In this tutorial we’re going to look at using and creating our own MPC ‘sample’ expansion packs with the MPC Software. This tutorial is suitable for any MPC controller running the full version of MPC Software 1.9.x, specifically the MPC Touch, MPC Renaissance and MPC Studio. For more tutorials like this, check out my MPC Software tutorial books ‘The MPC Touch Bible’ and ‘MPC Renaissance & MPC Studio: Sampling Laid Bare’.
The MPC Expansion Browser
The MPC Expansion Browser is a special version of the standard Browser completely optimised to the use of MPC Expansion packs. The Expansion Browser is currently only available in the MPC Software computer GUI – to launch it, hit ‘shift & E’ on your computer keyboard, or go to View > Expansion Browser, or if the standard File Browser is already open in the left side of the screen, you can hit the Expansion Browser button at the bottom left of the screen:
Your Expansion Browser will show all installed Expansion Packs – here’s what I currently have installed on my computer:
There are actually two different types of MPC Expansion available. The first is a ‘plugin expansion’ and all MPC Software installations will have one of these pre-installed – Hybrid 3. A plugin expansion is comparable to a VST instrument (VSTi), and comes with a number of preset patches that can be tweaked through a custom GUI. In the case of Hybrid 3 we have a powerful synth with adjustable oscillators, envelopes and filters.
The other type of expansion pack is a sample expansion. These are more like traditional sample packs containing organised kits, sound libraries, programs, and even sequences and projects. ‘The Vault’, which is included with all MPC Touch purchases, is an example of a sample expansion pack.
In this tutorial we’re going to create our own ‘sample’ expansion pack, which will feature file grouping, program previews and demo sequences.
Creating Your Own Sample Expansion Packs
You can make our own sample expansions very easily using the separate ‘MPC Expansion builder’ application that is bundled with the MPC Software installer.
On a Mac you’ll find the expansion builder application in Applications > Utilities > MPC Expansion Builder. In Windows, you should find a shortcut in your Start Menu under All Programs > Akai Pro > MPC Expansion Builder. If there’s no shortcut there, you can access it directly in C:\Program Files\Akai Pro\MPC\ExpansionBuilder.exe.
If the MPC Expansion Builder application is not installed, download the latest MPC Software installer from the Akaipro.com web site and launch the installer. Select ‘Reinstall MPC Software’ and after agreeing to the License terms you should see the following page:
Make sure the MPC Expansion Builder package is checked and continue with the installation. After the installation is complete, launch the Expansion Builder:
The concept behind building an expansion pack is simple – point the Expansion Builder to a folder containing the samples, programs and sequences you wish to make up the expansion pack (this is the ‘Content Directory’) and the expansion builder takes care of the rest, creating a single ‘Expansion Installer’ file (XPN) from the content it finds inside the folder.
You can see that there are a few other fields to complete so we’ll take a look at these one step at a time. But the most important thing we need is some actual content to convert into an expansion pack!
Download the tutorial files for this tutorial and after unzipping you’ll find a folder called ‘Expansion Tutorial’, and inside there you’ll see a sub folder called ‘MPC-Samples.com Free Expansion’. Inside this folder is a collection of sounds and programs that we’ll use to create our expansion pack.
Also in the Expansion Tutorial folder you’ll see an image file, ‘mpc-samples-expansion.jpg’. This is the image we’ll display in the Expansion Browser to identify this expansion pack. When you create your own pack you’ll need to use your favourite image creation software to make a perfectly square image; it doesn’t have to be a specific size as Akai seem to use various sizes, although the latest expansion packs use images that are 1000 x 1000 pixels in size, so I would suggest sticking to those dimensions if you can. Also it seems both JPEG and PNG format are accepted.
So to start making our ‘MPC Samples Free Expansion’, drag the provided image from your computer’s file system (via Finder or Explorer) directly into where it states ‘Drag Image Here’ in the Expansion Builder.
Now enter a Title for the expansion pack; MPC-Samples.Com Free Expansion
The Manufacturer in this instance is MPC-Samples.com
The Version is 1.0
The Description is used to describe the pack during the installation process, so if you plan on distributing your expansion pack make sure the description tells the end user what the expansion pack is all about. Enter ‘A free MPC Expansion pack from MPC-Samples.com’
Looking back at the top of the screen, you’ll see the Identifier. This is a unique identifier for your expansion pack and Akai require this to be in a very particular ‘reverse-DNS-style’ format. If you have a domain name, enter it in reverse, e.g. com.mpc-samples; if you don’t have a domain name, just enter personal.yourname. Then enter the name of the expansion, replacing any spaces with full stops.
