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Even with all the music production and beatmaking information right at your fingertips, it can still be difficult to figure out how to get started making beats. If you're a beginner, you might find tips but those same tips may be too advanced for you at this point, so this article is all about simplifying it for you.
No matter what style of beats you want to make, it's essential that you know the basics and that you also don't think too much further ahead.
Here are ten beat making tips for beginners.
1. Practice Your Technique
"Practice makes perfect" is a saying that we have all heard numerous times in our lives, but it really is something that you should apply to beat making.
In 1996 I bought my first pair of turntables and started teaching myself how to mix, scratch, beat juggle, and everything else that was DJ-related.
In 1997 I entered my first DMC DJ Competition.
But how? How was I able to get to the point within one year that I was picked to be in the battle? Even a few of the people working at DMC were surprised that I was entering when I told them I've only been doing it for a year.
Now, if you have watched some regional DMC competitions, you can see that some of the contestants are really not that good. So it's not to say that I wasn't good and they let me in anyway, or that I was great either, but the fact that I practiced almost every single day for hours is why I was able to get to that level so quickly.
With beatmaking, the same rules apply.
If you were to practice making beats every day, even if it's just for one hour each day, then guaranteed within one year you will be much better than when you first started out. I know that it's common sense, but it still means that as a beginner you must put in the work.
One of the issues I have with beatmaking today is that it can be so easy for anyone, especially beginners. It doesn't mean that it IS easy, but if you want to just drag and drop pre-made loops into your sequencer, you can, and it makes beatmaking seem so simple.
These are the two reasons why I often hear beats from beginners that are not that good. It's either because they didn't practice enough or they're taking the easy way out and just dragging and dropping, without even trying to actually learn how to construct a beat.
Practice makes perfect.
2. Don't Worry About Effects
One thing I love about recording on a computer is that there are so many effects right at my fingertips. It's also a bad thing because too often it's overused when in reality effects should be an afterthought.
As a beginner, leave the effects alone. There are some effects you can use and they can greatly enhance your beats, but when you're first starting out all you want to do is focus on making beats. Effects are more or less saved for the mixing stage when you put everything together, so there's no sense in getting wrapped up in what effect to use on a track in your beat.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I always give when it comes to mixing is to use effects sparingly. The reason for this is because if you can't get a solid mix without using effects, then your mix will never sound good.
So if I'm recommending you not use effects that much during the mixing process, then why would it make sense to use it while making the actual beat?
Effects are great tools when you want to obtain a certain sound in your beat, but beginners need to focus on putting together a solid beat and leave the effects for another time.
3. Get a Solid Foundation
Have you ever built a house? Neither have I! But I have watched many shows where they fix and build houses and it's clear to me that if the foundation is not solid, the entire house will collapse.
Beatmaking is no different.
When I'm reviewing beats on my Attack of the Beats! show, there have been plenty of times when I heard a great melody with an instrument such as a Piano, or some sort of lead, but when the drums and bass would drop in, the beat would fall apart.
The foundation of a beat is the most important part because it's what holds everything together.
Think of your favorite song ever. Now picture it without the bassline. How does it sound now?
It can be very tough to get a great drum track going and then adding a solid bassline on top but if you can accomplish that, your beat will be solid.
4. Spend a Lot of Time Making Your Drums Sound Great
As I mentioned about the foundation of a beat, the drums are extremely important. Hip Hop was built with drums because when deejays would spin the small break portion of a record back in the day, it was the drums that got everyone nodding their head and dancing. Without drums, Hip Hop wouldn't exist.
Skull Snaps is one of the most memorable drum breaks of all time and even though it's been used countless times, it still bangs today, and if used now it would have the same effect that it did in the early Hip Hop years.
The great thing about drum breaks is that you can use them as is, or you can tear them apart and re-program your own drum pattern but with the parts from the break.
However, just doing that doesn't mean you will have a dope drum loop.
You must make it sound great somehow.
EQ is your friend, so it's best to turn to that first. Most of the time you don't have to mess with the EQ too much, but sometimes just a little bit helps. A kick drum will need a bit of low end brought up and a bit of the high end brought down. A snare drum will need the middle area (around 500hz) to be brought up slightly, giving it a bit more body.
The great thing about drums is that you can make it whatever you want, so get creative. You can have a simple pattern or something much more complex. But besides patterns, it's the sound of the drums that you need to focus on. If it sounds too thin then you can simply layer drum sounds on top of each other to give them a different sound altogether.
5. Basslines Are Difficult so Start with Simple Patterns
One of the most challenging aspects of beatmaking for me has always been the bassline. What's weird about the bassline is that it's there and it makes a big difference in your beat, but many times it's not that noticeable.
Finding a nice-sounding bass is a difficult task itself, so this is why I would often sample a bass sound from whatever source and use that. There are lots of VST plug-ins for bass but many are geared more towards genres that are not Hip Hop. For those that do provide a Hip Hop bass, most of the time it's super bassy and just doesn't fit with what I'm going for.
However, there are some that sound good, so you just have to find them. I suggest you look around and listen to the bass sounds of certain plug-ins and watch reviews on YouTube to get an idea of what they're like.
