The code of the beat.

Ending the Devaluation of Beatmakers

5

Value of Beatmakers to be Key Factor in New Music Industry Success

By Amir Said (Sa’id)


Music producers have always played a major role in the success of the music industry. Indeed, producers have often been the driving force behind some of the biggest acts in the recording business. However, when the music industry shifted to a very centralized (narrow-minded) consumer market, the role of many music producers was reduced and fragmented. But beatmakers, the last major faction of music producers to emerge in the twentieth century, proved to be immune to this widespread marginalization…That is, until their services began to be devalued. After that, many hip hop beatmakers found that they were reduced to barely nothing more than an afterthought.

Before this “devaluation period,” many well-known beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) were able to draw the attention of both fans and music executives alike. Yet as hip hop music sales fell (as did sells across the board), labels and recording artists scrambled to find areas where they could make cost cuts. For the labels, this meant cutbacks on non-essential staff; cuts in artist development; cuts in marketing budgets; and, ultimately, cuts in—and a sever narrowing of—available product. Ironically, far too many hip hop/rap recording artists also saw cutting non-essential staff as a means to save money and maintain profits. Only thing is, these hip hop recording artists put qualified beatmakers into that “non-essential staff” classification.

Prior to the “devaluation” of beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers), hip hop/rap recording artists recognized the importance of beatmakers. But as recording budgets tightened in the music industry, many hip hop/rap recording artists became “budget beat buyers.” Indeed, they shifted their focus from quality, innovative hip hop/rap production, to “status quo” music, or rather a a “safe” music sound that was already out with presumably strong pop appeal. Almost immediately, this shift was picked up on by many new beatmakers, who were all to eager to get an oh-so coveted placement. This development ushered in a wave of hip hop/rap production that simply “mimicked”—or better still, flat out copied—the sounds of well-known beatmakers. And it should be furthered noted that this flux of “copycat beatwork” was usually offered up at a fraction of the price of the copied beatmakers…sometimes even at no price at all. And thus, along with this development, as well as widespread access to music production tools, the “devaluation” of beatmakers took hold.

Between 1982 and 2000, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music was amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And during that time, beatmakers and rappers alternated short periods of higher influence. But at no point during that period was the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music placed decidedly more in the hands of rappers. Now, however, with the concepts of unique sound, creativity, and quality (albeit often subjective) no longer serving as the guiding principles in a rapper’s beat selection; and with pricing (beat cost) emerging as perhaps the primary factor in beat selection decisions made by many rappers and clueless A&Rs, the responsibility of the general direction of hip hop/rap music has, unfortunately, been disproportionately placed in the hands of rappers and ill-qualified music insiders—both groups themselves seemingly influenced by so-called pop “tastemakers.” And to see how this shift has dramatically affected the direction of hip hop/rap music, one need only to look at the hip hop/rap commercial releases for the past 9 years. Aside from a very small number of solid albums, the overwhelming majority of mainstream hip hop/rap releases in the last 9 years have not bode well for the general direction of hip hop/rap music.

Lil Jon Universal Republic Deal: A Strike Against the Devaluation of Beatmakers and a Good Sign of Moves to Come

When it comes to Lil Jon, there is one overlooked fact that can not be denied: Despite what some beatmakers may think of his music, he was once among the half-dozen or so go-to beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) that was able to successfully stave off the “devaluation” effect. Known mostly for his role in pioneering the Crunk sound, Lil Jon was once seen as one of the limited number of beatmakers that could prompt success for any hip hop/rap recording artist that he worked with. But Lil Jon, as with The Neptunes, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and noted others, proved not to be as immune to the “devaluation” of beatmakers as one would have thought. Yet the deal Lil Jon signed with Universal Republic Record last year perhaps signals that, in at least some corners of the music industry, high-level execs are ready to turn over important creative decisions to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers).

I’ve long been an advocate for putting the “control and power” of hip hop/rap music back in the hands of qualified, reasonably experienced beatmakers/producers, and taking it out of the hands of non-music music execs, music insiders, and clueless, “carbon copy” beatmakers. Well, on the face of it, Lil Jon’s Universal Republic deal seems to do most (if not all) of that. The pact purportedly includes: a label imprint, a recording agreement, a production arm, a digital presence, and a pivotal A&R consultant role at Universal Republic for Lil Jon. This means that Lil Jon will have is own label and a production outlet—which will allow him to bring in new beatmaking talent. More importantly, and perhaps even more telling, the deal stands to give Lil Jon crucial critical say-so in the signing, development, and marketing of new artists at Universal Republic. Whether the deal actually ever materializes as envisioned, (at the time of the publishing of this article, the deal may have already been downgraded or dissolved), it certainly appears that Universal Republic is at least willing to reach out to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) as a means of creating a winning formula for the new music industry. I suspect that in the near future, other music execs, who it must be pointed out are anxious about music sales and solid new product, will also be willing to implement packages/situations similar to the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact.

