In this tutorial we’re going to look at creating our own MPC expansion packs with the MPC Software (using MPC Software 2.x, but most of the content also applies to MPC Software 1.9). We’ll also look at how we can export these expansions for use in ‘standalone’ MPCs (MPC X & MPC Live). This tutorial is adapted from my hands-on tutorial course, the MPC X & MPC Live Bible.
What Is an MPC Expansion Pack?
There are actually two types of Expansion pack; the first is a ‘plugin expansion‘ which is a software instrument and is simply Akai’s own version of a VST or AU plugin. The MPC Software has the Hybrid expansion pre-installed, but you can also download other plugin expansions from your akaipro.com account such as the Bank, Wub and Noise. Plugin expansions are currently not compatible with the MPC X and MPC Live in standalone mode.
The second type of expansion are ‘sample expansions’ and these will be the focus of this tutorial. Sample expansions are collections of samples, programs, sequences & projects, often based on a particular ‘theme’. Expansion packs are designed to be used in the MPC Software ‘expansion browser’ and ‘media browser’, and offer a range of features such as grouping, tagging, program previews, demo sequences, and thumbnail images. You can also view expansion packs in the ‘expansion’ section of the touchscreen browser of the MPC X/MPC Live/MPC Touch (albeit with limited features compared to the MPC Software browser).
We’ll look at all these features as we progress through the tutorial, so let’s get on with making our first expansion!
Creating Your Own MPC Expansion Packs
You can make your 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 project files for this tutorial and inside you’ll see two items. First there is a sub folder called ‘MPC Bible Expansion Files’ which contains the sounds and MPC programs that we’ll use to create our expansion pack.
You’ll also see an image file, ‘mpc-bible-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.
Do make sure you optimise the file size of your expansion images as they do use up valuable memory when used in ‘standalone’ mode in the MPC X & MPC Live – for more information, check out my separate ‘Reducing MPC Memory Drain’ tutorial.
Configuring the MPC Expansion Builder
To start making our ‘MPC Bible Expansion’, enter the following details into the builder app:
- Title: MPC Bible Expansion
- Manufacturer: MPC-Samples.com
- Version: 1.0
- Description: An example MPC Expansion pack from the MPC Bible
- Identifier: com.mpc-samples.mpc-bible-expansion
- Name Separator: – (i.e. a ‘hyphen’)
Finally for ‘Content Directory’ navigate to and select the location of the ‘MPC Bible Expansion Files’ folder.
The ‘Version‘ field will tell the MPC Software what version of this expansion is being installed. If you ever update your expansion make sure you increment this version number when building the new version otherwise the MPC Software will refuse to update the expansion until the existing version is uninstalled.
The description field is used during installation to inform the end user what the expansion is all about.
The ‘identifier’ is a unique name used by the MPC Software to identify your pack and its contents on the system and needs to be in a ‘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. We’ll look at the Name Separator a little later in the tutorial.
Now drag the provided expansion image from your computer’s file system (via Finder or Explorer) directly into where it states ‘Drag Image Here’ in the Expansion Builder.
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 ‘installer’ file to. Call the XPN file ‘MPC Bible Expansion Installer’ 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
To install the expansion into the MPC Software, simply drag the XPN file directly into the MPC Software GUI – it shouldn’t matter where in the GUI you drag it, but I usually just drop it into the grid.
Bug Alert: Double Clicking XPN Files
It’s important to note that you cannot install an XPN file by ‘double clicking’ the file from Finder/Explorer, as you’ll get a ‘Cannot Load Project’ warning (this is a bug in the MPC Software).
After dragging the XPN into the grid, you should see the following:
Hit Import to install the expansion. At this point the Expansion will appear in your Expansion Browser
Click on the MPC Bible Expansion entry to see the contents:
As you can see, the expansion contains three categories; Programs, Samples and Sequences. Click on the triangle to the left of the ‘Programs’ category to expand:
You’ll see there are three further sub categories – click on ‘Acoustic’ to show the three acoustic kits in this expansion.
Well take a look at the various features of the expansion browser later in the tutorial.
Creating Program Previews
When you click on a program in some expansions you’ll hear an audio preview of that program; this is referred to as a ‘Program Preview‘ and is a feature available in both software and hardware UI browsers. Select the MPC Bible Expansion in the expansion browser. If you don’t have auto audition enabled, click on the speaker icon at the bottom of the Browser:
Now click on any of the programs in this expansion, either in the ‘HipHop’ group or in the ‘Acoustic’ group and you should now hear an audio demo play.
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 previously, so I just used those to create the audio previews. With your demo 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 that you give the audio file a name that exactly matches the full file name of the original program; so not only the ‘name’ of the program, but also the ‘.xpm’ file extension.
