*** ill o.g. ***
Ever since I first touched a piece of studio equipment in the 90's, I was fascinated with the process of making music. I read everything I could about studio recording in magazines and books, where all the techniques were laid out right there in black and white on paper. I read about how to overdub, how to mic a drum, and how to mix, but one thing that these magazines and books always left out were the REAL lessons. Here's the 5 lessons I've learned from making beats.
1. Always Have Good Drums
There's a reason why Pete Rock is so good at what he does and is known as a producer that has incredible drum sounds, as well as drum patterns. It's because he spends a good deal of time finding good drums that he can use in his productions. Once he finds those drums, he creates dope patterns that fit his style of production so well.
I've dug through tons of vinyl looking for drums I could use for my own beats, and a lot of times I don't find much at all. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, or maybe I just have a string of bad luck, but the times I do find good drums, I'm golden. There's no way that you could screw up your beat if you have a nice set of drums to work with. Okay, you could probably still make a terrible beat, but the point is that if you have good drums, it makes it so much easier to create a dope beat.
2. The Beat Is Never Finished
Sometimes it can be very difficult to finish a beat because it always seems like something is missing. Well guess what? It is missing something! Sure, you could have a loop all set up, have different patterns and change-ups, but there's always room for improvement.
Plenty of times I've had a nice foundation for a beat and it seemed complete to me, but as I listened to it over and over, I realized that I could try to add something to it to make it better. There are some beats that actually don't need anything added to them, but sometimes they need something taken out.
It's not just about the beat though, it's also about the finished product. Any time you have a finished beat, it's still not really finished because once you get to the mixing stage, there's still some tweaking that needs to be done. Even after mixing everything down, I still think that I could have changed a thing or two. Maybe producers are perfectionists?
3. Less Equals More
I've made beats that had a lot going on in the track, but I always found those beats to be messy and too loud. It's not that I didn't mix those beats properly, it's just that I found that they didn't need to have tons of sounds all blended in. Even guys like The Bomb Squad, who produced classic songs for Public Enemy, had dozens of sounds in each beat, but they somehow were able to control it.
For me, less is always better than more. I'd rather have a simple drum track backed by a basic bassline pattern. As long as you have that as your foundation, your beat can still knock just like that, or maybe with one or two more things added on top. Keep it simple.
4. Garbage In, Garbage Out
Whether you're sampling from vinyl, or you're using a synth, always try to get the cleanest sound possible. It doesn't mean that all of your beats have to be and will be squeaky clean, it just means that you're starting out with a clean slate. If you wish to add dirt to your sounds later on, then you can.
Some producers prefer to use only dirty sounds from a dirty source, and that's fine for them if they can make it work. However, if you're using sounds that aren't that clean-sounding and it clashes with other sounds, making your beat sound bad, then you have a problem.
Once you start using dirty sounds, it will be very hard to mask that dirt, or to clean it up with some sort of EQ filter. It's possible, but hard. I've used some filters that did a great job of getting rid of hiss and crackle from vinyl, but the sound ended up being too muffled, which gave me a sound that sounded like garbage. Yes, garbage makes sounds.
5. Save, Save, Save (and back up too)
You shouldn't have to be told this, but save your projects! When I first started making beats, I wasn't sure of how to do this or that with my DAW, so I ended up making some costly mistakes. For example, instead of saving my whole project as a bundle, I did a regular save, which just gave me the file to open, then it would load the sounds into my DAW. I didn't realize that I had to save everything as a bundle file in order to transfer my beats to another hard drive.
What I did was I saved just the regular files and then I wiped out my hard drive! Everything lost. I tried to look for the originals but they were gone, and lesson learned.
It could be your DAW project, or it could be just a bunch of samples you have lying around on your hard drive. Always try to find a way to keep them safe so as to not delete something by mistake. I learned the hard way, just as I'm sure some of you have too.
I'm sure you have some of your own lessons and tips that you've learned during your beatmaking journey, let's hear them!
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