What’s going on family?
Here are 10 actionable tips you can start using today to help you master your Akai MPC or Native Instruments Maschine groovebox. If you’re new to grooveboxes or even if you’ve had one for a while and need some tips to help you get to the next level, this post should be the first thing you check out.
1.) Learn to appreciate the uniqueness of the groovebox environment that you’re working in. Stop comparing your groovebox to other grooveboxes. Each groovebox has a specific feature set that largely influences the workflow in unique ways. It’s better for focus on what you can do specifically given the limitations of the box you have than to constantly compare it to another box. If you can afford to have multiple grooveboxes, get them and find out what you can do creatively with each. You’ll have to go far beneath the surface level in order to discover the most creative uses so take your time. You will not likely master a groovebox in a year’s time, especially if you’re using a system that receives consistent updates like the Maschine or the MPC series.
2.) Keep your sample volume levels down as you work in your groovebox. It’s very easy to overload your master bus when using samples and virtual instruments. Many of the sounds you get from libraries are already pretty loud and when you start working and you wont have a lot of headroom to start with. Get in to a habit of turning the volume levels of the samples down before you start programming so that you can have more headroom to work with as you begin to build your track. You’ll find that the overall results will sound better and you’ll have much less work to do when it’s time to mix and master your music.
3.) Use your groovebox in standalone mode. If you’re used to always creating in plug-in mode, step outside of the box and try working with your groovebox in standalone to get some new inspiration. You may not always need to work in standalone, but sometimes working with the limitations of a groovebox can take you in new creative directions. Although grooveboxes are limited in comparison to a DAW, they are highly capable if you put some time and energy into making them work.
4.) Try using the “16-Levels” features on your groovebox to program your drums more dynamically. It can be tempting to use the “Full level” feature when you program drums however, Full level can be a hindrance depending on the style of music you’re seeking to create. The 16 levels features on boxes such as the Maschine and the MPC are excellent at providing you with a controlled dynamic range when you program beats. Try using 16 levels to program hihats or even kicks and snares when you want to get a bit more bounce in your drum grooves. You’ll find that you can use the 16 levels features to create shuffles and grooves that sound more natural than using the Full level feature.
5.) Use the resampling features on your virtual instrument tracks. It’s really easy to get caught up in simply using a groovebox as a MIDI sequencer and VST host. Although there is nothing wrong with using MIDI and VSTs, try resampling the MIDI phrases you’ve recorded in your groovebox. Trigger the resulting audio at the original pitch with different rhythmic timings and subdivisions on separate patterns to give your arrangement some better variation. Try using the resampled audio at different pitches as well to create new textures and patterns within your track. Mess with the start and end points of your resampled phrases to create new variations in your track. You can get a lot of creative uses out of audio that you normally would not get by simply using your instruments as real time VSTs. If you’re not normally a sample-based producer, this method will help you to explore the sampler of your groovebox without using samples from external sources. Another added benefit of this method is that you can conserve a lot more computing power when you resample audio and bypass the real time MIDI playback. Get creative!
6.) Use the drum pads to come up with melodies. Even if you’re a trained pianist with years of playing on the piano and keyboards, there is something special about playing on pads. As keyboard players, we develop habits and generally play the same riffs and chords when we first touch the keyboard. Playing melodies on the pads can break you out of the habits and inspire you creatively to go elsewhere with your music. You’ll find that the physical feedback you get from a drum pad will cause you to play different rhythms and melodies than you would normally do on the piano. You may not need to do this every time you make a track, but don’t be afraid to switch it up and try coming up with a cool melodic pattern on the pads. You’ll be surprised at how simple but catchy your patterns can become.
7.) Use patterns to store variations of your main ideas in your groovebox. For example, If you make a really dope 8 Bar bassline in your groovebox, use the patterns to capture alternate versions of the same bassline and store them. This method can help you to arrange your song later with a more natural feel to it. You can build the basis of your song using the main idea/pattern and then try swapping out the main idea of the variations when you begin to expand your song. Try this technique on your basslines and your drum patterns especially. You’ll find that this makes the arrangement process a lot more fun at the end.
8.) Name your tracks, groups, patterns, sequences and scenes. Its easy to get caught up in the moment and just keep adding new things to your arrangement, however you should remember to take some time and name your elements. As you build a complex arrangement you’ll be able to better navigate the arrangement once you’ve added names to the most important elements in the arrangement. Get into a habit of doing this early to save time and avoid confusion.
9.) Save frequently. What good is it to work hard on your music only to have the software or the computer crash and lose everything? Save your project with a unique name at the very beginning of the session. If you don’t have an idea of the concept or theme of the track, you can start off with something generic such as a time stamped name i.e. “Session 1 110116”. Once you get a concept for the track you can change the name to better fit the theme and concept. You should also get into a routine of saving your work each time you commit to a new idea or musical phrase.
10.) Use your DAW for mixing. Grooveboxes are not designed to be mixing environments. That’s not to say that you cannot achieve a great mix within a groovebox, but its generally a bit more complicated. Better handling of automation, audio track handling, plug-in delay compensation and overall better bussing structure are some of the immediate benefits you’ll get from mixing in a DAW instead of the groovebox. Get into the habit of exporting individual audio tracks from your groovebox when you’re ready to take your music to the next level. Use your groovebox to capture the performance and use your DAW to put the finishing touches on the song.
Hopefully these tips help to jump start your creativity and workflow with your groovebox and set you on course to become a master.