So for the Moody Kit demo:
- the program ‘name’ is HipHop-Kit-Moody Kit
- the program’s ‘full file name’ is HipHop-Kit-Moody Kit.xpm
- hence the ‘mp3’ program preview must be called HipHop-Kit-Moody Kit.xpm.mp3
If you create a WAV file, then append ‘.wav’ instead: HipHop-Kit-Moody Kit.xpm.wav
Do be aware that since MPC 2.1, programs pulled from a project ‘ProjectData’ folder have the term ‘.keygroup‘ appended to the program ‘name’, giving a ‘full file name’ of e.g. ‘abc.keygroup.xpm’ (drum programs will have .drum’ appended). However the rule is still the same; simply add ‘.mp3’ to the full file name; abc.keygroup.xpm.mp3.
Please note: if you save your program ‘individually’ (right click ‘save program in the MPC Software, or File > Save current program) then .keygroup is not appended to the file name.
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 Bible Expansion Files folder. Here I had already created a sub folder called [Previews]:
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.
Program Previews in the Standard Browser
The ‘Program Previews’ folder method also works when browsing folders with the standard file browser – just follow the same set up with a Previews’ folder containing audio demos named after the program file name itself.
Using Name Separators (MPC Software)
When setting up the expansion pack we entered a ‘name separator’ (in the shape of a hyphen). This name separator serves two purposes in the MPC Software; firstly it is used to provide ‘tags’ in the Media Browser, and secondly it allows us to ‘group’ sounds and programs into categories within the Expansion Browser.
In the hardware browser there is no tagging or group support, however as tagging is incorporated into the file name of the program or sample it can be used for search filtering.
Expand the ‘Programs’ group to reveal three ‘sub’ groups; Acoustic, HipHop and Keys. Expand the HipHop group to reveal the three hip hop ‘kits’:
Load the Spooky Kit by double clicking it or by dragging it into your project. Now take a look at it in the Project Panel:
Notice how its name is not just ‘Spooky Kit’? It’s actually called ‘HipHopKit-Spooky Kit’.
If you set a name separator when creating your expansion pack, the MPC Software will look at the text before each instance of that name separator and will create a group from this. The structure is as follows:
<primary group name><separator><secondary group name><separator><kit name>
So with our hyphen (-) acting as a separator, the MPC sees ‘HipHop’ as the primary group name for this file and ‘Kit’ as the secondary group – these are then displayed as categories/groups within the Expansion Browser.
It’s the same for the ‘Samples’ category – expand ‘Samples > Acoustic > Hat’:
Now load the CPM1 h1 sample and view it in the Project panel:
This hat sample is actually called Acoustic-Hat-CPM1 h1, but is displayed in the Expansion Browser as CPM1 h1 within the groups ‘Acoustic’ and ‘Hat’, thus placing them all within the snare group.
You can place a file in as many groups as you wish, just use a hyphen to separate them all. Now, while you can use any group names you wish it’s important to understand that these groups actually have a dual purpose as they are also used as ‘tags’ in the Media Browser.
Using Tags in the Media Browser
Hit B on your computer keyboard to open up the Media Browser.
The Media Browser provides an interface to search for specific sounds or programs within your entire Expansion pack library – basically if the Expansion is installed on your system, be it an Akai or a third party expansion, it’s sounds, programs and sequences will be included in Media Library search.
A search box allows you to search for a specific phrase or keyword, but the ‘Filter’ section allows you to filter your Expansion collection by specific tags.
For example, make sure the ‘PROGRAM’ filter is selected, and then select TYPE: Kit and GENRE: HipHop and you’ll see a filtered list of all ‘Hip Hop kits’ in your Expansion library (or at leat, all the ones that have been tagged as HipHop kits) – here you’ll see Spooky Kit, Epic Kit and Moody Kit from the MPC Bible Expansion.
So you can see how the Expansion file ‘groups’ we set up are also being utilised as ‘tags’. The tagging system employed by Akai actually requires you use very specific tag names, although currently there is no official list of accepted tags from Akai so the only way to know which ones to use is to examine the tags used in the official Akai expansions. For example, here’s the ‘Program’ tags generated from expansions such as The Vault 2 and Essential Instruments:
And here’s the ‘Samples’ tags:
So most common instrument types have a tag but genre tagging seems fairly limited. There may be other tags you can use but I’ve not found any yet.
To be clear, you are of course free to use any tags in your naming structure, but only a specific set of tags can appear as selectable options in the ‘Filter’ section of the Media Browser. For example the file Acoustic-Guiro-CPM1 gui is an acoustic ‘guiro’ sample in the MPC Bible Expansion, but as you can see, the tag Guiro does not appear in the recognised tag list, while other percussion instruments do (e.g. Timbale, Shaker etc). You can however still manually search for the term ‘Guiro’ using the search box.
Using tags is of course entirely optional, it’s a lot of work to have to rename all your files just to get them ‘tagged’ so I suspect most people simply won’t bother. Hopefully in the future Akai will introduce a tagging system like Maschine, in which tags can be batch applied to multiple files simultaneously.
