16 Maschine music making tips

Performance and production tips for users of NI's beatmaker

Native Instruments' Maschine products have sparked something of a mini revolution in the world of hi-tech music making. Thanks to them, the groovebox/sampling drum machine concept has been reborn for the computer music age, and it's far more powerful than ever.

Maschine boasts vast sound libraries and total hardware control. It benefits from the well-structured workflow of a unit designed to be controlled without a computer screen, while also providing the power and in-depth editing only made possible by the use of a computer interface.

In later version updates Native Instruments has even added neat features such as hardware modelling, which allows us to capture the sound of old-school grooveboxes.

Here, we present 16 tips for anyone who's using Maschine or Maschine Mikro - either in the studio or on stage.

Cut out the middle man

To avoid problems when performing live with Maschine, disable any third party plug-ins you aren't using for the show. You can even switch them all off and deselect Scan On Startup for instant boot-ups without the risk of a crash…

Maschine tips

Picking up plug-ins

…But do make sure Maschine is set to scan for new plug-ins on your system. To be sure it will pick them up and avoid frustrating headaches in the future, run Maschine in standalone mode straight after installing a new plug-in.

Tidy up your beats

Maschine can quantise the drum pad inputs (or other incoming data). When making beats in the studio, it's nice to have this off for more natural timing; but when creating rhythms and triggering samples on the fly, turning quantise on ensures a tidy performance.

It don't mean a thing…

If you've had fun creating cool drum buildups using the Note Repeat button and various effects, try using the Swing control to add and remove syncopation. This works really well on repeated 16th-notes.

Think past the obvious

Try not to use Maschine for just one thing; try to use it in as many different ways as you can. It's an instrument, so don't lose sight of that. However, don't feel like you have to use it on everything for the sake of it.

A case in point

If you regularly take your Maschine hardware on the road, get a case. The unit is tough, but it's not indestructible. After all, nobody likes having a broken knob, do they?

Save first, experiment later

When you're creating glitches and patterns with Maschine as a plug-in, render your best results as audio right away, before you keep making edits. This way, you won't ever lose your first idea, plus you can re-import the rendered version and mess with it some more!

Hip-hop inspiration

Nothing beats taking a sample from an old track and spanning it across the pads, then playing your own melody with the snippets. This classic hip-hop trick has never been so easy to pull off, so have a go yourself!

Length matters

Whatever you're sampling, always try playing with the lengths. Maschine is meant to be a performance instrument, so make sure you treat it like one - the length of a sample can really affect its swing and feel. Once you have a pattern down, play with the length of that, too. We love that old-school vibe of chopping samples off dead with the Length dial.

One-shot to win

Always experiment with switching One-shot on and off. With it off, you can make and automate changes using the ADSR envelopes. Try messing with this while you have a beat up and running so that you can hear the effect on different pads - you might find that you want to set each up differently.

Play other instruments

Unlike a ReWire slave in your main DAW, Maschine can open plug-ins. So, try loading a soft synth inside Maschine as a plug-in, then play it with the pads, apply auto-quantise, insert effects and whatever else you fancy. The way you play the synth might be very different, providing new inspiration.

Truncate terror

Be careful of the Truncate button when you are editing a sample - it completely ditches the unused audio either side! We aren't dealing with a wave editor here, where you can undo time right back to the second before you became a little too happy with the trim command. We've often truncated one slice of a phrase, worked on it, got it just right and then realised we actually wanted the whole thing. D'oh!

maschine tips

Get your effects right

When you add an effect to your freshly made sample groove, make sure you add it to the first free tab to the right. You can undo if you add it to the wrong module, but it's a pain in the backside, and we find it ruins our vibe!

Rescue shoddy drums

Maschine makes it really easy to add reverb and delay tails on the end of drums, creating little pumps and tails on the end of boring samples or drums that cut off too quickly. You can automate these. We also like to bounce them down, then reimport them and slice them so that we can play them with the tails.

Add your own samples

Make sure you add your own sample libraries. Most packs are categorised into kicks, snares and so on, so importing them all and then tagging them for style and description in Maschine takes seconds. Once that's done, you've created a ready-to-go library!

Switch up your timbres

Maschine is great for quirky beat creation. One of our favourite tricks is to replace, say, a tom pattern with vocal or other musical samples - you just drop them on the pads so they play instead. We're inclined to play drums like drums and synths like synths, so mixing it up often creates unique results.

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