It's an amazing time to be a producer and beat maker. Whether you want to better your craft, stay inspired or simply release more music, the amount of resources available to us are countless. One of the most readily available resources are drum libraries and sample packs. New sounds = more inspiration and more inspiration means more time creating and as we all know form experience, the more you do the better you get.
all offer producers easy to navigate marketplaces to browse and purchase new sounds, presets, and loops. We are also in what I call the golden age of sample packs. It used to be that you could only find drums in these libraries, but now the game has changed a bit and you can find everything from vocal riffs to brass loops played by famous instrumentalists to MIDI files you that you can drag and drop into your project. This diversification in sample type has significantly increased the value of these kits, and has changed the way I create music.
Something that has increased in popularity over the past couple years are one shots. This is something that I have been utilizing a lot recently and is one of the first things that I look at when considering purchasing a new sound library. Now what is a one shot exactly? Think of it as a single chord or note. Ideally it is made with either a really unique sound or a particularly interesting chord voicing (be on the look out for my article about the importance of voicings and how they can impact your musical ideas). You can then take this note or chord and either simply add it to your beat or totally manipulate it and make an entire song from it.
I find one shots to be so valuable because they are great ways to spark musical ideas. With DAW technology constantly evolving, its becoming easier and easier to take these sounds and make them your own. I think a lot of people come across these in libraries and don't realize their full potential, and I know for a while I struggled to see how someone could implement these elements and make unique song ideas from them. I viewed one shots as slightly one dimensional, which was frustrating to me because the actual sounds were anything but. They were unique and different, but I would starting messing around with one and would feel constricted about where I could take it. After some time researching and more importantly doing, I soon realized that I needed to approach these more creatively and too fully utilize the tools my DAW offered.
First things first
So lets get into... You've found a fire one shot and you hear all of this crazy potential so you want to throw it into your DAW and get busy.
To make this post easy to follow along (doing is the best teacher) we are going to be working with a one shot from my latest sound library The Wave Pack vol 1.
You can download this file for free by hitting this link - Retro Chord
I strongly encourage you to download this one shot and try out these methods, but if you have another one shot you've had your eye on, feel free to try and flex with that.
The reason I chose that sample is because we are going to be working off my recently release Wave Pack track:
This entire beat was made from my sample library, The Wave Pack vol 1, so I felt like this was a good way to show not only how to utilize a one shot, but also how this track was constructed.
Sampler or Timeline
So you have your one shot now it's time to dump it in and get busy. There are two main methods that I utilize when messing with one shots:
- Throwing it into a sampler and manipulating it with MIDI notes. We will call this the sampler method
- Using the one shot on your timeline and manipulating it as audio. We will call this the Timeline method
Both are solid options that offer their own benefits. I usually end up doing a hybrid method where I throw the one shot into a sampler, play it out, convert that into audio and tweak a little bit more... Sometimes I even tweak the one shot before it hits the sampler. It depends on how creative I'm feeling. The important thing here is to just be creative. There is never a right or wrong approach to anything in music. When you here someone tell you to do something a specific way, it's not because they are right and that they hold the truths to all music making magic, it's because that method that works for them. If you find yourself learning from someone you admire or someone who has been grinding at music production for a while then it might be smart to take notes and try utilizing that methodology. But don't confuse experience and knowledge with absolute knowledge. They have arrived at their workflow through many writing sessions, and trial and error and while it can greatly accelerate your learning by adopting techniques from better producers, you must always remember that there are no rules. Exploration is a key to growth. With that said, it is important to understand your foundations and build upon that... This concept goes far beyond the scope of this post, but trust and believe there will be one extensively going over this topic. Now back to the one shots...
So as I mentioned earlier, this method involved using and manipulating one shots with audio directly on our timelines as opposed to MIDI in a piano roll.
After you drop the one shot into your project it is usually smart to try and find the key or the note of the one shot. One way you can do this is by using your ear. All you have to do is open up a piano and play the one shot and keep hitting keys on your piano until you hit either the note or the root of the chord in the one shot. You will know it is the right key when it sounds... well right. It's the only way to describe it. This can be difficult at first, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Training your ear is valuable so while it may be tough at first, your future self will thank you.
The easier way (although it doesn't always work) is to throw a tuner on your audio track. Because I'm using Ableton, I can use the stock tuner plug in that comes with the program. There is a tuner in pretty much every DAW but if your software of choice doesn't have one you can try using this free tuner, or by downloading the countless free tuners available for your cell phone / tablet.
Sometimes a tuner wont be able to pick up the note or the root of the chord which is why strengthening your ear is so important, but another trick you can do if your ears and tuner aren't cutting it, is looping a section of the one shot over and over again so it makes a more cohesive tone. Sometimes the note is too quick for your tuner and this will give it more of a chance to feed a note back to you.
