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Thread: The role of synths, drum machines and sequencers..?

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    SoSincere is offline Registered User
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    The role of synths, drum machines and sequencers..?

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    Hello all,

    I have a question ... can someone run a few things down for me?
    I've been interested in hardware drum machines and pianos for a while, although never owned any serious equipment. I've DJd for more than half my life, but never started real production, mostly due to being intimidated and overwhelmed. i have a bit of confusion about the role of samplers and sequencers.. I recently watched something about Mobys drum machine collection and he said how, with a lot of the really old machines he just samples them and leaves them for show. What does that mean, and why do that? What would he sample that to? Would it just be like sampling to pads of an MPC or something? In doing that, do you lose the integrity of the sampled instrument sound or does the sample stay well intact?
    When someone talks about synching various machines together, what does that mean? Does that have something to do with MIDI?
    Lastly, what is a patch bay used for?

  2. #2
    krushing's Avatar
    krushing is offline Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by SoSincere View Post
    I recently watched something about Mobys drum machine collection and he said how, with a lot of the really old machines he just samples them and leaves them for show. What does that mean, and why do that? What would he sample that to? Would it just be like sampling to pads of an MPC or something?
    He samples to an MPC or another hardware sampler, or to a computer (no idea how he works these days). Makes for a much more streamlined setup not having to haul a bunch of machines around & then you can of course sequence them the way you like the most instead of having to deal with the quirks of vintage machines & their own - usually very limited - sequencers.

    In doing that, do you lose the integrity of the sampled instrument sound or does the sample stay well intact?
    That kind of depends on a bunch of things. Analogue drum machines - such as the (Roland) TR-808 - don't output each hit exactly the same (which is what happens with a single sample), but instead there's a bit of "life" in it, in the sense that it's constantly changing a bit. And there can be interplay between the hits when driven from the original sequencer - for example, I have a TR-606 and its hihats do a wonderful...thing when played with its own sequencer, which is hard to replicate with samples. They kind of blend in a pleasing way, so to say. And then there's the quality of the sampler's or audio interface's analog-to-digital converters; most do a decent job, but some of these intricacies can occasionally be lost in translation. But these are usually really small things; for most people & most situations, the sampling results are good enough to use. Not to mention these old boxes can be a pain to use in a modern DAW environment.

    When someone talks about synching various machines together, what does that mean?
    It usually just means having everything running at the same tempo and starting/stopping at the same time. It's something you don't really have to think about when working just with a computer, but gets important as soon as you add some hardware stuff - like drum machines.

    Does that have something to do with MIDI?
    MIDI is by far the most common way to do this. Usually you have one "master" that sends MIDI clock information to the "slaves", which then tick to the same tempo.

    Lastly, what is a patch bay used for?
    It's a physical routing matrix; gets useful as soon as you have a few pieces of outboard gear, as it provides a convenient way to, say, patch this compressor to that channel from one place (the patch bay) instead of having to reach around your rack and re-cable. Basically it just puts all the inputs and outputs of your various pieces of gear in one place.
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    rhythmgj's Avatar
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    Hey SS,

    If you work at it, it shouldn't be hard to transfer some of your DJ skills over to music production.
    Yes, it's most likely that Moby would sample to something like an MPC or another hardware sampler (I'm not sure how much he does with a computer, but I know he's a vintage gear junkie). You wouldn't lose much at all with a high-quality sample of an old 8-bit sound. He probably does that just for convenience and to avoid wear and tear on his vintage collectibles.

    Re: Roles-- In the hardware world, a drum-machine provides basically just that, drums and percussion, in basic loops or in longer combinations of patterns that can be chained together to form "songs." A sampler can be used for simple sampling (for "one-shots" and such), but can also be used as a drum-machine if the samples happen to be discrete individual drum sounds. Some samplers have a sequencer on-board. Workstation keyboards have sequencers on-board, and there are also separate hardware sequencers, and of course now sequencer programs/apps. A sequencer simply tells various instruments/sounds when to play, so it becomes your master controller for a song set-up this way (with inter-connected hardware), and yes, this is done through MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which has been the industry standard for synch and control since the 80's, but you can often control older/non-MIDI harware with synch-pulses and something called CV control, or synch one hardware unit to play when another does (individual notes rather than sequences) when the units in-question have an input called "trigger in."

    Kind of confusing, but take it slowly and you'll get the hang of it. Maybe start with some simple loop-based computer production software or MIDI sequencing, or a all-in-one keyboard workstation... But make some room in your set-up and production philosophy for hardware-type gear-- there's a lot of cool stuff out there, and it's fun to work with.

    GJ

    ---------- Post added at 06:07 AM ---------- Previous post was at 06:02 AM ----------

    Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot about patchbays, but Krush got it. Patch bays are used in studios to route inputs and outputs of various gear in various ways, and MIDI patchbays do the same thing (sort of), only with MIDI signals.

    GJ

    ---------- Post added at 06:09 AM ---------- Previous post was at 06:07 AM ----------

    PS-- Nobody had answered yet when I typed all that in, or I wouldn't have bothered. I just didn't want to leave the question unanswered...

