The usefulness of a good sampler in your production toolkit can’t be underestimated. It’s great for everything from developing your own custom sounds to consolidating your favorite samples into a single instrument. Back in the ’80s, dance and hip-hop pioneers could put together an entire track using a hardware sampler with just 2 MB of memory (that’s MB not GB). On it they’d have all of their drum samples, bass and keyboard sounds, even guitar phrases and backing vocals. Working this way, with just a few MIDI sound modules and very limited RAM really forced you to be creative, to write solid beats and killer songs. Unlike today, you weren’t in a position to dazzle listeners with layers upon layers of neatly produced sounds because, frankly, you just didn’t have the tools (such as one of our modern super computers). Instead, you had to focus on the basics, where every part that you played was integral to your song’s arrangement. You couldn’t waste an iota of your sampler’s memory.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. It’s such a privilege to have all this production power in our computers and at our fingertips, but having all of this power is no guarantee that we’ll be able to write good music. As an exercise in my Producing Music with Reason course, I demonstrate the unbridled power of Reason’s NN-XT Sampler and what you can do with it when you truly understand how to milk it for all it’s worth. Students generally find the lesson to be an eye opener, but because it’s such a different way of working and thinking about arranging it can be a confusing lesson. So, in addition to the online lesson material, and the assigned reading, I’m posting a nine minute video that follows me through the entire process of constructing a custom NN-XT patch.

Those of us that ran up a credit card bill in the late ’80s and early ’90s buying just one Akai or Roland sampler for around $2,000, well, we were determined to get the most out of our new hardware. We had excellent incentive, we had to write a “hit” to pay off our credit card bill. There’s much less incentive nowadays, beyond the personal challenge, to write an entire track using just a sampler. But, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a try because besides the fact that it’s a lot of fun it will force you to learn a sampler inside and out and to stretch your production chops and think in new ways.

Now, here’s an idea: Imagine if you will that you’ve been caught in a temporal vortex and transported back in time to 1988 and the only way for you to get back home is to write a satisfactorily slamming beat with your Akai S950 sampler and 2 MB of memory. Now there’s a challenge, are you up for it?

Here’s my attempt to get back to the present, written entirely using Reason’s NN-XT sampler and a few effects devices. And, just to make things even more realistic, I did this in Reason Adapted, the very limited features version of Reason 5 (The Reason file will open in any new version of Reason). Click here to play hear the MP3 mix or download the actual Reason song file here.

STUDY MUSIC PRODUCTION WITH BERKLEE ONLINE