ModernBeats Inc., Los Angeles, CA © 2008 by ModernBeats Inc. All rights reserved, Published 2008 Hit Theory: First Principles of Hip Hop Production / Developed by ModernBeats Inc. Written by Ben McFarlane in cooperation with the ModernBeats production team. Edited by ModernBeats Inc.
Acknowledgements: ModernBeats thanks all its customers and fans worldwide and to it’s enthusiastic, passionate team of sound developers, producers, and customer support. Ben thanks his wife Melanie for her support and encouragement. Thanks to Matt McFarlane for layout. Thanks also to John Kavanagh, Gregor Theelen, Dave Hill Jr., Rob Hanson, and Markkus Rovito. Shout out to Michael George, Karl Gans, Andrew MacRae and the rest of the Tony’s Music Box crew. Thanks also to Gary Mullen, Jon Jones, Taylor Donaldson, and all those at Renaissance Music and Renaissance School of Music for their invaluable insight and friendship. Finally, thanks to the countless industry pros we’ve met and talked to over the years.
Modernbeats Hit Theory
First Principles of Modern Hip Hop Production Table of Contents
Introduction ………………………………………...................... 5 1. The Recording Environment ……………………......... 8 I. Ambient Noise ………………………………….…..…..........… 9 II. Sympathetic Resonance …………………………………..…. 10 III. Recording in Hell …………………………………..……....…… 11
2. The Mean, Clean Signal Chain ….……………………. 13 I. Know Your Microphones ..……………………………….....… 14 II. Cabling …………………….…………………………................. 18 III. The Preamplifier . ………...………………….......................… 19 IV. Console & Recording Medium …….…………………...…..... 20
3. Quality Tracking ………………………….……………….... 23 I. Track with the Right Polar Pattern ..…………...................... 23 II. Track Savvy: Tracking Methodz of tha Pros….................... 24
4. Choose Your Arsenal .………………….………..….....…. 29 I. Home Studio to Hit Factory …….………………………...…... 29 II. Clock that Data …………………………………....................… 3 4 II. Tri-Monitoring on 2.1 Systems ...………………………...…... 34 III. Pro Speaker Positioning & Placement .……………............. 38 IV. How Loud Top Producers Mix ………………........................ 39 VI. G’on Ahead ….............................…………………………....... 41
5. Music Theory 101: Composing Tha Hook ……….. 43 I. Time in the Sequencer …..…..……………….....................…. 45 II. Melodic Modes 101 ……………….......………............…...…. 47 III. Adding Dynamics for Class and Feel …………….....…….... 52
6. Music Theory 102: Secrets of Storchavellian Keyboard Chops ………………….....…………............…..…. 59 I. Guitar Dynamics …..….……………………......................…... 60 II. Heat up the Bass …………………......……................……..... 63 III. Multisampling for Live Instrument Diversity ……..........…. 67 IV. Runnin With the Slice ‘n’ Dice ………………………….…..... 72 V. Tweak those Envelopes ……………………………….………. 77 VI. Take those Chops to tha Orchestra ………………….……... 80
7. Beat Chemistry .………………………….……………......... 81 I. Maintain a Solid Backbone Beat …..………………...........… 82 II. Fillz ‘n’ Thrillz: Function and Structure of Change-up Fills ...................................................................................................... 84 III. Play over the Bar Line ……………...……………….........…... 86 IV. Boost Beats With FX ...............................…...…………….…. 86
8. Pure Polished Platinum Producer Skill .…........… 89 I. Play the Studio, Rule the Game …..…........…..................… 89 II. Phrasing: the Music Speaks …..……..…………….….......… 95 III. Put it Together Now, Mix it Up ……….................................. 99 IV. Chopz for Much Propz .………........…..….......................…. 102 V. Mnemonix: Track in Your Brain …..…………….….............. 104 VI. Show and Prove, Peace …..............……….…..................... 107
If you think you can just hit the power button, punch a few drum pads and then call yourself a hip hop producer, you got another thing coming! Hip Hop production takes discipline and dedication. Don’t read this book if you’re looking for fast fixes. Read this book when you’re dead serious about Hip Hop, when you’re ready to break out loud with devastatingly intelligent Hip Hop production. Hip Hop is a world of tough breaks and fierce competition; it’s a world where, you need earned respect: the kind of respect that fuels the persistence and determination required to survive the game. How do you earn this respect? Whether you’re a producer, emcee, or a musician waiting to join a posse and cut tracks, you can’t expect to be taken seriously unless you have necessary skills. You must arrive mentally equipped, mentally armored, and ready to show and prove. That’s why the most important ability this book requires is a steadfast, focused, rock-solid work ethic. After that, anything is possible. Speaking from years of experience, the more time, energy, and money you spend on developing critical skills and a solid studio set-up, the more seriously you will take yourself, the more seriously you will be taken. Tha only way to show and prove successfully is through committing yourself to the task: mentally, emotionally, and physically. Successful producers – Timbaland, Missy, Storch, Neptunes, Dre, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Lil Jon, The Runners, all of ‘em – their greatest asset, besides their imagination and ability to mix and produce, is hard work. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you know you can work hard enough, then read on and let ModernBeats feed your desire to achieve tha unachievable. In this book we make three assumptions: 1) we assume, as mentioned, that you’re ready to pick your ass up, and work it off, 2) we assume you have an audio sequencing and mixing system, or are in the market to buy one. And finally, 3) we assume you
have demonstrated, at least to yourself, some musical capacity: maybe you’ve pulled a few random grooves from your bro’s set up, and you like the way it hit. Maybe you’re a decent keyboard player, or guitarist, and now wanna produce. While becoming a successful producer is no small feat, it doesn’t mean you need a degree from Julliard. We’re going to take you from the basics of production right on up to the top, teaching you how to implement all tha advice in this book with efficiency and effectiveness. By tha end, that hit producer inside you will manifest – a producer who composes and arranges professionally, who gets big ideas and makes them happen. Havin’ said that, street smarts are a plus. Any skills you’ve acquired while using an MPC, software DAW, or musical instrument before starting this book will only smooth the journey upon which you are about to embark. Today’s successful music producers work off a solid foundation and knowledge; a set of critical production skills: recording, mixing, sequencing, sampling, music theory, dynamics, arranging, and more. We cover it all, setting you in motion toward a fulfilling career in music production so many dream of. In tha end though, it’s all up to you how much you implement what we teach and how far you push it. Words in a book are just words, but words followed through with action equal success. We start by covering tha essentials on the recording environment, setups, quality tracking, and top gear. From there, we move straight into introductions on music theory and musical dynamics, both necessary in order to compose and arrange intelligently. You may not need a music degree, but without basic music theory, all your melodic and rhythmic foundations will remain limited at best. And yes, we provide the fundamentals that shed these limitations. After our sections on music theory and dynamics, we’ll dig deep into a variety of top music production techniques and secrets: tha imaginative methodz that skilled, platinum producers keep guarded. Despite rules, suggestions, and tips you read
about in recording magazines and books, the plain truth is music production is about imagination and capability. We teach you this mindset; to think creatively, to be technically competent, and to refuse falling victim to amateur-level productions. Hit theory is our introduction to the world of quality hip hop production. “Quality hip hop?” Yes! Best prepare to raise the standards. This book is illustrated. Our illustrations and advices are presented in an allencompassing manner, applicable to any recording studio or music production setup imaginable. Throughout the book series, we present a wide range of illustrations covering leading music software and hardware such as Propellerheads Reason, Ableton Live, Akai MPC, and more. These illustrations and indepth analyses of music production will strengthen your focus and ability to become a respected producer of quality hip hop. “Ok, ok enough with the hype, Dawg. Fo’ real, how’m I gonna rise up to become the next big-league producer?” Well, G, the knowledge, smarts, techniques, tips, tricks, secrets, and skill lie before you. If you apply our lessons conscientiously, give them due respect, and put them to work, you’ll by no doubt become a Jedi of radical HipHop intensity. So, enough with this intro, fool! It’s time to get your hands dirty and engage in some serious, on point advice for producing platinum Hip Hop beats. It’s time to catapult your way to the charts!
Chapter 1. The Recording Environment So You Want to Produce Hip Hop, eh? Well, Listen up… Quality music production, as we said, comes from grit and determination: painstaking, time-consuming, finely-calibrated recording care and detail. It’s that care and detail that differentiate the pros from tha amateurs. But you must understand care and detail alone will not launch your songs onto Billboard. You need knowledge along with that care and detail, and that knowledge begins with learning and knowing your recording environment. You must understand every aspect of a producer’s surroundings. Without that understanding, you can’t begin to consider yourself a big-league producer. Don’t believe it? Just wait and see how you do the first time attempting to engineer a multimic recording session. Your inexperience will jump right outta the mix. Your clients will flag down the nearest taxi, catch the next plane straight to Atlanta, and get into a real studio where they can collect a professional recording. So much for your attempts to please, so much for the show and prove. Without proper recording skillz and knowledge, your money-train stops cold. We should mention: if you’re a fly-by-night beat chemist who hasn’t got time, money, or space to install proper sound reinforcement yet, your best bets for quality mic recordings are local recording studios. In a quality local studio you’ll spend less time converting part of your own living space into a home studio and more time capturing recordings you can be proud of. Does it make that much of a difference? Hell yea! We’ll tell you why… and yea – the truth hurts. Let’s roll… There are three main obstacles to achieving quality recordings: 1) ambient noise, 2) sympathetic resonance, and 3) room acoustics. There are simple solutions to all these obstacles such as soundproofing and acoustic treatment, room redesign and
reconfiguration, or installing a portable sound isolation booth to name a few. First, you must know your enemies.
I. Ambient Noise Ambient noise is any noise that can seep into your recordings from the surrounding environment. A non-soundproofed environment, unless it’s in the middle of a windless desert, is going to have ambient noise. The first step in dealing with noise is locating its source. Probable sources are air conditioning, heating systems, refrigerators, plumbing, computers, electronics, speakers, and perhaps the most frustrating of all: street traffic. Once you identify all your noise sources, your next challenge is figuring how to sever them from the mix, or at the very least how to minimize them. If getting away from a noisy environment is unfeasible, the next best technique is finding a place where ambient noise frequencies don’t overlap with the frequencies of your recorded content. For example, if you’re recording an acoustic bass or cello, and notice a high frequency hiss at, say, 6.6 kHz, it’s possible to knock out that frequency postrecording using a lowpass or notch filter. If your signal is polluted with enough noise to warrant excessive filtering, you will lose high-frequency detail. In that case, consider using instead an electric bass, or Fig. 1: Here, a notch filter (from tha Antares Filter VST plugin) blocks a 6.6 KHz noise source from dirtying up the signal while the bass does its thang in the lower frequency ranges, untouched by the filter.
a keyboard with bass samples through a direct input (DI) box. A DI box allows you to connect to your microphone preamp using a low-impedance, thus completely avoiding any ambient noise.
If you don’t hear the noise around you and aren’t sure how noisy your environment truly is, simply set up your mic and record. Upon listening back to your recording, any undesired noise or signals will then stand out like a sore thumb. But ambient noise isn’t tha only problem and carefully monitoring your recordings between near-fields and headphones won’t always highlight all tha imperfections hidden within a given recording. Such is the case with the next two hazards of the recording environment.
II. Sympathetic Resonance You may think most inanimate objects in a given recording environment don’t make noise, but don’t be fooled! While inanimate objects may not make noise, they can, and will, resonate sympathetically with other sound sources. For example, if you crank up a loudspeaker and slowly sweep a sine wave from very low to very high frequencies, you’re going to hear every single resonant object in the room vibrate – the chairs, the door, the bookshelf, the snare drum. This, G, is called sympathetic resonance, and 99% of the time – ya ain’t gonna like it! There are numerous, unobvious sources of sympathetic resonances we guarantee you’re not identifying and hence, can’t prevent without knowing. One particularly insidious, stealthy example involves good ol’ loose wood paneling. If paneling isn’t nailed down tight, it bounces off the studs causing an ugly buzz. When recording an amped guitar, you won’t notice that buzz, but the mic will surely pick it up. More and more, track by track, problematic resonances will raise their ugly heads and gnaw angrily at your recordings. Without addressing sympathetic resonance, you’re left second-guessing your entire mix. Maybe something’s wrong with the signal chain? Maybe it’s your DAW?? Maybe it’s your preamp?!? The troubleshooting is a nightmare! Even if it’s miniscule, sympathetic resonance will still subtract valuable tone from that nice Les Paul your guitarist keeps jawin’ about.
So, look and listen for every possible source of sympathetic resonance. You’ll find them everywhere – desks, shelves, loosely anchored paneling, rattling windows, and house plants. When objects in your recording room try to participate in your mix, nail ‘em down, seal ‘em up, do whatever you have to do to make sure nothing moves that ain’t supposed to.
III. Recording in Hell: Room Reflections and Standing Waves When you look at the frequency response curve of a quality studio monitor, it’s nice and flat: a good reason to buy it! The frequency response of a speaker or a microphone is a measure of what frequencies either device is most sensitive to. To get a clear picture of your mix, a monitoring system should reproduce all frequencies equally. Now, if you plotted a similar response curve for your untreated recording room, trust us, it would look like hell – peaks and troughs everywhere. The problem is the shape and size of the room you track in creates a myriad of unwanted reflections and frequency wave conflicts. This, soldier, is hell; your mix is helplessly screwed, your monitoring is a waste of time. Why? Because of standing waves. What’s a standing wave? A standing wave is a stationary wave that is created when a sound wave reflects off a flat surface, like a wall, and then bumps into tha original wave again creating disproportionately high amplitude at a fixed location. If you hold a coffee cup and shake it, you will see standing waves form in the middle. If you shake the cup at the right frequency and amplitude, those little standing waves might leap out of the cup. The same thing happens in a room. Tha audible result will be flutter echoes (fast echoes that create their own frequency or quick rhythms) or an ambient ringing depending on whether the sound source is a quick snap or pop or whether it is something melodic like a guitar. If you’re tracking multiple recordings through the same mic in the same room, that ringing is going to build up and morph your mix into a boxy, trashy-sounding nightmare! Your client will kick your ass to the curb once they witness their recordings destroyed by these hellish room reflections and conflicts. This
is why expensive room modifications have become so important and mandatory to the pro-minded. If you’re skeptical, take a simple sine wave patch in one of your synths, put your monitoring system at a reasonable level, and walk your fingers slowly up the keyboard. In theory, each note resounds at the same volume, but you will notice one or two notes on the key range blare loudly in comparison to their meeker brethren. That’s your room talkin’. So what can be done? Well, tha aforementioned room mods will go a long way. Plain rooms with parallel walls have a greater tendency toward standing waves. Oddlyshaped rooms with angled walls will diminish many reflections and standing waves slightly. However, your room will still resonate. Let’s be clear, tha obstacles to a clean recording are vast, but you just have to know them and keep up your guard. Understand how dirt can creep in from sympathetic resonance; understand how room frequencies can build and build track by track; understand tha importance of a noiseless environment. Your problems may be trivial when collecting noise or reflections from, say, a single vocal track. But those problems are cumulative: as those tracks rack up, your problems stack up; then, young Jedi, you can pack up and return to your day job! Deal with these problems best you can from the start. You may feel overwhelmed when challenged by unwanted, unobvious noise, but suck it up! Just keep your ears open in the home studio, and your eyes open in the coming pages. We’re gonna let you in on some secret fixes that can go a loooong way to minimizing many of these problems quick! For now, let’s turn to the signal chain.
Chapter 2. The Signal Chain: Set it up Mean and Clean
What’s a signal chain? It’s damn important, that’s what it is! If you’ve ever had a buzz or noise in your recordings and didn’t know where it came from, pay close attention ‘cause this info is must-know. Once you can fully comprehend what it takes to deliver pristine, clean signal recordings, you’ll understand what separates a recording professional from all the rest. So, you Pro or No? Best holla “Hell Yes!” Let’s begin... The signal chain is what carries your sound from the recording room to the track. In its simplest form, the signal chain from start to finish is a microphone, a preamplifier, and a recording device with all the cabling in between. Each part of the signal chain dictates just how clean or dirty your recordings will end up. First, what makes a signal chain clean? What you need to be asking yourself is, apart from being fantastic singers, “How do singers like Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole and Rihanna sound so clear, transparent, and true in their recordings?” Here’s your answer: The clearness comes from a lack of noise, the trueness comes from a lack of coloration. Noise is low-level hiss, buzz or “hash” and comes from resistance in the signal, radio frequencies (RF), or alternating current (AC) fluctuations. Coloration is tha undesired alteration of a sound’s original timbre and most often comes from the poorly-designed electronics of lousy microphones, pre-amplifiers, and cables. Tha opposite of noisy is clean, tha opposite of colored is transparent. Good recordings are both clean and transparent. Enough with the preliminaries, let’s now go in-depth from the start of the chain.
I. Know Your Microphones The microphone and preamplifier are the two most important parts of the signal chain. The microphone is perhaps the most important. Don’t waste time on a cheap preamp or a cheap mic. Both are essential. Spending a moderate sum of cash on both is advised, but don’t do it if you don’t know what you’re looking for. First, let’s deal with the mic. Some pros will tell you the signal chain is only as quiet as its noisiest link. Though that’s mostly true, let us give you the full truth: The quality of a good mic will crush the quality of a bad mic despite how noisy your preamp or mixer is. The same truth holds for hardware reverbs, outboard processors, etc… Even if your signal chain is crap, adding one good component will make it better. So what makes a mic great? The best way to judge a mic is to hear it. However, an understanding of specs is indispensable in narrowing the vast number of mics to choose from. The most important specs to look for in a mic vary depending on what you’re doing. Generally, low self-noise (the noise of a mic’s own electronics) and high dynamic range (the difference between how loud or soft the mic successfully records) are considered most important, and go hand-in-hand. If, however, you record drums or guitar amplifiers, you’ll need a mic that can handle a high sound pressure level (SPL) and an attenuator pad to reduce distortion. If you’re recording percussion, you’ll need a mic with exceptional handling of transients: short notes with a sharp attack. If you’re recording beat boxing, you’ll need a mic that can handle plosive consonants, pressure dynamics, and proximity effects better than other microphones. Keep in mind these critical details when you’re buying. Special applications aside, the biggest challenge is finding a microphone that delivers a pristine, noise-free reproduction of the sound source. Knowing a good mic means tackling mic specs head-on.
To conquer this challenge, let’s take a look at a few well-known iconic mic models and compare the specs as they are printed by the manufacturer. These solid mics will carry a voice like Blige’s to the track, unharmed by noise or coloration, rendering a platinum recording. As such, they set the standard. Let them guide your expectations and knowledge toward perfection! One of the bright, shining stars of recording microphones is the Neumann U87. Every recording engineer knows about it, every serious studio owns it, and every other hit on Billboard is recorded with it! It has superb dynamic range and is virtually noise-free (note that in practice it is impossible to have a signal that is 100% noise-free.) We’ll compare this to another very sought-after microphone: tha AKG C414 - an early competitor to the U87. Finally, we will look at the Rode NT2A: a contemporary classic. The U87 specs are as follows: S/N ratio re 1 Pa at 1 kHz: CCIR: dB 71 Fig. 2: Behold the U87A,
A-weighted: dB-A 82
Neumann’s latest iteration of the legendary U87 largediaphragm multi-pattern condenser.
