Introduction to Maschine Mk3
The updated Maschine Mk3 brings all the toys to the party
For makers of electronic music, or hip hop, or any other kind of non-acoustic music, the Native Instruments Maschine series has long been held dear. For those who don’t know, Maschine is an all-in-one MIDI controller unit. It connects to your computer by USB, and provides precise control over the accompanying software, which bears the same name.
Using this close-knit hardware/software combination, users are able to create beats, chop samples, make arrangements and produce music. It takes care of the whole process from ideas and inspiration, through to mixing and mastering.
It can, however, appear a bit daunting to the uninitiated. Clearly, it looks futuristic enough, with its bank of 16 LED-lit pads and two colour screens, but there is a world of new terminology and techniques to get accustomed to before you can dream of greatness. Let’s take a look at where to start in this introduction to Maschine Mk3.
Getting Started with Maschine Mk3
There are two main things you have to do with Maschine. First you’ll need to download Native Instruments’ proprietary software manager, Native Access. This is effectively a download manager which keeps all your registered products, licences and serial numbers in one place. It also manages all product updates, so when Native update Maschine to include some new features – which they do – you’ll get access to those through this application.
Once you have this, you can get your hardware set up. In reality, this involves little more than unboxing it and finding somewhere to locate it on your desk or studio space. Ideally you want somewhere that isn’t wobbly or confined.
Next, key in the serial number from the card inside the box to Native Access and the software will begin downloading. Perhaps have a cuppa while you’re waiting. If you already use any Native Instruments software, like Massive or Komplete, then these will automatically appear in Native Access too. Handy!
With the software downloaded and authorised, and the hardware in place, you’re ready to begin.
Fire up the Maschine app, turn on your hardware (the button’s round the back) and you’ll be greeted with a gloriously colourful welcome sequence. The next job is to set up Maschine as an audio interface on your computer. If you already have an audio interface and want to stick with what you already have you can skip this bit.
With those (more menial) tasks completed, let’s start making some music.
Fire up the Beat Maschine
The easiest way to get your head around the music making process with Maschine is to think of it like musical Lego™. Except instead of small pieces of Danish plastic, you’re creating small blocks of sound. And you have complete creative control over what that sound is, what is does and how it interacts with the other blocks in your arrangement.
Maschine develops this by giving the user three main ‘screens’ to work from. Let’s break it down.
Groups are effectively the different instruments in your track. You have eight available to you, and they are colour coded for ease of navigation. Standard learner procedure might be to use Group A as your drums, Group B as your bass, Group C for melodic instruments or samples etc etc. This can be expanded upon further; each group can hold 16 different instruments, meaning you could theoretically record something with 128 different instruments at once. Although you’d quite clearly be crackers if you did.
Patterns are the musical activity you compose. It could be MIDI patterns playing drum breaks, or it could be samples you’ve pulled from an external source. We’ll come back to exactly how you produce these patterns shortly.
Scenes are the different elements to your track. They comprise the patterns we mention earlier. For example, your intro will be one scene, and might comprise two or three different patterns using instruments from one or two of your groups. Your chorus may then comprise four or five patterns, using a couple more instrument groups.
Both Groups and Patterns warrant further explanation. Allow us to proceed.
Looking first at Groups, we’ll direct you towards Maschine’s browser function. Press the browser button, located at the top left, and you’ll gain access to all the sound banks, samples and loops which come with Maschine. The two colour screens are great for investigating your way around the various menus. Find a sound you like, hit load and you’re ready to go.
With a sound loaded up, we’re ready to look at Patterns. Patterns are the musical information you key into Maschine to tell it what to play. There are a few options here so even the most un-musically inclined can be making music in no time. Above the bank of 16 coloured pads you’ll notice four buttons. We’re interested in the three marked ‘keyboard’, ‘chords’, and ‘step’.
Basically, the keyboard button allows you to play your chosen sound as if using a keyboard. The pads act as the keys, and you can even select from preset scales to make your sound musically interesting.
The chord button goes one step further by intelligently combining notes to form chords, which you play using just one finger on one pad. This doesn’t work for drums, clearly, but for synths it is a revelation, allowing for much fuller, richer tonal outcomes.
Finally, the step button turns Maschine into an old-school step sequencer. Here you simply follow the line as it travels along the bar, and input your desired notes when you want them to play. Easy peasy.
Recording with Maschine Mk3
With your sounds ready, and your patterns created, you’re ready to record. For this, simply set your BPM to the desired value using the tap button, arm to record and hit play. When you’ve recorded what you want, hit stop. You can then quantize your patterns to get the timing accurate or, if you’ve messed up, undo and start again. Do this for your first group, then move to your second group, then to your third etc.
A good tip here is to think about your arrangement. You might not want to go immediately into your money shot, full-band loop. Instead start slow and build. Make a more sparse pattern to start with, then duplicate it and add another part. Repeat this and you’ll begin to have something with a bit more structure and interest for your listener.
Now is also the time you’ll begin to look at your scenes. It helps to rename the scenes in the main arranger bar at the top; this will ensure you know the structure you’re working to. You can, in fact, rename (or change the colour) of many parts of the Maschine interface. Have some fun with it.
In reality, Maschine Mk3 can be a difficult thing to get your head around, but when you do you’ll see it is an amazingly expressive tool. We’ve yet to meet anyone who has taken the time to learn it who regrets doing so. Hopefully the above information will break down some of the mystery and you’ll see that it is just another way of building music from the group up.