In the modern age of music production, digital audio workspaces (DAWs) have become the go-to tool for creating music. With the abundance of plugins and virtual instruments available at our fingertips, it's easy to overlook the potential of hardware-based production. However, a growing trend in music production has been the return to standalone machines and going DAW-less. This approach to music production has been popularized by the MPC, and has shaped hip-hop and electronic music production for decades.
The MPC, or Music Production Center, was first introduced by Roger Linn in 1988. The original MPCs were designed as hardware sequencers and samplers, allowing users to sequence and manipulate samples in a more tactile manner. The MPC quickly became a staple in hip-hop production, with artists like J Dilla, DJ Premier, and Dr. Dre utilizing the machine to create their iconic beats. The MPC's ability to chop samples and trigger them on the fly made it a revolutionary tool for creating beats.
As technology progressed, so did the MPC. The MPC 3000, introduced in 1994, brought a 16-bit sampling engine and increased memory to the table, allowing for longer samples and more complex beats. The MPC 2000 and 2000XL followed, adding features like built-in effects and a larger LCD screen. In 2007, Akai released the MPC 5000, which added virtual instruments and an expanded set of features.
Fast forward to 2021, and the MPC Live II has brought standalone music production back into the mainstream. The MPC Live II features a 7-inch touchscreen display, built-in speakers, and a battery, allowing users to create music on the go. The machine boasts 8 touch-sensitive pads, which can be used to trigger samples, control effects, and play virtual instruments. The MPC Live II also includes a built-in step sequencer and arpeggiator, as well as the ability to record and loop audio.
But the MPC Live II isn't the only standalone machine on the market. Native Instruments' Maschine Standalone offers a similar approach to music production, with 16 RGB pads, a built-in interface, and over 50 GB of sounds. The Maschine Standalone includes a step sequencer, arranger, and sampler, as well as the ability to record and edit audio.
The Roland SP-404mkII is another popular standalone machine, often used by lo-fi and experimental producers. The SP-404mkII features 12 pads, a built-in microphone, and a unique set of effects. The machine's compact size and battery power make it an ideal choice for on-the-go production.
While these machines offer a more tactile approach to music production, they do come with some drawbacks. For one, they can be expensive, with the MPC Live II and Maschine Standalone both priced over $1,000. Additionally, they may not offer the same level of flexibility as a DAW, as they are designed to be used primarily as samplers and sequencers.
That being said, going DAW-less can be an incredibly freeing experience. By removing the distractions of plugins and virtual instruments, producers can focus solely on the music they are creating. The tactile nature of standalone machines can also lead to more creative and intuitive beat-making. And with the MPC Live II and other machines like it, standalone music production is more accessible than ever before.