    GJ

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    SoSincere is offline Registered User
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    Great, that answers a lot of my questions..
    Does a machine like an MPC have a built in sequencer? Why would someone choose to sample something like a bass line or keys into MPC pads? What is the advantage to sampling instruments as opposed to playing them live for the recording?
    For someone like me who is interested in starting to play with analog machines, what would you recommend? I'm interested in something that wouldn't necessarily be just a "start up" piece, but more something that I can bang around on and learn yet will also be a good piece to hold on to as I progress.

    ---------- Post added at 10:29 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:26 AM ----------

    Thanks GJ. I really appreciate it.. That answers some of my most burning questions.

    ---------- Post added at 01:55 PM ---------- Previous post was at 10:29 AM ----------

    For someone like me who is interested in starting to play with analog machines, what would you recommend? I'm interested in something that wouldn't necessarily be just a "start up" piece, but more something that I can bang around on and learn yet will also be a good piece to hold on to as I progress.

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    rhythmgj's Avatar
    rhythmgj is offline Character in Spades...
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    I don't use an MPC, but I'm quite sure there is a sequencing function (there's a sequencer on my cheaby Yamaha SU-10!). So that would let you string together a number of samples and play them in a song-type pattern.

    The advantage of sampling for someone that doesn't play bass/keys/guitar/drums, etc., or doesn't have the space to have all of those instruments and record them live, is obvious. But it quite plainly let's people who don't have traditional musical know-how or training, but have great ideas and a good knowledge of pre-recorded music be creative with those things and get into music production by sampling and sequencing in the same way a DJ would (except the records aren't spinning live; they're just played back by the machine).

    The advantage for the traditional musician or producer is that a good sampler like an MPC is a real electronic percussion instrument-- once you load your samples in, you can literally "play" the heck out of them with the pads, which is both creative and fun. Another advantage is that certain samplers are known for the sound that they have or add to the samples recorded into them. This has to do with sampling rate and various electronic components/innards, but to get a certain type of sound, sometimes a sampler is the way to go.

    Since I'm something of an analog/hardware junkie, I might not be the best to tell you which _one_ piece would be best to start on, but certainly an MPC of some kind would be a good buy if you wanted something that would retain re-sale value and that you could use with other gear. But don't forget you'd probably also want some kind of decent turntable for bringing in vinyl, and maybe a mixer, some speakers and headphones.

    Other options could be a bunch of separate pieces that could be connected with a sequencer or laptop via MIDI, a laptop with a soft-synth/sampler program that would let you use something like a PadKontrol to get basically the same thing as a sampler and/or keyboard but with digital gear. You could get a stand-alone workstation, or something smaller that might be considered more "toy-like," but would give you a good "in" into the world of hardware that you could also add to your DJ rig if you wanted to (small, portable, but cool items; Korg is excellent at making devices like that!).

    I have, among many other pieces of gear, a Roland Juno-G keyboard workstation, a small drum-machine collection (Alesis HR-16B, Alesis SR-16, and others), a few pieces of seriously vintage/antiquated analog gear (Synare electronic drums, for instance, and a Mattel Synsonics unit), a Yamaha sampler, a Boss sampler, and most of the cool little boxes that Korg has come out with in the past several years (minus the Electribe, just because I have enough drum-machines already)-- The Monotron, the Monotribe, the Kaossilator, the KP3 mini Kaoss Pad, and the Kaossilator 2. One item that might interest you that is part drum-machine, part synthesizer, sequencer, sampler, and fx box is the Korg Kaossilator Pro. It does a bunch of things pretty well, is pretty ergonomic to use, and is fun, plus it has flashing lights, which everybody loves. You could begin to practice making beats, use it with your DJ gear, and it is portable enough to take with you on trips or to work in the car (when someone else is driving!), or whatever. It would also be something that would integrate well with other gear later. Eventually, you are going to want to record all of the beats and live performances that you do with this stuff, so you'll have to decide whether tracking to a computer-based DAW or a stand-alone unit of some kind is for you (or, if you really, really want to, some kind of analog recording machine, which is still out there if you must have tape).

    Another way you could go, if you already have an iPad or an iPod, is check out some of the apps now available that emulate some of the vintage and new analog gear; that could be a way to spend just a little money to "try before you buy" and then see which types of gear you'd like to try with a more full-size hardware version.

    God Bless and I hope you find exactly the right "thing" to get you started on this fun avocation. One word of advice-- shop around, take your time, ask a _LOT_ of questions, read the boards here and as many music/production/gear magazines and websites as you can; do your research and get to know what it is you really want to do before spending money on something that may not be what you want/need just because someone at GC or Sam Ash or wherever says "You must have this thing..." think about what would work for you best, what you want to accomplish, and what would be the easiest way for you to start by transferring your already developed DJ skills to this new venture. THEN spend the money to get that thing.

    GJ
    Last edited by rhythmgj; 10-11-2012 at 12:28 PM.
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    SoSincere is offline Registered User
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    yes ! thank you!

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