TBC Member Upright on Music Process and How Community Sparks Creativity
|Interview by AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
California based beatmaker Upright is a humble, thoughtful music maker who takes the art of beatmaking seriously. After years of studying the art form and sharpening his craft, he as emerged with a style and sound that he’s finally pleased with. Find out how one of The BeatTips Community’s own has developed his skill and hit on a new direction.
BeatTips: Where are you from, Upright?
Upright: I was born in LA [California]. But right now I’m living out in San Bernardino. Basically, about an hour and half from LA.
BeatTips: How did you first get involved with hip hop/rap music? What drew you in?
Upright: Well, in the ‘90s, I was pretty much a big, big, big fan of East Coast hip hop. So basically, that’s where it really came alive at. Man, so many artists. But yeah, back in the ‘90s is when I first got hip to hip hop. I was probably like 16 or so.
BeatTips: Who put you on to it? Friends or family?
Upright: Friends, definitely friends.
BeatTips: So describe you in the ‘90s.
Upright: I would go to the club scene, you know, just like a hip hop dancer. So in the ‘90s, I was dancing and just listening to a lot of music. And that’s really how the love for hip hop kind of started.
BeatTips: Wow, a dancer. So what were the first hip hop songs you heard?
Upright: The first song I heard was the Geto Boys. And that was really like, uh, gangsta rap kind of, you know. So Geto Boys. That was like my first taste of hip hop. And I don’t know where I got that from. And then from there it was like Brand Nubian. So I went directly into East Coast stuff. I stayed with the East Coast phase for a long time, man. I wasn’t really too much into anything West Coast. Even though I lived on the West Coast. Not that it wasn’t good; I just wasn’t in to it.
BeatTips: What was it about the East Coast that you preferred over West Coast Music?
Upright: It seemed like the rap was more…it seemed like it had more substance, more style, more just creativity. The beats sounded better, you know, to me; that was to me. And out here on the West Coast, man, it was more like, the big guys like Cube, there was a lot of them. But they were mainly into like gangsta rap. See, me being on the West Coast, I was trying to get away from that type of mentality, you know what I mean?
Upright: So the East Coast, the East Coast was more about lyric flippin’, you know, flippin’ lyrics and just the skill behind the rapper more so than the gangsta lifestyle.
BeatTips: You mentioned beats. When did you start? How long have you been making beats?
Upright: I started making beats about 13 years ago.
BeatTips: How old were you at the time?
Upright: I was 23 when I first started producing, trying to produce beats. And I got started on the little—man, it’s crazy, it was the little, uh, Sony Playstation. They had this little thing called Music Generator. And that’s really where I started trying to make beats. It all kind of started from there. And I was always a guitar player. And it kind of came together because I would want to play my guitar and kind of have a beat to play my guitar to. So that was kind of in there, too, a little bit.
BeatTips: Wait. You were playing guitar before? How long were you playing guitar before you started making beats?
Upright: I was playing guitar, that was probably about four years before. No, no, no, you know, when I was about 14, I got the guitar. But I didn’t play it much. I had it since I was 14, but a few years before I started making beats, I started playing the guitar heavy. I was playing the guitar real heavy before I really started making beats. And then I started making beats, once I felt like I had a little bit under my belt on the guitar. I wanted to move on to something else. So that’s when the beatmaking came into it.
BeatTips: That’s dope right there. How did you make that transition? What made you say, ‘You know what, I’m going to put the guitar on the side for a minute, and I’m try this out?’
Upright: Man, it was just that—really, it was the availability of that PlayStation game…I mean, I was playing a lot of PlayStation at the time, and just sitting around playing my guitar. And then that game popped up, and I was like, ‘Man, this game is…’ ‘Cuz really, it was like a production tool. But it was in the form of a game, you know what I mean. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Man, this right here is something I could probably use,’ you know. So I sat down with that, and was really getting into it… I didn’t know that it was really like a starting tool, you know. I really didn’t know about your MPCs and your SP12s and stuff like that. I really had no idea that there was real, like, where I would even go to try to make a beat, as far as hardware. Earlier in my hip hop, like just when I was listening to hip hop and going to clubs dancing, and I saw this one cat. He hand a drum machine; at the time, it looked so complex to me. I didn’t even know what it really was, how you could even use something like that. I figured, man, you gotta have all kinds of money to get something like that. But then years later, I came across that little Sony Playstation thing, and that was it for me.
BeatTips: So did you have a teacher, or did you just start doing everything on your own?