Say whah?! Okay just relax. It may look like foreign language, but really it’s just two values, and each of those values represents a signal-to-noise ratio. The first value is measured as is (without filter) and the second is
measured with an A-weighted filter. A-weighting is the process of filtering the signal to “weight” or to bias the frequency distribution to those frequencies that human ears are most sensitive to. In other words, A-weighting a measurement gives a pretty good idea of what the noise is going to sound like to human ears. If you see “IEC 651” or “DIN 45412” or dB-A, then you’re comparing apples to apples. Both indicate that
the microphone has been measured with a standard A-weighted filter. DIN stands for Deutches Institut fur Normung: the German institute for Standards. DIN, followed by 45412, means testing of the microphone has complied with standards identified by the DIN for A-weighting. IEC 651 is an identical standard from tha International Electrotechnical Commission; they’re the same thing. If you see “CCIR”, like in tha above set of specifications, then a different weighting filter has been used. The S/N ratio will be about ten decibels higher: apples and oranges, G. So, let’s stick with tha A-weighted values. The “re 1 Pa at 1 kHz” looks intimidating, but it simply means the microphone was tested at 1 Pascal (equivalent to 94db SPL) and the signal test frequency was 1 kHz. It’s standard for measuring S/N ratios. 94 decibels is the sound pressure of a speaking voice from 1 inch away. Most reputed mic manufacturers use this as their standard of testing, but always check the spec sheet to make sure this is what has been used. Tha AKG C414’s noise specs are as follows: Equivalent Noise: 6 dB-A (DIN 45 412) SN Ratio: 88 dB Both figures are A-weighted. The C-414, on paper, looks more attractive since it has a higher signal to noise ratio, but it also uses a selfFig 3. Here is a recent iteration of the C 414 microphone, is a tremendously flexible microphone, and boasts a high SPL cabability for distortionfree recording of loud sound sources.
noise specification. “So, how should I compare self-noise between the two mics when the U87 self-noise hasn’t been printed?” you ask. It’s simple: if you have one value, you can determine tha other. It’s possible to ascertain a mic’s self-noise by subtracting the S/N ratio from 1Pa or 94dB. So the U87’s A-weighted self-noise value should be 94 minus 82: 12 dB-A. The C414 is quieter.
Here are the Rode NT2A’s noise specs: SN Ratio: DIN/IEC 651: 87 dB Equivalent Noise: 7dbB Both figures are A-weighted. Tha NT2A looks to be more or less equivalent to the C414, It is measured in accordance with IEC 651: apples to apples. At least in terms of noise, on paper, the C414 and tha NT2A look better than the U87A going merely by specs. Why then is the U87A so famous and so expensive? Well, the differences in mic quality are, of course, not just measured on paper. You really have to hear them to know how good each sounds. Further indications of their differences Fig. 4: The Rode NT2-A, though
are provided by their frequency response and dynamic
it may look less impressive,
range, but the paper specs simply provide you with
performs amazingly and is very
an idea of a mic’s mechanical capabilities, yet not the
These are great microphones. Each has a big reputation, and with good reason. When you’re shopping, look at self-noise, S/N ratio, SPL handling, frequency response, and dynamic range. If you’ve got big aspirations for a song you’re dying to record, don’t be a fool and buy the cheap stuff. Budget high for that recording mic and it will pay off! You could spend around five Benjamins and get something rock-solid like tha NT2A but if you only spend 60 bucks for an “all-purpose” recording microphone, it’s going to come with a fair amount of self-noise that stacks up track by track, drowning out crucial details that turn songs into hits. All that loss at no extra charge.
II. Cabling The next step in the signal chain is the mic cable. So what does it matter whether you use a cheap-ass 5 dollar mic cable or a nice, expensive Mogami? Well, again, tha answer to the question is – you guessed it – noise. That’s the difference between a good cable and a bad cable. Cables can be noisy because of poor radio frequency (RF) rejection and a lack of adequate shielding. Radio frequencies? Are we kidding? No, we ain’t kiddin’. You see… unshielded cables trap radio frequencies; while you’re not going to pick up National Public Radio you will pick up high-frequency hash and interference. Shielding prevents those radio frequencies from getting into the signal. Pro shielded cabling is necessary for maintaining a solid, clean signal. When choosing which cables to buy, any shielded XLR will do. Among the best are Blue, Mogami, Monster, and yea – according to the pros, it pays to buy good cabling. Buy what you can afford; just make sure what you buy is shielded XLR. Hosa, for example, is an inexpensive brand that doesn’t make compromises. Before gettin’ too fussy about your cables, you should know that cable maintenance is just as important as cable quality. First of all, you should coil cables like a lasso, not like a rigging coil on a sailboat. Okay, that was a far-fetched illustration, but seriously, what that means is don’t wrap them around your hand and elbow or they’ll eventually short. Coil ‘em gently, rounded and kink-free, when stored. The most important aspect of cable maintenance is cleaning the connectors. Conductivity is extremely important, so those connectors need to be clean! The more oxidization there is, the more resistance there is, the more noise there is. Got it? Good. This is why gold-plated patch connectors exist. Gold does not accumulate oxide. Don’t think for a second your cables aren’t important! They’re damn important. And don’t be cheap or lazy. Buy good, shielded cabling and keep it clean.
III. The Preamplifier The mic preamplifier is the final significant source of noise in the signal chain. Though mixing console circuitry can add noise, usually it is negligible compared to preamp noise. The preamplifier takes the mic signal and adds gain so the recorded mic level can measure up against the volume of your whole mix. If it’s a poorly-designed preamplifier, tha extra gain comes with extra noise. Preamplifiers can exist either in the recording console itself, or they can be purchased as outboard boxes. Expensive outboard preamps tend to be better, yet inboard preamps can hold their own still. What makes a preamplifier good is its transparency and its radio frequency (RF) rejection. Just like cables, preamplifiers are prone to RF if they’re not engineered very skillfully. This will introduce more hash and interference into your frequency, especially if you have to crank your gains (thereby amplifying low-level noise substantially). Finding the best mic preamp for your setup can be a challenge. Neve is renowned for state-o’-tha-art engineering and pristine audio quality; API, Trident, Mackie, similarly so. If you’re looking for good starter brands, Presonus, M-audio, Edirol are few among many. The Presonus Bluetube is a simple 2 channel preamp that works well for voice and one instrument. Perhaps the best practice for beginning producers is to find a multi-channel mixer or interface with numerous preamplifiers. That way, you can kill two birds with one round by not having to buy the preamplifier separately. The Presonus FP-10, for example, is a firewire computer interface with eight pre-amplified inputs that surprises even professional producers with the clarity of its inputs. Eight separate channels into the PC: perfect for multiple microphones, perfect for streamin’ the direct outs on an MPC. As with microphones, if you can find a local retailer that will let you audition and compare preamps side by side, that’s ideal. Take your time and do adequate research to buy the best preamp your budget can afford. But hold up, there’s one additional pro secret you must know before you can claim gearhead guru status.
The pro audio “secret” we’re talking about used to be common knowledge. It gets overlooked now because of the flood of amateurs buyin’ pro gear. Here it is: Mind your impedance levels! Impedance is a microphone’s or speaker’s resistance to the signal. Low impedance components are generally best. To get the hottest, punchiest output from your signal chain, match tha impedance of your microphone and preamplifier. What we mean is the preamp impedance (measured in ohms) should be roughly ten times the microphone impedance, and the two should be connected with a low-impedance (low-Z) XLR cable. A low-Z mic is any mic with an impedance of less than 600 ohms. Alright, imagine you matched up the mic and preamp properly; then you plugged the preamp into a hi-Z quarter inch input in your mixing console using an XLR – mono quarter inch cable. Good to go, right? Wrong! You’ve completely undermined all your high-quality gear! Connecting low-Z components to hi-Z input cuts your signal in half. That means you gotta crank gains to hear your signal, increasing your noise floor substantially. Suddenly all those mic specs are totally irrelevant. So make sure you pay close attention to impedance levels, on the microphone, on the preamp, and on the console.
IV. Console and Recording Medium There are two remaining links in the signal chain. One is the mixing console, tha other is the recording medium. Now, historically you would mix down from the console onto half-inch tape. The signal would pass through the console before hitting the tape. If the console was made with shitty electronics, noise and coloration became your problem, nominally. These days, especially if you’re a beginner, the choice recording medium is a digital file. Any modern-day audio interface or portable device recording onto a drive will
have what is called an Analog/Digital (A/D) converter. Listen up holmes… If you’re looking to record platinum hit tracks, you’ve got to pay close attention to your A/D conversion or suffer serious, problematic high-frequency consequences. Why? We’ll tell you why… Converting signals from analog to digital can cause a problem called aliasing. Aliasing is simply the convergence of two repetitive patterns to create a new pattern. You can see aliasing visually in video, for example, when someone is filming your studio recording session. You might see funky, wiggly patterns show up on your speaker’s grill or on your rapper’s poorly-chosen striped jacket. (Ya ain’t about to dis his style, though – dat boy lays down heat; best not to piss him off!) You can see these odd patterns because when the repetitive patterns of the speaker grill and jacket are superimposed within the screen’s pixels; they synergize a new pattern. Aliasing also occurs on poorlyconverted audio. Like in video, digital audio incorporates two patterns. One is the wave pattern of the signal entering tha AD converter, tha other pattern comes from the resolution of the digital file. A digital sine wave is not a pure sine wave, if you zoom in closely on it, it will look like a staircase. That staircase is digital resolution. Aliasing occurs mainly with frequencies that are above half of a sample’s frequency. This halfway mark is called the Nyquist frequency, and it is the lowest frequency at which aliasing occurs. So if you’re recording at 44.1 KHz, you get a Nyquist of 22.05 KHz. Uh… uh oh, that’s barely reaching the top of the human hearing range, and dangerously close to undesired artifacts a listener may hear! You can hear aliasing on a CD, but generally you don’t notice the difference between the CD and the hiresolution master copy unless you hear them side by side. By the way, 44.1Hz and 16 bit audio is referred to as “red book.” Essentially, red book means to the specifications required by most CD players. As with sample resolution, the same aliasing effect occurs with screen resolution. In figure 5, it looks like we got some argyle socks on the synth line. That’s an artifact
of the screen resolution combined with the frequency of the wave file – of course visual aliasing doesn’t mess with your audio quality, but it’s a practical visual example. Most pro AD/DA converters now operate at 192 KHz. The differences between it and 96 KHz are impossible for humans to hear. Fig. 5: A visual example of aliasing.
Although your dog may likely discern them, you won’t. So what’s the big deal? Why use
192 kHz files when they take up so much hard disk space? There’s a couple of answers to that question. First, why would your master track be anything less than perfect? Second, and perhaps most important for a beat chemist who slices and twists audio is tha implications of resolution for pitch shifting. How many Hip Hop tracks contain a voice sample pitch-shifted down an octave? It’s all over the place. When you slow down a vocal track, or any audio file, you drop the pitch; the sound waves lengthen. As pitch wavelength increases, resolution decreases. Say you slowed the file down to half-speed; that means the wavelength will be twice as long, the pitch an octave lower. With a doubling in the wavelength of an existing file, two bits of resolution are being used for what used to take one bit. So if you’re going to drop your homie’s voice – make ‘em sound like King Kong – sample him at hi-res. 44.1kHz or 48khz ain’t high enough to transpose files by 50%. Plus, if you want to maintain a master-quality sample after dropping a sample’s pitch by 50% or more, best sample at 192 kHz. Now you know what makes a good signal chain from mic to recording medium. Question is, G, what do you do with that knowledge? How you gonna use that gear? That, soldier, is tha art of tracking.
Chapter 3: Conquer The Secret Science of Quality Tracking True Production Wizardry Starts in the Studio What is quality tracking? Quality tracking is using that clean, mean signal chain you have so diligently pieced together to capture and deliver pristine, clear audio onto your multi-tracking device. Additionally, tracking involves a session, either with musicians or an ol’ faithful MPC, routing signals onto track recorders using the cleanest signalto-noise ratios possible. From the previous section, you now have thorough knowledge on how to achieve the best signal chain possible given your budget. But, you need more than that. Here’s a question to ask yourself: “Do you have the trouble-shooting skills required to handle unexpected problems that will occur during tracking?” Acing tha art of trouble-shooting during a tracking session is an invaluable skill your clients will worship you for! So, grab these secrets on trouble-shooting and conquer the science of quality tracking…
I. Beat Down that AC Hum Let’s assume the best case scenario: You’ve gathered a budget for a devastatingly kick ass setup: A world-class U87 condenser microphone, pro Neve signal processors (a compressor and 5-band graphic EQ, we’ll say), a Mackie mixing console and a pair of Mackie HR824 studio monitors. This, Dawg, is a recipe for pristine, noiseless recordings. Assume all this awesome gear is now installed in your studio and ready to operate. You flip on the system and “What?!?” The monitors are blarin’ hum like you’ve never heard! (Actually you have heard it – on weak-ass systems like tha one you just offloaded.) But, yo…what the hell is going on? You just spent 15 G’s on this
setup! Hold up, hold up… before ya call the retailers and curse ‘em out for the next 40 minutes, let us tell you something about ground loops. All equipment, musical and non-musical, must be grounded to prevent fatal hazards to tha equipment and to the people operating it. “So, what’s a ground?” you ask. A ground is that third prong on tha AC plug that sends tha AC current into tha earth so it doesn’t fry humans. A ground loop occurs when equipment is grounded through two different paths. Tha AC’s electric current leaks into tha audio signal and creates that hum you’re about to have cardiac arrest over. The hum buzzes at a low frequency of 60Hz, perfect to bug the crap out of you and drive you into a panic! “So what’s the solution, fool?!?” you demand. Well, a sure bet is to use a power conditioner like tha ART PS 4x4. Why use a power conditioner? Because it isolates your AC electric currents, prevents surges, and grounds your gear properly. What’s this mean in terms of making hits? It means your 60Hz, cardiac-arresting hum is gone, done, over! Then, you can wipe the sweat from your forehead and that thuggish grin of yours can reappear, knowing your system is hum-free. It’s hard enough to make hits. It’s even harder when you’ve got hum makin’ you trip 24/7. Hey, we’ve got more for ya… Some pros proclaim it; other pros refute it: Does buying higher quality AC cables make a difference with signal noise? Well, if you want to spend 30 bucks on good AC cables, be our guest! We’re not going to side with one or tha other. Yet, if quality AC cabling does make a difference, it’s a negligible one. At the least, ensure you get your AC circuit rigged to a decent power conditioner. Now hit that tracking!
II. Track Savvy: Tracking Methodz of the Pros Let us first say tracking could be its own book. We’ve got a lot to cover yet, such as key insights on theory and composition, secrets of hit phrasing and arrangement,
unveiling unknown multi-sampling tricks, and more. So, let us at least hit you hard and fast on the topic of tracking, covering the critical methods of the Pros. There are as many methods of tracking as there are for mixing as there are for sound design. Many of these methods come from playing around: trying new or crazy ideas with whatever equipment you have at your disposal. Yet, applying the savvy methods of tracking is what gives a good music producer an edge and distinctive sound. So, how do you track savvy like a Pro? We offer three critical insights to achieve savvy status: 1) when planning a recording session mind your mic’s direction and polar pattern, 2) use a variety of signal paths and microphones, 3) become a master of gear and be prepared to engage in tha unconventional use and tracking of it. Let’s dig into the details of each… 1.) Although you may record musicians or vocalists only once in a while, each recording situation will differ from another. In one scenario, you may record a guitarist, in another you may record a posse of homies chanting backing vocals, like in Wayne’s Best Rapper Alive. “So, what microphone or microphone settings are ideal for each type of recording setup?” you ask. Good question! To answer, let’s learn the crucial microphone settings you must know inside‘n‘out before claiming skill. Quality studio microphones feature a variety of pickup patterns called polar patterns. There are three main types of polar patterns: cardioid, bi-polar and omnidirectional. The cardioid pattern picks up what’s in front of the mic with a single blind spot behind it. The bi-directional pattern picks up what’s on either side of the mic, east/west, if you will, and rejects frequencies from the two remaining and opposing spots: north/ south. An omnidirectional picks up everything, in all directions. Cardioid is mostly used when recording a single voice, bi-directional is mostly used for recording two sound sources facing opposite each other with the mic positioned between the two, and omnidirectional is used for recording entire rooms or groups of musicians in a circle.
“Okay, why not use an omnidirectional microphone all the time since you don’t have to worry about where you’re pointing it?” Room reflections and noise, G. In a room with reflective surfaces, an omnidirectional mic picks up every sound source, plus every reflection, drowning out clarity and intelligibility. The narrower your polar pattern, the less chance you will pick up room reflection, ambient noise or sympathetic resonance, the more intelligible your instrument or voice. Ideally, the microphone would face tha instrument with an isolation panel or filter surrounding its back and sides. If you’re tracking a posse, or maybe recording a crowd at the club to add flavor to your next crunk demo, decide which part of the room is likely to be the least reflective and record with the mic pointed toward it using a polar pattern that faces away from reflective surfaces. Most high-end studio microphones feature multiple, selectable polar patterns. This allows you to switch between cardioid, bi-directional, and omnidirectional using one microphone. Keep your mic’s polar patterns in mind, and watch out for those reflections. 2.) Let’s imagine you go out and purchase some of the quality gear we’ve discussed. You’ve packed all your old crappy microphones and your hand-me-down analog 4track in a box; you’re getting ready to throw them away because they suck, and no one else wants them. Wait a minute, G! You may not believe it, but there’s gold in that crappy gear! Junky microphones and outdated equipment are what allow pros to catch true inspiration. Don’t abandon these hidden treasures! In any tracking situation, there’s bound to be a variety of possibilities with the gear you have. You’ve heard those albums where there’s lots of musical variety, yet – for some reason – you still grow bored of tha album’s songs and stop listening. Can’t put your finger on why? It could be because tha album’s producer cut a hot 12 tracks as quickly as possible without switching up the microphones, signal chains, or tracking techniques! Here’s an example: Let’s say you found a Realistic dynamic microphone
from tha 80’s in your box of junk. You know, Realistic. It’s that sorry-ass, embarrassing brand from Radio Shack. You laugh “You can use that?!?” Hell yea, you can! A sweet, faithful practice is to use that crummy dynamic mic in conjunction with your main recording mic, then mix the two signals once they are on separate tracks. We’ve heard it done before; despite what you may think, it sounds tight. What you end up with is trashy highs, but really saturated lows and mids. You can use filters to cut out the highs from your main recording mic and also lows from the trashy dynamic mic and… Bang!!! You’ve got a brand new sound: one with a lot of grit, punch and tone! It might be a noisy mic, but trust us, this technique will add serious fire to your mixes. Most importantly, techniques like this will switch up your sound and add critical points of interest that keep your listeners entertained! 3.) Finally, be prepared to make unconventional use of your gear. What do we mean by this? Well, you’ve probably heard “Revolution” by the Beatles at least once. If your producer ears were open, you may have noticed a high-pitched scream near tha end (not John Lennon screaming “allllright!” but tha other thing). So what was that? That was a guitar plugged directly into the mixer channel with the gain cranked to maximum and the volume set to a very low value. By the sounds of it, they may have put a gloss on it by using a chorus or reverb. It was trashy, but also very unique, very fresh. The Beatles, like all devoted musical professionals spent serious time getting to know what certain instruments could do, what they couldn’t do, and what they shouldn’t normally do, but do anyway. Oh yea, and that analog 4-track might just provide you with a different timbral quality than what you can get going directly into your console. Playing around with the 4-track can bring you lots of inspiration. Flippin’ and reversin’ it like Missy is dead easy. Ain’t nothing like backward audio to fill a break. Hell, try repeatedly mashing the pause button and record tha output – you might just mistake it for turntable scratches. Yo, just
remember, music production is subjective and sometimes crappy gear is King. Work with everything you got. The point we’re communicating here is two-fold: First, specialize in instruments and gear: become a master of them. Two, use creative and unconventional tracking techniques when recording. Hey, the Neptunes swear by this hit-brewing philosophy. It ain’t about what gear you use; it’s how you use that gear, how creative you can tweak setups, and how far you can push the limits! There are millions of creative techniques for manipulating gear when tracking. Experiment with it. Roll with it. Create your own path! Mix up the tricks of tracking as much as possible and a unique sound will be born – a sound that only you will own!