For example, enter com.mpc-samples.free.mpc.expansion
For the Name Separator, enter a hyphen (–). I’ll explain why a little later in the tutorial.
Finally for ‘Content Directory’ navigate to and select the location of the ‘MPC-Samples.com Free Expansion’ folder.
So far, everything should look like this:
Hit Do It and you’ll get the following warning:
Here the MPC is offering you the opportunity to add a demo sequence for each program in your expansion pack. This is entirely optional so you can omit this step if you wish – however as we’ll soon see, I have already created some demo sequences for three of the kits in our expansion pack, so I’ll explain how to do this correctly later in this tutorial.
Hit Create and you’ll be asked to give the file a name and select a location to save your XPN file to. Call the XPN file ‘MPC-Samples-Expansion’ and choose any location on your computer (it doesn’t matter where you save this). Hit Save and after a few seconds your XPN file will be created and placed in the selected location.
Installing an Expansion Pack From an XPN File
The process so far has created an XPN file which is the installer for your new expansion pack. The next step is to actually install the pack into your copy of the MPC Software. So, locate the XPN file you just created and simply drag and drop it anywhere in the MPC Software interface. You’ll see the following on screen message :
Choose ‘Import’ and a few seconds later your Expansion Pack will be installed – you’ll now see it listed in all its glory in your Expansion Browser:
Click on your new expansion pack to reveal its contents:
Navigating a Sample Expansion Pack
A sample expansion automatically categorises the contents of the pack into file type – our pack contains Programs, Samples and Sequences, but you can also have categories for Patterns and Projects.
Click on the triangle next to ‘Samples’ to expand the samples list:
Here you’ll see our samples have been placed into a number of ‘groups’ that helpfully categorise our samples. Expand the ‘Bass’ group:
This displays all the bass samples in our expansion pack. Just like the standard browser, you can click on each sample to audition it and you can drag and drop the samples directly to pads (however the expansion browser only allows drag and drop of single samples, you cannot select multiple files simultaneously).
This method of grouped organisation gives the expansion browser a big advantage over the standard browser as normally it is not possible to group samples into ‘sub folders’ while retaining program integrity – remember in MPCs, all samples associated with a program must reside in the same folder as the program file itself. Grouping samples in the expansion browser is a great feature, but how is this done?
Using Name Separators
When setting up the expansion pack we entered a ‘name separator’ (in the shape of a hyphen). This name separator lets us create a sample grouping system based entirely on the file name of the sample.
From the expanded bass category, double tap the ‘CPM1_bss’ sample so it is loaded into your current project. Now take a look at it in the Project Information Panel:
Notice how its name is not ‘CPM1_bss’? It’s actually called ‘Bass-CPM1_bss’.
If you set a name separator when creating your expansion pack, the MPC Software will look at the text before the name separator and will create a group from this. The structure is as follows:
<group name><separator><file name>
So with our hyphen (-) acting as a separator, the MPC sees ‘Bass’ as the group name for this file and displays the file within the ‘Bass’ group, but only within the Expansion Browser.
Expand the snares group:
and load some of these snare sounds:
This time these snare samples are all appended with ‘Snare-‘, thus placing them all within the snare group.
Grouping works for all file types; expand the Programs category:
Expand the ‘Hip Hop’ group:
Load the ‘Epic Kit’
Once again we can see that the actual name of the program isn’t ‘Epic Kit’, it’s ‘Hip Hop-Epic Kit’.
You can create parent and child groups simply by adding additional name separators in your file name, i.e:
<parent name><separator><child name><separator><file name>
So a program called ‘Drum Kit-Hip Hop-Demo Kit.xpm’ will appear in a parent group called ‘Drum Kit’ and a child group (sub group) called ‘Hip Hop’.
Grouping is great, but does require some extra effort when setting up your expansion pack. Remember you can always rename samples after creating your programs, just make sure you rename them in the MPC Software (via the project Information Panel) – the MPC Software will update the program file references accordingly.
Name separators are entirely optional – if you do not use them then the MPC Software will automatically organise your files into alphabetical/numerical folders based on their file name. So for example all samples that start with the letter ‘D’ will be placed in a folder called ‘D’ – as you can imagine, this is isn’t particularly useful if you are searching for a particular type of sound!
Demo sequences are ready-made sequences that showcase a particular program. Go to the ‘Sequences’ category and expand the groups to reveal the Moody Kit sequence:
Double click (or drag and drop) this sequence to load it into your project. As the sequence loads you’ll see that the MPC also simultaneously loads the Moody Kit program.
