MPC FAQ - EMusician

MPC FAQ

We Answer your questions about making music with Akai MPC sampling drum machines | Learn tips on using the Akai MPC samplers | How to make music with the Akai MPC sampling drum machines | How-to, MPC, sampling, drum machine
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As a music producer, there is nothing more satisfying than filling up the studio with lots of gear and having these pieces talk to one another as if at any time they could spring to life like a musical Toy Story. Being a professional Akai MPC (Music Production Center) sampling drum-machine user, I understand how to get the most out of the equipment. Owning a number of MPC models and rigging them in various configurations gives me the flexibility to incorporate my hardware gear with my software, and that way I have the freedom to put down my ideas as I create.

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Although the MPC60 was first introduced nearly 20 years ago (and it was, in fact, based on the even older Linn 9000), the growing line of Akai MPCs remains one of the most common components for making hip-hop, as well as many other electronic styles. Remix recently solicited questions from the many readers currently using MPC drum machines to perfect their beats and production skills. As the questions poured in, it became apparent just how many MPC users were hungry for greater knowledge.

Read all about Timbaland. Find articles, reviews, videos and artist interviews on the Timbaland Hot Topic page.

Q: I've been using the MPC2000XL for a few years, but I've only used the swing function a few times. I notice the difference when I use it, but it doesn't seem noticeably better. Maybe I am not doing it right? I usually just put the swing on the snare a couple of percent. Should I be putting it on the hi-hats as well? What's the “golden ratio?” Peace. — GALBRAITH

A: The swing function appears only when note value is set to eighth note or 16th note. I don't feel there is a golden ratio for the swing percentage; it should always be what you're hearing and the direction you want the song to go. But I would suggest adding a swing percentage to your hi-hat; you will hear a change in the sound if you do. Also, if you're not hearing anything noticeable, I would copy that track to a new track and start playing with the percentages again.

Q: I have an MPC2000XL, and I track my beats on Adobe Audition. I need to learn how to track my beats on different tracks, not just one. So if you can help me with my little problem, that would be great! — MODABEATMAKER

A: If you don't already have an 8-output expansion, invest in one. It will allow you the option to track your individual sounds eight tracks at a time out of the MPC2000XL. If you don't have the option of using the eight outputs, then I would suggest you use your stereo outs and assign your samples two at a time. Pan one of them hard left and the other hard right. That way you can at least route your signals two at a time into Adobe Audition using an audio interface. Practice makes perfect for this one.

Q: I purchased an MPC2000 some time ago and never really got around to playing with it. I didn't have any sounds for it, either. Can I make my own sounds? In the meantime, I got Reason 2.5 for my older Mac PowerBook laptop and love it. I also have a Boss SP-202 minisampler and a Roland SPD-15. I'm thinking of trying to put all of them together to make a one-man show. I'm a percussionist. Any advice or links that would help in my quest would be greatly appreciated. — EJRODRIGUEZ58

A: I'll answer both parts of your questions, first regarding making sounds. The MPC2000 does not have factory sounds (nor does any MPC), but you can make your own sounds. You can sample sounds from external sources such as records or CDs. Once these sounds are in your machine, you can manipulate them and make your own style of sounds. There are tons of soundware suppliers out there; two of the biggest I suggest you check out are Big Fish Audio (www.bigfishaudio.com) and East West (www.soundsonline.com). You'll find plenty of quality libraries on disc in formats such as WAV, Reason NN-XT or straight audio CDs that can easily be manipulated through your MPC2000 or Reason software. The blueprint for your edited sounds can begin with them. To get the sounds into your MPC without recording them, you can hook up an external USB Zip drive or USB floppy drive to your computer and then drag-and-drop WAV files onto a Zip disc or floppy disc, which you insert into the MPC.

For your live setup, the first thing you're going to need to do is purchase an audio/MIDI interface, which will let your computer and Reason software communicate with your MPC2000. You may also want to invest in a small keyboard MIDI controller for triggering all of the sounds that come from all of your different modules.

This graph illustrates the best way to put this setup together:

Q: Hey, I listen to Lil Jon beats, Kanye West and others, and I am wondering how they achieve that perfect placement and rock-solid swing in their drum patterns. I do the traditional things such as move the snares back a little behind the main kick pattern, but it still doesn't match up. I'm also wondering how can I run an external keyboard (Yamaha Motif) through the MPC4000 to achieve the same swing and perfect placement of notes rather than the run-of-the-mill quantization methods. Thank you. — ANCIENTMUSIK

A: I couldn't tell you exactly how the different producers achieve their own perfect placement or swings. All producers have their own way of finding the right place for their sounds and styles. Some producers use quantization, some don't quantize and others do it both ways depending on the track or the song. Regarding running the Motif through the MPC4000 to achieve a swing and perfect placement without the quantization, you can practice and develop an ear for your sound placement, or you can do step editing to place notes or samples in the place you would like them. Again, it all has to do with how you hear your sounds. And don't forget that some producers get their keyboards sounding right because that's the way they played them originally. Just like you practice playing the MPC pads, you have to practice your keyboard skills to make sure you can record the sound you want.

