was able to almost get a few isolated hits out of the break.

Beyond that, I found some pretty easy to sample vocal loops both with and without drums that looped well. In the end though, I just chopped the vocals to be just usable enough without having to EQ or try other tricks to get it to extract well. There was a bit of a fight with some of the reverb tails, but when you settled the vocal hits into the mix it was hardly an issue.

I tried, tried, tried to get a kick out of it, but I ended up making mostly a bassy hit, which is pretty prominent in the track, but I had to go through my sample library to source a complimentary kick and layer them to get more impact.

I was initially aiming for a 96bpm mix, but I wanted to make it a bit darker, and ended up dropping the Diana Ross clips by 3 semitones. It sounded much darker, but also (as you’ll know if you’ve done this) had the sound effect of making the length of all of the hits go longer, so to solve this I dropped the BPM until it sounded good. This ended up with a track speed of 75bpm.

The next step was to find a vocal rap, and this is where I found Eminem 3 a.m. would fit in nicely. I loaded up Spleeter to get the vocal track as best I could. As I mentioned before, it totally has that spectralness to it that sounds weird, but I was hoping settling it into the mix it wouldn’t be too obvious. I guess see for yourself what you think. Instead of focusing on dropping the full rap in, I just grabbed out to main sections, and then grabbed some of the intro vocals to mix throughout and then dropped it into a song.

To make the intro, main, and outro I didn’t really doing anything magical, it was just removing a few sections to make it sound like a build up and drop, but it was the lazy version. I definitely could have orchestrated things better, but I was running out of time, and didn’t even spend much time mixing, and definitely did not get to mastering.

Overall I’m happy with my output, but there are some really good tracks dropped in the forum. If you get a chance check it out. In the meantime, here’s my track!

Track – Live High

This track started life on the MPC X, and I did everything I could to try and use Clip mode to create loops. How the MPC X handles clips is close to what I need, especially compared to how previous versions handled clips… but I have to say, it is not quite there.

I’ve got two main problems with how the MPC X handles clips. The first problem is that the looper cannot be used in real time in many instances, because you are forced to take audio off of your inputs (mostly fine) or resampling (not really fine). Resampling means that you’ve got to take a break in your workflow if you want to resample something you are doing live while running other audio. The other problem I hit was that when you export the loop from audio to a sample, when you assign it in clip mode, it does some kind of strange BPM timing… and this almost never matched what the project I was working on. Although my project was 96bpm, it would just assume what seemed like a random BPM 90% of the time, and with warping on it would sound like hot stretched garbage, even with the Pro Ten warping turned on. This is a big bummer and doesn’t bode well for using the MPC X as something you could use in a live environment.

The drums come in courtesy of the Pocket Operator Tonic, and pretty much seeded this track. I sampled a full 16 pads, but I think I really only used 7 or 8 of the sounds, and nothing fancy for 16 level or other tricks here, just a straight up beat this time around.

The bass and lead sounds I created from the Access Virus Dark Star, and I played quite a few patterns to see what I liked. There is probably enough to make a whole other song or two, but for now it is saved off in this project. I only used 5 loops created from this, and the song plugs along without a whole lot of variety.

The vocals are all me, sampling into the Pocket Operator Speak, on fx 7, and dropping the tone of the content by 8 semitones. I was going for a more computer synthesized set of audio, and it definitely gave that effect. The vocals are “Yo that sounds dope get real live high” and chopped up into the MPC X to give the audio components. I had thought about pitching the vocals around, and I ought to have for some more variety, but I ran out of steam for this project.

The grand total of clips are 2 drum loops, 2 bass loops, 3 lead loops, and 2 vocal loops that make up this song. Honestly, I could have finished this within the MPC, but I ended up bringing it into Ableton Live just to audition the clips and track them out faster. I will probably go back and take a stab at doing it all within the MPC X at some point, but I also just wanted to finish this track. While it might suffer from it a bit, I’m also trying to focus on just completing at least a quarter of the tracks I get started, and I have a large backlog of started, but unfinished tracks.

Track – Work Work

Dropping this track… now… folks in the MPC Forums have seen this in my sig for a while now… I’ve just been super lazy in posting.

The ride I happened to see while I was grabbing ice cream and had to take a picture. While I don’t want to old one of these older vehicles, I can appreciate them when I see them!

This was done almost entirely on the MPC X for sequencing sections and building it out into a song… in song mode. Haha!

