DJ Groove Production Maschine Studio

DJ Groove Production Hardware and Software Buying Guide

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How to choose the right gear and software to produce your beats and tracks

Table of Contents

The Brave New World of Groove Production
Blurred Lines: DJs vs. Producers
All-in-One Workstations vs. Other MIDI Gear
Going it alone with MIDI-enabled gear without using dedicated software
Using MIDI controllers and workstations you configure to work with various software
Using an all-in-one groove production workstation with tightly integrated software
Native Instruments Maschine Studio
Ableton Push 2 Software Controller Instrument
Novation Launchpad RGB
Akai Professional APC40 mkII Ableton Performance Controller
Staying on Top of it All
We’re Here to Help

The Brave New World of Groove Production

Back in the dark ages, DJing was largely confined to mixing and scratching prerecorded tracks on vinyl or CDs. A few adventurous DJs created their own beats using relatively primitive beat boxes and other MIDI devices that were labor-intensive to work with and produced sounds that were often tinny.

With the latest generations of programs and hardware, that’s all changed. Today’s DJ can harness a wide range of software, apps, and samples with which to build towering beats and sophisticated dance floor-filling tracks. The newest control surfaces offer intuitive hands-on control with tactile qualities and expression capabilities that make beat construction and live performance fun. The best of them encourage experimentation and fuel your creativity. In this guide we’ll walk you through the possibilities and help you identify the beat-building software and hardware that makes sense for your music, work style and budget.

Blurred Lines: DJs vs. Producers

The newest all-in-one groove production workstations are capable of much more than simply building beats as their drum machine forerunners did. Many incorporate huge arrays of great-sounding virtual instruments, loops and effects. With their ability to manipulate samples and mix sounds as well as arrange and sequence melodies, harmonies and chord progressions, these groove production tools let you create songs worthy of a world-class producer. The best of the breed have instrument-like interfaces that make them excellent performance tools for the DJ who’s not content to just slice, dice and mix other people’s music.

All-in-One Workstations vs. Other MIDI Gear

There are essentially three ways of building grooves and songs using virtual instruments and samples. In order of decreasing difficulty they are:

  1. Going it alone with various MIDI-enabled gear without using dedicated software
  2. Using MIDI controllers and workstations you configure to work with various software
  3. Using an all-in-one groove production workstation with tightly integrated software

In this guide we’ll be primarily looking at approaches 2 and 3. But first, let’s look at each:

Going it alone with MIDI-enabled gear without using dedicated software

Theoretically, any MIDI-enabled keyboard, workstation, synth or other sound module can be used for creating grooves. Indeed, many producers use such gear to create amazing songs, soundtracks and sequences. The downside of this approach is that the workflow can be daunting and involve a lot of trial-and-error experimentation. If you’re willing to put in the time and embark on some steep learning curves, it’s possible to create full-blown songs that sound terrific.

Check out the huge selection of MIDI controllers at Musician’s Friend.

Using MIDI controllers and workstations you configure to work with various software

Some groove production controllers and workstations are software-agnostic. That is, they’ll work with pretty much any MIDI-enabled software. Most are essentially control surfaces that streamline your workflow with hands-on control of software using buttons, knobs, pads, or sliders that you map to the software you’re using (Mapping is the process of assigning functions to knobs, pads, buttons and sliders).

Most groove creation software can be controlled using your computer’s mouse and keyboard or tablet or phone touch screen. But your workflow takes a hit since these don’t make optimal work surfaces for managing such software. While software-agnostic controllers usually come bundled with some software, they are designed to work with all the major groove production programs. Configuring them to work with your software can be time-consuming, but the many mapping templates that are available can help do most of the heavy lifting. The advantage of software-agnostic controllers is their ability to work with various programs—you’re not wedded to one manufacturer’s software.

Explore the huge selection of production and grooove gear at Musician’s Friend.

Using an all-in-one groove production workstation with tightly integrated software

In this approach, hardware and software are designed to work in concert with each other. There’s little or no configuring for you to do. If you’re looking for a plug-and-play groove production workstation that minimizes learning curves, this is the way to go. That said, these workstations offer hundreds of functions and tap into countless sounds, instruments, samples and effects. Learning what they can do is no pushover—to explore all their capabilities takes perseverance and time. But if you have little or no knowledge of MIDI, they will save you that steep learning curve.

The advantages of these workstations are also their potential downside. Because they’re designed to control a specific range of software, they may not offer as seamless an experience when working with software and apps produced by other manufacturers.

Now that we’ve addressed the three basic approaches to building beats and grooves, let’s take a look at a few of the leading controllers and software.

Native Instruments Maschine Studio

NI Maschine Studio

Maschine Studio gets a lot of props from DJs and groove producers for its excellent hardware/software integration. Dual, hi-res displays managed with eight knobs provide instant feedback with crisp graphics monitoring your waveforms, patterns, scenes, mixing levels, plug-ins and much more.

The brilliantly intuitive workflow combined with Maschine 2 software plus seamless Komplete 9 integration allows you to build far more than just beats. You can nearly effortlessly shape songs by manipulating melodic lines, harmonies, and chord progressions to create polished tracks.

 

Take a quick tour of all Maschine Studio’s awesome capabilities and features.

The 16 touch-sensitive, multicolor pads make performances fun and intuitive. They work in conjunction with a jog wheel that enables precise edits and scrubbing plus powerful sampling, slicing, time-stretching and editing functions plus fast browsing of the Studio’s vast resources. Unlike software-only groove production, all editing and metering happens on the hardware itself, giving you excellent tactile and visual feedback—a real plus when used in performance.

