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.
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.
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.
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?