To configure the Motif to the MPC4000, run the MIDI out (A through D banks) of the MPC4000 into the MIDI in of the Motif.

Q: I have always had problems using the sliders on the MPC2000, 2000XL and now the 1000. I can usually get the sliders to function, but I often have trouble using the slider to work on notes that have already been recorded or recording the slider performance. — AHAVILL

A: There are four features of the MPC2000 slider: tuning, decay, attack and filter. Holding down the Shift button and the Assign button located over the slider will open up a page on the display screen. Hit the pad or associated sound that you want to alter that has already been recorded. Then hit the After button that lives above the slider (make sure you are in Over-Dubb mode), and then press Play and Over-Dubb simultaneously. Then play with the slider while in Over-Dubb mode, and you will hear the changes in your prerecorded sounds.

Q: I have been using Akai MPCs for years now, from the MPC60 all the way to the 4000. I still go back to my 2000 to do almost all of my creations. Here is my problem with the MPC: I have been using my MPC2000 to do all my sequencing and control my sound modules. I haven't had any problems using my MPC2000 to record the sequences while using my Korg Triton, E-mu Proteus 2000, Novation A-Station and Nova. But I have had latency problems when I use my MPC2000 with my Roland XV-5050, XV-3080 and Korg MS2000R. I notice that it happens more when I use the program channel to choose presets within the modules. I'll try to record a sequence, and the MPC2000 will not pick up any MIDI notes on the one count that I play. If I turn the program off and choose the preset on either of the modules (Roland XV-5050 or Korg MS2000R), there will be no latency at all. I have tried reassigning the modules to different MIDI channels and still have the same problem. What can I do to be able to use the program to choose my sounds without having to reach over and select a MIDI preset from the sound modules? Thanks. — ONE2MIXX4U

A: I tried your exact same configuration with the MPC2000, and I ran into the exact same problem. I noticed on the MS2000R that with the program off, the MIDI note drop in the first bar does not happen. But when the program is on, I experienced the exact same drop. The same thing happened when I configured the MS2000R with the XV-3080 module. It may be a minor issue to justify an upgrade, but I also configured an MPC2500 the exact same way and did not experience any latency or any note drops.

Q: Hey, I have an MPC question! If I'm using an 808 program with all the pads assigned that I loaded on track 1, how do I use the same program twice for track 2? On track 1 I have just a kick and clap, and I want to use hi-hats on track 2 from the 808 program. It does not work. It seems like I can only use the program one time and within one track. — KUTTSUPREME

A: You can use a program with more than one track, but sometimes when you hit Record and Play, the program defaults to a generic program. When that happens, go back and change the program for that track, hit Record and Play again and the track will stay on the program that you originally wanted.

Q: My question relates particularly to the MPC1000, but it may be applicable to other models. The velocity pads on the MPC1000 lose sensitivity/response over time, and short of sending it to an authorized reseller or repair shop, what can owners do to remedy this problem? This is very frustrating when it is only one or two pads that are acting up! — AOTERO

A: I suggest that you reset your MPC1000 by holding down the erase button while powering up the machine and then releasing the erase button. If that doesn't resolve the problem, I would really recommend you bring it to an authorized dealer who can give you the exact answer for what's happening with your machine.

Q: I'm in an electronic band, and we link two MPC3000s to two separate MIDI routers that, in turn, trigger about 20 different pieces of gear, all played live without a computer. What I need from my MPCs are more MIDI outs (expanding beyond A through D), more memory (particularly RAM and more program memory) and basically more, more, more. Is there a serious tech class I can take to open them up and enhance them? Or can I become part of a forum asking what I need in my gear? — GENESISPROJEKT

A: Sounds like you have maxed out the memory of the MPC3000, which is only 16 MB. The best suggestion I have for you would be to upgrade to an MPC2500, which will give you the options for 128 MB RAM and an internal hard drive that you can install for a maximum of 80 GB of hard-drive space. With regard to expanding the MIDI outs, expanding beyond A through D won't happen on an MPC. The top-of-the-line MPC4000 has 4 MIDI outs just like the MPC3000. But you can always do what you're doing with more of the external MIDI routers. You can connect each MIDI out to a separate external MIDI router.