Hezekiah has been an online writer for over eight years. A longtime musician, his articles often focus on music theory and instrumentation.
What Are MPCs and DAWs?
When producing music, especially for the hip-hop genre, there are two common ways to go about it. One is to use the traditional MPC, and another is to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
An MPC (Music Production Centre) is what producers have been using before the days of modern DAWs. An MPC consists of a board with velocity sensitive pads which are assigned to samples. These reads are read into the MPC from an input source, record, CD, tape etc. The company that makes the most commonly knowsn MPCs is Akai—traditionally, this is what most producers used back in the day (and many still do). However, many are starting to use the controller version, Maschine, which is more of a controller with the sounds on the PC.
A DAW is a software that runs either on the Windows or Mac platform. Sound output is normally through an audio interface, which can also be connected to MIDI instruments such as a keyboard. Sounds can be imported or played through software synthesizers. The work screen is normally divided into tracks so you can visualize what's going on in your project.
I will explain what the positives and negatives for both methods are and, hopefully, it can help one decide which production method suits them.
- Very quick to sample, sounds can be uploaded and assigned to pads for immediate testing/playing.
- Connects easily through an input source without any setup/configuration needed.
- A/D conversion gives a nice warm feel to the sound without any effects needed—good for hip-hop production.
- Portable. Use an MP3 player for input and you can create beats on the go.
- Editing can be difficult, as you are not able to view the whole project at a single glance.
- Sounds are limited to what you sample only.
- Not easy to edit/tweak sounds to perfection, which may leave you with a raw sounding project at times.
- Takes time to get used to at first, since operation involves menus and button sequences.
- Can be pricey for the upper range models.
- Not useful for any kind of music composition.
- Pads will get worn and less sensitive over time.
Digital Audio Workstation
- Full music composition can be achieved using a variety of software.
- External devices such as keyboards can be connected for compositions.
- Real life instrument sounding plug-ins can be utilized (VSTs).
- Editing is easier due to a graphical user interface.
- Lower-end DAWs are extremely cheap.
- DAW music formats can be used in many professional music studios, therefore very portable.
- A variety of different software to choose from.
- Due to the multiple functions, DAWs can take some time to learn.
- VST sample plug-ins can be very expensive.
- Difficult to create instant tracks on the fly.
- GUI have multiple windows and can have a messy appearance.
- A lot of configuration is needed for MIDI instruments.
When to Use an MPC or a DAW
Music compositions for a group
Chopping up drums
Making melody tracks
General drum programming
AraabMuzik is a well-known hip-hop producer, recognized for his live on-stage making of beats using an MPC and for his extremely rapid technique, especially on the high hats. Check the video below for a glimpse into his work.
Pete Rock is a legendary producer and rapper responsible for many '90s classics. The MPC he plays has that warm raw sound that was perfect for the '90s hip-hop sound. The newer models have a more crisp sound, however, but can still be used for hip-hop just the same. There are many hip-hop producers who use newer equipment but still maintain that dirty sound. Check out the video below for a demonstration of his skill on the machine.
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Some of the more modern MPCs such as the Maschine actually combine the hardware pad usage along with a DAW editing system. Most of the sounds are actually triggered through computer software. The Maschine seems to be taking over in terms of music production due to the lighter weight portability and the lower cost. And you can still get the same sounds, some paid for, but some you can find free around the internet.
I did a studio session the other day but have no drummer. So we used somebody who had a laptop and a Maschine—it was awesome. At first, he played the beats live and then recorded it, which then became hands-free and able to be rap freestyled to the track. I played the keys and had a live bass player and a female vocalist. A really good session and a live drummer wasn't even needed.
The Maschine user also likes to use a DAW, so he used a combination of the two—but he agrees that physical pads are best for drumming out ideas.
If you have decent sound libraries, you could make a whole track using the Maschine alone. I've heard some results and it sounded very professional.
The Push is an MPC-type input hardware interface to be used with the DAW Ableton Live. There are no onboard sounds, everything is controlled by the PC or MAC. It is very interesting the way the pads light up in different colors, and it is extremely fun to use.
The MPC History
The MPC has come a long way since the first machine made in 1988 by Roger Linn. After finishing with Linn electronic, he joined up with Japanese base AKAI to make the music production centre. It had an 8 line LCD display, up to 30 seconds of non-linear sampling, 16 voices poly, 2 MIDI in and 4 MIDI out. The was the starter of great things to come, and I know many people who still have this MPC60. Due to its warm sound, it was very popular among hip-hop producers in the '90s.
Hezekiah (author) from Japan on September 02, 2011:
@Ghost Producer, yes I play the piano/keyboard for more Neo Soul stuff nowadays tho.
Ghost Producer on August 31, 2011:
Great hub man. You pretty much hit everything on the head minus the things Dilla drums pointed out.
Do you produce music on a regular?
J Dilla Drums on August 11, 2011:
Not a problem
I enjoy your hubs I feel they are very useful to the community especially those who are and or even have a little interest in music production.
Keep writing my friend :)
Hezekiah (author) from Japan on August 11, 2011:
J Dilla Drums, well thanks for your input, appreciated.
J Dilla Drums on August 11, 2011:
Nice write up there are a few things that I'd like to address that I feel are just user error.
1. It's not difficult to create tracks on the fly. It all depends on the user and how he or she decides to work
2.The user chooses how many windows he/she has open. No application requires you to have 10 windows open at a time.
3. Mini configuration is done to a simple usb plugin that is automatically detected. Midi can be hooked up in seconds vs with an mpc or any other hardware unit.
1. It's not easy to sample on these things. Well I take that back its darn easy to sample but sample editing takes time depending on which model you have. Samples being uploaded? No samples are not "uploaded" they are sampled into the machine and you have to assign the samples to pads so it's not immediately ready as it would be on something like NI's Maschine etc
2. A/D conversion giving warm sound. This depends again on which Mpc you are using. I use an Mpc 3000 and i like the sound it has but as with anything you get out what you put into the unit. Tracks that come out of my 3000 sound no different than the tracks coming out of Reason 5. Again it's al about what you put into it. So if you put a cheesy sound into an mpc 3000 it's still going to sound cheesy.
3.Also you do have to tweak the sound to get it sounding right. Too many people think you can just run sounds or tracks through an older unit and it magically sounds good. You have to have the ear for the sounds and an ear for the levels and and great ear for laying to make things sound good. The machine doesn't do this for you
4. Mpcs are useful for any type of music composition. They are acutally made originally for country music artist. It just so happens it was adopted by hiphop producers. There are plenty of Hiphop/jungle/DNB/techno/electronic/pop/rnb/country/rock musicians/bands that have an mpc in their arsenal
and I'm talking mpc 2000s/2000xls/mpc 60's and 3000s
Sorry but had to set the facts straight as I am a Music producer (bet/mtv/ea games) that uses both hardware and software