Upright: I just started doing everything on my own. And for years, I really didn’t—I was trying to do my own thing, so I messed with that [Music Generator] for a good couple of years, just that by itself, before I even began to branch out and really try to get some real equipment.
BeatTips: Wow. Two years. So what was the first setup that you had?
Upright: The first real setup I had was Sony Acid. I was messing around with Acid in a computer, just a computer a friend gave me. And I was playing around with that. But I couldn’t really figure out the software side. So it was kind of frustrating, because I knew that I wanted to stay software at the time, because I had came from that game. And that was cool for about a year a so. And then my brother, he was into house music, and he was starting to buy a lot of hardware. He had an old Yamaha drum machine, and then he had this crazy sequencer, man, it just looked like a straight typewriter, like a computer keyboard. He told me that was his sequencer, and I was blown away. But he was really the first one that got me into hardware. So I went out and bought a Korg Electribe (sp). That was the first real piece of hardware that I had.
BeatTips: What’s the Korg Electribe?
Upright: The Korg Electribe, it’s basically like, it kind of looks like a 808 a little bit. Or no, you know what, maybe more like the 303. Roland had a bass module; it kind of looked like that…It’s basically just a synth, and you know, it had drum sounds in there, too. You could program it and do all kinds of stuff in there.
BeatTips: And how long did you rock with that?
Upright: I rocked with that—I had that in my main setup for a while. I got that in ’04. And I had that up until 2009.
BeatTips: So wait. You were using the Korg Ectribe along with Acid? Or at that time, had you left Acid alone?
Upright: Yeah, I had left Acid alone. I was just messing around with that by itself. And I wasn’t even really, you know, making anything…I was really just trying to figure out what hardware was at that point. And since my brother got me into hardware, he had so much hardware. We would MIDI up his machine with my machine and then run it into a mixer, and we would just kind of collaborate on music. So it wasn’t really hip hop, it was his house stuff with what I was trying to do.
BeatTips: So your brother taught you a lot about music-making in general?
Upright: He taught me a lot about hardware, how to MIDI-up stuff, how to connect two modules. And so from there…he had a sequencer, and I needed something more. Then I remembered, my mind went back to the ‘90s, I was like, ‘Man, I can sample!’ My buddy said I ought to get some records. And I was like, ‘Yeah, records!’ So when I got some records, I needed something more than just that Electribe because I can’t—No, actually, you know what, that’s backwards. He was telling me that I need to sample. So then my mind went back to the ’90s. So I went and bought a SP606. Which was like a kind of knock-of the, really, the MPC. Roland was just trying to knock-of the MPC. So then I realized that the 606 wouldn’t really chop, it wouldn’t chop like the MPC would. So I got rid of the 606 and I got the MPC 2500.
BeatTips: And what did you notice when you got the 2500? What happened to you as a music maker and your whole understanding of beats?
Upright: When I had the 2500, I was starting to really get into sampling records. So I started realizing that there was a lot more control. Like, you could take a sample and really manipulate it and do a lot with it. That’s what the MPC first introduced me to—so much I could do with just recording a sample. Because before that, I hadn’t really tapped into what could be done with just a piece of audio. I was just programming beats and trying to make synth lines and stuff like that. But once I got the MPC, I started realizing you can take a sample and manipulate it and flip it and take it to another level and really make it your own. So that’s what the MPC really opened me up to.
BeatTips: And at that time, what were the things that you were studying? As far as like, people, tools, books, anything? How were you learning?
Upright: Well, at that time, man, I wasn’t really–I still didn’t have a direction that I was trying to go. I know I wanted to sample, but I didn’t know…I didn’t think to go back to some of the music I was listening to. I didn’t really think to do that until a while later. But at the time…my mindset was like, O.K., I’m going to take these records and do my own thing. As I was doing that, I noticed that things just didn’t sound like I wanted them to, you know. It was a sample, I was flippin’ it, but something was missing. And I think what that was…I didn’t have any structure, any inspiration.
BeatTips: So where did you find that inspiration and structure at?
Upright: Well, I really, I just started dissecting people like Kev Brown. He was one of the first ones that I really was like, ‘Man, this cat’s pretty fresh right here.’ I started dissecting what he was doing and just getting inspiration off of people like that.
BeatTips: When did things start to click for you? Like when did you start to get the hang of it?
