• Producers spend more time using the nudge feature and timeline of their DAW, refining timing information for beats, than on other time variant process. We have access to so many time variant tools today that there really is no excuse to be unable to create either a tight and strict beat, or a loose and wandering beat, exactly as required. In fact, we have some nice workarounds and ‘cheats’ for those that have problems with timing issues, and I will cover these in more detail later.
• Great timing in beat construction requires understanding several phenomena and techniques that I will explain in this book—BPM and how it relates to realistic timings for ‘played’ rhythms; Quantize, both in terms of divisions and how to alter these divisions; Ghost Notes and how they relate to perception; and Shadowing Beats, including the use of existing loops and beats to underlie, accent, and support the main beat. For example, if your drum beat is too syncopated and has little movement, you can reach for a Groove Quantize template in your DAW, or use other funky tools such as matching slice and hit points to existing commercial breaks.
• The perception of a timing variance can be achieved in more than one way. Strangely enough, this leeway has been exhausted to death by Akai with the original Linn-designed pads and contacts. After the MPC 60 and 3000, Akai had no more timing variances in their hardware that could be attributed to ‘the MPC swing and sound’. Far from it. The timing of their DSP is rock solid. The timing of the pad’s initial strike, processed as channel pressure, note on/off and velocity curves, is what adds to the timing ‘delay’. This can be emulated on any pad controller that is sample based, because it is not hardware-specific. To further understand the perceptual formula, we need to look at the sample playback engine of all the top players. Bottom of the list lies Akai with their minimum sample count requirement, which demands so many cycles that if you truncate to a zero point sample start, the unit simply cannot cope with it. Add this ‘dead space’ requirement before a sample can be truthfully triggered to a pad that has inherent latency (deliberately designed by the gifted Roger Linn), and you end up with the ‘late’ and ‘loose’ feel of the MPCs. The sample count issue has now been resolved, and in fact was corrected from the 2500 onwards. I bring this up so that you are aware that there are very few magic boxes out there that pull out a tight yet loose beat. Nope. They all rely on physics to work. Yet, because of that requirement, we can work around the limitations and actually use them to our advantage. The MPCs have explored and exhausted these limitations quite successfully.
• I love using pads to trigger drum sounds as it makes me feel more in touch with the samples than a mouse click or keyboard hit. The idea that drums must be ‘hit’ is not new, and the interaction that exists in the physical aspect of ‘hitting’ drum pads is one that makes the creative writing process far more enjoyable and ‘true’ to its origins. After all, the Maya didn’t have keyboard controllers. For this book I will be using the QuNeo to trigger samples, but occasionally I will also trigger via the keyboard (Novation SLMK2), because spanning templates can be a little confusing for those that do not understand the manufacturers’ default GM templates.
• Early and late processes in aligning beat elements are also a creative and clever workaround for improving static syncopated beats. Simple movements of individual hits using grid subdivisions can add motion to strict 4/4, 3/4 and 6/4 beats, which are the common signatures used in modern music.
Excerpt taken from Beat Construction book.