What is Tempo Mapping and Beat Manipulation?

In today’s world of music, rhythmic precision has been taken for granted by both listeners and creators. At the same time, audio producers have been pushing the boundaries of creativity in music farther and farther, altering beats in fresh, unexpected ways, and listeners are starting to expect it.

Audio producer at a workstation tempo mapping

For new entrants to the field of audio production to gain any traction, they have to become intimately familiar with the changes in modern music that are happening on a consistent basis. It’s the audio producer’s job to know about the programs used to manipulate beats and map tempos and the files that are used to play, edit, and record.

What is Tempo Mapping?

An essential part of MIDI files, tempo mapping is the element that controls the speed of the music. Sometimes this can mean a fixed tempo throughout the entire piece, which is a much simpler command. Other times, a song will transition multiple times between different speeds, or tempos, necessitating a more complex tempo map. The speed of a track makes a huge impact on the feel of the overall mix, so tempo mapping is a critical element of MIDI.

What is Beat Manipulation?

Beat manipulation is the process of taking an existing rhythm, such as a sample, and altering it in various ways. This is usually a process of removing certain rhythmic hits and adding others back in. By changing the speed of the beat, removing certain hits and putting the emphasis on a different beat entirely, it is possible to make a completely unrecognizable rhythm track through clever beat manipulation. With its versatility and effectiveness, this form of rhythmic creation has become the go to technique of audio producers everywhere.

The Age of MIDI

Most aspiring audio producers have at least heard of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) files, even though they might not have a clue about what they actually are or what they’re used for. In basic terms, a MIDI file is a collection of data that can be read and played back as musical instrument sounds on a computer or device. The key difference between something like an MP3 file and a MIDI file is that in the case of MIDI, it’s made up of pure data and not recorded sound.

MIDI has become an integral part of interfacing with numerous electronic instruments, audio players, and computers. This technical standard assists not only in playing music, but in editing and recording as well. One of the major applications of MIDI files is their use with digital keyboard systems. By using the preprogrammed MIDI sounds, composers and performers can broaden the range of their instrumentation far beyond what was possible in the past.

Considering MIDI historical origin began in 1983, it’s surprising to some experts that MIDI is still the household name that it is today. While there are certainly aspects of the technical standard that have room for improvement, it is still the most efficient and effective way to transmit data and communicate between devices, and definitely a name that any up-and-coming audio producer wants to know.

Tempo Mapping and Beat Manipulation: Skills Required

There are many different skills that are needed for an audio producer to be proficient at tempo mapping and beat manipulation. These skills include:

Skill #1: DAW-Competent

Modern audio production means working with DAWs, or digital audio workstations. There are countless examples of these programs, each with their own specialty, but Pro Tools is one of the industry standards that all professional audio producers are familiar with. Compared to basic DAWs such as the open-source Audacity application, Pro Tools puts far more abilities at your fingertips to shape, map, and manipulate every element of your music.

This, however, is only true if you take the time to learn how to use its incredibly helpful but sometimes notoriously difficult program. The good news is, creative arts colleges with audio production programs teach you how to use Pro Tools and other music software. Countless aspiring sound engineers and record producers spend the money on these professional-grade programs and never invest the time to learn them. Due to the complex nature of the work that software like Pro Tools helps audio producers accomplish, the tool itself is quite complex. It might not be something that you can learn overnight, but with enough time and patience, it’s a highly worthy investment for anyone serious about their musical career.

Skill #2: An Ear for Detail

Not everything can be accomplished by machines and programs alone. In any artistic creative process, there has to be a human element involved for the end result to resonate with others on a deep emotional level.

It’s not always easy to define what brings out the subtle emotions of music. While there are numerous scientific explanations for why particular types of songs make people feel certain ways, on some of the finer points, it remains a mystery. The only way to truly craft a mix that elicits a particular feeling is to experiment, listen, and find the sounds that best elicit those emotions yourself.

When handling complex mixes, understanding how all of the smaller details work into the big picture is a major part of getting to that final master copy. It’s dangerously easy for a mix to become muddy or crowded on the high or low ends if certain seemingly innocuous details are ignored. Auxiliary percussion instruments or background harmonies that might seem innocent enough might be more distracting than helpful in contributing to the overall shape and big picture of the track, so attention to detail is an absolute must for any audio producer.

Skill #3: Ear Training

No matter how many digital and technological tools an artist, producer, or engineer can have, they are still going to be limited by the sound processing equipment built into their own body. Learning how to use your ears to identify pitch, rhythm, mix, tone, timbre, and any other musical element that can be discerned by the human ear is essential in order to work efficiently and effectively in the studio. The machines can only take you so far in hearing things correctly.

Ear training might be one of the most natural elements of music education since it’s something that most people already do naturally on their own. By listening to a song, most musically minded people already start to analyze and pick apart the piece of music whether they’re actively thinking about it or not. It’s only natural once you understand the mechanics of what goes into a song that you would start to pay attention to those musical elements in the songs you hear on your playlist.

Taking a more active approach to music listening allows you to glean even more ear training just by listening to your favorite artists. Paying attention to the way that they play with rhythm and form can lead to a bounty of fresh ideas for your own work. And the more you listen to beautifully crafted melodies and harmonies, the easier it will be for you to invent your own catchy tune.

Skill #4: Risk-Taking

It’s important for any audio producer to have the courage to take musical risks. In order to pull off those bold choices, audio producers also have to have the technical knowledge and skills to fully understand the mechanics of what they’re doing. The audio producers that find the most success in creating music are the ones who can calculate strategic risks in their work and have the gumption to make them.

Making these bold and unexpected musical decisions is cardinal for your mix to gain traction on the charts and attain a decent listenership. Getting the professional training and knowledge needed to stand out in a world of so many producers, will give the most talented artists a leg up, inspiring more listeners to download and play your latest single.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about tempo mapping and beat manipulation, you can start building the skills needed to be a better audio producer by attending the Institute of Production and Recording. IPR offers a robust audio production and live sound program to record tracks hands-on with music professionals putting your tempo mapping, beat manipulation and other production knowledge to the test in this rewarding and challenging environment.

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.