Sharpening my machete!
*** illest o.g. ***
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There are times when I stop what I'm doing and wonder why my beats don't sound like some well known producer's beats. Is it their mixing? Their mastering? Possibly. It could also be that my beats are not hitting hard enough.
So what can be done?
Here are the 5 ways to make your beat bang!
1. Make Sure Your Drums Are Dope
I can't stress this enough. A lot of beat makers start their beats with drums, and rightfully so - it's the backbone of Hip Hop. But just starting with drums won't make your beat better. This is because you have to make sure that they're dope - period.
Most of the time you'll be looking to use kicks, snares, and hats.
I tend to stick to that most of the time but of course there's other drums sounds too like toms and cymbals, so you must consider those as well.
The first thing you will want to do is find drums that actually sound good to begin with. Remember the rule: "Garbage in, garbage out". If you use drums that don't sound good, then your beat won't be good. You could apply certain effects to beef them up or sound punchy, but in the end you would still be starting with something weak, so it will end up weak.
Once you have drums that sound good, you have to think about layering. This is something that I think is critical when putting together a drum track because it always sounds better. There are times when I find a kick drum that sounds good but is not beefy enough, so I'll layer it with another kick that IS beefy.
At this point it's time to put together a drum loop. I suggest you start with a simple pattern and build it up. You don't have to go crazy and hit the pads like a madman. Just keep it simple. Add in an extra kick where it's needed, and throwing in a ghost snare really helps as well.
What's a "ghost snare"? It's the same snare you're using but you make a copy of it and make it quieter. Then you position it before or after the regular snare so it gives it a bit more character.
You have to remember that with drums, you're dealing with multiple sounds so it's kind of like building up an entire song with just drums. Once you can wrap your head around that, you will start to take your drum loops more seriously.
Extra tip: If your drum loop still sounds dry and empty, then add a breakbeat behind it. Just find a dope drum break, match it up to your beat's BPM, and put it quietly behind your drums. It will really spice things up!
2. Have a Hard Bassline
Sometimes I listen to old stuff like ONYX and wonder how in the hell they made such gutter beats. There were plenty of other artists that had music like them where it just hit really hard, like their beats were hitting you in the gut, making you so hype you wanted to punch something.
With a lot of beats like that, it's not only the drums, but the bassline.
So how do you make a hard bassline?
The first thing you must understand is frequencies. Bass is obviously in the low range of the EQ band, so that's where you need to focus on. From my experience, this is a great starting point:
Cut around 60-80 Hz, boost around 150 Hz, and boost the highs around 800-900 Hz. [ Source ]
Once you have a bass sound (it could be a VST or a sample that you're using), you need to make sure that your bass goes well with your kick drum but also the rest of the music. This is because you want to make sure your bassline is not "muddying up" the track. It's happened often where I hear a beat that is really well done but the bassline clashes somewhat with other instruments, creating an unwanted muddy sound.
As for creating a bassline pattern, it's really not that difficult. I know a lot of you that are new to beat making are probably lost when it comes to basslines (I was!) but I have a simple formula:
Follow your drum pattern.
Just like your drums, you'll want to keep it simple and just have a few bass notes here and there, then slowly build it up as needed. You can definitely make something more advanced, and to do that it's all about experimenting with patterns. What I tend to do is play the bass like it's its own melody. By doing this, it really changes the entire groove of the beat, even if you have a powerful lead instrument.
Extra tip: If you don't want to play a bassline, then you use the old school method. Take your main melody, copy it (or sample it out somewhere and import it back in on another track), and apply a low pass filter to it. Then simply play around with the filter's frequency until it sounds right. This way your bassline is actually your melody except it's been filtered and turned into a bassline.
3. Surprise the Listener
I'm guilty of making beats with standard loops and piecing it all together in my DAW, then mixing it down. This is what most of us do. However, I also try to throw in certain instruments or variations into my mix in order to surprise the listener.
What this means is, instead of having a 4-bar loop repeating, why not change it up into something completely different?