Demo sequences are ready-made sequences that showcase a particular program. Head back to the Expansion Browser (X) and go to the ‘Sequences’ category; expand the groups to reveal the Epic 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 Epic Kit program.
You can hit PLAY START to immediately to hear the demo.
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, simply get sequencing and 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 Epic Kit program is called HipHop-Kit-Epic Kit.xpm; its demo sequence must therefore be called HipHop-Kit-Epic 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).
The Hardware ‘Expansion’ Browser
The MPC hardware (touchscreen) UI for the MPC X, MPC Live and MPC Touch has very limited Expansion pack support, but it will recognise installed Expansion packs and organise them by thumbnail image (although browsing functionality is no different to the standard file browser, for example, there’s no file grouping).
In ‘Controller‘ mode, the Expansions listed in the browser are the ones already installed in your computer. In ‘standalone‘ mode you’ll see the pre-installed factory expansions (‘Vault 2‘ and ‘Essential Instruments 2‘) plus any third party expansions you have installed directly on any attached MPC disk (I’ll show you how to do this in the next section)
To view the Expansions from the hardware UI, go to BROWSE and click on the ‘Expansions‘ tab on the left side of the screen:
Click on the Expansion you wish to view on the contents will appear on the right side of the screen. At this point the browsing experience is identical to browsing folders, so you’ll need to use the ‘file type filters’ and keyword search for further filtering. For example in the following screenshot I have selected the ‘Samples‘ file filter and a search filter for ‘Hats‘:
Installing Third Party Expansions in Standalone Mode
The pre-installed expansions in ‘standalone mode’ are stored in a folder called ‘Expansions‘ on your 16GB internal drive (‘INTERNAL’). Access to this internal drive is restricted so we cannot copy additional expansions to this location; instead we have to install additional expansions to ‘attached’ disks.
Whenever you attach a disk to your MPC, be it a USB drive, SD card or internal SATA disk, the MPC immediately looks for a folder in the root location called ‘Expansions‘. If it finds any expansions inside this folder it will display these expansions alongside your factory expansions in the MPC browser ‘expansions’ tab.
Exporting Expansions Via The MPC Software
These easiest way to set up your expansions on an attached disk is to first install the expansion into the MPC Software. First connect your MPC disk to your computer; you could do this via controller mode (a requirement if transferring to an internal SATA disk) or you can attach a removable disk directly to your computer. To enter controller mode from your hardware, go to MENU and press the MPC ‘chip’ icon:
Now select CONTROLLER MODE. You should now see the MPC drive appear in your computer as a removable drive.
Then in the MPC Software go to ‘File > Export > Expansion‘.
Select your MPC disk as the ‘Drive‘ in the ‘Destination’ section and then check all the expansions you wish to export to standalone mode. Hit Export.
After export your MPC disk will now contain a folder called ‘Expansions‘ and inside there will be a folder for each expansion you exported – these folders contain all the expansion content files:
The next time you are in standalone mode, these expansions will appear in the browser – but only if your MPC disk is attached.
Alternative Export Method: XPN Archive Extraction
If you prefer not to use the MPC Software you can also easily create a ‘standalone’ version of the expansion directly from the original XPN installer itself. An XPN file is just a standard compressed archive – it’s basically a ‘.zip’ file with a different file extension and can be opened with most standard ‘zip’ applications. For example on a Mac I can simply drag the XPN file directly into ‘Archive Utility‘ (or right click and select ‘Open With’) and it will immediately extract the contents of the XPN installer to a folder. You can perform a similar procedure using the archive utilities built into Windows. If you have any problems opening the XPN file, try renaming the file extension from ‘.xpn’ to ‘.zip’.
After extraction, simply rename the extracted folder to match your Expansion name. Now go to your MPC Disk and if it doesn’t already exist in the root location of the disk, create a folder called ‘Expansions’ and drag and drop your expansion folder inside it. That’s it!
To remove an expansion from the standalone browser, go to the Places tab on the left side of the BROWSER screen and select your MPC disk. Enter the Expansions folder and single tap on the folder relating to the expansion you wish to remove. Hold down SHIFT and select DELETE FILE > DELETE. Alternatively simply delete that expansion’s folder from your computer’s file manager the next time you are in controller mode.
In the MPC Software you can manage the 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 uninstall an expansion pack, click on its entry and an ‘uninstall’ button will appear – however, this option is only available for third party ‘XPN’ installed packs.
Official Akai packs cannot currently be uninstalled using the expansion manager. If you wish to completely 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.
If you need help using your MPC to create your own sounds, kits and beats, check out my MPC Bible courses, a collection of hands-on tutorials for all the latest MPCs, including the MPC X, MPC Live, MPC Touch, MPC Studio & MPC Renaissance.
And don’t forget to check out my epic range of MPC Expansions, including my unique range of multisampled acoustic instruments.