Tag Archives: Music Production Center

Maschine Heart.


I finally picked up Native Instruments Maschine last week and have spent all day today working on a remix so that I can learn how it works.  I’m not going to review it just yet because I’m still getting my head around it all.

All I can say right now is “MY BALLS!!! THIS SHIT IS DOPPPPEEEE!”.


You always take a gamble when you buy new gear.  This is particularly so when you buy complex gear like samplers and midi controller interfaces and software etc.  So far, Maschine has been awesome.  I’ll do a gear review of it in the future when I’ve mastered it a bit.

However, my experience with Maschine so far is bitter sweet.  I’m actually legitimately saddened.  The reason for my sadness is this:  I can see Maschine coming to replace my MPC2000XL for the majority of my production.  That is seriously heart wrenching for me.

I bought my MPC2000XL in about 2000/2001 when I got my first proper job.  Since then I must have produced well in excess of 1000 beats on it.  It has never faltered or caused me any issues.  It has travelled thousands upon thousands of kilometres with me.

Perhaps people who aren’t producers wouldn’t understand but the truth is – you build up a relationship with your music making equipment.  Sometimes these bits of circuitry and buttons are your only respite from all the bullshit that is happening in your life.  If I had a bad day, I always knew that I could go into the lab, fire up the MPC and forget about all my problems for a little while at least.  And you come to know ever little function, feature and quirk of the gear that you use regularly.  It really does become like a friend.

It’s not mere nostalgia talking here.  There is a genuine sadness.

However, the MPC2000XL does have its limitations and they are limitations that are now limiting my ability to keep up with the demands of my production cycle.  Primarily, the fact that I mix in Logic (and the MPC doesn’t interface with computers like Maschine does) means that I spend far too much time bouncing individual tracks out so that I can mix my beats.

I’m about to move my MPC2000XL to the small “ideas table” in the corner of my lab.  This is the place where I leave stuff to use irregularly whenever I’m looking at changing my workflow and generating some new ideas.  I’m going to put Maschine here in front of my iMac as my primary production tool and sequencer.

Just know that I do it with a very heavy heart.

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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Audio production, gear, Production


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Gear review… EB16 FX board for the MPC2000XL.

Definicja Vintage

An MPC2000 (not the XL, you can tell by the heat vents in the top right corner and the immovable screen and the volume and record knobs are on the top left side and the jog dial is white, not black) with well worn pads. Doesn't it make you feel warm inside?

Hi folks,

It’s been a while since I reviewed any of my gear, so I thought I’d have a crack at it in this post.

Recently I got my hands on an EB16 FX board for my MPC2000XL.  I’d been eyeing one for a while (pretty much ever since I got my MPC about 10 years ago) but a) never had the disposable income and/or b) felt that my skills needed to be tighter before I bought some extras.  Anyway, in a moment of hubris and excess cash I decided to jump in the deep end and grab one from some French guy on eBay.

And I have to say – it has been a very worthwhile investment.

For those that don’t know, the EB16 was an expansion card that was offered by Akai for the S2000, S3000, MPC2000 and MPC2000XL samplers.  It may also have been for the MPC3000 but I don’t really know.  They’re relatively rare these days (but not as rare as the MFC42 filter expansion).

The unit offers 4 discrete FX busses, 2 of which are solely for reverb sends.  The first two effects busses are multi-effects units which provide a combination of distortion, parametric filter, modulation, delay and reverb.  Each of these effects can be individually switched on and off and include a fairly extensive range of modifiable parameters and settings.  A final MIX stage on the multi-effects busses also allows for a range of routing options (so you can go from modulation into reverb or reverb into modulation etc).  The effects are accessible through the MPC mixer window and individual pads can be sent to any of the four busses to varying degrees – that is, you can control the amount of sound being sent from a pad to each buss.  All in all, whilst not comparable to the extensive effects routing and options available in a DAW like Logic, it is nevertheless a very flexible tool for manipulating sounds as you produce.

Of particular ‘coolness’ is the frequency modulation that is available on the parametric EQ module.  This acts much like a phaser and you are able to adjust the depth of the modulation as well as the Q width and rate for both the lower mid and upper mid frequency bands.  The results is a very nice sounding spacey-ness and phasey warmth in the midrange.

Each of the effects is wholely usable, in general, but there are some limitations.  Due to the grouping of particular effects, it can often be an either/or decision as to which effect to apply.  For example, you can’t use both the rotary speaker emulation and the flanger on the same effects buss (not that you would probably want to).

So, does it make you a better producer?  Well, no.  You’re still doing exactly what you were doing beforehand.  However, it does provide some great additions and effective tools for improving the beats you make.  It won’t fix bad technique or poor quality chopping but it will open up new and interesting avenues for the sounds you have.  And that can’t be a bad thing, right?


Oh, and here’s a video of the ugly monstrosity that is the MPC2000XL SE2 which, if you can stand the horrific music for long enough, shows you the EB16 when it is installed.