Chapter 4: Choose Your Arsenal: Gathering Hit Generating Gear I. The Hip Hop Studio: Turning Your Home Studio into a Hit Factory In this section, we’ll show you how to set up your arsenal in a computer-based home studio. That being the case, there’s nothing wrong with substituting the computer for a hard disk multitrack studio like the Zoom HD16CD. The studio setup we’ll be covering includes the following elements: 1) a computer, 2) a recording interface or midi-audio interface, 3) a midi controller or hardware sampler, 4) a microphone, and 5), in section II, a quality monitoring system, preferably – for the purposes of this book – a 2.1 stereo system with a 12” sub-woofer. 1.) Let’s get something straight right now – not every computer is capable of handling what you throw at it. Many computers are still quite limited in terms of processing power. Thus, we’re going to establish some minimum requirements that will get your computer up and running. The first requirement is a dual hard-drive system. If you only have one hard drive, your computer will be far too sluggish to meet the demands needed for quality recordings. One hard drive should run your OS and your audio processing program such as Cubase, ProTools, Reason, or Ableton Live etc. Tha other hard drive should handle all audio content and files: sounds for samplers, audio loops, recorded tracks, etc… Why this separation? There is a needle on the hard drive that has to find data. If you condense everything to one disk, your system speed bottlenecks at the needle. What size should each hard drive be? The drive running your programs should be big enough to run all your critical music production programs with ample room to spare:
between 40 and 80GB is sufficient early on. As for the drive harboring your audio files, it can never be too big. Get a 160 or larger; it’s going to fill up. To save space, store your final mixes on the hard drive that runs your programs, since you won’t need to access them again from your DAW. Aside from separation and size, each hard drive should operate at speeds of 7200 rpm or better, and have 10ms of seek time at the most. The second requirement is at least a 3GHz processor. Plus, preferably your computer should be a dual processor. The third requirement is at least one Gigabyte of RAM. Fulfilling these two last requirements will enable the computer to run fast enough to handle simultaneous loading and operation of a software sampler, 16-24 audio tracks, plus plenty of effects plugins, depending on how much processor power they require. Keep tab of these requirements, if you don’t meet or surpass them already, upgrade. When purchasing a new computer, choose a system featuring lots of upgradibility. Audio processing is an ever-increasing, data-consuming beast. A system heavy on upgradability features will take you into the future and (if your mixes are good enough) beyond. 2.) A quality recording interface is the most economical way to multi-track. Here’s the necessary minimum requirements for these devices: Make sure you buy an interface with onboard, high-end microphone preamplifiers. Class A mic preamps are ideal, but not necessary to start. Most digital interface mic preamps have low self-noise. If you end up buying a cheap interface, buy one with at least 2 mic preamps. This will give you capability to record in stereo when needed. An interface like tha M-audio Mobilepre or tha Edirol UA-25 are examples of small interfaces that feature stereo mic preamps, plus come with bundled multi-tracking software. These interfaces replace the need of stand-alone preamps, and the software they come with replace the need of a mixing console: perfect if you’re on a budget. A word of caution: If you want multiple channels of streaming audio (say four or five)
to land in your sequencer as separate tracks, make sure you buy an interface with USB2 or firewire connections. USB1 doesn’t have enough bandwidth for multi-channel tasks. There are, however, several USB1 console interfaces on the market with more than 4 inputs that use USB1. USB1 console interfaces invariably mix to stereo before sending the signal into the computer. We’re not saying they aren’t good, but be able to make distinctions between USB1 and USB2 capabilities and choose an interface with features that match your recording needs. A particularly flexible recording interface is tha Edirol M-16DX. It solves two problems: room acoustics and mixer board circuitry hiss. Before we mentioned mixer circuitry noise is negligible. However, the less noise the better. This interface deserves special mention due to its comprehensiveness. It’s one of the best all-in-one studio tools around, and no – we ain’t gettin’ kickbacks for writing about it. First of all, tha m-16DX Fig. 6: Tha M-16DX.
is an all digital board which, at the time of writing, is a brand new concept. First,
it eliminates circuitry noise typical of analog consoles. Second, its Analog/Digital conversion happens directly at the preamplifier, before the board itself can add noise to the signal. Third, the board features 4 preamplified inputs, plus 12 direct inputs which all stream separately into the computer via USB2. Finally, the last reason we mention tha M-16DX is its built-in room analyzer! This is an extremely useful, convenient feature allowing you to identify harmful frequency biases within your mixing room and tweak them all out via the push of a button! Remember the problem of standing waves and
room resonance? This is one of those secret fixes! Having a mixing console that can snuff those problems will make accurate mixing a snap. Given the price of this device, $600 – $700, it’s a strong candidate for a serious studio interface. 3.) We mentioned that proficiency with an instrument will make your journey smoother. The techniques in this book require you to have a keyboard midi controller. Unless you’re a classical piano player needing a full 88 keys with weighted action, a smaller 49 or 61-note midi controller should suffice. Preferably, you’ll have a controller with rotary controls and faders, but it’s not necessary. However, rotary controls and faders can speed up production dramatically, allowing quick manipulation, tweaking, and adjustments within numerous music software applications. Tha M-audio axiom series is a good pick for a midi controller because it has everything you need including coveted drum trigger pads – the hot tool for beat creation. While we’re on the topic of midi, we gotta mention tha MPC. We couldn’t call this a Hip Hop production manual without addressing MPC-style sampler workstations. You hear producers talkin’ about ‘em all the time. So what’s so great about an MPC? Well, tha advantages are many, in the recording environment, an MPC functions as a quick, hands-on workstation. It functions much like a midi controller, except that, as with other hardware samplers, MPCs contain their own sounds. Samplers like this one are the primary weapons of Blaze, Premier, RZA, and with good reason. Many pros tout MPC Fig. 7: Tha AKAI MPC-2500, a comprehensive production workstation.
style samplers for their easy interface. If you get an idea, bam! It’s in tha MPC. That easy-to-use interface connects you
with formidable array of features inside tha MPC. Calling it a sampler is probably a mistake; really, it’s a whole production suite rolled into one package. You’ve got a sequencer, midi outputs and inputs, onboard samples, onboard effects, plus all kinds of room to store your own compositions. So what if you dig tha MPC’s samples and effects, and you’re happy with some of the mixes you’ve come up with, but wish you could alter parts of the mix with a software system? Tha MPC direct outs allow you to send sub-mixes to an interface like the Presonus FP-10. What that means is that 4 separate stereo mixes can be routed into separate channels of your software DAW or Hardware Multitrack. You’re then free to tweak those separate parts of the mix on 4 different channels in your software. This comes right in handy if you want to apply your DAW’s compression and effects to the snare drum, but not to the bass and hats. On a sampler where everything comes out the same stereo outputs you are denied this flexibility. 4.) You’ve learned about microphones, and how to minimize room reflections. Yet, while on the topic of gathering gear, let us mention again the portable isolation sound booth. An isolation booth cuts noise and prevents acoustic interference. Additionally, there’s a cheaper alternative to the portable iso booth: the portable reflection filter. The filter usually costs a few Benjamins. If you’re recording many vocal tracks into a common mix and need to track each Fig. 8: A vocal isolation filter like tha SE Reflexion Filter
vocal performance separately, the rejection filter is a must. Given its price, it’s a solid investment.
will prevent room reflections from making your vocal track(s) unintelligible.
II. Clock that Data Before we move on to monitoring, there is yet another studio tool you should know about. Sooner, but probably later, you’re going to need to buy a word clock. This, solider, is the knowledge of the true professional: the gear head. After grasping the following, you should be able to walk into a pro studio and say “Yo, you clockin’ this? Yea? Word.” Knowledge of professional equipment is paramount. Perhaps you’re not there yet, but we’re fixing to change that. A word clock combats the problem of ‘jitter’ in a digital signal, and whether or not you use a clock, you must understand. What is frequency drift or jitter? Within any network of digital audio or video devices, there is a certain amount of drifting, straying, or swaying in how the data lines up. This is what is known as frequency drift or jitter. The jitter occurs because the sample rate isn’t infinite; it gives an imperfect rendition of the source signal. The bits of sample data end up jumping ahead or forward of tha original source or analog signal. At tha end of a recorded track, your content will be out of sync by perhaps as much a few milliseconds: not really enough to notice. So, why the concern? While the problem isn’t audible initially, its solution – the clock – does, in fact, make an audible difference. With the word clock in sync, your output will be a touch hotter, plus the highs and mids will be tighter, sounding less edgy. In short, you’ll be achieving the highest level of synchronization possible for your tracks. While not immediately necessary, a word clock can take your mixes to a more hit-worthy level. So, if you’re in this for the long haul (and you better be), don’t forget the benefits that clocking can provide.
III. Pro Monitoring – Tri-monitoring on 2.1 Systems Now that you’ve got a handle on recording and tracking methods, what about listening back? What about monitoring your mix? Let’s tackle tha art of choosing the right studio
monitors for urban and hip hop music production. Before settling for just any studio monitors, keep the following in mind: You want to produce platinum Hip Hop beatz, right? So, you gotta achieve a hot, punchy output for your mixes. You gotta move your listening audience, get their heads noddin’. “How can I guarantee my mixes will pump platinum heat?” you ask. You’re lucky you didn’t skim over this section, G, ‘cause we’re fixin’ to let you in on monitoring secrets that’ll ensure your mixes rise above the rest. Now, these secrets don’t come cheap, and it’s gonna take some investment on your part. If you can’t afford the monitoring setups we’re fixing to suggest, don’t fret; they’re not mandatory to start. Here we go: 1.) Your near-fields must be bi-amplified. That is to say, both the tweeter and the woofer have their own, separate power-amplifier and receive, from a crossover, only the frequencies they handle best. This provides a cleaner, hotter output. Why is a cleaner, hotter output what you want from your monitors? “To mix insanely loud and hear my shit like it’s pumping in da club!” No, homie. The reason is detail. With a clean, hot output, you’re better able to notice, analyze, and correct sonic errors and imperfections within the quiet, subtle dynamic parts of your mix. 2.) You may ask, “What size woofer do my near-fields need to have?” Even if you’re coupling with a sub, we still recommend having no less than a 6” woofer for your nearfield monitors. The reason is that near-fields with a woofer less than 6” in diameter simply can’t generate enough low end spectrum reproduction to produce a smooth crossover with your subwoofer in a tri-monitoring setup. In other words, if your nearfields are too small, there could be a substantial gap between your mids and lows. When buying near-fields, remember: the sub will cover the low-end frequencies your near-fields are incapable of reproducing. Using 6” to 8” near-field monitors is wise when coupling with a sub to render a smoother natural crossover and seamless output. Moreover, make sure your near-fields and subwoofer both feature built-in
variable crossovers to control frequency overlap which enable you to calibrate your tri-monitoring setup to perfection. When tri-monitoring with a 2.1 (two near-fields, one sub) system, look at the frequency ranges for both the subwoofer and near-fields. Making sure they don’t overlap will minimize the risk of interference between the woofer and near-fields in the mid-low region of the frequency spectrum. Controlling these unwanted frequency overlaps goes a long way in creating a clean monitoring environment, resulting in superb mixes! 3.) First, if you’re buying near-fields only, and not a sub, make sure the near-fields house at least an 8” woofer (if not 10”) and provide solid low-frequency handling. For example, if the near-field can accurately reproduce sub frequencies in the 45-30Hz range, it’s all green and gold. The lower limit of human hearing is about 30 Hz. If your near-fields lower range is below 45Hz, you’re not gonna be missing much. You may ask “if that’s the case, then why buy a sub at all?” Well first, in the low frequency range, it’s hard to hear pitch if there isn’t enough sound pressure. If you can’t hear the bass pitch accurately, it might be detuned. That will give your track a pretty rotten-sounding gloss. No one will want to bounce to the beat when the pitch of the bass doesn’t match. Secondly, the low-frequency sound pressure of a subwoofer reveals rumbling bass detail you wouldn’t normally hear, whether desirable or undesirable. The point being, you need to be able to hear what exists and lurks within the sub-frequency range. Ever listen to The Truth by DJ Kay Slay? When Kay Slay says “pipe bomb,” off goes an infamous, sub-frequency, neck-snappin’ boom! Yea, that is one finely-sampled explosion. But you wouldn’t know it without a sub, it just ain’t gonna hit the same. Plus, without a sub, you’ll never know whether the level of sub bass frequencies within your own mixes or enhancing or destroying your mix. That’s a big risk, G. There are
lots of car subwoofers out there. Best to give ‘em what they want. Mix using a qualified subwoofer and know fully how your mix is going to sound on ‘dem streetz. 4.) Look for near-fields with attenuation switches that compensate for your acoustic space. These features make it possible to adjust for multiple monitor placement scenarios, helping you create that pristine, hit sound you’re aimed to smash into. 5.) Choose the right subwoofer. To eliminate guesswork, you can buy subs and nearfields as a tri-monitoring package. If the brand is well-reputed, like M-Audio, KRK, Bluesky, or Mackie, then you can trust the manufacturer to have done a solid job of matching up the system. When purchasing a subwoofer, a question you may get asked is “do you want forward-firing or downward-firing?” Firing is simply the direction in which the subwoofer’s woofer moves in, forward and back or down and up. We find forward-firing superior to downward-firing for a couple of reasons; one reason is wear. The weight of the magnet in a downward-firing subwoofer can strain the subwoofer cone suspension. It takes extra engineering to compensate for this problem; that extra engineering adds costs, costs that are passed onto you. The second reason is predictability. The frequency response of a downward-firing sub is generally less predictable than forward-firing subs due to differences in the floor surface that it reflects off of. For these two reasons, we recommend forward-firing subs. 6.) Choose the right wattage. A home recording studio with 100 watt near-fields and a 150 watt sub will suffice for a small home recording studio. Professional studios may have a 7.1 system with 150 watt near fields and 300 watt subs, or perhaps near-fields combined with several other monitor pairs mounted to walls, adding up to a 3000 watt system, like the setup you see at Thomas Crown Studio. Yea, you may not need that just yet, but keep those standards high. Buying the right sub based on the right specs is only half the battle, placement is tha other half. We hit that next. For now, pat yourself on the back, holmes. You’ve just been schooled on what monitoring gear can deliver the hits.
IV. Pro Speaker Placement Before dealing with subwoofer placement, let’s deal with near-fields, the head-level speakers. Make sure your near-fields are properly positioned and angled! “What’s proper?” This is proper… Near-field speakers should be placed the same distance from each other as they are from your ears. Ideally, a one meter distance should exist between both speakers while you sit one meter away from the front of both speakers. Additionally, the near-fields should be at level with your head and ears. If they aren’t, you won’t be hearing the sound accurately. Specifically, your ear should be level with the top of the Low Frequency (LF) driver (i.e. the woofer). Otherwise, your highs and lows will be uneven, causing artificial coloring and reflections that destroy mixes once played back on different systems. Make sure you maintain and protect all your mix’s nuances by monitoring music at proper near-field distances and at straight angles to tha ears. Now for the subwoofer: A reliable practice for positioning the sub is to first place the subwoofer where you will be sitting. After doing so, walk around the room, listen carefully to the bass response and try to find two or three sweet spots where the bass response is seems most clean, uninhibited, and smooth. Once the sweet spots are identified, experiment by placing your subwoofer over these spots, listening to well-mixed hit songs you’re familiar with. If the bass response still sounds smooth and uninhibited with the sub located directly within one of the sweet spots, start fine tuning: adjust bass crossover and phase levels to create a frequency balance with your near-fields. Using this method of placement, it’s more of an art than a science and using your intuition is key. However, upon placement and fine tuning of the sub over a favorable sweet spot, don’t pump up the bass levels just because you like how it sounds! This defeats the whole purpose of monitoring with a subwoofer. Control
your emotion, and give your mixes more respect. Remember, tha objective is a flat frequency response. Mixing under a flat frequency response means you end up with mixes that stand the test of playback over numerous environments. That’s what you call a hit-worthy mix. So, don’t tweak your settings artificially just so you can feel your music pump. Yea, sure, your productions or mixes will sound tight in your own studio, but unless you’ve positioned and set your monitors properly, you’ll be gravely disappointed once you hear your musical works played back on balanced and accurate systems! Sometimes monitoring with a single system is not enough, even if it’s flat and correctlypositioned. To minimize tha undesirable surprises within mixes, a smart step is to monitor on multiple systems. For pros, this is a matter of practice. Play your mixes at the club where club managers let you, play it in car stereos, play it through a 40 dollar CD player hooked up to your uncle’s dust-laden living room stereo he purchased in tha early 70’s. If you don’t have any of your own mixes yet, use your favorite hit Hip Hop songs as a reference – that way you know you’re setting up your system against something that was properly mixed and mastered, and you’ll be able to calibrate your system accordingly. All these tests will raise your awareness of how your studio sounds compared to a variety of other systems and render a flatter, more accurate, more hit-worthy frequency response. Make your studio sound as perfect as it can be, but expect imperfections when testing mixes out in the hood. Learn from tha imperfections and mistakes you hear, go back into the studio, make the corrections, and grow as a producer.
V. How Loud do the Top Producers Mix? Okay, Homie. Yeah yeah, you’ve learned valuable know-how on gear and studio setups, yeah your studio is or will soon be awesome, but yo… before you start braggin’ up a
storm, hoooold up. Let’s discuss the best volumes at which to mix hits. Now, if you’re asking yourself “How loud do the top producers mix?”, then you’re asking the wrong question. Try asking “How soft do they mix?” That’s right, that’s what we said! Below we reveal the reasons top producers mix at lower versus higher levels. 1.) Mixing at high volumes for long periods can cause permanent ear damage. Don’t act surprised, fool: long term exposure to high levels can ruin your ears. Pros will tell you good ears are as important as good theory. Good ears equal good mixes; protect them with your life, because in music they’re your biggest asset. 2.) High mixing volumes for long periods can also cause your ears to over-compensate for both high frequencies and low frequencies. If you only mix at high levels, your ears will run out of gas within a couple hours as opposed to mixing at softer levels which allow you to hear accurately for longer periods of time. 3.) Mixing loud may sound great in the beginning, but re-listening to the same mix a day later at soft levels will reveal a myriad of imbalances. However, tha opposite is not true! Achieving proper balances at soft levels tends to maintain the same achieved balances when heard later at loud levels. Are we saying mix only at soft levels? Of course not. In fact, it’s necessary to mix loud for a minute or two to ensure proper balance on the low end spectrum of your mix. Also, to ensure effects and EQs aren’t saturated, it’s necessary to mix at moderately loud levels for short periods of time. But overall, the best balances are achieved at lower mixing levels. Finally, here’s one last must-know monitoring secret that both amateur and pro producers rarely consider. A pro monitoring system is at least as important for selecting and designing beats as it is for the final mix-down. Building, designing, and sculpting your music productions under the clarity of a properly installed, balanced monitoring
system will empower you to produce the best music possible. So be warned: if you monitor on a crappy set of headphones while you’re building a track, then proceed to your buddy’s crib to monitor on his pro system for the final mixdown, you’re still not going to reap the full benefit of a pro monitoring system. Sure, You’ll be able to compress and EQ correct, but you missed a lot of nuances from the start. That TB808 bass kick that sounded flat through the headphones was actually a nice, bassy sample. Fat, not flat, fool! Instead you opted for a thinner kick because the heavy lowmids sounded better in the cheap earphones than the bassy 808 did. That’s where you lose out, bro. So make sure that a pro monitoring system guides your entire mixing process from beginning to end, and give your ears tha advantage they need so you can execute those chart-topping mixes.