You can hit PLAY START to immediately to hear the demo. Load the Epic Kit and Spooky Kit sequences – again, loading these preview sequences not only loads the sequence but also the associated program.
Creating a demo sequence is very simple. Start off with a blank sequence and load up the program you wish to create a demo with. Now write a short demo with the kit – there’s no limit on the length of the sequence, it can be 1 bar or 1000 bars, it’s up to you. Once you’ve finished it go to File > Save Current Sequence and give the sequence the exact same name as the program it is demoing.
So, the Moody Kit program is called Hip Hop-Moody Kit.xpm; its demo sequence must therefore be called Hip Hop-Spooky Kit.sxq. Save the demo sequence to your expansion pack ‘content’ folder. When the Expansion Builder creates the expansion XPN it will see there is a demo sequence for this kit and it will associate them together accordingly.
If you navigate to the original content directory we created the XPN from you can see my demo sequences were already there:
Remember the ‘nag’ screen we had when creating the XPN file? We got this because the Expansion Builder noticed there were no demo sequences for our chopped break programs – that’s fine, demo sequences are optional and the MPC will create the expansion pack regardless.
You can of course include other sequences in your expansion pack – basically any other sequence file included in your ‘content directly’ will also appear under the ‘Sequences’ category, but unless they are exactly named after a particular program, the MPC will just treat these like any normal sequence, so will load it purely as a sequence (it will not load any associated programs simultaneously).
Creating Program Previews
If you don’t have auto audition enabled, click on ‘AUTO’ at the bottom of the Expansion Browser:
Now click on any of the programs in this expansion, either in the ‘Hip Hop’ group or in the ‘Chopped Breaks’ group and you should now hear an audio demo play (press the STOP transport button twice if you wish to stop playback).
In the MPC Software this is referred to as a ‘Program Preview’ and you can use this to quickly preview the sounds available in a program without the need to fully load it.
To create a program preview you’ll first need to create a sequence that uses the sounds from a particular program – luckily we already have those three demo sequences I made, so I just used those to create the audio previews. With your sequence loaded and active, go to File > Export > Audio Mixdown and render your sequence into a stereo master (mp3, 192 bitrate will be fine, but you can use wav files if you prefer):
To use this mp3 file as a program preview, it’s important to name the audio file after the full program name including the xpm extension; so for the Moody Kit demo we need to call the audio mixdown Hip Hop-Kit-Moody Kit.xpm.mp3
All your program preview audio files must go into a special sub folder in the ‘content’ directory that you use to create your expansion pack. Navigate inside the MPC-Samples.com Free Expansion folder:
Here I had already created a sub folder called [Previews] – enter this folder:
Here you’ll see the program previews I created for all the programs in the expansion; for the chopped break programs I just converted the actual original breaks themselves into mp3 format. When the Expansion Builder app installed the expansion pack it uses this ‘[Previews]’ folder to set up the program previews throughout the pack. Program previews are however entirely optional – if you omit a preview, clicking on the program in the expansion browser will simply play nothing.
You can manage your currently installed expansion packs by going to Tools > Expansion Manager:
If you wish to temporarily remove any expansion, just uncheck its red check box – this leaves the expansion on your hard drive but makes it no longer visible from the expansion browser.
If you wish to completely uninstall an expansion pack, click on its entry and an ‘uninstall’ button will appear – however, this option is only available for ‘XPN’ installed packs.
Official Akai packs cannot currently be uninstalled using the expansion manager. If you really wish to uninstall an Akai expansion pack you’ll need to manually delete the pack from in the following locations on your hard drive:
Mac: Library > Application Support > Akai > MPC
PC: C:\Program Files\Akai Pro\MPC\
Once inside you’ll need to look at two different folders; ‘Expansions’ contains the pack image and the pack configuration file (XML), while ‘Content’ contains the actual sound content folders for each pack. To remove an official Akai pack you need to delete its specific ‘content’ folder and you need to delete it’s XML file in the ‘Expansions’ folder.
After uninstalling the pack, restart the MPC Software.
Editing Expansion Content
You can edit expansion pack content using the normal techniques used for all other files in the MPC Software. So for example if you make changes to a kit from an expansion pack:
- Load up the original program (you can do this direct from the Expansion Browser)
- Make your changes to the program
- Go to the Project Information panel, right click on the program name and select ‘Save’ – the resulting pop up dialogue box should default to saving in the correct expansion pack folder for the program you are editing
- I suggest you give you custom edits a new name so the original are retained. In fact a good way to keep your own unique edits separate is to append the word ‘Custom-‘ to the beginning; this way all your custom edits appear in a special expansion group called ‘Custom’.