BTW:  How do you make Lady Gaga angry?  Poke her face.


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Top Tip! Chopping Samples 101

Photo of my Akai MPC2000XL SE 2 (Midi Sequence...

The MPC2000XL SE2 - Possibly the ugliest MPC ever made.

Hi folks,

If you’re hip hop producer then slicing/chopping samples is your bread and butter (unless you produce for L’il Wayne, in which case brutally destroying the soul of any presets on your synthesiser will be the order of the day).  However, it is often an area of production that is overlooked by beginning producers.  Most of us begin our foray into production by finding loops, looping them and then putting drums on top.  To be honest, while the techniques and skills become more refined and complex – making hip hop music

doesn’t really move too far away from this basic premise.  Learning to chop loops effectively is crucial to advancing beyond this basic stage.

The run-through I’m going to give you can apply to any software or hardware tools you use for beat-making but I’ll generally refer to using the MPC2000XL if necessary.

Firstly, we need to grasp a bit of basic music theory.

Modern Western music overwhelmingly adheres to a 4/4 time signature.  If you listen to a piece of modern pop music, for example, you can count along with it to the beat – 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.  If the beat is a standard four to the floor rock, disco or dance beat this will follow a kick, snare, kick, snare pattern.  Regardless of where the drum hits fall (or even if there are no drums at all) it should be fairly intuitive to count 1, 2, 3, 4 in time with the music.  If it isn’t intuitive then you may well be listening to a song that follows a different time signature (uncommon in pop, hip hop, dance, dnb etc but much more common in jazz, folk and solo instrumental music).

When sampling, you will generally sample from tracks that follow a 4/4 signature.  There are no rules, of course.  You may sample from songs in any time signature but this is something to be avoided UNTIL you have grasped the basics of chopping samples – otherwise you’re probably going to make your life difficult.

Given that most beginning producers start by layering sampled loops (basslines, keys, drums etc) it is good to get in the habit of continuing to grab loops.  When you chop samples, you might only use a small portion of a loop or a number of loops but beginning with a loop will help you maintain the integrity of your rhythm.  As you become more experienced, you will grab small bits and pieces of loops at odd time signatures as you will be more familiar with the rhythmic progressions that you are seeking.

Once you have your loop, you will want to divide it according to the beats.  If you have one bar, you should be able to count 4 beats, 2 bars will have 8 beats, 4 will have 16 beats etc etc.  You can divide these loops into sections of any length you desire, depending on how complex you want to be in constructing a new progression from the slices.  I tend to divide/chop the loop into half-beat/half-count sections.  If you need a longer section in your progression, you can simply line up two or more successive slices.

On the MPC2000XL, the above process is done by slicing the sample into ZONES.  Each sample can be divided into a maximum of 16 ZONES which are then assigned to separate pads on the MPC to be played in any order and at any tempo you so desire.  In Logic, you could slice a loop into 4, 8, 16, 32 equal length regions and physically rearrange them on a track or create a new EXS sampler instrument from them and use your MIDI controller keyboard to replay them.  Every major beat-making approach will allow for some variation of this method.

So what are the benefits?

1. You will no longer be tied to the same unchanging progression of the original loop. 

Assuming that you are using something like the MPC2000xl which has 96 points per quantize (96 discrete points from which a sample may play per beat), then any 4 bars could have (2.09227899 × 1013) x 1536 possible arrangements of those 16 sections.  That’s a big number.

2. You will no longer be tied to the same tempo.

Sure, you always have the option to pitch/time shift your original loop but the outcome of this is usually pretty bad.  With the new slices, you can arrange them then adjust the tempo (faster) and they will overlap but otherwise retain their original playback pitch and quality.  Alternatively, you can pitch down samples and increase their length to create slower tempo arrangements or pitch up and create faster arrangements.

3.  You can introduce organic shuffle/swing rhythms. 

In a 4/4 rhythm the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th count is called the ‘downbeat’.  The point in between each count is called an ‘upbeat‘.  If you were to count out “1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a” in time to a loop, the ‘and a’ would fall on the ‘upbeat’.  Swing or shuffle (they are the same thing) is created by moving the upbeat forward or backward in time (called ‘pushing or pulling’).  If we were to use the ‘and a’ example again, the ‘an’ would be about 50% swing the ‘d a’ part would be 60% to 70% swing.

When you adjust the tempo of your arranged progression, you will be pushing the upbeat of each slice (it will fall closer to the next downbeat than in the original sample).  This gives you numerous options for adjusting the groove of a song.

4. You can modify the pitch of individual parts of the sample.

This can be supremely useful when you are trying to change the tone or tension and release of a progression.  Minor chords can be shifted to major chords or you could pitch down the underlying movement of the sample a full octave whilst playing the melodic parts over the top at their ordinary pitch.

In short, by learning the basic 16 part chopping approach you open entirely new avenues for production that straight looping could never provide.