VI. G’on Ahead Congrats! You’re now officially a gear head. If your bro asks what kind of equipment he needs to make hitz, now you’ll hit him up with all types of gear, covering all types of setups and techniques, making his thug head spin. More importantly, this knowledge is yours, for your own advancement, for your own hit-making. We know it’s been a tough trudge through the detailed material we’ve laid out above. Buy hey… Now you’re aware of just about every unwanted nuance or detail that can possibly creep into your mixes and try to paint you amateur! See, a producer may claim pro game, but does he or she truly exude it in the show and prove? All the details you’ve already gained from above would soar over the heads of amateurs. Without this awareness, an amateur puzzling together a home studio would be completely lost! He’d maybe get lucky buying a good DAW and a few plugins, sit his monitors on a desktop at shoulder level and proceed to make beatz, but yo – he ain’t gonna cut it long term. But you, on tha other hand – you’re now learned and ready.
Ok, ok, wipe the tears of joy from your thug-ass face. From here on out, we’ll be conquering music theory, mix theory and all ‘round hit theory. Hit theory, G, is where you graduate from producer to Hip Hop producer. But before we get any further, we should stress we’re not politikin’. Though you may find it easy to diss one producer and favor another, let’s say Timbaland over young Storchie-porgy, you’ll find all experienced producers at the top of their game have skills and tricks that demand respect. We follow the rule “If ya can’t beat ‘em, ya can’t diss ‘em”. Hence we’ll be drawing examples from all over the map of Hip Hop, right from the dirty South to NYC to The bay. So get pumped fool! You’re in for a plethora of skillz, trickz, tipz, and techniquez that’ll have your fellow peeps worshiping you over!
Chapter 5: Music Theory 101: Composing The hook Basic Musical Concepts of Timing, Dynamics, and Musical Variety Alright dawg, enough on gear. Get off yo seat, and cue up dat beat! It be time to get dirty. The task at hand is Hit Production: Hit Theory. Hits don’t originate from good gear alone. Hits originate from musical influences, musical roots, musical drive, musical creativity, and from musical intuition. Yea, your musical intuition might be good; you might have an ear for production from listening to all that Hip-hop. And, shit, you got the gear. But yo…Can you dissect hit mixes and melodies in detail? Can you discern and explain what makes them platinum? And, most challenging, can you accurately re-produce the hits you nod your head to? If not, you’re going to start learning, right now. We’ve all heard words that explain a song’s melodic elements: a riff, a lick, a hook. Are all these words just different names for the same thing? Well, yes and no. They all refer to melody; to a catchy sequence of notes played on an instrument or pieced together in a sequencer. A riff is a melody played on an instrument that people recognize. The word lick is commonly substituted for the word riff among guitarists and string players. A hook is a lick or riff that possesses exceptional power. It is what listeners hear and recognize instantly; it’s what they sing in the shower. In short, a hook is a lick strong enough it secures itself into the hearts and minds of listeners, and if extremely powerful, onto Billboard! So, in order to understand how a platinum hook is born, we’re going to use Dre’s Still D.R.E. as an example and analyze that catchy piano riff from tha inside out. Your reaction may be “What’s the big deal?! It’s a simple chord progression, fool.” Well, it may sound like a simple chord progression initially, fool, but in fact it has more
nuance than one may attribute to it. An average listener usually doesn’t understand what’s behind the true production of any given hook, and they don’t have to; they just know it kicks ass. Yet, for aspiring music producers, the story is different. Producers need to understand, dissect, and be able to explain what’s behind the production of a hook. Reproducing Dre’s hook or a hook like it requires vital knowledge of its nuance. To acquire this knowledge, you must learn both modal theory and musical dynamics. Then you will understand why Dre’s hook is so popular. In short, modes and modal theory are what determine a melody’s mood and musical dynamics are what determine a melody’s expressiveness. Don’t worry if that sounds vague, we tell all. Below, we show you how the riff is built and how, if it were built differently, its power would greatly diminish. Knowing about theory and dynamics turns an average listener’s ear into an educated, music producer’s ear – attentive to all the fine musical details hit productions possess. You will be able to identify note relationships and you will understand the dynamics of a truly original, classy-sounding hook. Plus, your beats and melodies will no longer suffer from sounding rigid, robotic or contrived; rather, they will sound slick, smooth and natural. You don’t believe us? Learn what we’re tellin’ you. Now you may be thinking “Perfect! As soon as I’m done reading this section, I’ll be able to write a hit melody.” Is that sarcasm you’re abusin’ us with? No? Well, holmes, there ain’t no free lunch. Producers East, West, and in the Dirty South dredge for weeks and months to produce winning beats and melodies. So, yes, you’ll definitely be gaining skill, but writing is challenging still. You may occasionally get blocked; just as the writer can get blocked, so too can the producer. Inspiration is like rain: sometimes it’s a downpour, sometimes a drizzle. A knowledge of theory and musical dynamics will ensure you’re prepared to implement your best musical ideas as they arrive. Powered with quick implementation of musical ideas, you allow hits to be born. Word! Now let’s get you those skills.
I. Time in the sequencer Learning modal theory and musical dynamics won’t get you far without knowing basic concepts of bars, note divisions, time signature and tempo. Regardless of what sequencer is used, we all must obey the laws of time and rhythm, so if you don’t already have them mastered, here they are… What’s a bar? A bar is the chief building block of a song. Generally, a bar contains two half notes, four quarter notes, eight eighth notes, 16 16th notes, etc... The two most fundamental units of musical division this book requires you to know are the bar, and the 16th note. That’s because from here on, we will express concepts of rhythm and song structure using 16th notes and bars respectively. 16th note patterns are counted “one, ee, and, ah, two, … etc.” They are written as 16th notes on a staff or simply as “1e&a 2e&a, etc…”. Count it to yourself a few times up to “4e&a” and repeat it, get comfortable counting this over the music you listen to, over your own tracks or over your own playing. If the track is too fast, you may just count tha &’s. Counting this way will boost your knowledge of rhythm and identifying the positions of notes in melodic phrases. Here, bars #16, #17, and #18 in Reason’s sequencer are shown as numbered grey boxes, running sideways along the top, left to right. Fig. 9: Bars and beats in Reason’s sequencer.
Each bar is marked by a thick vertical grey
border within the bar boxes at top, turning into thick white borders running down the piano roll. Looking closely within each bar’s grey box, you can also see the quarter note and 16th note divisions. If counted as described above, each “one” count lands
on the bar line; the “two,” “three,” and “four” quarter note counts land on the three medium markers between each bar line, and each “e&a” lands on the three small 16th note markers between the medium count markers. Beyond bars and note divisions, there are two more concepts you must grasp immediately before moving to Fig. 10: Reason’s transport panel.
the good stuff. In figure 10 is Reason’s transport
panel. The transport contains the play and record buttons; it controls the master tempo and the time signature. It controls also the time signature and tempo of the song. The transport shows a time signature of 4/4. The top number of the time signature fraction represents the number of counts per bar; counts are precisely that: what you count in any given bar. If the signature is 4/4, then you count up to four in each bar, if it’s 6/8, you count to six. The bottom number represents the note value of each count: quarter, eighth, 16th, etc… So, 4/4 means four quarter notes per bar; 5/4 means five quarter notes per bar, 10/8 means 10 eighth notes, and so on. Generally, the staple Hip Hop signature is 4/4 or, less often, 6/8. Now, there’s nothing to stop you from going with a wacky signature like 11/8, but the raw neck-snappin beats are always in 4/4. Tempo is simply track speed. It’s measured in beats per minute (bpm) so the higher the number, the faster the track. You will hear Hip Hop tracks anywhere from 60 to 120 bpm. Above, in the transport, the sequencer tempo, since we’re going to be referencing Still D.R.E., is set at the speed of Dre’s platinum track: just above 92 bpm. Note also the position of the loop markers: the boxes with L and R beside them. The right loop marker is at bar 33, or at tha end of bar 32. Usually a track can be broken up into 4-, 8-, 16-, and 32-bar chunks, depending on track tempo. Where the changes will
vary depending on tha evolution of the track and on the rest of the mix, but as a rule for beginning arrangement and producing, you can organize your buildups and changes on multiples of four bars. That’s where listeners naturally anticipate changes. Having this knowledge, it’s time to get serious about melody. Hit Theory serves as a Hip Hop production primer with its primary focus on composition and class. So some music theory is definitely in order. One of the most “street-ready” ways to understand how great melodies and hit-list hooks are written, is modal theory. If it sounds intimidating, it’s not. All you gotta do is pay attention, and listen to tha examples we provide.
II. Modes 101 Most explanations of modes start with the C major (Cmaj) scale: an intuitive starting point because there are no sharps or flats in Cmaj, and all modes can be derived from Cmaj. Before diving into modes and their uses, what are they? And what’s the distinction between discussing modes as opposed to keys? Here’s the low down on modes: Modes are scale variations that change how notes of a given scale relate to one another. An understanding of modes translates directly into an understanding of how to solo, improvise, and write a killer hook. Whether you play an instrument or whether you’re producing with a mouse and a sequencer, modes are essential. Perhaps the most important reason to learn modes is tha understanding they give you of musical and emotional moods. Different modes deliver different emotional moods: Ionian mode sounds happy, as a major chord sounds happy; Tha Aeolian mode sounds sad as the minor chord sounds sad. “What?! LOL!” – Sounds silly, eh? You’ll take modes far more seriously once you understand how deep and complex their emotional expressiveness can be. The Lydian and Dorian modes each convey a more complex range of emotion, merging both happy and sad simultaneously. The Mixolydian mode is ephemeral, light, and carefree. Depending upon the mode you employ, your melodies can quickly grow rich of character, class, and meaning. Music
is all about emotion; emotional ranges small and wide, simple and complex. Since modes are a vehicle in which to convey these emotions, any up’n’coming producer won’t go far without mastering them! When playing a modal scale in-step with an existing chord pattern (what we will show you with the Still D.R.E. hook), you’ll learn quickly whether that mode is compatible with those chord changes. Knowing which mode is appropriate for what chord changes is the foundation of improvisation and melody creation. So, the goal of this section on modal theory is to give you an intuitive grasp of how a mode sounds and what notes work well in a solo or repeated melody: to give you the tools to create unique melodies that will lure your listeners. With this goal in mind, let’s start with intervals. Scales consist of intervals. That is, a scale consists of multiple notes that are at a fixed difference in pitch from the root note, the note the scale starts with. Each interval has a name. So, for example, an A root note and a Bflat create a minor second interval; an A and a B create a major second interval. It continues up to a major seventh interval. For reference, here is the list of every interval starting at the root and proceeding one semitone at a time up the chromatic scale to the root octave.
• Perfect fourth
• Minor seventh
• Minor second
• Diminished fifth
• Major seventh
• Major second
• Perfect fifth
• Root octave
• Minor third
• Minor sixth
• Major third
• Major sixth
Some of these interval names are also chord names; minor, major, sixth, seventh. The chord names are based on tha intervals. Combining notes at specific intervals
produces specific chords. A root, a minor third and a perfect fifth make a minor chord. Switch the minor third for a major third and the result is a major chord. Combinations of intervals are also used to create scales and modes of scales. Let’s now look at Cmaj and see what steps are required to derive the rest of the modes from it. In Figure 11, on bar one, is the Cmaj scale. In modal theory, Cmaj is known as C Ionian. On the piano roll, white keys are depicted in light purple, black keys (the sharps and flats) are depicted in dark purple. Note that C Ionian has no sharps Fig. 11: Derive modes by using the white keys of the keyboard.
or flats, hence one of tha easiest scales or modes to start with.
Using intervals, C Ionian’s construction, and the construction of every Ionian scale, is as follows: root, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, major seventh, root octave. When transposing that Ionian scale to any other key, those interval proportions remain the same, and the happy Ionian mood remains intact. If, instead of transposing, you took the root note and moved it to the next white key above the root octave, you would end up with new note relationships, and that happy mood changes to a new mood. On bar 2, the scale goes from D to D with no sharps or flats, the result of this change in note order and scale is the Dorian mode. The difference is a minor third instead of a major third, and a minor seventh instead of a major seventh. What does this difference sound like? Dorian is a bittersweet, mellow-sounding mode. In fact, it’s exactly what Dre uses in Still D.R.E.
Fig. 12: Here is a side-by-side comparison of the various modes. Click here or on tha above illustration to hear them played in sequence.
Repeating the last step on the rest of the white keys, that’s E to E, F to F, etc…, and transposing each scale down to C we arrive at tha above set of scales. They are, from left to right, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. We’ve squashed them into four bars to make it easier to compare them. If you look back at our list of intervals, you can reconstruct each mode using its interval names. This can help you predict which modes match which chords, but explaining that could take a whole nother chapter. Right now, it will suffice to play and listen to each mode using your local keyboard or sequencer to all, analyzing their scope and feel. Through practice and repetition of playing each mode, you’ll quickly grow familiar to each mode’s signature. With the memorizing of modes, you will become a master at recognizing them in your favorite songs. You’ll find and witness them in every conceivable hit record known to man! Tha illustrious D.J. Khaled’s We Takin’ Over takes over the game with D Aeolian. Snoop and R. Kelly fashioned a killer hook out of the seldom-used B Locrian scale in That’s that: A most successful project, indeed. Okay, let’s get back on Still D.R.E., taking an in-depth look at the doctor’s famous hook.
Here it is in Reason’s sequencer:
hook from Still D.R.E. That
heard a million times, imprinted permanently on the North American psyche. The root notes are played by a bowed bass or cello: A on Fig. 13: The Still D.R.E. hook, up close and personal.
the first bar, E on the second.
chords contain a minor third and perfect fifth, they are minor chords. But hold up G, there’s a twist. The high A carries over to the first three eighth notes at the beginning of bar 14. Those three eighth notes play an A suspended fourth (Asus4) chord. It holds a bit of tension in the riff before resolving to E minor. Imagine if those three eighth notes were missing, and the track went from Amin directly to Emin. It wouldn’t sound as good; it wouldn’t hold as much character and class. Despite the twist, we can treat this change as a progression from Amin to Emin. Since both chords are minor, tha Aeolian mode is a sure match for Amin. In fact, A and E Aeolian both work. If you are in the habit of singing the modes to yourself, or better, if you’re in the habit of playing them on a keyboard or other instrument, you may decide A Dorian is more appropriate as you will be able to hear it against the chords. So, technically speaking, Dorian and Aeolian both work, yet the latter matches the mood of Dre’s track best. “Why is Aeolian the best match?” A simple way to decide is to play the scales, in eighth notes under the hook. Play A Dorian under the first half of the lick, then play E Aeolian under the second half. Dig? Now you know what notes are fair game for improvisation, and – if you listen to that clav synth line in the track – you’ll
notice that it is an improvisation using these modes, as well. With this modal insight, you can quickly compose a lick or counter-melody on your keyboard. Try it now and enlighten yourself to the power of these modes! Pretty tight, eh? Here’s the kick-ass part: This exercise can be repeated with any track and any mode; and moreover, it’s essential to further your development as a composer and producer. Before long, you’ll find yourself identifying modes in your favorite tracks without even trying. And yo, if you lack confidence about your ability to pair modes with chords and licks, don’t worry. When you play the wrong mode, there are wrong notes, and you will hear and notice them immediately. Through trial and error, you’ll find just the right note combination to bust out a hit. Practice and experience, G. Listen, don’t just sit on this knowledge. Raise yo’ standards and compose hooks with character. Know these scales, know them to hear them, allow them to provide you with an understanding and power to brew a ton of hot, hit-worthy hooks! Maybe you saw the Still D.R.E. hook above and thought “shit, that ain’t hard. I could do that easy.” You sure? Cause we ain’t covered musical dynamics yet, holmes. And without applying the right dynamics, your rendition won’t compare to Dre’s original. Banging out the same chord progression without the right attention paid to dynamics simply spells amateur. Let’s dissect Dre’s lick more and see what makes it tick.
III. Adding Dynamics for Class and Feel Already, you’re equipped to start producing masterful melodies via your new insight on modes and modal theory. But hold up homie, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Modal theory alone ain’t enough. To be musical, a melody needs to have class, character, personality and feel. How do you attain this? In order to create classic platinum hooks, you need a solid understanding of dynamics. Understanding dynamics means knowing and manipulating note attributes such as velocity, quantization, humanizing, duration, release times, phrasing, accents, crescendos, decrescendos,
legato, staccato, as well as, control of the modulation and pitch wheels on your midi keyboard. Editing and tailoring these types of note-for-note attributes is tha essential building block of intelligent musical performance. Be it a melody in a verse or a hook in a chorus, musical dynamics are so important, that without a thorough understanding of them, your tracks will scream “Amateur!” at every listener unlucky enough to be listening. “So how exactly will dynamics make a truly impressive difference in your productions?” you ask. To show you, we must take an in-depth look at Dre’s hook. Imagine, for a moment, you got so excited the first time you heard the Still D.R.E. hook that you immediately opened your sequencer, re-sequenced the hook note-for-note by doubleclick inserting each note into the piano roll, snapping all the notes into the sequencer at perfect eighth note spacings. You hit “play” and, sure enough, that’s the riff. But uh, hmm…it’s just not the same as Dre’s original. What’s wrong? Your reproduction is stiff and soulless like white-boy pop from the 60’s. Why? First, all the notes in your reproduction fall precisely on each eighth note count, tha original Still D.R.E. hook does not. Second, your sequence plays back each note at the same exact velocity value. Again, tha original Still D.R.E. hook does not. “Do these minor differences in dynamics make that much of a difference?” Hell yeah! Let us explain… In figure 14, an in-depth view of Dre’s hook shows two critical details that you may not have noticed initially. The first detail relates to feel. Feel refers to musical imprecision in rhythm such as humanizing, swinging, or grooving a rhythm. This deliberate imprecision prevents a track from sounding mechanical. It delivers a far more musical, naturalsounding performance depending on how well tha imprecision is applied. Notice that the notes in Dre’s hook don’t line up exactly with the grid lines (16th notes). Instead, they sweep left to right, from the lowest notes to the highest notes. This is most easily accomplished by quickly rolling the fingers playing the chord from left to right. This sweeping effect reproduces the feel of Dre’s lick more accurately, but it’s not the whole story.
The second critical detail is velocity. If you look at the bottom half of figure 14, you notice the pink panel with red bars of varying heights. Those heights indicate the velocity of the note. Velocity refers to how hard they keys of a keyboard are struck. Velocity can alter a variety of parameters, but most commonly – and in the case of Dre’s hook – it controls a note’s volume or amplitude. Fig. 14: Velocity variance in Still D.R.E.