In fact, by placing the critical creative and talent acquisition decisions in the hands of a beatmaker (hip hop/rap music producer)—a real music person, not an accountant, unimaginative A&R, or some other insider with no authentic appreciation for music and its makers, the potential for an influx of more creative-centered music—that is, non-fluff-centered, superficially formulaic music—will undoubtedly increase. More importantly, because of deals like the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact, conditions for beatmakers—the musicians solely responsible for making beats in hip hop/rap music—are likely to improve. And should deals like these continue to happen, (which I expect that they will), the “devaluation” of beatmakers will necessarily cease. When that happens, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music will once again be, in large part, amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And once the balance of this responsibility is properly restored, look for the overall level of hip hop/rap music to improve dramatically.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • i the t

    Whilst these developments may indeed have some eventual positive effect on the current pathetic state of things, I believe I have come up with a more effective way of improving the quality of beats and music in general.
    Now I understand that the following may seem somewhat radical to people and realistically could probably never be implemented at all; but nevertheless, I fail to see anything ethically wrong with the concept, especially considering the current dearth of exposed talent and the need to redress the balance.
    So, on that note my proposal is to introduce new legislation along the following lines –
    The system I propose to introduce would basically mean that an Individual may not legally release (for public broadcast or consumption) any recordings until said individual has completed a statutory length of ‘practice hours’ or induction; say somewhere between 5 and 10 years.
    When an budding musician/producer decides that he would like to dedicate his life to music
    (whether as young as 5 or old as 40, it doesn’t matter), he would then register his intent/aspirations with some kind of official organisation set up for the task.
    The musician would then continue to learn his craft in private or with friends etc but would simply not be allowed to release any music in the public arena during the practice years.
    When the statutory practice years are complete, the musician would be then be issued with a license to publish their musical recordings.
    And that, is basically the cut and thrust of it !
    On the strength though, I fail to see how anyone could lose out or suffer as a result. All the recordings that the hypothetical musician made
    during his practice years would be eligible for release once his license was obtained so we would still be able to hear the raw unrefined stuff from his early days of composing.
    The benefit of this system is that the market would only be populated with artists who have proven their dedication to the art. This is they way of things in the field of lawyers, doctors, teachers etc so it doesn’t seem that ridiculous if you really look at it…
    and lest we forget, back in the days you basically HAD to put in the 5 or 10 years practice to get your foot in the door in the industry.
    It hasn’t always been the case that you could decide you wanted to be a musician and download fruityloops on friday night, make a beat on saturday and release it to the world on sunday morning without even having to leave your bedroom….

  • Good post sa’id…
    In regards to the comment above, I don’t think it has anything to do with how long people are “practicing” their art. It has more to do with, like stated in this article, the people in charge.
    It’s all about supply and demand, if the people cutting the checks are asking for a specific sound, a pattern, a formula…then many beatmakers will cater to that.
    You could have put in 25 years of practice, but if the “powers that be” say they are ONLY accepting beats/music in a specific formula…there isn’t much you can do. Either comply like some do, or don’t like others do…one gets the check one doesn’t.
    I agree, it’s the upper level, the pickers and choosers, that need to be chaned. Having real musicians in charge is a step in the right direction, those that will be more inclined to follow creativity instead of simple math and stale formulas.
    It’s similar to why many artists like indy labels, they have more freedom to “do them” because these indy labels have a better understanding and don’t follow the formulas that corporate america is saying should be followed.
    When labels start demanding more, then the flash in the pan beatmakers will be filtered out and it will return back to the ones that can “show and prove” their skills.
    Everyone learns and grows at different paces, the end result, the quality, is the deciding factor, but until the ones actually paying for and deciding what gets played get off of the formula and start seeking creativity…beatmakers looking to make a living will continue to provide the exact formulas needed to acquire the check.

  • i the t,
    I don’t think that your proposal is “radical;” in fact, I think that the underlying sentiment of it is a very inviting concept. However, I think that the proposal you offer is impractical, both in terms of scope and enforcement.
    Although music is a profession—for some—it is always an art. (I’m not willing to concede that the fields of law and medicine are “arts.”) As such, access to the creation of art can not be filtered by a mandatory, multi-year practice regiment.
    Certainly, I would prefer that beatmakers take the study of beatmaking very seriously, but a statutory multi-year practice period before one is “permitted” to “legally” release recordings for public broadcast or consumption) is too far reaching.
    People “get” (understand) music in different ways. Likewise, some musicians pick up things much more faster than others. Furthermore, music is an art wherein novice naivety sometimes works to create engaging music. (Here, I’m think of early punk rock outfits, who hacked their way through three chords.)
    Finally, statutory practice hours can not/will not guarantee the output of quality music.
    —Sa’id

  • SoundsandGear,
    Thanks.
    I completely agree with your slant. This really is about the people who control creative/output decisions—the “pickers and the choosers.” And that’s what I was hoping to get at in the article. When key music decisions are placed in the hands of actual *music* people, I tend to think that the result a better quality of music. Moreover, when beatmakers are put in charge—rather than A&Rs who’ve never made a beat—you tend to get a better appreciation for dope beats.
    I also agree that as labels—and consumers—demand more, many “flash in the pan” beatmakers will be severely marginalized.
    —Sa’id

  • i the t

    Yes Sa’id, as stated I don’t think the idea could ever realistically happen and it is indeed entirely impractical.
    However, for those who do, as you say, see music as an art, there is no concievable requirement for them to rush straight out there and start publishing or distributing their material. Waiting an amount of time before being allowed to publish is not going to cause anyone to suffer. Even in the case of a hypothetical musician who posseses ‘immediate’ talent, it’s not going to harm them to wait, I mean they would still be able to create music and perform it, just not physically release it.
    When you say – “statutory practice hours can not/will not guarantee the output of quality music” – indeed they don’t; but such requisite hours would undoubtedly be a deterrant to your “flash in the pan” beatmakers.
    And regarding your comment – “When key music decisions are placed in the hands of actual *music* people, I tend to think that the result a better quality of music”.
    I agree it would be better than when label execs/marketing managers etc make the decisions, but unfortunately there is still nothing to govern or guarantee the quality or talent of these *music* people either, especially in todays sorrowful musical climate..
    I reckon stricter measures are called for,
    there’s simply too many musicians out there. get rid of 80 per cent of all humans who are currently trying to make it in music and we may be able to start seeing the woods for the trees.