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The Ultimate Beat Machine, Part 3: The Hardware Option

E-mu SP-1200

Image via Wikipedia


Hi folks,

We’ve covered computer-based approaches and monitoring issues in the previous two posts so this one is all about using hardware to make hip hop.

I’m not going to be too pedantic about it and go into the ins and outs of samplers and full analogue tracking systems (reel-to-reel etc).  This is about the production side of things – essentially, making beats that you could then track in a studio or home recording set up of any kind.

The big question is, obviously, what sampler should I use?

Like all big questions there is the a sensible little answer.  In this case, you should use the sampler that works for you.  Like all little questions this is really not very helpful.  So lets run through some of the common options.


The Akai MPC series of samplers is the “industry standard” (for want of a better term) for hip hop production.  They began production circa. 1989 with the MPC60, under the leadership of sampler genius Roger Linn, and have since gone through the following incarnations:  MPC 60II, a slightly more powerful remake of the 60; the MPC3000, another remake of the 60 with a whole heap more punch which is widely held to be the best model made to date (used extensively by J. Dilla amongst others); the MPC2000, the first model to be made without Roger Linn’s input and a solid machine though the workflow is not great; the MPC2000xl a “gruntier” version of the 2000 with some worthwhile improvements; the MPC2500, a slightly smaller unit than the 2000xl with a bunch more memory and a few more expansions but otherwise much the same potential; the MPC1000, which is a smaller, stripped back version of the 2500 – I have one of these (as well as a 2000xl) and I have to say that the Akai OS is horrible (the third party JJOS is better but still not mind-blowing);  the MPC4000, the most powerful MPC to date (including the later 5000) with tons of sample memory and a giant edit window; and the MPC5000, the current flagship model which is as much a home recording solution as a sampler (it even has a built in synth, though no one raves about it so….).

All MPC’s work in pretty much the same way (though the minor changes can make a big difference).  You record sound from an external source, slice it up in the machine, assign it to pads and record yourself replaying it.  Generally, sample memory (and this length of recording time) has increased with each successive model (as has recording quality but some people don’t see that as an improvement).  If you make elaborate productions using substantial bits and pieces of recordings then the extra sample memory is a beautiful thing.  In any case, it can’t hurt.

I can only really speak meaningfully for the MPC2000xl and the MPC1000 which I own.  The MPC2000xl is a much better machine than the 1000 (even though it lacks some of the features).  The crucial separator between the two models is simply this: the MPC2000xl is much, much nicer to play.  And that is the key to the MPC series – it is successful because it allows you to use sampled sounds like instruments.  The 2000xl’s pads are more responsive and feel more natural to play.  You have greater control than with the 1000 where the pads feel a bit loose and the pressure you need to apply to differ the velocity of your notes just seems inconsistent.

The EMU SP1200

This is an old beast now and the amount of sample time reflects it.  That said, SP1200 users will talk your ear off about the “sound” of the 1200 compared to the MPC series.  They may be right, too.  There is a certain grit to the SP1200 but it is really a producers tool rather than a performers instrument.  That said, DJ Muggs produced most of the Cypress Hill and Soul Assassins beats on the SP, so it has to be good, right?

The ASR10 and ASRX

The ASR10 is a sampling keyboard used by the like of Emile Haynie (Kid Kudi’s beats).  It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and it’s sampling time is limited but, if you’re coming from a keyboardists background, it can be pretty intuitive to use.  The ASRX on the other hand is a stand-alone unit that looks like a cross between the SP1200 and a Korg Electribe unit.  Can’t say much about them as I haven’t used them but the beats I’ve heard from them always seem a little simplistic.

Aside from that, you might want to consider the following points:

1. What type of music do you make?

If you make Pete Rock-style heavily sampled and chopped beats then you’re probably looking towards the MPC series.  If you tend to push breaks and long samples together, then the SP series will do you just fine.  Alternatively, if you’re a beatboxer then neither of these will do (they can’t sample/loop on the fly).  You might want to go for a Roland RC50 Loop Station or a Korg KaossPad 3.  On a side note, listen to this guy kill it on a mixture of loopers and effects pedals (his name is Sam Perry and he rocks).

2. Are you going to be playing your stuff live at all?

If yes, then you will probably be looking towards the MPC side of things but even then the live aspect of those machines is not hugely flexible.  You can make it work, though, with a bit of practice (check out the vids below to see what I mean).  The other alternative is to use something like Native Instruments Maschine (which interfaces with your computer) or an APC40 (or similar) along with Ableton Live.  The Ableton Live set-up is really common amongst sample-based performers these days and with (a lot of) practice you can make some great tunes.

3.  What kind of producer are you?

And the correct answer is not “A dope one!”.  By this I mean, are you the sort of person that listens to a sample, thinks long and hard about the musical elements of counterpoint, chord progression and micro-tonal intervals?  Or are you the sort of person that slams it all together on gut instinct?  If you’re the latter, then hardware samplers will make you smile.  If you’re the former, then you’ll get more enjoyment out of the in-the-box flexibility of a software driven approach.


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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


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