In tha illustration, the low, beginning notes of each chord
are struck slightly harder than the high, later notes producing a brief, yet effective decrescendo or loud-to-soft dynamic. This last subtle, finishing touch renders a much more realistic re-creation. As you’ve now discovered, though it seemed at first a few easy chords on a keyboard, upon closer examination Dre’s hook is more complex. For instance, if the dynamics explained above weren’t present, the hook – though helped along by the drum programming and Dre’s mighty lyrical delivery – would be simply less powerful. Dre, like all top producers, draws from a comprehensive arsenal of musical dynamics knowhow. So far, we’ve only touched the surface of this skill arsenal. But now you know to avoid tha all-too common inclination for novice producers to snap or quantize notes completely to grid. Though it’s okay for some song elements to be rock-solid dead on the grid, a song should have feel, and feel is the product of deliberate imprecision and velocity dynamics. Leave making the bland, non-musical, robotic beats to tha
amateurs. Let’s now dive further into the must-know concepts of musical dynamics starting with a more detailed analysis of velocity dynamics. The style of any acclaimed musician, composer or producer will be marked, in large part by his or her use of velocity dynamics. That is their ability to play softly, then loudly, in calculated transitions, to add to the mood and feel of the song and the song’s phrasing. So listen up! You might be under tha impression that a classical pianist just sits down at the piano bench, reads the scored music, and doesn’t add anything new to the piece he or she is playing. Truth is, dawg, each player’s own dynamics will set them apart from other players alike. Due to musical dynamics, all classical musicians will deliver a unique performance of the same piece. As a producer, everything in this book can contribute to your style; music production is a much broader arena for differentiating yourself. Yet, despite the great number of ways to set yourself apart as a producer, you must know as much about dynamics as a classical musician. So let us relate three introductory velocity dynamics concepts: accent, crescendo, and decrescendo. Figure 15 shows each of these three dynamics concepts from left to right: a single accent, a crescendo, and a decrescendo. Fig. 15: Loud and soft dynamics controlled via velocity levels.
accent is a note that is abruptly louder than the notes preceding it for
the purpose of emphasizing that note. The crescendo is a gradual increase in loudness over a series of notes and a decrescendo, as illustrated above, is tha opposite. Control of loud note emphasis, control of soft note expressions, and control of fluid evolving note passages is paramount to musicality. Accents, crescendos, and decrescendos
bring your music to life. Knowing of them is one thing; applying and using them in all your music is something much more. There’s just no point in having a lifeless, unaccented, monodynamic, robotic melody or rhythm in your music productions. It sounds weak, boring, typical, and amateur. So, do tha opposite: always nurture your beats with a healthy dose of dynamics. Just as important as note emphasis and feel is note duration. When it comes to note duration, there are two ends of a spectrum. At one end is staccato: brief, enunciated notes that are sharply defined and that don’t take up their whole note value. At tha other end is legato: long notes that take up the whole note value and slur together slightly. “So what makes staccato different from playing a 16th note instead of an eighth note? Isn’t it the same thing?” Not exactly. Think of it as how much of the note you use up. For example, a series of eighth notes that are played staccato might only be slightly longer than a 16th note or perhaps slightly shorter. By contrast, Legato eighth notes will slur together slightly, perhaps with the musician playing just a little bit longer than an eighth note each time. In either case, it is the feel of the playing that is being we’re discussing. Staccato notes are tight and tense, where legato notes are more loose and relaxed. Finally, a rounded knowledge of dynamics for the studio producer would not be complete without skills of the pitch wheel. Since forever, musicians of every genre have understood the power of pitch bends to create more soulful, expressive melodies that grab listeners’ attention. What’s more, since most hip hop productions today do not use live musician performances, it is even more important for producers to add back the lost expression and pitch bends to sequenced melodies as exists in live music. Conventional players of many string and wind instruments perform soulful, heartfelt pitch bends via a variety of live techniques. To create similar pitch bends on the keyboard, we must utilize the keyboard’s pitch wheel. On most keyboards and keyboard midi controllers there are two wheels (or, in some cases, one wheel that moves on two axes) at the left of the keyboard. One is the mod wheel, tha other is
the pitch wheel. Both can be used to effect changes to the melody. Typically, as the name implies, the pitch wheel affects the pitch of a given midi instrument. The mod wheel usually modulates parameters such as filters and Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) rate, we’ll get to that in due course. For now, let’s stay focused on pitch bend dynamics. Note that a pitch wheel can be assigned a range of pitch to control. In figure 16, the range is 2 semitones up or down. So the pitch wheel shifts the C up to a D halfway through
note, displayed on the piano roll. In effect, this creates an abrupt major second jump. So why not trigger the C and D separately instead
Fig. 16: Here is one example of a pitch bend in a melody.
from one to the next?
Changes in the pitch wheel are tracked by the blue bar at the
Again, the technique
bottom of the snapshot.
adds variety to what could otherwise be a
very flat, unentertaining performance. Tha above example is an abrupt bend up a major second, but the pitch wheel can perform large bending of notes up a full two octaves, or…the pitch wheel’s range can be extremely narrow, say just a few fractions of a minor second. As the pitch wheel is capable of bends both large and small, most of the time the tempo and mood of a song dictate the range most likely to give the right feel. Sometimes nudging the pitch slightly is what sounds tight, sometimes dropping the pitch a fifth and back halfway is what sounds tight. Again, let the tempo and mood of the song at hand sway you into finding the perfect bending sequence and range.
Be alert to musical dynamics, they are heard everywhere. They occur in the hit music you listen to every day. Velocity, duration, pitch bending, placement of accents – knowing and using all of these musical dynamics can propel your music productions to levels both vibrant and entertaining. See, when you produce music without use of dynamics, your tracks sound depleted, flat, and lifeless. We’re not sayin that you need to use every trick in the book for every track until you are sweating blood and tears. However, be ready to implement these skills when the creative opportunity strikes. Like we said before, it’s a producer’s attention to detail that gets his beat noticed and onto the charts. Next, we’ll dive further into dynamics, explaining how to create convincing guitar and bass emulations with class.
Chapter 6: Music Theory 102: Secrets of Storchavellian Keyboard Chops Learning Dynamic Tricks from Live Instruments So, you’ve conquered the basics of dynamics. Congratulations on never having delivering a flat performance or production again. Now it’s time to move in deeper, teaching you the critical keyboard skills required to emulate a variety of live instruments. Every acoustic instrument is unique in its construction, playing technique and dynamic response. A piano is different from a sax is different from a guitar. Hence you can learn unique, expressive possibilities from a saxophone performance that you’d never hear in a guitar performance and vice-versa. For the remainder of our theory section, we’re going to show you how to emulate the dynamics of musical performances heard with live guitar and bass using your keyboard. “Wait up homie, what’s so important about learning ol’ skool instrument emulation?” Let us tell… When asked, by freelance journalist Annette Figueroa, what sets him apart from the rest, Scott Storch replied “… I can – sort of – emulate any [live] instrument through keyboards.” Despite Storch’s tentative wording, his emulation skills provide him with an absolute power over his productions: productions that stand out and raise heads. With skill of emulation in hand, Storch doesn’t have to rely on session musicians. In fact, if a riff arrives spontaneously in his head, whether it’s a saxophone, xylophone, guitar, bass, whatever – he’s got the chops to bang it out on ‘dem keys in an instant. Yea, it’s true, Timbaland has dissed Storch by callin’ him the piano man, but by doing so Timbo ignores a formidable ace in the hole that gives Storch his producer foundation and fame. It’s like bein’ Machiavelli’s prince instead of the President. You don’t have to fool around with someone else’s opinion on how the result should sound. You’re independent of those opinions. You hold an independent power and skill. The princely power to emulate instruments ain’t the sole reason Storch has soared – nosebleedingly
high – as a producer. However emulating real instrument performances will earn any producer significant respect as a composer and arranger. When you hear that saxophone line calling to you from deep within your brain, best have the chops to pay it heed on the keyz. You will be a more robust, powerful, and respected producer for it. Now learn this…
I. Guitar Dynamics To show you how to emulate guitar dynamics, we’ll be using loops from the ModernBeats Urban Guitar loop library and reproducing them as midi files. You may be sayin,’ “Wait, why bother reproducing a guitar lick with midi when you already have a live recording? A real guitar always sounds better.” Yea, yea, but may we say – whether performed live, or emulated skillfully, a tight performance is a tight performance. Whether your melody ends up live or sequenced is up to you, yet having the luxury of being able to choose between either methods is strong reason to learn the skills of instrument emulation. Don’t limit yourself. It’s golden knowing how to implement both into your productions. Now let’s get back on track and tap these skills. 1.) Down, up: Before a guitarist can go anywhere with advanced technique, he or she must learn right hand technique (or left hand if you’re a southpaw). This means alternating between an up stroke and a down stroke. Typically speaking, the right hand holding the pick moves up and down at either eighth or 16th note intervals. Figure 17 shows an eighth note strummed guitar pattern played with alternative down and up strokes. The right-hand down stroke first hits notes that are lower on the register. Observe the first three notes of the pattern: from left to right, those notes proceed from low to high. Tha up strokes move in tha opposite direction. If this sounds backward, it’s because the lowest pitched notes on a guitar are the strings at the top of the guitar. Similar to the dynamics techniques we explained with the Still D.R.E. example, the guitar midi sequence above exhibits particular care given to all notes’ timing, velocity,
in order to create a realistic emulation. It’s this level of care and detail that is necessary to create tha effect of a guitar pick sweeping up and down across the strings of a guitar just as an actual guitar Fig. 17: An emulation of alternating pick sweeps.
player would in a live performance. Strive for absolute precision, yet
don’t concern yourself if your velocities don’t look as neat and tidy as tha ones in tha image. It’s more an example. Use it as a template. Simple right? Quite. Now let’s move forward. 2.) Hammer-ons and pull-offs: These are the two dynamic tricks a guitar player uses most often. A hammer-on is the plucking or picking of one note followed by the hammering of the finger on the same string further down the neck to make a higher note. Sonically, it is distinct from plucking or picking both notes, because the second note is slightly attenuated and its attack is softer. A pull off is tha opposite: It is a note that is created by pulling the string slightly and releasing the finger causing a lower second note to sound. Confused? No problem. You’re fixing to hear and see what we’re talking about, below. Dynamically, tha importance of hammer-ons and pull-offs is they offer quieter, more musical ways of transitioning from one note to the next. From the Modernbeats guitar library, take a listen to sample G01V3102. On tha “&” count of two, there is a hammeron in the highest notes.
lick looks like in the Reason sequencer. The hammer-on is right in the middle where the play marker is about to land. You can think of the hammer-on as deciding at the last minute to play a different chord. Note the decrease in Fig. 18: A midi reconstruction of G01V3102.
velocity from the first to the second note of the hammer-on. Find that
second note by counting down three white keys from C5 on the side of the piano roll. The hammer-on is thus the transition from G4 to A5. On a keyboard, you can easily accomplish a hammer-on by quickly replacing one finger with another. In tha above example, the right ring finger triggers the G4, while the pinky quickly replaces it on A5. It takes less than a 16th note to make that transition. The speed and subtleness of the hammer-on is what makes it a popular way to transition between notes. If note has the same velocity, attack, and duration (like many a country guitar solo) it becomes a flat performance. In addition to velocity changes, tha offset timing of the notes provides further realism. The notes of the riff sweep slightly just like Dreâ€™s hook. Whenever possible humanize your notes. If you program them with a midi controller you wonâ€™t have to worry about imprecision, but it had better be calculated imprecision, not sloppy imprecision. Finally, note tha attack level modulation at the bottom. This is the critical, final ingredient that will keep this hammer-on from sounding artificial. An increase in value slows and
softens tha attack of each played sample. Since tha attack of a hammered note is softer, nudging up tha attack value slightly slows tha attack’s timing and thus softens the note enough to make a convincing reproduction. It takes careful precision and is best done after sequencing the melody on the keyboard first (as opposed to routing the controller’s mod wheel to tha attack value and using it to control the value on the fly). Plus, by applying modulation after sequencing, you’re able to avoid accidentally cutting off attacks of picked notes from moving the wheel too soon or too late. The procedure for a pull-off is the same, but instead of moving up the scale, you move down.
II. Heat Up Bass with Pitch Bends Ain’t nothin more phallic than a car sub-woofer – standard fare for a G. We’ve discussed tha importance of an iconic melody, tha importance of platinum hooks that listeners will embrace and remember. But yo, isn’t it just as important to put as much time and effort into the bass? Well, give yourself a minute to think business. Bass frequencies carry furthest and pass easily through obstacles. They travel through walls, through car stereos and into tha unsuspecting masses. Hi-fi overkill is just a part of the game, best take advantage of it. When someone cranks their home sound system or car stereo, it’s the bass that the neighbors complain about. How many times have you heard the bass line of Eminem’s Without Me coming from a Scion blasting down the boulevard. That subwoofer hits like a motherfucker! Hell yea, bass is just as important!! Bass lines must be unique, catchy and every bit as creative as a track’s main hook. So if someone hasn’t heard your beat yet, when they finally do it could be a revelation for them: “Wha?! So That’s where that damn bass line been comin’ from.” So make the bass supreme and in your face – full and catchy. Let’s go deeper now, and learn you how to heat up that bass. Taking our pitch bends and pitch modulation skills
further, here are four lessons that will raise the standards of your bass productions. 1.) Bending up/down to a targeted semitone: When sequencing pitch bends, set the pitch bend range to a value that allows you to hit the desired pitch when sliding the pitch bend wheel 100% up or down. If your song uses a minor key, set your semitone value to 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, or 12. This way, when you bend your pitch controller 100% to create a bending bass line, tha ending pitch of that bend will land exactly on a desired note within the song’s key. To nail this skill down, let’s use midi to emulate a ModernBeats bass line. Following tha advice above, let’s pick an interval (in semitones) that the bass line melody is likely to use most often. By selecting 5 semitones, the note bending 100% up or down equals a major third. But you already knew that. 2.) Bending on main pulses or endings of phrases: As with Fig. 19: In Reason’s NNXT
bending ranges, there are no hard fast rules on where to place
sampler, the pitch section
pitch bends within a melody. However, the most common,
allows you to select pitch bend range.
effective spots bass bends occur are main pulses, or, in a 4/4 phrase, the first and second quarter notes. Also, pitch bends are powerful at ends of 4 or 8 bar phrases, which bring closure to musical phrases or act as lead-ins to subsequent phrases.
3.) Bending length or duration. Most pitch bends are one bar or less in length/duration, but again there are no set rules. Usually, a slower bass melody is coupled with a slower, longer pitch bend to match phrasing. The same is true with faster bass melodies being coupled with shorter length bends. However, creating contrast by coupling a fast bass melody with a long, slow pitch bend can emphasize a song’s feel in a desirable way. Experiment with a variety of durations: some matching, some contrasting.
An emulation like tha one in figure 20 won’t sound exactly like a live bass, but it illustrates the type of dynamics successful must
to. Typically, the main missing ingredient in midi bass tracks is the natural Fig. 20: Alright, here is that mean bass line in midi form. Some pitch bends are slower, some are faster.
of noise and timbre captured when tracking a live bass, such as string slides and fret
movement etc. Sometimes you’ll desire to track live bass only. However, other times you’ll accept nothing but a solid midi sub-bass. As a rule, always choose the bass that what sounds contributes the most value for the song at hand, and each song calls for something different. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if your bass line sounds like it comes from a synth or a sample, just as long as it’s the best fit for your beat’s production and has class, character, and soul. 4.) Vibrato: Finally, some producers love spicin’ up bass tracks by applying vibrato at tha end of sustained notes within a musical phrase. The term “vibrato” relates to pitch; it means the pitch is oscillating, moving back and forth, between a high and low note (not to be confused with tremolo which is an oscillation between low and high amplitude.) But wait, isn’t it difficult to program a vibrato using the pitch wheel? Yes it is. Enter the LFO.
LFOs operate at frequencies of about 40 Hz and below – most of which is too low for human hearing, yet not when applied to synth or sampler parameters such as pitch. When you have a low frequency sine wave controlling slow changes over an instrument parameter, that sine wave is said to be modulating that parameter. In figure 21, have a look at LFO1’s options: it can control pitch, filter and level and it has selectable waveforms for modulating. Plus, you can control its rate and Fig. 21: Here is Reason’s
delay amounts. LFO1’s options allow for in-depth tailoring
NNXT LFO (low frequency
when modulating instruments. To simply apply vibrato, we’ll
use LFO2 since it has fewer options and already defaults to using a sine wave for its modulation waveform. Modulating
the pitch, we’ve set the rate parameter to a higher value so the vibrato won’t be too slow to recognize. The second parameter, delay, postpones the LFO or vibrato effect until later in the note’s sustain. From the bass line we showed you above, only the longest sustained note has a vibrato at tha end of it. Yo, while we’re on it, the pan parameter pans the track back’n’forth, left-to-right at the same LFO rate as the pitch shifts. You might say “Man, that’s like some freaky Quincy Jones shit!” True dat. Plus, vibratos can sound tacky if LFO values are set too high, causing the pitch to sway too wide and far. More often than not, it’s best to stick Fig. 22: Here’s an excerpt of notes from the saxophone riff used for the second beat in Urban Anthemz – Demo 1. The blue-green shaded sample region shows vibrato.
to moderate values. Prudently applied, LFOs can produce startling, musical expressions similar to this saxophone sample used in one of the Modernbeats Urban Anthems demos.
When applied to bass, LFO vibratos make a sub jump. When added with all the dynamic tricks we’ve already discussed, vibratos and pitch bends are a hit-generating method. Like we said, bass lines prove vital in whatever beat your producing. Bass will spread, penetrate, and be heard by all. Wanna produce nuthin’ but hitz? Best stuff your tracks with as much dynamic variety as possible, but execute the practice with due diligence. Place these dynamic changes into the mix intelligently with detail and care. Ain’t got time to be lazy. Ain’t got time to present boring, static material. Producers are entertainers. Best deliver some major ear candy, gourmet style.
III. Multisampling Live Instrument Diversity So far we’ve shown you a number of ways to emulate instruments using keyboard technique, much like Mr. Storch. As you grow in your understanding of musical phrasing and the mechanics of various instruments, your capacity for accurate emulation will increase. Musical diversity, style, and edge are the rich advantages to be reaped by successful emulation. But, hey let’s face it, homie: midi is midi; it’s only one slice of the pie. On top of being a master of midi, you must conquer tha arts of sampling, as well. Hence, now’s the perfect time for you to learn the skills of multisampling. Learning what multisampling is, and how it can enhance your authenticity as a producer will motivate you to ace the following. By the chapter’s end, you’ll see exactly how applying multisampling and customizing sample layouts can spawn great production ideas on the fly, streamline your work flow, plus propel your beats to the next level! As shown above, there are peculiarities of a real performance that simply don’t come though in a midi performance. With live guitar, for example, soft notes sound different than loud notes, not just quieter. The louder notes mostly have sharper attacks and edgy timbres, the softer notes mostly have slower attacks and rounded timbres. If a sampler is using only one sample per note, more often than not, tha only differences in sound are a soft note stroke sounds quieter than a loud note stroke. Of course, if velocity is controlling another parameter in addition to amplitude, say filter, then the
differences in sound between soft-to-loud strokes will be greater. Moreover, when only a single sample is assigned to each key, despite a difference in amplitude, there is no natural difference in timbre, attack, or envelope between soft and loud key strokes. This makes tha instrument sound artificial. Often this ain’t a problem. You think RUN DMC worried about whether their drum tracks sounded authentic back in the days of Raising Hell? Hell no. But wait, “Why,” you may ask, “does the guitar patch on my Casio sampler sound flat and monodynamic?” This is the problem that we been discussing. To compensate for this problem, it is necessary to multisample tha instrument. That is, each note on tha instrument must be played and sampled at multiple velocities. Once all samples are recorded, they are imported and layered appropriately within a sampler patch. Each layer plays back an assigned sample depending on velocity values. Upon sequencing the new multisample patch, the result is a more authentic rendition of tha instrument and its inherent timbral characteristics, liberated from the limits single-sample patches face. Let’s take an in-depth look at how multisampled instruments are set up. In figure 23 is the file directory (left) and midi mapping editor (right) of Native Instruments Kontakt. Each of the files titled “region …” represent single notes on the guitar, each played at a unique velocity or loudness. Fig. 23: The Kontakt mapping editor.
