Video: Making a Beat with an MPC2000XL

Welcome to the first installment of new video series where we're going to explore different methods for making and recording a beat. To start things off, I’m using an AKAI MPC2000XL drum machine/sampler/sequencer to sample vinyl records and produce a unique track.

Having owned and used a few classic Music Production Center models over the years — including the MPC60, MPC3000, and MPC2000 — the MPC2000XL is still my favorite from that period.

AKAI’s first release in the post Roger Linn–era was the MPC2000, which was a smaller, more compact unit packed with a variety of new features, including waveform editing. Personally, I prefer the later XL model for the swivel screen, reallocated control layout, and level surface design.

One of my production objectives when making loop–based music is to create a phrase that I can listen to over and over again without losing the vibe. If I can step away from it and come back later only to be sucked right back in, that’s when I know I have something worth expanding upon.

I started the process of constructing beats by going through my record collection and picking different cuts that would provide me compelling and varying sonic textures. Since we’re using drum sounds that have already been recorded, mixed, and mastered, it’s a good practice to grab samples that were made in different studios during different time periods. The more you can mix contrasting audio layers, the the more distinctive the results will be.

The Samples

Hi–hats: I like to use layers upon layers of hi–hats to create heavy, backbeat textures that operate across mid, mid–high, and high–range frequencies. This allows for a dramatic contrast to the downbeat and fills out the top–end. The trick is to try and find hats that blend together well, as to avoid any would–be harmonic phasing issues in the mix.

Kick Drums: I typically look for kick drums that have a low–end thump and cleanliness about them — something similar to a TR–909 kick. I like to have them rest under the rhythmic beat loops that I know will be sitting in a more mid–range frequency domain. You can truncate the decay and release of the kick drum sample to create a gating compression effect to help with any undesired low–end.

Snares: My process for sampling snares is twofold. I like to sample snares and chop them from the front directly at the transient, but allow the hi–hat that follows to still exist. This sometimes allows for a beat–shifting, studer–type feel where all of the hi–hats aren’t always coming off as quantized with each other.

Bassline Loops: This varies from production to production. For this one, I wanted to use a bassline phrase that would create a nice groove when triggered for only a couple of beats, but also a whole bar for the turnaround.

Beat Loops: What you choose for these depends on what type groove you are planning to base the production around. It’s always good to try a few out and then test to see which ones work well together to blend with the other single hit drum parts the best. I do like to trigger loop points around the back–beats, cutting the samples to begin with a snare, so that the downbeats roll through the groove without competing with the heavy bottom–end kicks.

Synths: This is always about digging for the right samples and requires more planning than just throwing together rhythm sections. It’s important to find things that are good, loopable phrases that can be filtered up and down to create smooth transitions between sections, even if they repeat in very small sections.

Vocal Samples: Depending on your vision or concept for the track, this choice can vary from something as insignificant as breaths and vowel sounds to be used as percussive accents, all the way up to the centerpiece feature of the beat. I like taking different phrases — or, in this case, just truncating one phrase — and rearranging the words to say something in a totally different order than intended.

Shop live listings for the MPC2000XL on Reverb below, and download the full version of the beat I made for free here.

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