I have been a Maschine user since 2014 when i bought the Maschine MK2. Despite the steep learning curve it has revolutionised the way i program my drum patterns, use samples and create melodies.
I use the phrase ‘steep learning curve’ because i’m not going to lie, it can be. Particularly if you’ve been used to using another DAW such as Logic or Ableton. Prior to discovering Maschine i was (still am) a big Ableton fan, and have been using Live since version 4. That’s a long time to pick up production habits and motor skills, so when i started using Maschine i had to unlearn some of those skills to adjust to the Native Instruments workflows. But after some perceverance i was rewarded with access to a whole new world of creative opportunities. Unprecedented integration with some of my favourite plugins, and a powerful performance instrument.
Seamless flow from studio to live stage (pioneered by Ableton) has become essential for the 21st century musician. The Maschine designers set out to create a hardware product that was equally at home in the studio, as it was on stage as a performance instrument. Therefore some of the Maschine workflows make a bit more sense when viewed from a live performance perspective.
Maschine is effectively a DAW within itself. Used in standalone mode you can create, mix and perform your tracks live. Once you have created your patterns you can build your scenes and start jamming with your project. The perform FX that feature on the Maschine MK3 and the new Mikro give you easy to use FX, like those you might find on a DJ mixer. The new Mikro is the smallest, most affordable Maschine yet, slipping easily into your hand luggage or a DJ booth.
Audio vs Midi
One of the fundamental differences between Maschine and other DAWs is that Maschine doesn’t support audio playback in the arrangement. So if you are looking for a platform to record your bands first demo, Maschine is probably not for you. That said Maschine does come with really powerful sampling capabilities and has become a feature in many drummers setups. Although everything you do in Maschine is based around midi notes, most of your notes are actually triggering audio samples. And this is key to it being a killer performance instrument without it killing your CPU.
The downside for those who like to record their ideas as audio is that you can’t record your jams in the way you might be used to. You can’t arrange audio clips, or indeed midi patterns by simply dragging them around the screen. Which does tend to trip people up a little when it comes to arranging in Maschine. But this is one of things that makes more sense when you look at it from a live performance perspective. Swapping patterns in Pattern Mode, and triggering scenes in Scene Mode, allows you to change the direction of your performance without having to look at your laptop.
The upside in using Midi is it gives you more flexibility to manipulate your sounds on the fly. As well as samples, Maschine allows you to easily play and control plugin synths during your performance. Something that still feels a little cumbersome in Ableton. And before Push came along, meant some lengthy programming and complicated macros. The seamless integration between Maschine and Massive for example makes it easier to create builds and flows in your performance by not being stuck with a static audio file.
Expand your library
Maschine is no longer limited to the Maschine hardware. The Maschine software now integrates with all of NI’s latest Komplete Kontrol keyboards. And of course no matter which hardware you’re using, the software is the same.
Buying your first Maschine enabled product gives you a great library of kits and sounds to play with. But expansion packs are what keeps the Maschine world constantly evolving. Roughly based around genre, expansion packs can help you stay fresh giving you the latest grooves, and sounds. There’s plenty of Hip Hop, House and Techno. If that’s not your bag though look beyond the genre stylising of each pack. You’ll find some incredible presets and samples created by some of the best producers. However…
Avoid the loop trap
Expansion packs make it really easy to sound like everyone else who has the same pack! Rinsing the standard patterns that come with the projects and kits can make a lazy producer. Each pack comes with so many good sounds and rhythms, it’s not hard to see why you would want to use all of them. To develop your unique sound however, which is pretty essential to get heard above all the noise, you’ll need to delve deeper into the presets behind each kit.
I tend to use sounds that a i really like from across various expansion packs. By favouriting your fattest kicks, your best snares and preferred synths it’s easy to build your own kits from scratch. And tweak them. I’ll actually dedicate a whole studio session to building a kit, before i start to make a track. Using Maschines sampling features you can take inspiration from anywhere to create some really unique groups of sounds. I’ll cover more on this in later posts and videos.
So for the hardcore Ableton users (like me) who want to harness the creative power of Maschine, but still want to arrange their studio tracks in Ableton – what is the best way of integrating Maschine into Live? I get asked this a lot, and my best advice is; do as much as you can in Maschine first.
Use Maschine as a plugin. Create your patterns in Ideas View, and then start to build your scenes such as chorus, drop, bridge etc. Harness the power of Maschines FX and do any automation you want. Once you’ve got an idea of the sections of your track, you can easily drag the audio from your groups directly into your Ableton arrangement.
If you really want to get stuck in you can route anything, and everything from Maschine into Ableton. All of this I will be covering in my video tutorials.