Once you have a bass sound you like, then the hard part begins. One rookie mistake is to just play a bass note or two for the duration of the loop. So, for example, if you have a 4-bar loop, the bass note would be played on the first and 3rd bar. It could work, but most likely it won't.
My suggestion is that you use two bass notes and play one of them at the beginning of each bar. You might have a bass note of C and of D. Play note C on bars 1, 2, and 3, then D on bar 4.
Right there you have a very simple pattern that follows the drum track. At this point you can simply add in other notes and just get creative.
6. Focus on Building Loops and Not Entire Songs
What many beginners fail to realize is that when they make a beat, it's not about the entire beat itself, but rather, loops.
Loops are what make up an entire song, no matter what musical genre it is. For Hip Hop, this is especially true.
Most of the time you will be working with 4 or 8 bar loops. You can choose whatever length you wish, but those are pretty much the standard. The key is to take those loops and piece them together to create your entire song.
There have been many times where I've heard a beat that was clearly not made with loops. It was as if each sound was manually played for the entire duration of the beat.
When I first started making beats, I didn't even know what a loop was! Once I realized what that term meant, then I quickly realized how a beat was put together.
It may seem silly to some, especially those that have been making beats for years, but for others it's something they could be struggling with.
7. Figure out What Your Beat Will Be
Whenever we have one of our beat battles here at IllMuzik, there is always a time limit for the beat that is submitted, normally around the 2 minute mark. The whole point of putting a time limit is to see who can make a great beat within those 2 minutes.
Most of the competitors submit 2-minute beats. Others send in full beats that could be anywhere from 4-5 minutes. The difference can be huge.
Whenever I receive a beat that is longer than 2 minutes, I simply cut it down. What happens most of the time is I end up listening to a beat that has a long intro and doesn't sound like it was made for the competition. Beats like that usually don't win.
When you're getting ready to make a beat, the first thing you should ask yourself is "what is this beat for?". If you're making a beat for your friend who is a rapper and he wants to rap over your beat, then you must make a certain style of beat. Most likely your beat will have to have a lot of open parts that will leave room for the vocals.
If you want to make an instrumental album, then you can do whatever you want, but you'll probably want to add certain things to the beat like a talking scene from a movie.
But if you just want to make a straight up beat, then you have an empty canvas.
Always remember what type of beat you're doing because in the long run it will help you out a lot.
8. Always Take Away Before You Add
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in the studio was (not in these exact words):
"Always take away before you add."
This is great advice because it can apply to both beatmaking and mixing. Most of the time I remember it when I'm mixing, but for making beats it can also come in very handy.
There were many times when I was working on a beat and it sounded great until I added my bassline. At that point I realized I had a problem: mud.
The low-end of my beat sounded too thick and muddy because I had the bass plus some of the samples I was using were also "bassy". When a situation like that arises, you have options:
1. EQ something.
2. Remove something.
Both are solid options, but I find EQing something is always best because it's so simple. Let's say you have a piano with a heavy low end. All you have to do is add some EQ so that you can remove a bit of the low end. That's it!
This technique doesn't always work though because when you EQ something, it obviously alters the sound of the instrument. So when you use EQ, use it sparingly or you could end up with a much different sounding instrument, like a piano that sounds too "thin" and your beat won't have the same feel to it.
9. Make Beats First Then Worry About Mixing Later On
Have you ever heard Large Professor's "LP" album? It was released numerous times and each one was a different version, so I don't know if there ever really was a real version of it! But for a few versions I did hear, the beats were dope but sounded terrible.
Large Pro is one of the best Hip Hop producers of all time but when I heard those beats I realized that it's not necessarily that he's not good at mixing, but that he was just making beats. He wasn't worrying about mixing those beats, he just wanted to bang them out because that's his passion.
This is why I think it's important that you just make your beats and not worry about mixing just yet. It's true that mixing is very important, as I've mentioned in the past, but since you're a beginner, you're not at that stage just yet.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you need to practice making beats until you're good enough to move forward and start working on other aspects of beatmaking.
Mixing is an entirely different area of expertise that takes a long time to master, so for now just worry about making beats and making them sound awesome.
10. Do Your Own Style
I wrote an article not too long ago about leading the way and stop following others, and I think it's a crucial part of music production and Hip Hop as a whole.
When you first start out, you're obviously going to be inspired by certain Hip Hop producers, and that's fine, but you have to remember that making beats is all about being creative and expressing yourself. You can make beats that sound exactly like some well known producer, but why would you? If you did that then no one would bother listening to your beats when they could just listen to someone else's.
This is why it's important that you do your own style. It's fine if you are influenced by others but the key to being successful is to take that influence and turn it into your own style of beat.
If you take a listen to Grap Luva, he's influenced by Pete Rock but he still holds his own. The same can be said for Damu The Fudgemunk, who is greatly influenced by both Grap Luva and Pete Rock but he too, has his own style.
So as you start progressing in your beatmaking quest, always remember to carve your own path.
Further Reading Related to Beat Making