Upright: Man, to be honest, I think that was like last year! It hasn’t been that long since I really felt like things are starting to click. And for me, I guess it was slower because I didn’t go to people and try to look at, like, ‘O.K., what is this dude doing? What makes his tracks dope?’ until recently. And then what really brought it together for me, man, was the EQ’ing and compression. Cuz I had my drums, and I’d listen to other people’s tracks, and I’d be like, ‘Man, they sound so much fatter, so much more.’ It still didn’t click with me that it was the drum track that was really driving hip hop. I don’t know why, man, it just never clicked with me. But my buddy, Matt Hoffman, and he does more like his own compositions of rock and stuff like that, I would listen to him and his stuff sounded so dynamic. And I was like, ‘Why does his track sound like that?’ I could hear everything real good. And the drums were crisp and the sounds were crisp. And so, just talking with him, he introduced me to compression and EQ’ing and stuff like that. And I started studying that stuff. He would tell me, “EQ this and compress that,” and I really didn’t know what he was talking about. So I started looking into that, then I would go back and listen to people’s beats, then I put 2 and 2 together.
BeatTips: What’s your current setup?
Upright: Right now, I’d say my main piece is Reason 6. That’s my main tool. And then I have the Maschine, too. I can just stand alone with Reason 6, but Maschine is pretty dope, too. And then I have the MPD. I had the MPC 2500, but when I saw what Reason could do, I had to check out Reason. Once I started messing with Reason, I realized that basically everything that I can do in the 2500, I can do in Reason. So I got rid of the 2500.
BeatTips: So translate your workflow for how you use Reason 6, based off of your experience using the 2500. How does that translate?
Upright: So like a comparison between those two?
BeatTips: No, not necessarily a comparison, but how are you able to achieve on Reason 6 what you used to achieve on the 2500?
Upright: O.K., I see what you’re saying. Well, basically, the 2500—you know you could slice up samples and then it had 16 levels. So those were the two things that I was like, ‘As long as I can do that, then I’m going to be O.K.’ So I had to get Recycle. That was the thing. You chop up in Recycle. And then from there, once it’s a Rex file, it’ll go in the Rex player. So there’s your chops right there. And then anything you have chopped up, you can throw into one of the other samplers, and get basically your 16 levels. So for me, it was those two things; and then being able to record whatever I want. My turntable runs right into my computer. If I need to record a guitar, bow, it’ll go right into Reason like it would the MPC.
BeatTips: What interface are you using? How are you going into your computer?
Upright: I’m just going through a ProFire. It’s a little M-Audio interface, ProFire 610. It has 4 ins, MIDI, and 4 outputs.
BeatTips: And what are you using to control Reason with?
Upright: I control Reason with a MPD 32. And then I have a MIDI keyboard, an Ediorl M30…the MIDI keyboard for playing like chords and stuff like that.
BeatTips: So break down your music process. Are you systematic or more organic?
Upright: Lately, I’ve been real systemic. Because I feel like if I can get the melody that I like first, if I can really feel the melody, that’s what I want there first. Because I know I want to bring the drums in hard…If I get a good melody that I like, then I know that behind that I can bring a drum track in that’s going to hit and compliment the melody. So I’ll pull all my drums off of vinyl. That’s where I start. I’ll get my melody going, then I’ll find a break on a vinyl record. And then find one that matches that melody, that goes good with that melody. And then I’ll chop up the drums and lay the drums down; and basically that’s the foundation. Then from there, I’ll probably add something subtle or light on top of that to kind of compliment the groove. And then from there, I’ll got to the bass line.
BeatTips: Let’s go back to Recycle for a moment. With software, have you found that it takes you longer or just about the same time?
Upright: Uh…[thinks long about it]To me, it seems faster, because if I have an idea, I know everything is in the computer already, pretty much. Unless I want to get something from another record and throw it in there, too. The only thing that I’d say is the extra step is when I have to chop something up. So that’s kind of why I got the Maschine. Because the Maschine is just like a chopping beast. Where the MPC 2500 could have 64 slices, the Maschine can have 4,096 slices! You can put one Rex file on one pad of the Maschine. A Rex file can be 92 slices, so now you have 92 slices on one pad.
BeatTips: But tell me what’s the benefit of that? How have you used that capability before. Give me example.
