If We Don’t Respect the Trade Value of the Beatmaking Tradition, Who Will?
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
Despite what some outside (and, unfortunately, inside) the beatmaking tradition may think, “beats” are music. Of course, as an often one-man orchestrated, instrumental composite, beats are indeed a unique kind of music; but music they are still the same. Yet in recent years, a growing number of beatmakers (producers) have been given over to treating beats as less than music, marketing them in a cheap, cheesy manner and peddling them as gadgets rather than music.
Certainly you’ve seen adds online like, “Beats for Sale;” “Buy Hot Beats Now;” “Buy Two Beats, Get One Free;” etc., etc. I cringe when I see these type of adds and promotions. I’m insulted by the “As Seen on T.V.” marketing approach that many are using to peddle, yes peddle, their beats. I dislike seeing the dignity of any music tradition being undermined by such practices; but it disheartens me seeing the beatmaking tradition being brought down by the intentional devaluing of those beatmakers (producers) who push beats for sale as if they were anything but music.
Look, I understand that there is a business component to making beats. Since hip hop/rap music leaped into the world of commerce more than 30 years ago, the making of hip hop/rap music has been a desired commodity worth paying for. And because beats are the chief instrumental bedrock for rappers (and increasingly vocalists from other genres), I can completely understand why. But it’s the demeaning approach that I can’t stand to watch. Whether it’s the “As Seen on TV” approach or the standard “$50” (or lower) Beat Sale platform, it doesn’t matter; both approaches devalue the work and ingenuity that goes into developing a serious skill for beatmaking, one of contemporary music’s most dominant composition processes. Both approaches demean the tradition built up by beatmaking’s pioneers and most respected practitioners. Both approaches effectively bring beatmaking down to a third class music citizenry, where beats are thought of as a dime-a-dozen rather than skillfully crafted individual works of art.
Unfortunately, some may simply be too far gone to understand that whatever short-term financial gain they may be making is dwarfed by the likelihood that they are losing sustainable respect and support at the very same time. No sustainable music career can be built by a delusional beatmaker/producer who pushes his product with little consideration for trade value. I recognize that I don’t have much say in what they do. But in writing this piece, I can reach BeatTips readers—music makers who take a more serious approach to their music, in terms of creativity as well as business….
Hip hop/rap music enjoys a global audience, so there’s literally 10s of millions of people who are interested in hearing an individualized take on the music that they love. To gain even a sliver of 1/1000th of a half-percent of this grand audience, you will have to earn their ear. How do you do this? Well, there’s no surefire way for any one music maker. But I ultimately believe that for beatmakers, in specific, it comes down to quality music (yes, I know that’s subjective) that skilled rappers (and other vocalists) and other parties want to use. And, of course, this depends on some degree of marketing yourself and your music—which is part of the overall point that I’m making: If you devalue yourself as a discount peddler of beats, why would you expect for anyone else to see you differently?
There are better courses take, if music truly is how you’d like to earn a living. For instance, forming a rap group, something that I’ve long been a strong advocate for, has greater potential for sustainability than blindly selling beats at $10-$50 a pop, or spamming Twitter feeds with “Hot Beat Sales”. Building genuine, solid relationships with people who share your enthusiasm for the same style and sounds of hip hop/rap music bodes much better than “As Seen on T.V.” infomercial tactics that most people dismiss anyway. Also, offering up a well-designed and well-executed beat tape, that doubles as both a release that can be reviewed and audition for prospective beat buyers, is much more noble and potentially rewarding in my view. And I’m sure there’s any number of other unique (more respectful) ways to gain an audience for quality beats. Everyone’s limited only by their own imagination and drive.
But either way, I get it. Seriously, I get it…. There are lots of people who want to make money off of their beats; they want to make a name for themselves so that they can make more money off of their beats. I knowledge that. I do. I understand that people have to eat; people have to make money how ever they can. Cool. I find nothing wrong with the fundamental premise of selling beats—of course I don’t! It’s the “discount-beat” and the low-grade marketing approaches (that too many have drafted) that concern me. Forget that the widespread devaluing of beats (through cheesy marketing and near-sited, quick-cash mechanisms like $10 beat sales/leasing) reflects poorly on those beatmakers who take those paths; what does it say about the beatmaking tradition as a whole? Further, is the small promise of money (or lack their of) causing some in the beatmaking community to see beats as something that is less than music? Something to be pushed with less consideration than a hot pretzel in Times Square?
Remember, this isn’t the same thing as someone taking a gig in a tiny after-hours night club for small pay, or someone forgoing payment to land a placement with a talented indie rapper. No, this is intentional cheesy marketing and deep discounting! While such approaches and hard-sale methods often work for gadgets sold on TV, when applied to beats—music—they carry the stench of desperation and needless compromise. Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t some beatmakers that are making dope beats at discount prices. I’ve surveyed thousands of “$10” and “$50” beats that sounded great. In those cases, my main gripe is that those beats would have been better used for free in the hands of capable rappers, or on a free beat tape—not sold off at bargain basement prices to likely never be heard of again, or worse: leased out to too many incapable rappers.
In other words, it’s also a trade issue. The beatmaking community—as a whole—is responsible for setting and maintaining our trade value. When we lower that floor, why should we expect others to raise it? So here’s the main jewel: If you market your beats like a pack of cheap steak knives on a late-night infomercial, you might grab a few dollars here and there, but don’t expect to earn much respect for your music…or any sustainable money from it either.Articles, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, BeatTips, Editor's Choice