Now that you have the key or note down it's finally time to get into some music.
Something to note, as you do this more and more, this process becomes faster. So if you are discouraged by how long this took you on the first try, I guarantee you it wont take you as long on the 5th.
I will usually start messing around with the one shot by transposing it up and down until i get an initial sound that I like ( this step is actually a lot more fun and streamlined when using a sampler IMO). In the case of this beat and example I like the way this one shots sounds when it's transposed down by 7 semitones.
Every DAW will have different ways to transpose audio, but this is how you do it in Ableton. I now have a starting point. Now I will start placing these one shots rhythmically in my timeline. This is by no means what you have to do, but I find it streamlines my thoughts. I can worry about how I want the rhythms of my chords to sound and then when I have a nice groove I can worry about how to transpose the rest of the one shots. This is another thing that is easier/more creative (IMO) when dealing with MIDI.
I ended up with an easy three note rhythm that I eventually looped (hold off on this for now). You don't have to go crazy if you don't want. In my case I used this 2 bar sequence and repeated it for the entirety of the beat (the trick is adding variation to the arrangement and introducing other elements to help emphasize or re invigorate the idea).
Now that we have a pattern that we like (by the way this beat is at 130 bpm) it's time to give these one shots a progression. If you were to play this back we would hear the same one shot playing three times. This is fine, but I want to add some variety to the song so I went ahead and transposed the the second and third one shot up 3 and 5 semitones respectively. Just to clarify, I bumped them up that amount because, I copied the one shot that was already transposed down 7 semitones. Had I copied the original one shot from the wave pack I would have to pitch it down 4 and 2 semitones respectively. As for why I chose those transposition values, well it just sounded right.... which is good enough for me.
So we now have three one shot notes each with a different transposition value (or pitch) arranged how we want rhythmically. Remember when I said I looped these two bars, now would be the time to do it.
And there we have it. We just made a decent foundation using just a one shot. We transposed we duplicated and we shortened as necessary. For me this is always a great moment of relief. It means I can stop staring into the great abyss that is musical creation and start really getting into it. It is important to note that you could start with the drums first, or start with the bass line or a melody, or transpose the one shots first and then worry about rhythm, there is no right or wrong, there is only what works for your inspiration and what doesn't.
With a one shot progression laid out we are now left with figuring out how to piece all of the other parts of the beat together. If your ear is trained then you are in luck! Just get down on your keyboard or your mouse and your piano roll and start making a bass line or piano chord progression that goes along with the one shot progression... Easy right? Well not all of us are that fortunate, which leads me to a great advantage for the Timeline method. CONVERT HARMONY TO MIDI TRACK! Most DAW's have this, and it is extremely powerful (however you do need to use it with some caution since it's not 100% all the time). This simple tool can allow someone to take your one shot loop, or any audio for that matter, and convert it into MIDI. This gives you the ability to then have different instruments play the same notes as the one shot loop, whether that be a bass or a piano or a choir. Remember when I said the real trick is adding variety to your arrangement and song ideas, well this is one way you can do it. Below are a few videos covering three DAWs that show you how to convert audio to MIDI. If I didn't list your DAW a quick search on youtube will probably do the trick.
How to convert audio to MIDI:
Like I said, it isn't always perfect, but with some cleaning up and tweaking, you can make the MIDI sit exactly how you need it to. If you listen to the first part of the beat example you will hear a piano part, which is the MIDI Ableton converted from the one shot loop. I staggered some notes to give the piano a more natural feel.
Take this MIDI and use it with you bass lines by leaving only the root notes, or put it on a pluck sound and throw and arpeggiator on it. Or just get ride of the one shot altogether and just keep the chords you extracted. It's up to you and your creativity. Now just comes the processing, and the beauty with manipulating these one shots as audio is you can get crazy with chopping it up, creating reverb throws (look that up if you aren't familiar) and all sorts of sound design madness. This is another topic that is slightly out of the scope of this post, but I will cover it in the future. I have quite a few great resources and tips and tricks when it comes to tweaking audio. If you are an Ableton user and are looking to get into it right away I highly recommend checking out mr. bills youtube page.
Alright now take a deep breathe... That was a lot to take in. If you got this far well done... We are now on to the last leg of this post, so grab some water or coffee or beer or whatever, stretch a bit, and lets get into the sampler method!
This is going to be a slightly abridged method because we already went over a few of these things in the timeline method section, but I will keep it as thorough as I can without being to redundant.
We are going to be using the same one shot from early, however this time instead of throwing the one shot onto our timeline, we are going to add it to a sampler. In my case I'm going to be using my good friend, The Ableton Sampler.