Upright: So you can drop a Rex file on one pad, and then use your keyboard to play that melodies and those chops, or whatever you have on that Rex file on that pad. And so that’s just one pad. So instead of having, you know, a whole MPC dedicated to your melody or something, let’s say you chop something up that extensively to where you have all those chops on there, now that’s just on one pad. I have all those other pads for whatever else I may need them for. The Maschine is crazy because I could put a compressor on one pad and run my chops through this pad over here to pad 16 in group A. It’s just a whole nother work flow on that thing. That’s why I got the Maschine, to speed up my chopping. Because when I want to chop and get something going, and I don’t want to start in Reason, I’ll open Maschine and do it that way. And then I’ll export everything out of Maschine and drop it over into Reason. But regardless, I always finish everything in Reason. No matter where it starts, the final product is gonna go into Reason.
BeatTips: So if you have all of those slices on one pad, how do you take out, let’s say, just two or three that you want to use? Do you take them out and assign them to a different pad or what do you do?
Upright: Yep, yep! You can take ‘em out. So like if I have a little sound that I want to accentuate or do something to, flip it, reverse, whatever, you can just extract just that one sample and put it on another pad and do whatever you want to it.
BeatTips: Clearly, listening to your music, you use a combination of sample-based and non-sample-based approaches, but are you more of a sample-based beatmaker or non-sample-based? What do you consider yourself?
Upright: I consider myself…If I had to choose one, I’d say sample-based. If I couldn’t use any synths, I’d do my bass lines, grab a little piece and just make my bass lines like that.
BeatTips: So you’re probably more like a hybrid?
Upright: Hybrid! Definitely! Definitely!
BeatTips: About your drums, you mentioned that you sample them. Do you use sample packs as well or stock sounds from your gear?
Upright: No, I really don’t get into those kinds of sounds. I generally just keep it records because I want to have that grit, that grit sound that hip hop sound that you can only get from when your drums come off records. So that’s what I really, really want to have in my tracks. One example of what I had to do lately is, I sampled a kick and a snare from a break, then I chopped it up. Once I got it in the track, I realized the kick wasn’t cutting through like I wanted to. So what I did, I kept that kick there, but I blended in something that had some more high frequencies that could punch through, you know what I mean?
Upright: So it still had that underlying grit sound, but the kick was cutting through because of that little tiny layer that I had on top. So I do stuff like that. But really try to keep it vinyl-based drums. And there was one tip you gave on BeatTips that really took me to the next level, man. When you talked about sampling just stuff, you know you were talking about, take your microphone and hit on boxes and do this and that. And I hadn’t really considered that, man. That took me to a whole nother level. That helped me to really branch out, and see that there was more to defining your sound. You know, and how when you talked about how to make your snares. I read that, too on the BeatTips website, and I was like, ‘Man, this is some really good stuff right here.’
BeatTips: Do you sample your drum sounds dry or do you EQ or amp them up in any way?
Upright: I sample them straight dry. I keep them where their way below clipping, way below being hot at all. So once their in there, and they sound good just like they are on the record, at that point I’ll EQ them and do different stuff to them. You know, maybe pitch them down, or depending on what it takes. You know, whatever it takes to get them to sound like my ear is feeling it should sound.
BeatTips: What’s the signal flow that you’re using when you sample?
Upright: Turntable going into a DJ mixer. It’s just a Numakr PT-200, nothing special, just a basic mixer. I think it’s their bottom of the line “cheapy” mixer.
BeatTips: From your Numark, where do you got to?
Upright: That runs into the computer interface and then straight into the computer…Then I sample it into either Reason or Maschine, either one of those.
BeatTips: What determines whether you’re going to sample using Reason or the Maschine?
Upright: Really, it’s just what I feel like, where I feel like I want to take it. Like, where my inspiration is feeling like I want to go. So if I feel like in Maschine…they have like different synths…so if I feel like I want to use a VST, I’ll go to Maschine because Reason doesn’t host VSTs…you know, Massive or whatever, Absynth, or something like that. But if I feel like I want to use some Reason synths, then I’ll go into Reason.
BeatTips: Tell me about your main creative influences. Be it music or any other creative art forms. Specifically, what and who are they, and how do you incorporate them into your music?
Upright: I listen to, man, it’s a lot of stuff. A lot of my influence comes from what’s there on the record. But a lot of times, you know, I’ll just vibe on what other people are doing and just kind of let that spark my creativity. Because I feel like…If you separate yourself from what people are doing, then you really can’t grow as an artist. And that’s really what I feel like. So basically, it’s a community. So if you’re part of a community, the community sparks everybody. You spark off one another. That’s like big for me. Like, if you have an artist over here, and he’s creating by himself, you know, his stuff will be dope. But if you have five guys, and they’re really learning, and these five guys are kind of sparking each other, I feel like their art will go to a whole nother level, you know, than just the one dude by himself, you know what I mean. Because he knows only the techniques that he knows. And so you got these five dudes who know…You got five vibes, and five vibes are thinking five different ways. And so, you put all those methods together and all those guys will go to another level.