The mapping editor at right shows the velocity
on the vertical axis and the keys on the horizontal axis; that is the map. When you select all the files and drag them onto the mapping editor, Kontakt automatically arranges the files side-by-side. They show up as vertical bars on the right called zones. This is a typical one-sample-per-key sampler setup where each key triggers only one sample for an entire midi velocity range. A midi velocity range spans from a value of 1-127. Letâ€™s recap the terminology: a midi map is a graph plotting midi velocity ranges versus key note ranges. A zone is a region on that midi map that occupies a small section of the vertical axis and a small section of the keyboard on the horizontal axis. So if you have two zones, both spanning from C3 to C4, but with one spanning velocities 1 to 63 and another spanning velocities 64 to 127, then you will trigger one zone by hitting any key note between C3 and C4 hard (values 64-127); you will trigger tha other zone by hitting any note between C3 and C4 soft (values 1-63). Get it? Weâ€™ve added multiple zones over each note, each zone carries one sample, defines
range of the sample it carries. The yellow highlighted zones are to give you a clear idea of how the zones are grouped. There are four layers or zones to our multisampled
Fig. 24: Here is tha above guitar patch, but now itâ€™s
large zones, plus a
fourth, narrow zone at
the top of the velocity range which we’ll discuss last. The principle of multi-sampling is simple. Each key note range is assigned to trigger multiple samples based on multiple midi velocity values. Every key note or key note range will trigger one of three samples depending on the midi velocity value it receives. In other words, how hard or soft the key note is struck dictates which sample will playback. We sampled each note of the chromatic scale on the guitar three times: once played quietly and a little muted, once played at a medium volume, and once played at a loud volume. Mapping the samples with the quietest notes at bottom of the velocity range and the loudest notes at the top of the velocity range makes the timbral differences between the quiet and loud notes correspond logically as when played on a real guitar. Using this layout, as midi key notes are struck softly, the samples triggered will have a softer attack and timbre; struck hard, the samples will have a harder attack and timbre. This type of ‘sample matching velocity’ zoning makes a midi performance sound impressively authentic. Yes, it takes time and effort to multisample an instrument in full, programming zones and layers across an entire keyboard range. Yet, that’s exactly why multisampled soundsets like Modernbeats’ TruBass 1 make excellent investments for music-making. You don’t have to always spend your own precious time and resources multisampling tons of instruments yourself – Thank god for ModernBeats! “Now, what the hell is up with the fourth velocity layer at the very top of the midi map in figure 24?” Again, there are aspects of a live instrument performance that cannot be emulated by even the best keyboardist, using the most comprehensive multisampled soundset and midi performance know-how. So, that top velocity layer is reserved for those sounds that cannot be reproduced by midi: a quick string slide between chords a.k.a fret noise, a strum of the pick across the strings while the strings are muted, a double-note whole-step trill, etc… The very top zone, or fourth layer, in tha above sampler patch is reserved for these types of acoustic sounds and effects. When you
strike the midi controller hard enough reaching maximum velocity, you’ll get that fret noise, muted strum, or double-note trill. By reserving a narrow velocity range for more unique instrument sounds and effects, you rise above standard keyboard technique. You can insert these unique touches of captured live performance strategically with a hard thump over the correct key. This action works especially well if you’re the type of keyboard player with a soft touch. If, on tha other hand, you pound on your keys like they owe you money, consider zoning slides and strums across a lower key range (like to the left of “C2” in tha above illustration) Otherwise, you’ll undesirably trigger slides and sweeps too often while trying to play melodies. ”What’s the point of emulating instruments?” you ask. It’s the musical diversity, style, and edge on production you gain from it. That’s the point. Using the midi and sampling techniques above go a long way to achieving realistic-sounding emulations like ol’ Scott Storch, himself. If you have a guitar melody in your head, yet you only play keys, tha above midi emulation and multisampling tricks quickly become your best friend, providing a direct route to reproducing convincing melodies, symbolic of a live instrumentalist. True, emulating instruments requires tedious sequencing and detailed tailoring of midi values, but when done right, emulations can contribute greatly to sculpting an urban hit. Yo, if you thought that’s all there was to multisampling, think again holmes! There’s a whole ‘nother realm of value multisampling brings to producing beats aside from the discussed instrument emulations. Turning your sampler into an awesome improvisational machine, enabling you to pump out blazin’ beats on-the-fly is exactly what this next method of multisampling provides. This method is a rarely used, yet a powerful weapon to add to your production arsenal. Yea, you have to build the weapon yourself, but once built, once fine-tuned, the weapon feeds your creativity an automatic shot of adrenaline, throwin’ the heaviest of heavy weight producer punches! That’s right, bitches! Best get this.
III. Runnin’ with the Slice ‘n’ Dice Alright G, it’s easy to grab a pre-existing beat from a crate, drop it into a mix, put a vocal on it and call it your record, and yea – we suppose that would be “true”. But, if you really want to own that record, then slicing up beats and melodies and re-constructing new, original phrases will always produce a more personal, customized, respectable product. You’ll be far more proud of a slice ‘n’ diced, re-constructed, original melody than of a melody simply copied and pasted. The Runners, apart from being Young Jeezy’s dynamite hit duo, are known for choppin’ and slicin’ and reorganizin’ beats. Now we encourage you to chop and slice audio. Slice it, Dice it, Stretch it, Pitch it, Mangle it like you would a wisecrackin’ punk. “Okay, how the hell should I go about that slicin’ and stretchin’ and manglin’ punk?” Ain’t hard once learned, dawg. Take your mouse, your sequencer, find a loop you like and pick it apart piece-by-piece. Here’s an example of how a guitar loop can be transformed through slicing and reorganizing. Here is a guitar loop from the
Guitar Loops Volume 1. On the first track at left, the guitar loop G03H92 is intact – fresh outta the folder. On the second track at right, the loop has been sliced piece by piece and re-organized to form a new, modified two-bar phrase. In addition Fig. 25: An original Modernbeats riff, Re-assembled.
to slicing and re-assembling
the red sections within the two-bar phrase have been pitch-shifted up one semitone. Voila! A standard slice and dice. From this method, all the guitar dynamics of a real performance still get placed into the mix, yet this performance is not the same as tha original; it’s something brand new and unique. That’s the synergistic interplay of performance and production in action, G. But uh…we ain’t stopping there, oh no. We’re gonna show you a far more liberating and flexible approach to the slice’n’dice production style, one that incorporates what you’ve learned about multisampling and beyond. Illustrated using the Kontakt sampler, this is the trick we’ve been talkin’ up… Take five or ten (or as many as you want) of your favorite guitar loops from the Modernbeats loopsets. Isolate a variety of slices from the performance in your sequencer. Slice it all up: the chords, the hammer-ons, the slides, the muted notes, the sustained notes, get busy. Render each slice as a new file onto your hard drive in a folder that you can easily find. Make sure it’s on the hard drive harboring your sounds (not the hard drive running your programs.) Most music host programs such as Cubase, Logic, ProTools ,or Ableton Live make slicing up audio simple. For example, Ableton Live makes the slicing process as easy as pie. When highlighting a section of audio, you can audition the selected region by pressing CTRL+space. This function allows you to make sure the region selected sounds good on its own as a sample if triggered using midi. Once you have the preferred region of audio highlighted, as above, simply click Render or, easier, press CTRL+SHIFT+R, and the “Render To Disk” menu appears. In this fashion, you can very quickly build an array of isolated slices of performed music. Using Kontakt, or any of your favorite software samplers, import the files you rendered to disk by dragging them from the file directory, just like in the first example. Conveniently, Kontakt allows you to select the size of midi velocity ranges each sample will occupy simply by moving the mouse up and down while you drag the files from the directory
onto the mapping editor. Moving the mouse up creates a larger velocity range, moving it down creates
can also increase or decrease the key range by selecting the borders of
region or zone while moving your mouse left to right. Fig. 26: Slicing and rendering in Ableton Live. Here weâ€™ve assigned each sample to cover a region or zone of three key notes so that we can pitch shift each sample in
Mapping each sample over
is a vital step in the process of building your improvisation machine. Do it right. Since the goal is to improvise and come up with fast Fig. 27: Map â€˜em in the sampler.
inspirational ideas, not
only do you need to slice performances up into pieces as the Runners do, but you also need to allow for altering each slice’s pitch. There are no set rules on how many key notes a single sample zone should cover, but a moderate value (between 3 and 8 notes) is typically preferable. This way, the zone range is wide enough to playback slices at more than just a couple semitones. The next step is to select the root pitch for each sample. On any sampler, the root pitch function determines what note on the keyboard will trigger the sample at its original pitch. In Kontakt, the root pitch defaults to middle C (C3) where the root note shows up on the graphic keyboard in orange. Within each zone, the root key should be set somewhere near the middle. Once you have all the samples mapped, you’re ready to improvise. Likely, you’ve sampled both large and small slices of the loop phrases you’re borrowing from. Once you’ve gone through this multisampling and mapping process two or three times, you’ll get the hang of it. Sooner than you think, you’ll be quickly building improvisational machine left and right, organizing samples across the midi map according to your production style and workflow with ease. Sometimes, you might desire to group all long slices together to one side of the keyboard’s layout; other times, if you have two samples that are the same pitch, but sound quite different from each other due to how they were played, you might care to map them over the same key range/zone, but in two different velocity layers. The choice is yours. The beauty of this approach to slicing-up and reconstructing existing performed audio is that it can be applied to any instrument: saxophone, mandolin, sitar, or – if you’re Timbaland – maybe bagels and cream cheese; it can be whatever you want! Plus, you can seize and reassign the dynamics of tha original performance without having to rely on the phrasing structure of tha original performance. So, using this multisampled slice ‘ n’ dice layout, it’s now possible to sit at the midi controller, hit record on your sequencer and improvise your heart out! With this method, you’re able
to re-work source audio from live instrumentation and in tha end, create new music. The magic comes from maintaining an authentic, raw, and organic feel because your production was derived and developed from authentic sources. Plus, by loading up the sampler with numerous slices from multiple sources including performances of strings, woodwinds, drums, percussion, sound fx and more, you can improvise fresh beats and melodies quickly, easily, and on-the-fly! It’s a powerful approach to slicin’ and dicin’ just like the Runners use. Lastly, it’s an inspiring method of production that frees you from the sequencer, affording you the luxury of spontaneity. Differentiate yourself, run with the slice ‘n’ dice. Think of this as an alternative to the Storch method of improvisin’ using keys we explained earlier. You can now choose from a variety of approaches when engaged in the tasks of production. Let’s recap each production method once more: emulating instruments solely via midi keyboard technique and modulation; via multisampling authentic instruments to be mapped across the keyboard and played as a convincing replica, tapping the power of slicin’ and dicin’ to pump out new, original performed melodies, and last but not least, building improvisational sampling patches that empower you to create adrenaline-driving, raw hits on-the-fly! “So what method is best, dawg?” Tha answer lies in tha angle and style of production you’re aiming for. Each song is unique. On top of that, all music is subjective. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of tha approaches we’ve taught. The benefit of using midi keyboard technique, as explained at the start of this chapter, is you have full decision-making power over dynamics, performance and melody. When using midi alone, it lends you tha opportunity as a producer to show off tha artful skill of knowing instrumentation. When you’re able to deliberately opt for your own skilled emulation versus a session player, you get much respect – a la Storch. If you want a hammeron, you can play it, if you want a major seventh chord, you can play it. The delivery is yours. The drawback is, if you’re requiring a 100% live performance, it’s just not gonna fulfill. Again, tha approach depends on tha angle and style of production you’re
aiming for. Conversely, tha advantage of the slice ‘n’ dice technique we explained near tha end is you retain the complexity of an original, live performance. Hammerons sound just a bit more real, and fret noise can be placed within a musical phrase where it would occur in a real performance. The drawback is you have to work from pre-existing source recordings. The middle road, multisampled layering of unique live instrument sounds that you can trigger in the middle your own performances, arms you with the best traits of both approaches. All in all, the three approaches compliment each other. Use the first approach when you want to be the musician, use the middle approach when you have time to seek out and match those special sounds the sequencer, and use the final approach when you need inspiration and want to have fun finding it.
V. Why push tha envelope when you can tweak it? While we’re on the topic of emulating instrument dynamics, we should also address emulating differences of envelope. The goal of learning dynamics is to learn diversity of musical expression. Having made it this far, you’ve learned how to make music more expressive using several essential techniques. What you haven’t learned is how the shape of the note contributes to musical expressiveness. When we talk shape, we mean amp envelope. Envelope means just that – a container or a limit. In this case, envelope means the limit or shape of a note as it might appear in a sequencer. Let’s say you have a synth emitting a sine wave – the sine wave starts out loud, then gradually fades to nothing – tha amplitude transitions from high to low. This is a function of a synth’s or sampler’s envelope controls. When, say in a sequencer, you zoom out from a wave pattern far enough to see a note from beginning to end, you can see the shape of tha amp envelope. In short, tha envelope of a note defines what level its sonic amplitude will be at any given time. For those of you who have spent time with audio, especially keyboard-based
instruments, you’ve probably seen tha acronym ADSR. Tha acronym stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release and represents an envelope’s controls. Below, we show you exactly what it means. Scanning left to right, we’ll start at the beginning, tha attack is how quickly a note reaches it’s peak amplitude from the moment that note is struck; recall that amplitude corresponds to the height of a wave form. Natural sounds with a high attack are percussive like drums, xylophones or plucked strings. Natural Fig. 28: This is a standard ASDR envelope (from tha Audeon UFO synth), but with tha
sounds with a soft attack are instruments like soft woodwinds or bowed strings.
addition of a hold function between tha attack
In the diagram above, tha attack –
represented by the leftmost slanted line – is gradual or soft.
The flat line that comes after tha attack is the hold. Hold is how long the note sustains its peak amplitude. Next is the decay, which is how quickly the note to reaches it’s sustain volume. Sustain is how loudly the note resounds. To make sense of that, think of how a piano has a sustain pedal. The pedal changes tha angle of the hammers that strike the string so that they recline away from the string enabling it to resonate for longer than if the hammers rest on the string. The last of tha envelop controls is release. Release is how long it takes the note to reach an amplitude of zero once the key has been released. When the release parameter is set as above, the note fades out gradually. “So yo, why is this important?” you’re askin’. To get tha answer, think of some timeless Hip Hop hits. Take Tupac’s Hail Mary. The drums are dry and up front, sharp attack, quick decay, virtually no
sustain or release. The bass line is thick has a gentle attack and a long sustain and virtually no release. That lack of release keeps the bass from swampin’ the mix. On top of that, the mid-range song elements remain uncluttered because their amp envelopes don’t interfere with each other. A Rhodes organ plays low, sustained chords in the background. Chimes sound in the foreground, distinguished by their sharp attack and steady decay. In the right channel an analog synth plays a quick melody with medium attack and no release. The mix elements remain separated. That means a listener can hear each element in separation. Knowing about ASDR equips you to balance the content of your mix. Then you’re free to pan, EQ, compress, and filter as you wish. Before we cut this chapter, let’s look once more at tha envelope diagram to see how parameter values change its appearance. Notice in figure 29, there is no hold, the decay is instantaneous, and the release is also instantaneous. That’s because each of those parameters is set to zero. This configuration of tha amp envelope produces a note with a slow onset that suddenly becomes quieter; then when the key is released, the note will cease Fig. 29: This diagram will give you an idea of
how the change in ASDR settings of a given synth patch affects tha envelope’s shape and
When it comes to subtlety and feel, all
ADSR parameters can contribute greatly to a variety of performance types. One instrument, say an organ playing lead, will have a sharp attack. Pads, those sweet chords that play softly in the background of a mix, invariably have slow attack and release. Drums and percussion exhibit their own parameters, as well – the list goes on.
VI. Take Those Chops to tha Orchestra Remember the section about making a classic, platinum hook? If you think one instrument is all you ever need for a hook, that’s wishful thinking. The tough game of Hip Hop requires competitiveness, ingenuity, and originality. More than ever before, catchy hooks will have to rely on tha interplay of many instruments. Hail Mary was one example among thousands. Focus on any well-produced iconic track like Dre’s and Tupac’s California Love and 50 Cent’s Outta Control. Tracks like these deliver structured, dynamic interplay between all parts, particularly the hooks. Listen to this well-orchestrated interplay, and learn to work platinum miracles. So, you can hack out a bass line, a guitar line and a decent rhythm; then piece ‘em together, hit repeat, and it might sound half-worthy. Yet, uh…holmes, a three-track beat don’t equal a well-orchestrated interplay. With the foregoing knowledge, you now know how to produce beyond half-worthy. In fact, you now know how to make a beat kick ass. It’s up to you to extend and apply this knowledge to all of tha orchestra you’ll be using in your productions. Weave all you’ve learned so far into your entire mix, with care and detail applied to each instrument. Make it diverse, make it colorful, plant layers of surprise throughout. Apply your skills globally across your entire music production, track by track. You’ll be that much closer to the top of the game.
Chapter 7: Beat Chemistry: Break Away from the repeat, Make Your Beatz Entertain Endless, Unevolving Beats are Ubiquitous, Except in the Realm of the True Professional Producer. You might be thinking “Hold up dawg,” everybody be lovin’ Still D.R.E. and it don’t change up once!“ Alright, good point, G. Except, in fact, it does have change-ups in the form of mutes and drops throughout, albeit subtle. But yea, we agree, you will find hits without much change-up or evolution, but it’s an awful few. Still D.R.E. is a classic. Its solid beat, catchy hook, and narrative lyrics carried it to the top. But, if you think adding change ups and evolving detail ain’t gonna help your own productions, think again. Fact is, you need to spend a long time on an album before it’s street-ready. Speakin’ of Dre, you think Dre kicked out The Chronic in two months? Nah holmes, he spent a year producing that album! Yea, that’s right. So, take time and care to your beats, respect them. It’s all about fueling your beats with enough energy and power they go platinum. What are we discussing exactly? While you may have an emotional attachment to your main groove, raise production standards and make grooves evolve over time. Though it’s possible to get away with “four bars, fill, crash on downbeat, repeat,” top Hip Hop producers – Storch, Timbaland, Ms. Elliot, and yes, Dr. Dre – stray from this boring music formula. So make the beat evolve, build, and grab your listeners! There’s no excuse for failing to keep your beats moving. Below we offer prime examples how to break away from the lame-ass, repeat-beat epidemic. Check it homie...
I. Maintain a Solid Backbone Drum Beat, Yet add dat Sugar’n’Spice on tha side Maintaining a solid beat is important. However, that doesn’t mean sculpt a flawless four bars and the simply loop it. What about dat sugar? Adding in dat spice? What about planting subtle percussive details listeners can just barely sense upon first listening? What about increasing the listening life of your beat ten-fold applying entertaining change-ups? Take the time, put evolving detail into your mix. The more subtle and evolving detail placed in the track, the more replay value; the more replay value, the more hit-worthy the track. Keep the backbone beat up-front in the mix. That is to say, keep it dry, compressed and with minimal effects. This leaves room to insert creative additions and subtle details that can weave in and out through the main groove to create interest. Distance effects, like reverb and delay, will keep these new, subtle elements of the beat from interfering with the main groove. Pick sweet spots in the beat to insert unusual percussive noises, like splashes, chains dropping, breaking glass, etc… Where are the sweet spots you ask? It all depends on your mix. Creating the right effect to place at the right spot can become a subjective monster. Below, we add focus to the fogginess, setting some concise guidelines for how to create and where to place the sugar’n’spice. These guidelines will get you started, yet ultimately you’re in charge of concocting your own unique beat seasoning. Let’s get busy studying how to spice up a beat’s dynamics, applying quality mutes, fills and breaks… The most common place in a song for a mute or drop is between the “three” count of one bar and the “one” count of the next. Usually there’s an accented beat on the “three” count. So count it like this: “1e&a 2e&a 3” Note the bolded “three” count; emphasize this count with an accent such as a sharp horn stab or a hand-muted crash etc. The remainder of the bar, the section that would be counted “e&a 4e&a”, is a perfect sweet
spot for a mute. If the mute makes the mix a little too sparse for your liking, you can always fill in with a background sampled snare on the “4e&a.” Season to taste. Where’s another sweet spot? Bigger, bolder effects often occupy the second backbeat or “four” count of the bar. Nearly any sound can Fig. 30: In a 2-bar groove, a mute sounds perfect after the first
occupy the “four” count
count, like this example from the Modernbeats Platinum Rhythmz
on top of the snare and
Vol. 1. Notice also how the shaker pans from left to right.
claps. A classic effect on the four count, for
example, is a high, pitch-modulated sine wave: remember Insane in the Brain? Yet another popular trick comes from Latin music and is frequently integrated into Hip Hop beats. Place a sharp conga “pop” sample on the “&” of the “one” and “three” counts. Then place two low conga hits on the “&a” counts of two and four. What you end up with is a counterpoint beat to the main backbeat and downbeat. If you’re ever having problems with your beat’s rhythm sounding too simple, adding this pattern will complexify nicely. When a myriad of strategically placed change-ups have been planted in the proper sweet spots, the beat won’t just be listenable, it’ll be downright energetic and entertaining. However, don’t start trippin’, adding tons of fills every other bar, etc... Keep productions free of clutter, and only implement change-ups and builds that add value, power, and entertainment to your beat. Make us a promise: vow to never forget how much the details above can amp your beat. You straight? A’ight then, cause we’re serious. Don’t underestimate.