Any sampler will do, so just use what you feel comfortable with. If you have never used a sampler before, then start by using the sampler that comes with your DAW. Logic, Reason, and Ableton all have their own factory samplers and I know for a fact they all work very well.
Now that we have this thing loaded up we need to add the one shot into the sampler. This will be accomplished differently across softwares and samplers but for Ableton it is as simple as dragging and dropping.
Remember when we had to figure out the root note or key of the one shot when we were using the Timeline method? Oh you didn't read that section... thats cool thats cool... I get it. Well to quickly catch you up, we need to figure out the root note of the one shot. This is even more crucial when dealing with samplers because this will dictate how the device will map your one shot out across your keyboard.
So we found out earlier that the one shot is e flat, and we did this by running our one shot through abletons tuner (any tuner will do). You can in fact skip this step, and the sampler will still map your sample out across your keyboard, but if you do that, the notes that you are playing wont correspond with the note of the one shot. This is ultimately fine and wont change anything if you are playing by ear, but if you want to make arranging easier down the road (adding bass lines and melodies etc) it can be good to get this in order before proceeding. This will make a bit more sense in a bit.
We determined that the one shot is e flat (d# in the case of ableton) so now we have to tell our sampler that the one shot 's root key is E flat. Now when we play a C on our keyboard it will play the one shot 3 semitones down, which is, yeah you guess it, C. If we never fixed that root key then anytime we hit a note on the keyboard the one shot would be off by 3 semitones.
One of the benefits of using the sampler method is that now you can play around with the one shot by messing with your keyboard as opposed to moving the transposition knob. For me, I find playing the keys to be more musical and more inspiring than just clicking and dragging a mouse. This is in fact how I made this beat. Because I have everything laid out on my keyboard I just messed around with the notes until I got this. This is the same thing as we came up with the in the timeline method.
Now we have our progression laid out. Whats so dope about setting your sampler to the correct root position is now you have the fundemental notes for your bass line. So you could in theory take this midi and drag it down to an 808 or other bass and be done. Obviously I recommend really diving into your bass line and making it rhythmic and vibey, but these are the root notes which is typically what the bass plays. I'll say again, if you never told the sampler the root note of the one shot, these would be off by 3 semitones which would make for a less impactful bass line (or at least for more popular and contemporary styles although i do encourage you to explore using different voicings when it comes to bass lines) so you would have to remember to transpose that MIDI.
So say you wanted to add a piano part or maybe a choir or whatever else, and were a little shakey with trying to figure out the keys... well all you have to do is to convert this MIDI to audio and then convert that audio to MIDI! weird right? But it works! In ableton all you have to do is create another audio track and set its input to your samplers output.
Make sure the new audio track is armed and hit the record button. After it runs through your clip you will be left with freshly printed audio from your sampler, which will essentially be the same thing as the loop you created in the Timeline method. You then just have to convert that audio to midi and BOOM! theres your progression... I did this with Ableton but every DAW is capable of internal routing. If you are a little confused by how to convert it to MIDI or what to do with the midi notes after, refer to the timeline method section above. And that's it! You have created the basis of your song using a one shot and a sampler and have a MID chords that you can invert, change, add to different instruments, etc. There are quite a few creative things that you can do at this point as well, but as i mentioned in the previous section, those fall slightly out of the scope of this post. We will get to that soon though!
There are always more than one way to attack a problem. This is true in life and this is definitely true (probably more so) in art. These two methods are an example of that. With the timeline method we are restricted to a more clicky way of composing or beats, placing things, moving knobs so the pitch is right etc, but it did save us the step of converting the audio to MIDI to be able to create a more unique arrangement. And it gets really crazy when you start learning creative processing methods. With the sampler method we were able to get more creative we had the one shot mapped to our keyboard. We eventually had to bounce it back down to audio which was a step we didn't have to do with the timeline method however.
So it comes down to you... Which method DO YOU enjoy the most. Forget what other people are doing. It doesn't matter, all that matters is your inspiration and how you get and stay inspired. As you start learning new techniques and tricks (hopefully in part from future articles on this blog) you may find that you like one of these methods better for a particular scenario, or maybe you learn that you can make more complex stuff clicking things in with your mouse, or maybe you just don't feel inspired by using your mouse, and a MIDI controller is more efficient. Whatever the scenario, just keep experimenting, and keep learning and most importantly keep doing.
I hope you enjoyed and learned from this article. If you have questions or suggestions for this post or a future article, please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm happy to answer any and all questions. You can also tweet me @lightfootbeats.
If you liked the sounds from the example beat or liked the one shot, the entire sample library is available here.
Until next time,