Factor in the 8GB library of samples, instruments, sliced loops, powerful sequencer options, a pro mixer and access to a huge complement of plug-ins plus full versions of Massive, Prism and many more applications, and you realize there’s little this one-box solution can’t do. And if you do have other DAWs, Maschine 2 hosts any VST or AU plug-in and perfectly integrates into any studio setup as a plug-in within all major DAWs.

 

Groove producers talk about the Maschine Studio features they love.

Explore the full range of Native Instruments software and controllers.

Ableton Push 2 Software Controller Instrument

With the Ableton Push 2 Software Controller Instrument emphasis should be given to that last word—“Instrument.” Though it’s a seriously capable step sequencer with which you can construct monstrously complex and funky grooves, the Push 2’s 64 pads are so much fun to play in real time that sequencing may take a back seat. The pads have excellent touch and color feedback—colors indicate key centers, associated notes, notes you’ve already recorded, and more, making it a great choice if your music knowledge is minimal.

In live performance, eight touch-sensitive endless encoders let you tweak drum kits and sounds in real time. Dicing and slicing beats and samples, creating custom drum sets, and triggering single hits are all intuitive processes right at your fingertips. Holding a pad down repeats a note in sync with your track and you can fearlessly tweak kits and samples while you play. Long samples can be warped to play in tempo, and in performance you can seamlessly shift gears relying on the Push 2’s superb visual feedback.

When you produce grooves at home or in the studio, the step sequencer uses that same expressive bank of pads to keep the creative flow going. And of course, you’ll have access to your entire sample library plus VST or Audio Units plug-ins.

 

Watch groove producer Jnthn Stein craft a track from scratch using the Push 2 to harness Ableton Live’s powerful capabilities.

Novation Launchpad RGB

Beat builders on a tight budget should give the Novation Launchpad RGB a close look. It’s tightly integrated with Ableton Live and comes with a Lite version of the software. The 64 mini pads illuminate in the same colors as your Ableton session views making the interface very visual and intuitive. The pads are multifunctional: use them to play drums, control loops, launch clips, or manage just about any other parameter.

The pads are pre-mapped to the Ableton Live drum rack layout, and with the included 1GB of Loopmasters samples plus Novation V and Bass Station synths you’re ready to start creating tracks right out of the box. Novation’s Launchpad app means you can use Launchpad RGB with your iPad. It also works with Max for Live letting you turn the RGB into a step sequencer or even trigger video clips from your pads.

 

Check out a recording and looping session using Novation Launchpad RGB.

Akai Professional APC40 mkII Ableton Performance Controller

Akai has a long history of collaboration with Ableton having introduced the original APC40 Controller back in 2009. The new APC40 mkII represents a quantum leap in terms of performance and control. Akai engineers have digested five years worth of user feedback to create this latest unit.

Perhaps the most significant upgrade is the 5x8 RGB clip-launching grid that lets you perform or create songs with up to 40 highly responsive triggers. The lighting instantly displays three clip statuses: loaded, playing, and recording. With RGB color mixing you can color-code clips for at-a-glance triggering.

The control surface layout is both physically and visually easy to grasp. Nine faders and eight channel control knobs are arranged inline with each channel for a smooth, efficient workflow. The eight device control knobs make it simple to tweak parameters. The send button allows you to cycle through all eight send buses and the A/B crossfader can be assigned and reassigned without touching your computer.

As you would expect, APC40 mkII comes pre-mapped to Live for groove production and performance. Just plug it into your computer and every control corresponds perfectly with the Ableton Live interface. But the interface can be customized on the fly to match your production or performance needs making it very flexible in your studio or at the gig.

An included music production suite come with a version of Ableton Live Lite, two high-definition virtual synths, and 5GB of professional samples and loops for out-of-the-box music creation. Also included is the Puremagnetik Effect Racks, a collection of over 200 sophisticated audio effects engineered for instant sound sculpting. Another bundled application is AIR Music Tech, a virtual synth that offers tons of creative potential. Also included are SONiVOX Twist, a spectral morphing synthesis virtual instrument, plus five Toolroom artist launch packs and five Prime Loops sample packs from today's electronic music scene—plenty of fodder to get your creative juices flowing.

 

Carl Rag puts the APC40 Mk II through its paces in Ableton Session View mode.

Staying on Top of it All

In the rapidly evolving world of groove production nothing stays the same for long. In this guide we’ve highlighted some of the latest hardware and software. But there will undoubtedly be new controllers, workstations, software and apps hitting the market that will leapfrog today’s state-of-the-art gear. We recommend that you invest some quality time exploring the many online DJ and beat-production forums.

There’s no substitute for checking out what gear/software others are using and what they’re doing with it. Most manufacturers’ websites include community sections where you’ll find producers, DJs and musicians geeking out, talking about the latest technology and sharing techniques. Most also include user libraries of sounds, instruments and mapping tools for working with various software/hardware combinations.

We’re Here to Help

With the huge array of gear and software that’s available to build beats and grooves, choosing the right hardware and software combinations can be mind-boggling. By now you probably have a clearer idea of what’s available, but you may need more guidance. At Musician’s Friend we have Gear Heads with deep groove-creation experience who can help you pinpoint the solutions that make sense for your skill level, music and budget. Give us a call at (877) 880-5907.

Tags: Software DJ Equipment MIDI Groove Production

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