In writing it, the song sounded way too clean to me. As it stands, it’s now way too muddy, but that was the sound I was looking for. Making it all good right?

To really get the muddy sound I ran the track through my Chase Bliss Audio pedals, specifically I got a lot of work from Condor for tweaking the EQ… and this was quite heavy handed since I wasn’t worrying about mixing and master the track… so I was doing some lazy 3 band eq filter mixing… because that’s all you’ve got from Condor. If I had tracked everything out through it, one track at a time a 3 eq band can definitely suffice, but yeah… for a final mix without really any thought to mixing tracks, this is a quick way to get a bit muddy. Again though… I didn’t care for this track and it was half of the point.

The other muddy buddy in here is the Generation Loss. You can hear that I went pretty noticeable on the wow/flutter, and there’s a bit of VHS tape noise simulation in the mix that I filtered down with the LP filter. Ultimately I was going for a sound that really sounded like some of my old tapes that had been used and abused a bit too much, and this is where my memory took me.

Is it too much? Absolutely! Am I happy with the results? Absolutely! One of these days I might put up the clean version of the track, but for now I will let this stand as it is.

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LoFi Buttery Piano – Akai MPC X Program

Let me start by explaining the patch a bit, and how I got here…

Life started off on the Akai S950, using piano multi samples from G1 through C4, every sixth note… My goal was to get some of that S950 12-bit grit and artifacts, but still keep it relatively free of the crazy stretching artifacts you can get by just sampling a single note and stretching it across the entire keyboard. This way, it maintains a lot of the characteristics of a piano, instead of heading into the field of creating what sounds like a more synthetic instrument.

From here, I routed the audio output into my guitar pedal board. The output on the S950 was a bit hot coming out of the mix channel though, requiring me to get the output level down to about halfway so that I wasn’t hearing any clipping or distortion on the output signal from the S950. A little bit of strategic EQ’ing helped to round out the sound through Brothers, I wanted to get a bit of that old school Casio sound, though I don’t have one handy any more for reference, so I was going from memory what of “that sound” was.

Once I settled into how I wanted to EQ the audio, I routed it to the Generation Loss. You’ll definitely hear the Flutter the most, but there is some Wow in the background as well. I also switched on the Noise, I really wanted it to sound like the piano was recorded from an old school tape that had been played quite a bit, and the tape player was about to fall apart. This definitely shines through in the samples recorded.

Everything was sampled in through the Autosampler on the MPC X, and here I recorded every note, as I didn’t want the Wow or Flutter distortion to get further distorted through the sampling engine on the MPC. Although the noise exists in the samples, I decided to tame it a bit by adding a low pass filter into the program. It helps pass through that strained sound without the piano sounding so harsh. If you want to add the noise back in just go into program mode and modify KeyGround->All and open that filter up.

Anyway, feel free to play around with this program, I had fun sampling it, and may end up adding some variations as I play around with it. I’m not sure you can tune anything to it or with it, but it definitely has a vibe all its own.

Insert Original Song Title Here

This is just messing around with the Akai MPC X, I tapped out a beat using the Rawcutz sample pack, and for those that care the sound kit is “HipHop-Kit-RC Ace Kit 95.xmp”. Yeah yeah… I usually do my own chopping and sampling… but I was more interested in just putting something together quick and checking out how hot the output levels are on the MPC X, and how badly distorted it would get going through the Chase Bliss pedals.

For one… the level and impedance are a bit too much for the pedals, unless you want a distorted and over driven sound. You don’t have direct control with a knob for the outputs 3-8, so you’ll either need a mixer, or in my case, I just dropped the output by -20db. This seemed like the right amount. This also means that to get back from guitar pedal level, back to line level, you’ll need to bring the signal in a bit hot again. You can absolutely create clipping/over drive problems doing this, and it might be on output or on input issue, but you’ll just have to trust your ear… or get fancy out board gear to measure your signals.

This isn’t anything terribly fancy, I was just having fun blasting the sounds through the pedals and seeing what came out. I’m pleasantly surprised that the Spectre did not go into immediate whale calls, because that’s a frequent side effect of this pedal. For this play through, I was less excited by the Brothers pedal, to my ears it just made the signal too hot. I’ll have to experiment with pedal ordering some more, and it’s possible Condor would help a bit with sound sculpting in this case.

Back to jamming!