II. Introduce Evolution with Change-up Fills A fill is a simple pattern that breaks away from a melody or beat to introduce a change in the song’s content. Most fills can be simple 16th or eighth note roles and end in a crash on the first downbeat of the next bar. Typically speaking for most Top 40 or Hip Hop music, after about 32 bars of intro and verse, a larger breakdown leading into your song’s hook will be necessary. This is the time to shine as a producer and capture your listener’s utmost attention! When coming into a verse, a hook, or any significant change in a song, set aside a full bar or two to engage in a dramatic and serious build up. You must show listeners your song’s about to make a big, bad progression. Delivering a full bar fill is precisely how you say “Get ready fool, we ‘bout ta raise da roof!” Bear in mind what we are explaining as full bar patterns often occur as 2-bar patterns. In the cases for 2-bar fills, the patterns remain the same, but are counted in eighth notes. Here is a simple example of a full-bar fill: This particular accent pattern is known, especially in Soul drumming, as the “change-up fill”. If you count it in 16ths, it reads as follows:
“1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a” The bolded counts above are where tha accents land. This particular fill is a triplet accent pattern leading up to four accented 16th notes. You find variations of this fill everywhere including the ModernBeats Platinum Rhythmz library. This two-bar pattern ends with the same accent pattern, minus the last three 16th notes. In Lil Jon’s Act A fool, another modified version of the change-up is adopted. In Jon’s track, the difference is a two-bar fill using eighth note snare hits to play the following pattern:
“1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a” 84
Learn the change-up and use it often. Full bar and two-bar change-ups are present in professionally-produced mixes everywhere. However, they don’t always take the form of drums. In many hip-hop tracks, the drum beat stays steady and doesn’t change-up; meanwhile the change-ups are busy occurring in the background of production with, say, the horn section or the strings. Producer Dan Nakamura (aka Dan The Automator) uses precisely this background-fill tactic in Lyrics Born’s I’m Just Raw. It’s simply an ingenious angle at implementing the change-up to introduce the song’s verses, and it sounds quite tight, G. Yet, more often than not, change-ups and fills manifest in both percussive and melodic instrumentation simultaneously. So, think carefully about that change-up and practice a variety of accented patterns. Try as many one bar and two bar style fills as you can think of. Build a repertoire, your very own library of fills. Sheeeit, we’ll even get you started. Count the following patterns verbally. On the bolded counts, speak louder or at a higher pitch. When you’re done counting verbally, try tapping them with your fingers onto some keys or drum pads. Imagine music accompanying each drum pattern and each drum pattern resolving with a crash. Observe the difference of flow and feel in each pattern. The first is simple yet syncopated, the second is in your face, and the third is pure soul. They all have their place:
“1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a,” “1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a,” “1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a” We encourage you to look at it this way: you have 16 16th notes in the bar (or 16 eighth notes in two bars) to make into a profound, heavy-hitting fill to introduce a new song section. Experiment, dig for gold, run with it; using clever fills, transform your
beats into fo’ sho’ winners. If you pick parts carefully, a well-executed full-bar fill will propel your listeners through the buildup and into the next section with captivating force. Practice accents, listen for interesting fills in popular tracks for influence and further advancement in “fill skill”; continue to reorganize fill ideas and revolutionize your own style; never, ever settle for the same tricks that made you popular with the crew last month.
III. Carry fills and Melodies Over the Bar Line The more variety you can exploit, the better. Here is a crucial skill that will add to your supply of production power: The bar line is where one bar ends, and the “one” count of the next bar begins. Typically, the bar line is where most fills end. But yo, break that trend, take it to a level above, and surprise your listeners by offering a trick more entertaining. ”What’s the trick , fool?” Carry your fills through the bar line – instead of resuming the groove on the downbeat or the “one” count of the next bar, play until the backbeat, or the “two” count of the next bar. Place a crash or percussive accent on the backbeat with the snare drum or claps. Keep this handy ace up your sleeve; use it when least expected to pack the mix with extra heat.
IV. Sell Some Ear Candy: Boost Beats with FX We’ve armed you with weaponry to produce solid backbone for your beats; incorporating buildups, change-ups, and mixing it all up with a variety of production tricks. But now let’s take it further – variety also comes from effects. Applied with prudence and wisdom, effects will effectively and impressively enhance tha energy of your mix. Here, the sky is the limit. A careful combination of effects settings and effects automation can deliver just the right balance of mood and energy to carry your beat’s progressions to new levels. So, pace yourself and pay your dues when tweaking filters, distortions, delays, Reverbs, and chorus effects to execute the precise automated effects performance your song deserves.
To become a master at mixing and automating effects, we recommend separating all your drums from the start, routing each drum part to its own dedicated channel in the mix. “Why?” you ask. So, at any moment during production or mixing, you have the freedom to apply effects to any individual drum track or hit upon desire. Let’s use an example to convey the power of separating tracks. A good example is Wayne’s Promise. “What!?” Too sentimental for you? C’mon even Weezy’s gotta get sentimental sometime; besides, it’s production we’re talking about. In Promise, the double snare hit has pitch effects on it. Those are overtones from an effect like a chorus, or a modulated short delay. If you feel the beat needs extra interest, effects can add it. Once you’ve applied an effect, you can change it up by automating it. Promise’s double snare hits the same each time without making use of effects automation. Sometimes tha angle of production is to implement a sonically impressive effect that remains unchanged, other times tha angle is to deliver wild, evolving changes best achieved via automation. An additional value to automating effect parameters, is being able to control and blend a song’s progressions, change-ups, and segues more smoothly, creating seamless transitions throughout. Since we’re on the topic of percussion effects, we gotta mention one more thing. You may or may not know what reversing a crash sample does, but you surely know the sound. Reverse crashes are yet another way to announce evolution and change in your beat. The reverse crash’s function is exactly opposite to the crash – instead of hitting at tha end of the downbeat, it builds until the downbeat, then goes silent. The reverse crash is a hit music standard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get more creative. Just as you can substitute claps and snare hits with chains, marbles, and whistles, you can also take any percussive sample with a long sustain, and reverse it, like this modified tabla drum sample. Like we said, the sky is the limit. Don’t be eager to cut your tricks short and wrap up beats early on. If you do, you’ll just be submitting to amateur status. Are we saying don’t quit until your beats are loaded with tons of embellishment at every bar? Hell no, homie! Hear this… A more complex
produced beat may not be necessary, sometimes less is more. But, more often than not, rappers and fans alike demand constant change-ups, builds, and motion to keep heads noddin’. Keep the beat evolving, keep it changing, and keep your listeners guessing. Don’t be accused of being predictable. How’s that for a producer name? “Yo, I’m Predikable - try to not fall asleep as you check my predictable, lame-ass repeatbeatz.” Expand your mentality; think “I want a solid catchy backbone beat that moves my fans, but also... I’ll take them to the next level, planting unpredictable mutes, fills, change-ups, and builds over the sweet spots in my beat: all this in effort to keep heads noddin’, all this in effort to touch a brother’s soul.” You can laugh, but you won’t be laughing when you see the difference it makes. In the show and prove, complex beats may be the catalyst that sends your brother into a righteous fit of raw, freestyle flow. Watch him go, it’s your greatest reward. Soak it up, G, we got more yet. By now, you should be familiar enough with your gear to explore those aspects of production on your own for a while. What we want to do now is amp up your skillz into the stratosphere. In our last chapter, we wrap up the Hit Theory course with some of the best advice you’re ever going to see in the game. After this chapter, you ain’t got no excuses for failure – get ready for battle.
Chapter 8: Pure Polished Platinum Skill Wisdom, Gear, and Attitude: A New Producer is Born Okay, G, we know it’s been tough goin’ through all these dry concepts. Yet, these are the vital foundations one must absorb in order to move up and progress as a producer. Now that we’ve divulged tha essentials spanning chapters 1-7, it’s now time to drop all pretense and train you how to compose – how to bring together all this knowledge and use it to write hits. These are skills that must be practiced every single day - no matter what happens, man, do your thing. Get ready for the homework section of Hit Theory.
I. Play the Studio, Rule the Game You know what we mean by “rule the game,” but “play the studio?” We mean play that studio… just like you would play any instrument; play the studio like Wyclef plays guitar. What we’re talkin’ about is executing a smooth, lightening-fast workflow where sampled one shots, looped beats and multisampled instruments, are all managed simultaneously and instantly; ideas for melodies, harmonies, and beats arise spontaneously, then are transferred into the mix instantaneously. Once you’re king of smooth workflow execution, your studio becomes your creative interface. Sound good? Sound confusing? Here’s an example of what we’re talking about: There’s a video on Youtube, maybe you’ve seen it, of Timbaland in the Studio with Busta Rhymes. In the video, Busta’s been with Timbo in the studio for 2 days, and though he’s still in a good mood, you can tell he’s gettin’ damn impatient for a beat. During the filming of the vid, Busta is sitting at Tim’s sampler casually exploring the keyboard. Suddenly he finds a beat he digs while pressing a key on the sampler. The beat loops over and over, and Busta gets pretty excited about how it sounds. Tim sees
his chance to give Busta what he came for. Tim takes over the keys building upon the beat Busta is feeling, quickly improvising new beat elements on-the-fly, using classic 808-style bass hits and more. Satisfied, Busta gets out his pen and the lyrics pour out. Tim is playin’ the studio. That is what we mean. As soon as inspiration strikes, the workflow streamlines; launching serious hits, fast and far! So, what can you do you to improvise on-the-fly like master Tim? Having explained how a sampler midi map works, let’s go deeper. We’re now going to show you the perfect midi map layout for on-the-fly production. Yea, you’ll still gonna need the sequencer for arranging and quantizing, but think of this as the best layout and format for generating a surge of inspiration and ideas. There are no set rules on how to set up a midi map. Matter of fact, you can assign any sample to any key at any velocity range, but an organized and carefully planned midi map is the key to a hitmaking workflow. Tha above layout earns the Fig. 31: Here’s a way of organizing a midi map that gives you the
Modernbeats seal of
creative freedom that got Busta and Timbo rollin’ on a hit track.
On the midi map in figure 31 are four sections of zones. For the sake of illustration, each section is separated by a blank region (black line) on the midi map. On the far
left are beats from MB’s Platinum Rhythmz loopset. Each key is assigned two zones, each containing one Platinum Rhythm loop. Since each key is assigned two loops within two velocity ranges, when you strike the key hard you get one loop, when strike it soft you get another. If you want the loops to repeat over and over, simply hold down the key. Since all ModernBeats’ loops are sample accurate, they all loop perfectly to tempo upon each repeat when your sampler’s loop settings are turned on. Some third party loops may not loop or repeat perfectly, there may be a few extra milliseconds at tha end of each loop file, causing the loop to jump out of sync. However, most samplers allow you to correct loop length by either trimming tha end of the file destructively or by setting sample accurate start and end loop values within a loop editor. Inspiration is all about variety; that’s why you want to map numerous beats into the sampler. If you’re working with the ModernBeats libraries, take advantage of the variety of beats provided by organizing different loop styles, one next to tha other. With the first section of zones in figure 31, you can trigger a variety of beats/loops at will using your left hand, mixing ‘n‘ matching them according to what sounds good. Now, what about that right hand? The second section of sampled audio (second from the left) contains samples from the Modernbeats Neptunian Drumz sample library. Reserve this section of zones for all those single hits, percussion, bass notes, and orchestral stabs: in short, any single hits with which you can improvise new rhythmic elements. While your left hand picks which beats to loop, your right hand can trigger keys over the second section to improvise fills, accents, and power layers. This systematic approach to creativity in the studio provides both a solid rhythmic foundation, and an improvisational freedom. But yo, we don’t stop there. Still to be explained are the remaining two sections of the midi-map. Within these two sections is where all tha empowering, melodic content resides. We save the third section for last, as it requires the most explaining. The fourth section (the zones at
hard right in figure 31) is simpler to explain first. Section four contains a multisampled instrument much like the guitar patch we covered in Chapter 6. The fourth section’s multisampled instrument is to be used in improvisation as a lead instrument melody or hook, while the rhythm section from the left is doin’ its thang. Now of course, holmes, we know you ain’t got four arms. You can’t trigger a beat, improvise fills and accents, and play a melody at the same instance. However, you don’t have to do everything all at once. “What be the remedy?” It’s called overdub. Simply double back and re-record your new midi data while playing back your old midi data. So, pick whatever lead instrument you want, a sampled synth, piano, clav, and assign it to the far right of the keyboard in the treble range like we showed above, improvising melodies with your right hand while pumping out hit rhythmz with your right hand. “But, uh… what about that third section you done skipped, fool?” Fair ‘nuff, here’s the spit: The third section consists of guitar chords recorded with a portable recorder (the samples are labeled with the prefix “STE” for stereo.) Chords can come from any melodic instrument – we happen to favor guitar, did you notice? The combinations of chords you can use are infinite, and the rules that determine what chord changes sound appealing are numerous. Just consider the number of classical and jazz cadences in existence. A cadence is a resolving or concluding chord change – one that sounds like it has come to an end. The number of cadences in circulation may blow your mind. Rather than swell your brain with information overload, we’re gonna teach you a direct, street-ready approach to creating killer chord changes. “How the hell you gonna pull that off?” By using a little dope-boy magic, son. If you find it difficult to conceive of farout, yet classy-sounding chord changes, the following technique is your holy grail! In figure 32 are midi data. If you’re thinking “Man that just looks like a bunch of random chords,” you’re right. It’s a bunch of random chords. Try this at home: pick a patch on your synth or sampler that you think sounds good. Make sure it’s something that will function well as a melodic instrument: clean and smooth, with well-defined timbre. Then hit record on your sequencer’s midi track and begin playing random chords. You don’t
have to know the chord names – seventh, minor seventh,
it doesn’t matter. You can always find out chord names later. For now, just worry about keying in some chords. Make sure your fingers are spaced wide, but comfortably Fig. 32: This chaotic mess could be your gold mine.
keys, make sure the chords are simple, and
make sure you include both black and white keys. If you want, vary the feel and velocity of each chord you play for some extra musicality. Once you have about 20 chords or so, pick out the best dozen and record each of them to a separate exported file as we explained with the guitar loop slices in Chapter 6. Once you’ve exported the best 12 chords into 12 isolated files, simply import them into a section of your midi map, as in the third section in figure 32, just to the left of your lead instrument. Make sure to assign each chord to a zone that spans at least three keys so you can work with sharps and flats easily. With this last section of audio sampled and ready to go, you can use one finger from your left hand to trigger these chords. This chording trick is a golden, time-saving short cut. With it, you can explore chord relationships intuitively and quickly. It saves you three headaches: First, it saves you the headache of learning a bunch of dry theory. But, of course, theory is important. If theory wasn’t important we wouldn’t have taught you modal theory already. But, offering you multiple angles on how to produce and giving you tha ability to explore
chord changes intuitively and quickly sure can’t hurt. In fact, it teaches you how to jump-start productions to a professional level, all while you’re still brushing up on conventional music theory. Second, it saves you from depending on established, popular chord changes to get your own ideas. You can create from the ground up. Third, and most importantly, it allows you to use one finger to trigger a chord. Normally a keyboardist will chord with all fingers from the left hand and use all of the right hand to solo. If you’re a beginner, it’s challenging to make very deliberate chord changes with your left hand while soloing with your right. With the sampler trick we’ve just explained – yes, you’re welcome – you use just a single finger to hit a full chord on the keyboard, triggering a variety of chords placed side-by-side that would normally require difficult, spanning movements of the left entire hand. There you have it, dawg. Four sections on the sampler’s midi map: one to trigger looping beats, one for single percussive hits and other rhythmic components, one for a melodic instrument playing chords, and one for a melodic instrument playing lead. We highly recommend incorporating our chapter 6 suggestions for slicing up audio into your workstation. We can’t stress tha importance of fast, organized access to samples given an optimized midi layout. This is the reason why Blaze, DJ Premier, and RZA all endorse MPC-style samplers with such enthusiasm. They don’t have to fuck around for hours trying to record an idea before it disappears. As soon as tha idea appears, they lay it down. Aaaight, congratulations on making it this far into the book - to the first part of your Hit Theory assignment! Here’s the recap: Set up a sampler workstation that you’re comfortable with, use it as a creative interface to access your custom selected sounds quickly, follow our suggestions, learn to play the studio, rule the game. Next up, we’re going deeper still, baby - covering the path of composing and arranging. It’s all well and good to have studio and sampling skills, but knowledge of composing and arranging carries you into the realm of true musical originality.
II. Phrasing: The Music Speaks Imagine using the musical dynamics you’ve learned to create intelligent, powerful melodies that express evolving and changing ideas and command tha undivided attention of a listener. This is the goal of phrasing. Moreover, it’s the definition of phrasing. A musical phrase is a self-contained melody – two, four or eight bars long – within a larger arrangement. What we mean by self-contained is the phrase has its own independent beginning and end within a greater musical context. Think of a musical phrase as a sentence. Sentences function on their own as independent ideas, and in combination with many sentences they form a paragraph, which can tell a complete story. Sometimes a sentence is a question, sometimes it’s an answer, sometimes it’s an exclamation. The same is true of musical phrases. We’re not saying musical phrases convey linguistic meaning as sentences do, but rather that musical phrases convey strong emotional meaning in a similar fashion to literature. Like sentences, musical phrases create tension, as well as resolve tension. We’ve saved discussing phrasing and arranging for the finale of our book. Why? Because phrasing and arranging are crucial, challenging music production concepts that can catapult your skills as a producer if properly studied and implemented. That’s a big “if”, G, and why we save the subject for last. You ready to master this beast? A’ight then, why else you read this far? Sheeit. Let’s keep rollin’. How do musical phrases create and resolve tension? A phrase creates tension if, at tha end of two, four, or eight bars, it ends above or below the root note, giving the listener the sense of anticipation. A phrase resolves tension if it ends on the root note, giving the listener a sense of finality. Most explanations of phrasing refer to the first type of phrase as a “comma” phrase, and to the second type of phrase as a “period” phrase. Starting with this simple and logical understanding of phrasing, you’ll quickly be on your way to becoming a phrasing ace. To explain in more detail, let’s dissect a Modernbeats demo beat that showcases musical phrasing at its finest.
