I really love working with the Native Instruments Machine plugin. It is a power workhorse of a drum machine, with quality effects, sounds and the ability to extend with other instruments and plugins. It is actually a whole DAW on it’s own, and that is where the problem starts… integrating Machine with your own DAW is a bit of a pain. And if you are like me, I still prefer to use my own DAW (Presonus Studio One) to produce and mix my music with.
This is how I use Machine in my DAW, but there are other ways to do it.
Every instance of machine, can have one or more groups and each group can hold up to 16 instruments or samples. If you have been using Machine for a while, you probably have a wide collection of produced kits available already, but these don’t always fit your needs exactly. I usually end up using a group or 4, just for ease of use, giving me 64 tracks. I never use all of them of course, I pick and choose.
First thing we will need to do, is wire Machine up in your DAW. Make sure all external outputs are available in your DAW. Once that is done, we’ll make sure that every group (A trough D) is listening to your DAW as the host:
Your “Key Mode” of your group should be set to “Manual”, your “Source” to “Host” and you may listen to all channels. The next important part is your “Key”. I start my A group with C2. If I then count 16 tracks, the last note of this group will be played D#3.
You will have to select a range for all groups – group B will start from E3, and run all the way up to G4, etc…
Getting it into the mixer
Next, you will need to re-route each sound. You can send all of them to the group if you prefer to mix with Machine itself – but that leaves me with limited options in my DAW. You can change the routing of a sound in the mixer itself, under the VU meter. Or in the sound output tab of the track.
Once I selected the sounds I will work with, I will do an overal first balance exercise of these individual sounds – to make sure all the different groups sound good in check: the high-hats sound leveled, there is no collision in sound or bass anywhere in the kicks, etc.
What I do next, is name the 16 machine tracks and organize each sound that I use (not all 64 of them) go to one of the groups in my mixer.
This is an example of how you can make it work – I send my kick separate from my snare, clap, open or closed high-hats, etc… because I eventually tend to process and automate these together. After the initial balancing in Machine’s mixer, each output track will be mixed together and controlled from my DAW.
Another bonus tip here: within my DAW mixer, I tend to process the low-end channel separate from the high-end, before I send it to my drum bus. This allows me to better control the sound and punchiness of my percussion, because I can have more granular control over the lows. Eventually, all of these end up in my drum bus, where I do the overall dynamic compression.
This template has a stock compressor, parallel compressor, hybrid analogue compressor, saturator, OTT multiband compressor and additional mix channels (Neutron) ready. This sounds like a LOT, but the goal here is to very gradually tweak your drum bus to a good full sounding instrument. And already doing some dynamic processing early in your mix, which will help to prevent unexpected surprises at the end. But that may be better explained later in another post 😉
Once you have everything wired, it is time to start playing some patterns.
Since Studio One 5, I don’t use the MI Machine pattern sequencer anymore. I want to use the one in my DAW, which will allow me to more easily compose my song add automation.
Note that I named each track with a default GROUP + NUMBER label (eg D10) in my template. As we have assigned the midi key earlier in Machine, it means that when ever we press (for example) B6, it will trigger track 10 of group B. C2 will, as you remember, trigger track 1 of group A, etc.
This is of course, just a template. It is a bit of a hassle in the beginning, but you basically have to do this once. After the templated is made, you can start each new song with this basic setup. All that is left will be to choose your sounds, route the sounds to the group in your mixer and name the sounds in your DAW, and you are ready to create patterns in your DAW.
In case you do want to create your patterns in Machine itself, you can always use these two little icons on the right side to help you transfer the patterns to your DAW.
The first will create a MIDI track of your pattern, but you will need to transpose the pattern yourself to the key you set in your group, or it will start playing sounds from the wrong set.
The second will render your pattern as audio, so you can compose your song the traditional way – but this has of course the disadvantage of not working with MIDI and not being able to mixand automate in your DAW.