BeatTips: I completely understand. It’s similar to how bebop developed in jazz.
BeatTips: From the beginning, like when you first started, did you understand that beatmaking was an art form, or was it something you came to learn recently?
Upright: I do understand it’s an art form. Recently, I’ve come to learn that, within the past, let’s say…and I know it’s cliché to say, but Dilla, the Donuts album. Because that, for me, you know he was doing some pretty crazy stuff on there. And that’s when my mind kind of clicked. I mean, I know there’s a whole spew of people that have been doing stuff like that and being creative and being artistic before that. But when I heard that—and I’m not a huge Dilla fan—when I heard the Donuts album, I was like, ‘Man, I can listen to this and really appreciate it for what it is.’ It doesn’t have to have an MC on it. And I’m not in love with every track on there, but you know, that’s when I realized…there’s a lot of creativity in the expression just within the beat by itself.
BeatTips: Do you mix your own beats?
BeatTips: What do you use?
Upright: I do everything right there in Reason. Reason 6 has that SSL 9000 emulator in there. So basically, it’s like a replica of the SSL 9000 mixing board. So I got real comfortable using that, man. And that’s where I mixed down everything.
BeatTips: Do you save a level of creativity for the mixing process?
Upright: Definitely! Definitely! Definitely! And to me, mixing is like real subjective. It’s like, one person my think, you know, “Your hi-hats are a little too loud.” But for me, I want them to really cut your ears in a certain section. And that’s the subjective part of mixing. Once you figure out what you’re doing, as far as mixing down your tracks, you can really put your touch or your creativity or your stamp, your signature, on the mixing process.
BeatTips: How did you find out about The BeatTips Community, and what made you join TBC?
Upright: I found about The BeatTips Community through Saint Joe. I was checking out his website…He had a list of websites that he likes, you know. And it had BeatTips there, and I hit it. And ever sense, man, it’s just been one of my favorites.
BeatTips: I appreciate that. And what made you ultimately join TBC?
Upright: Man, the level of insight, especially you. The way you break down your analysis; your perception of beatmaking, it’s just like you want to be around that, man.
BeatTips: And what was cool is that you joined TBC recently, and then you won the first battle of the new year. And you see how our battles get. So I definitely want to congratulate you on that again. And for your winning beat, “Bear Fruit,” that was a formidable composition. So tell me how that beat came about.
Upright: Basically, I got this old 45. Let me—I have the 45 right here. It’s Lee Davis, and it’s either “Two Ships Passing in the Night”…or “Everybody;” so it’s one of those two. I can’t remember, but there was an organ on there. So I got that organ and then…I chopped it up and laid those chops down. And then from there, I got the drums off a record and then laid the drums down. And I was doing that in the Maschine. And that bass line, I got that from Massive, that’s a Native Instruments synth.
BeatTips: You’re saying the bass parts? Because you played the bass line, right? Or was that whole bass line a phrase that you sampled?
Upright: No, no! I played that on the MIDI keyboard from Massive, the synth, Massive. So once I had those couple elements right there, I threw it over into Reason. And I started working from there. I sampled a shekere, well, I call it a cabasa, you know, it’s got the little beads on it. So I sampled that and then a couple of things, like a knock. And I layered the knock with the snare. And just kept building it…basically, adding little elements and tightening up the mix. And it was a wrap.
BeatTips: Coming back to your process, it sounds like you use the Maschine now to get your ideas going and to develop the main framework of where you want to go.
Upright: Definitely! I start a framework in Maschine, then shoot it over into to Reason and work out the rest of it there, you know, maybe add a few instruments.
BeatTips: Now, is that “Bear Fruit” beat an old beat or a recent beat?
Upright: Nah, I made it for that [BeatTips.com] beat battle.
BeatTips: Was it a late night joint or day time?
Upright: That was a late night joint, man, sure was.
Below is “Bear Fruit,” the beat Upright won the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle with.
The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
“Bear Fruit” (prod. by Upright)
*To hear more of Upright’s music, check out his SoundCloud page at: soundcloud.com/uprightArticles, Beat Breakdown, Beatmaking, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, Editor's Choice, Features, Hip Hop Production Techniques, Sa'id, Sampling, The BeatTips Community (TBC), The BeatTips Manual