Here are some examples:
- Suddenly changing the tempo for a few bars. Just like many of these pop songs today where they have breakdown at the bridge, then drop the beat back in.
- Breaking down the beat completely, such as taking out certain instruments for a bit, or even swapping out an instrument for something else, but just for a few bars.
- Stopping your beat. This isn't used too often, but you could just have a quick stop and 1 or 2 seconds of silence before bringing the beat back in.
Extra tip: Listen to older songs from other genres. For example, Donna Summer was famous for starting her songs with a slow melody and then dropping in the beat. The slow intro would sometimes be over a minute and was like an entire song itself!
4. Have a Great Lead Instrument
With all of the plug-ins that are at our disposal nowadays, there's really no excuse to not have a great melody. Whether your lead is a piano, rhodes, sine wave, horns, or anything in between, there's plenty to choose from.
To have a great lead instrument is not just about picking a sound that you think will be dope, but it has to SOUND dope with everything else.
As I mentioned earlier about the bassline possibly muddying up the track, this is where you have to choose the right lead instrument.
You can't go wrong with a synth pad of any sort. The same can be said about piano.
But the great thing about plug-ins is that there are really nice presets to choose from, and they already have effects added in as well. So just that alone will make your lead instrument stand out and also blend in well with the rest of your beat.
As for those that are using samples, having a great lead instrument is very important as well, but just different.
Unless you're chopping up and layering individual samples, you will most likely be sampling an entire melody and slicing it up. In that case, it simply comes down to choose the right sample!
Countless times I've sampled a melody from whatever song and even though it seemed good in the original song I was sampling from, it sounded like crap the way I used it. It either didn't blend in well with my other sounds, or it just sounded like a boring loop with drums under it.
So your best bet is to sample something that has a nice melody, even if it's just two seconds long. There's always that little part that always stands out from any piece of music - you just have to find it.
Extra tip (for plug-ins): What's great about plug-ins (or MIDI) is that they're recorded just as digital clips. This means if you create a melody with a piano and later on you don't like it, you can just swap it out for another instrument and it's all the same melody!
5. Using Effects
When I'm making a beat, I don't use any effects whatsoever - until I mix. And even then, I only use effects as needed, like delay, reverb, compression, etc.
It's too easy to overuse effects because there's just so many available today and you can do a lot with them.
However, if used the right way, they WILL make your beat sound much better.
The first thing you need to do is get familiar with reverb and what it actually does. Most of the time it's used on vocals, but it's also often used on drum snares.
Did you know you can use it on the kick drum? Of course you can.
A great effect is putting a bit of reverb on the kick drum to have the kick resonate a bit more and give it a bit of wideness. It's basically like the 808 kick drum and how that resonates, it's just you can use on any of your kicks (mainly the thicker-sounding ones), just as long as you don't use it everywhere.
Delay is also another great effect and I use it all the time.
It can be used in many ways such as:
- Making a sound seem longer than it really is. This is good if you're using a short sample. For best results, use a short delay.
- For drums! Especially the snare. As I mentioned earlier about having a second, quieter snare, you can instead put a slight delay on your main snare and it will create a "ghost snare".
- It's a good way to transition into another part of your beat. For example, if you have a changeup, instead of just doing into the changeup, put a delay on your lead instrument, plus add a full stop to your beat. Then go into the changeup.
The issue with compression is that it's both good and bad. If you throw a compressor on your drum loop, you'll notice how it livens up your drums right away. Since it does a great job at making something lively, people tend to use it on ALL instruments.
So this is what it boils down to. Compression should be used as needed, that's it.
There are plenty of other effects that you can use, so it's best you just experiment with them. Try different settings, but you should also use them in creative ways, like I've mentioned above.
Extra tip: When making a beat, you have a blank canvas to do whatever you want. Effects are tools to help take your creation and bring it to life! Think about that.
By following these tips, I guarantee that your beats will sound much better and you will come up with your own ideas on how to do certain things. If you have any tips of your own, reply and let everyone know!
More Beat Making Tips
Here are some more tips about making a banging beat: The Top 5 Ways Kanye West Makes Beats!
Further Reading About Beat Making