The melody in figure 33 was created by slicing audio
pitch - much like the first example shown in Chapter 6. Tha original samples that furnished this
end result. The purple slices of audio, and the Fig. 33: This excerpt is from Urban Anthemz, second beat from
green and brown slices
the second demo.
of audio (h01, 02, 03) on the tracks below the
purple slices are from a sampled a harp melody. All three tracks make up the lead instrument of the demo beat. The figure 33 melody was pieced together by transposing the pitch of tha original file up and down. Like we said before, piecing together a melody in a sequencer usually takes more time than using a midi controller or an MPC to compose. But slicing in the sequencer has its advantages. First, tracks are already separated; EQ, compression and effects can be applied at will without having to multi-track each of the parts of the song in multiple passes from a sampler’s outputs, or having to use the direct outs on an MPC. Second, you can copy and paste quickly, which is a great advantage whether you’re using audio or midi. In this case, a thorough vision of the melody beforehand made it easy to piece together in the sequencer. You dig how there’s more than a few options to composing melodies or chord structures? Bet. Now, let’s get back to phrasing. To show you the note relationships of the melodies from figure 33, we’ve plotted tha Urban Anthemz demo melodies onto a piano roll below:
The melody has four one-bar phrases that follow
is, the first and third phrases are the same. The second and fourth phrases (made darker with
tool) are rhythmically identical to each other, but one C5 becomes Fig. 34. Here is a midi version of tha Urban Anthemz melody in
Ableton Live. The root note is marked on the side of the piano
roll of the midi sequencer: A#4.
A#4. Thus, the second
phrase ends with a “comma”, since it ends two semitones below the root note. The fourth phrase ends with a “period” because it ends on the root note. Now, stop and take a moment to get your mind right about phrase evolution. All four phrases illustrated above follow the same mode, A# Mixolydian. But, only the last phrase ends on A#; the rest end on Eflat. The result is “comma, comma, comma, period” or “tension, tension, tension, resolution.” Increasing your awareness of what phrase patterns occur in a given song grants you priceless clarity at phrasing powerful music of your own. Now we’re talkin’, holmes! In addition to conceiving phrases as commas and periods, it’s also useful to think of phrases as questions and answers. A useful practice is to split question and answer phrases between two instruments. For example, a piano plays one phrase while a saxophone plays the next phrase. In the context of performing with live instruments,
this version of question and answer phrasing is called “call and response” – the same technique. In Hip Hop productions, this practice adds class and professionalism. Like Premier’s bass and keyz on KRS’s MCs Act Like They Don’t Know – prime example. ABAC structure is a fool-proof, rock-solid method for arranging melodies. It’s not difficult, and you hear it in thousands of Billboard hits. Take another example: Just Blaze on T.I.’s Help is Coming. The predominant chord structure, notwithstanding tha intro and breaks, is four bars Dmin, 2-bars A#, 2-bars G - making an eight-bar pattern. All within the first four bars of tha eight-bar pattern, there’s an exclamation, then a comma phrase, another identical exclamation, then a period phrase. Tha exclamation is an orchestra stab in Dmin, the comma is a phrase with violins, then another orchestra stab, then a final period phrase with violins – classic “call and response” dynamic. For the next four bars of tha eight-bar pattern, Premier hits hard with a fistful of orchestra, organs, and arpeggiators overlaid with sustained chords – a spectacular resolution from Dmin to A# to G7. Technically speaking, the whole arrangement is a “I, I, bV, III” chord progression. The roman numerals refer to the root note of the chord as it would appear on a musical staff. With tha organ and synths, it sounds just like an epic space movie theme – but there ain’t no storm troopers here, just T.I. and Blaze, keepin’ it real and headin’ for platinum. On the more global level of song structure (arranging), as opposed to the level of melodic phrase structure (phrasing), the first four bars of Premier’s eight-bar pattern playing Dmin act as question, where the second four bars that play A#, then G act as answer. If you keep your ears open on tracks like Help is Coming, you understand structure. Phrasing and arranging.
III. Put It All Together Now Obviously, there is more to Premier’s hit than just structure of phrasing. It’s a huge mix that hits like a hammer. Phrasing isn’t tha only aspect of a track that needs to evolve. As with beats, as with phrasing, your entire mix must evolve. Make each instrument in your song tell its own story. At the same time, make each instrument interact with other instruments in the song using “question and answer” or “call and response” style phrasing, and this goes for your percussive track as well. Yet another approach to phrasing is note substitution between instrument tracks, where one instrument’s strike and sudden presence brings another
melody and phrase. Keeping tha elements in
both melodically and percussively. Through tha art of phrasing, you must deliver an ever-changing
and flow of musical entertainment to grab your listeners. Taking another look and listen to tha Urban Anthemz demo beat we showed you before, this time Fig. 35: Here it is - tha entire mix of tha Urban Anthemz demo minus the drums.
accompaniment, you’ll see what we mean.
In addition to tha ABAC structure of the lead instrument phrasing, other elements of the mix evolve in similar ways. For example, the trumpet – marked in red, on track 2 at top – stays static during the first four bars, but after bar five, when the lead phrases become simpler, the trumpet line becomes more complex. Moreover, tha Urban Anthemz demo also includes a clever substitution of instrumentation. Preceding the trumpet part on track 2, intersected by the thin, white play line before 2.1, a string stab plays a snappy A#maj chord in place of the trumpet, punctuating the mix with extra spice! If, instead of a string stab, the lead trumpet played tha A# chord, the track just wouldn’t have the same grab. Completing musical phrases using clever instrument substitution is a sure-fire, easy way to add entertainment value to your beats. When writing songs, practice thinking of what other instruments can be substituted for the lead instrument. Substituting a new instrument for the lead to create accents or emphasis to melodies can render platinum results. Alternately, another trick is to substitute a new instrument for an entire bar or phrase within a larger multi-bar phrase. When mixes becomes ripe with clever, strategically implemented phrasing, your beats scream success. So, here’s your next assignment: evolve all your phrases. Leave monotonous production to wack producers. No repeat beats, holmes! A track without tension, evolution, and detail is like a story without a plot: imagine Star Wars without a side of the force: simple, boring, one-sided, not much worth watchin’. If you wanna join the league of platinum hit-makers like Blaze and Premier, best come strong with evolution. When evolving phrases, start smart. Begin with simple patterns of evolving phrasing like the discussed ABAC, or AAAB patterns. Get comfortable with each and expand your phrasing ideas from there. Be ready to substitute one instrument for another when intuition comes knocking. If you’re ever unsure as to what instrument to substitute with, it ain’t hard – tread through it with a little trial and error.
Also, if you’re ever unsure how to evolve a track from a simple ABAC pattern into something more complex, just apply it to itself. ”What the hell you mean ‘apply it to itself’?!” Here’s an example: take a set of phrases, let’s say four two-bar phrases, that follow tha ABAC pattern. So with those four two-bar phrases, you get an eightbar pattern in full. Label that full eight-bar pattern “A,” copy those eight bars, paste them after phrase “A” and make subtle changes to the copied phrases, label those modified eight bars “B,” copy the first group of eight bars again after phrase “B,” then add a third modified copy labeled “A” again, and finally, add a fourth group labeled “D” that contains note modifications creating a strong sense of finality and resolution. All of a sudden, you’ve created a professional 32-bar evolved arrangement! Via this process, you’ve essentially created a 32-bar ABAC evolution consisting of 4-phrase combinations that also have an ABAC evolution within; ABAC squared, ha! Also, experiment with applying small changes to each note’s duration, rhythm, or pitch, and realize the payoff fine-tune tailoring can afford you. Sure, it’s not always necessary to place such emphasis on evolution and mix variety. If Premier had produced a mile-high mix for Lil Jon’s Act A Fool, the track wouldn’t hit in the same way. Lil’ Jon keeps his production simple. In Crunk, that’s how it should be; Jon’s lyrics and voice rip shit up bad enough on their own without having a head smashing-meteor of a mix to back them up. Just remember, you’ll be a more valuable producer knowing how to produce for both worlds. When the time comes to remix an acapella RnB track as opposed to producing an emcee, you’ll have to switch gears a bit. Regardless, some level of phrasing evolution will have to be implemented. It’s all about keeping your productions entertaining to the public ear – start to finish. We want to send you on your way with two more assignments – stuff you need to practice. Have a drink, keep on reading, the best is yet to come.
IV. Chopz for Much Propz We’ve already discussed tha importance of originality; especially when you’re starting from scratch, you can’t just remix. Now, you may be thinking about guys like Kanye, Just Blaze, and 9th Wonder. If remixing and relying on previous records is such a bad habit, why the hell are producers like them so successful in spite of it? They sample liberally from existing records, and they build iconic hits around those older samples. So what’s the problem? Sure there are real advantages to using old samples, don’t get us wrong. That repeating Ray Charles phrase in Kanye’s Gold Digger, for example, is platinum in its own right. Hence Kanye’s hit is that much more powerful. The disadvantage is that you pay through the nose, hell you pay through every sweat-drippin’ pore, for a track like that. Producers like Kanye, 9th Wonder, and Blaze don’t sweat it. They can invest ‘cause they got the cheese; they getting return on their investment ‘cause they understand the game; hence, they wield expensive copyrighted samples with the confident wisdom of an experienced producer. But let’s face it, starting out, you can’t afford high-profile remixes, and using samples without permission is just plain stupid. Nor can you rely on pure hustle to make your way up in the game. You must be saturated, suffused completely with talent, skill and originality. That’s what makes this last section so important. You have to try the setups we’ve suggested and you have to make a daily routine of practicing and getting better at every aspect of composing arranging and producing. It takes time and practice and effort and all that shit we mentioned at the start of the book. So, here we go: on to the crowning skills of the producer. 1.) Develop a foundation for improvisation. Pick a series of repeating bass notes or, following tha advice we gave you in section 1 of this chapter, a series of repeating chords from a melodic instrument. This will provide you with a foundation to improvise over. If you’d rather compose the melody first and worry about the foundation second, that’s fine - build a track in whatever order suits you. If you are at a complete loss for
what kind of foundation to build your song on, copy the bass line from one of your favorite hitz, and build the track around that. 2.) You’re ready to compose. If you’re a beginner short on confidence or inspiration, start basic. It’s dead easy to find a repeating pattern of notes that sound good. Once you have a note progression, repeat it over and over. Use intervals. Basing the melody around your root note, use intervals that are compatible with the foundation you’ve laid with chords and bass notes, or if you’re composing without a foundation, use simple intervals that sound good next to each other. For example, start with a quarter note sequence that begins with a minor second, a perfect fourth, a minor seventh and a major seventh and listen back to those sequenced notes… See what your mind wants to add. 3) You now have the beginnings of a killer melody or hook, a seed for those evolving phrases. This is the skeleton, the raw material to produce originality. The meat comes from the knowledge you have of dynamics. So right now, review the dynamics sections of chapters 5 and 6. Use both sections to guide you in properly establishing fills, crescendos, decrescendos, hammer-ons and more. Insert these dynamic tricks into the melody. This is how a melody changes from a mere sequence of notes to a hot melody. 4) Practice very slowly, let your speed increase on its own without forcing it. Invariably, complicating your melody will require you to learn new techniques and finger movements. For this reason, you will have to practice as slowly as possible. In this regard, the sequencer gives a producer or keyboardist a powerful shortcut. Even if your chops aren’t up to performing your newly-composed riff at 120 bpm, you can always slow the sequencer down to 40 or 50. Slow practice is essential for building precision. Many amateur musicians practice by repeatedly attempting difficult melodies at fullspeed. Your playing becomes a mess. This applies equally to keyboards and drum samplers.
Whether you are practicing with a keyboard, or with an MPC-style set up, practice slowly, with precision. Avoid the common mistake of repeatedly practicing a riff at full speed, or you ain’t never gonna get it right. This is the key to developing correct skill. Tactfully implement as many dynamic tricks as you can. Anyone can compose, but not just anyone can compose with dynamic finesse and class. Start with simple rhythms, and make them more complex one element at a time. Practice them slowly, and your skills will improve steadily. 5) Finally, make your playing ergonomic and healthy. Before you start composing and practicing, think about your posture. Any instrument requires a healthy posture and an ergonomic technique, so don’t slouch or tense up while your playin’ the keyz. Make sure your back is straight, make sure the keyboard is at a level at which your wrists don’t have to bend up or down. Your hands are a natural extension of your arms. If you need a reference for how straight your wrists should be, let your hands hang naturally at your sides. That’s how straight your wrists should be. Your fingers should rest at about a 15 to 30 degree angle from the keys. Every movement of your hands should be smooth and natural. If your hands feel tight and uncomfortable, shake them out and re-assess your technique. When playing, your wrists should move from side to side as little as possible. Use your arms to get your hands in front of the correct keys, and keep the wrist still while the fingers do the walking. And remember: tight and tense bad, loose and smooth good.
V. Mnemonix: Track it in Your Brain Here is some advice we consider golden, but that you ain’t gonna read in your typical producer magazine. It’s simple advice really: Advance your game by learning to track ideas in your head. The more you produce, the more ideas will come to you, the more melodies and rhythms will flood your head. The head’s where complex and original ideas are born and first stored. By incorporating musical skills such as music theory, dynamics, and phrasing, your mind becomes a vehicle and storehouse for a
plethora of imagined melodies, beats, and sounds. In cooperation with your mind, your mouth then becomes a vehicle in which to mimic, condition, and memorize the same melodies, beats, and sounds – bringing them out into the physical world. You’ll find that cycling a phat hook through your head over and over will not only allow you to memorize it, but it will allow you to expand and improve on it. Taking our preceding suggestions on phrasing and arranging and applying them to keyboard technique is one thing, but acing mental tracking is a whole other game. If you’re doubtful about whether your mind is capable of conceiving of new ideas, just ask yourself how many times you’ve heard 50’s I Get Money going through your head. If hits get stuck in your head, your brain has tha ability to memorize and cycle beats. There’s no reason they can’t be your own instead. Properly conditioning yourself to track and build upon musical ideas all within your head allows you to produce continuously, remotely, and without dependence on the studio 24/7. To be certain you never lose a golden idea, carry a portable recorder. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – just enough to record and capture your ideas. One of those cheap-ass old mini tape-recorders that people take verbal notes with will suffice. However, there are reasons some recorders are preferable to others. The Zoom H4, for example, doubles as interface and portable recorder. You can use this in stead of a simple computer interface – it just does more stuff. No matter where you are, you can record an idea with tha on-board condensers. When you get home to your recording console, you can plug in a keyboard, or a pair of highquality studio condensers, through the left and right inputs at the Fig. 36: The Zoom H4 Portable
bottom of the recorder and start expanding on that creative idea of yours in Cubase LE.
Make damn sure you practice something from this book each day. If you don’t have time to practice the previous lessons techniques and suggestions, at least keep your beats runnin’ in your head. What that means is shut off the fuckin’ TV, get off the computer, turn off your ipod, and let your brain do the talkin’ for once. Get creative, and get your mind movin’. It’s not so hard once you make a habit of it. Plus, you’ll end up making far better use of your time when in between commutes or stuck in traffic. So, here is a third assignment: Track in your head. Imagine an MC spittin’ lyrics, it doesn’t matter if they’re nonsense. Then imagine violins, keys, voices, 808 hits and synth stabs all comin’ together in a huge Premier-style mash up. Now pick out the parts of tha arrangement and hum or whistle them to yourself to enforce memorization of melodies and rhythms, and do it over and over again. Just as you use your voice to memorize melodies, try also to use your voice to memorize the percussion section. When beatboxing, find syllables that mimic drum sounds: “tssss, doom, doop, ka, cha,” Practice a variety of sounds - whatever you can make. Pass air through your lips and through your teeth to make sustained, open hihat type sounds. Make sounds while exhaling, but also while inhaling. Experiment with those sounds until you have a rhythmic vocabulary that is broad enough and practiced enough to re-create, in a verbal shorthand, what you hear in your head. Create a habit of it and become an adept beatboxer. Take those rhythmic syllables and noises and piece them together into phrases. In beat chemistry, we told you about fills and accents. When you make beats you’re your mouth, think about where you want to place those accents. When you piece those syllables together, you will come up with phrases like this one, (each hyphen separates one 16th syllable note from the next): “doo-pa-tst-tst-cha-tst-tst-doo-pa-tstdoopa-cha-tst-tst-tst” or “Bff-fT-tst-tst-cha-tst-tst-Bff-fT-tst-Bff-fT-cha-tst-tst-tst.” The point is, after a few rounds beatboxing a beat to yourself, or humming a melody to yourself, the beat or melody in your head that you’re trying to remember is going to be
locked in your head. Now don’t go humming and beatboxing all the time for the sake of impressing your homies, they’ll just think you’re wack, schizophrenic, or suffering from delusions of grandeur. If you’re in public when inspiration strikes, these skills work just as well if you’re doin’ em under your breath. Don’t underestimate tha importance of these skills; inspiration comes all the time, not just in the studio. Someday, you’ll be walking down the street, and someone’s car stereo gonna mix with traffic noise, creating a funky sonic interaction – Suddenly, you’ve got a musical idea that you think you can re-create with violins and some percussion samples. Now what are you going to do to hang onto that idea? Track it in your head, whistle the melody, beat box the bass and percussion, do it over and over, reap the rewards.
VI. Show and Prove – Peace Makin platinum beats is one thing, getting your prospective clients to dig ‘em and use ‘em is quite another. Let us ask you this: If you were an emcee, and you just spit the best set of your at the club – everyone in the club, men and women, is hot for you, tellin’ you how dope those rhymes were – and two audience members told you they wanted to lay down beats for your rhymes, which of those two would you take seriously? Would it be the guy that said “Yo that was tha illest rappin’ I heard in years. I got some supreme beats, man! For real, we gotta get together, you got an email address? I’ll send you some of my tunes!” or would it be the guy who said, “Yo, I dig your lyrics. You got time to check my repertoire? What do you drink?” then handed you an ipod full of brain-boiling 30-second demos. Simple beats, and rockin’ guitar riffz. Since you spit it like Three 6 Mafia, you into it bigtime. The second dude clearly has his shit together, and those beats were fuckin’ hot. There’s no contest. When he meets with you the next day and sets a time and place to spit a three song-demo into a studio microphone, it doesn’t matter if that microphone is in a
pro studio or a in modded basement apartment, you’re still gonna take him seriously for being prompt and together. Meanwhile, the first “producer” you talked to emails you some wannabe west-coast style shit. It’s barely passable for west-coast style, but you into the Dirty South and you just ain’t interested at all; Like we said, no contest. So as you pack up from the Hit Theory course and take your beats to the streets, think carefully about the differences between those two producers. Ask yourself how do I become that suave, second producer? First, you follow tha advice of Modernbeats Hit Theory and master your craft, ‘nuff said. Second, figure out your portal to the game, your medium of access. Is it the club, the street battle? Is it Taxi, Broadjam, perhaps Youtube? Wherever you make your rounds in the game, make yourself known enough to be a familiar face. Keep track of your favorite emcees, find out what they’re into. Is it the politically conscious – KRSOne, Lyrics Born, Mos Def, Kwali; is it the pure and simple dry mixes of tha early NY Scene, RUN, Rakim; is it the modern hammer-to-the-head intensity of Premier and Just? Give yourself some time to listen to what’s bein’ spit and what’s bein’ spun. Third, build yourself a full playlist of track demos in every style you’re capable of dissecting and reproducing, and keep it with you at all times. Finally, when you think the time might be right, approach your emcee discreetly and respectfully, show ‘im what you got. That’s the moment your production skill connects with the game. That’s the moment where your skills have to be top-quality, cash money skills, get enough independent records onto car stereos, onto Youtube, onto college radio, then onto the big stations like WEDR, sooner or later, it gonna pay off.
Congratulations. You made it through Hit Theory. Don’t expect Modernbeats to stop serving up the wisdom, we’re just getting started. We’ll have more for you later in ’08. For now, keep it authentic. We’ll leave you with the wise words of Wayne.
If you are an artist, please don’t never stop your craft, don’t let nothing stop your
craft … everything gon’ come in your way, every obstacle. If that’s what you wanna
do then you got to do it, and then at tha end of it, you’re gon’ be like I went through
all that – and made a hit. *
Welcome to the game.
* Lil Wayne, Live With Pete Finch - Lil Wayne Interview, Youtube.com, retrieved on 19Dec2007
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