The code of the beat.

Don’t Market Your Beats Like a Pack of Cheap Steak Knives

15

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.


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

Articles, Beatmaking, Beatmaking Education, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, BeatTips, BeatTips Jewel Droppin', Book on How to Make Beats, Editor's Choice, Features, Hip Hop/Rap Music Education, Making Beats, Sa'id, The BeatTips Manual

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

  • Sa’id! Amazing article sir!
    Any thoughts on the #NoFreeDL moving going on within the various social media channels?


  • I was saddened when I got in to beatmaking to see that it wasn’t about building a team or relationships but seeing how many beats you can sell for $20 or $50 to a people you’ve never heard of or care about. I want to work like you said, with talented artist that have a connection with.
    That’s part of the reason I haven’t actively pursued selling anything. I’d rather perform and sell my instrumentals straight to the public then give them cheaply away to someone who doesn’t appreciate them. I’m slowly finding some people though.

  • Robert

    Yes,those ‘fire sales” of beats are killing the game no doubt.Great article!
    @Joshspoon,I couldn’t agree more!I’m thinking of performing live as an artist/beatmaker and hopefully do some collabs with rappers but before everything,I would never sell a beat for crumbs,no way,lool

  • tweedstereo

    This post captures exactly what has been bugging me about the over-commercialization of hip hop in particular and music in general. In my experience it’s much more rewarding to form meaningful collaborations with like-minded artists then to chase to dollars. Great read.

  • Stllegend,
    Thank you, brother….
    (What resonated the most with you from this article?)
    I’m not familiar with the #NoFreeDL movement. What’s it about?
    —Sa’id

  • Josh,
    It’s very encouraging to know where your heart and head is at. Although some do push that “cheesy marketing”, “As Seen on TV” element, that’s not what the soul of the beatmaking community is all about. And my firm belief in that singular notion—that the beatmaking community *is* about art and “community”—is one of the main reasons that I created BeatTips.
    I created BeatTips to be that trusted place where the seriously dedicated and respectful fans alike could come together and build, connect, and advance their goals—free and clear of bullshit. That’s why I believe that an indefinite number of BeatTips readers will join forces and go on to do great things….
    And I hear you about not wanting to simply sell beats like their meaningless to you. I think that’s the right course. Being clear about *who* you are, what your musical goals are, and the type of people you want to surround yourself with makes for success, simple and plain.
    —Sa’id

  • Robert,
    Right on! Man, there’s gotta be some integrity in what you do. I’ll give you an example. In my interview with DJ Premier in ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ he made a point of speaking about how he did NOT charge Biggie anything up front for his debut album, ‘Ready to Die’. Premier believed in Biggie as an artist and he wanted to work with him; it wasn’t about the money—it was about the music and collaboration of two artists. His belief in himself and the artist trumped everything—he knew money would follow because of the integrity of his musical beliefs.
    One important takeaway is the importance of collaboration with people you connect with musically. I believe that’s one of the best paths to even having a career in music.
    —Sa’id

  • tweedstereo,
    Agreed. Over-commercialization tends to happen when crowds of people see that a buck can be made. But beatmaking is music making; it’s NOT cheap steak knives making! You can’t just rush in or slap sleezy, hard-sale marketing tactics and expect to strike gold, let alone earn respect from peers.
    Thanks!
    —Sa’id

  • Devils advocate here,
    What is the trade value of a beat?
    If a beat takes 4 hours to make and you sell for
    50 quid that’s still far more than minimum wage and for an unqualified beatsmith that’s a legit living surely ?
    Whether you give a beat away or sell it you still have it yourself on computer so you haven’t really lost anything anyway…
    The ecomonic value of music has decreased exponentially in line with the increased amount of people now involved in creating it according to the laws of supply and demand.
    Artists and musicians alike have always whored themselves in one manner or another by trading their creative expression for money/food/shelter/attention. In fact the whole process of creating and selling music or art shares many similarities with the act of prostitution; whether high-class escort or gutter-ho.
    Art is either too sacred to sell or it’s not; but if we do decide it is indeed a commodity then it’s inehrent value will logically be subjected to the laws of supply and demand.

  • I hear you, i the t. It’s the struggle between assembly line or custom cars approach to beatmaking. I have a full time job so I’m not struggling to pay rent making knock off beat on soundclick (no everyone on soundclick is bad, haha).
    If music becomes my bread and butter then I don’t want to be chained again to a desk cranking out product for a client I have no connection to. I might as well stay doing what I’m doing. It will probably pay a lot more and I’ll get more sleep. I do this cause I love creating something by myself and with people that is a part of me, not a campaign or fad, just me.
    I think that’s the problem people are more about getting “hustle on” then getting their creativity or feelings on.
    But like I said, I’m not in anyone else’s shoes. I’m just observing.

  • i the t,
    You’re not really playing the devil’s advocate here, as you or not advancing the argument of an opposing view. That is to say, you didn’t make an argument *for* cheezy marketing and hard-sale tactics. Instead, you asked a question that’s at the heart of the matter—What is the trade value of a beat? That’s certainly a question worth taking up by all of us….
    As for: “if a beat takes 4 hours to makes…”
    Well, I don’t think that that sort of wholesale production approach is the best way to think about creating music for vocalists to use. Perhaps it works for someone who’s *only* goal is to make cheap bucks.
    As for: “Whether you give a beat away or sell it you still have it yourself on computer so you haven’t really lost anything anyway…”
    I don’t follow what you’re saying; please elaborate.
    As for: “The economic value of music has decreased exponentially in line with the increased amount of people now involved in creating it according to the laws of supply and demand.”
    Certainly, you know that there are other forces that have lead to the decreased economic value of music, no? You can’t put that on the backs of a wave of new music makers! There are a number of factors that have contributed to a decline in demand; for instance, weak product lessens broad demand (listen to the radio in the U.S.). Further, you speak as if the number of new beatmakers (and other music makers for that matter) has outpaced—or is outpacing—the number of music listeners. There are still way, way, way more music consumers than music producers around the world.
    As for: “Artists and musicians alike have always whored themselves in one manner or another by trading their creative expression…”
    As you correctly point out, there has indeed long been an issue with art and commerce, more specifically for our purposes here, how each artist values their work. And in music, yes, there has been, unfortunately, a tradition of artists being “pimped’. However, in many of these situations, it wasn’t the case of artists *willfully “whoring” themselves but rather the rude reality of woefully unfair and often nefarious music industry practices—practices, I should add, that most recording artists aren’t aware of upon entering the music industry.
    Let’s remember, recording artists, who actually create the music, do not *sell their music to the labels that they record for; they typically do not own the copyrights of the recordings that their labels release. Historically, in most cases, recording artists essentially work for hire, yet they do not enjoy “work for hire” in the same traditional sense as let’s say a graphic designer or a screenwriter—both of which sell or license their work for a fee. Traditionally, recording artists get a budget and some advance against future sales—which they have to pay back. And, of course, the label for which they record for usually owns the copyright to the recording.
    As for: “… if we do decide it is indeed a commodity then it’s inherent value will logically be subjected to the laws of supply and demand.”
    To some degree this is correct. But trade value, not merely the commodity created by a member of a particular trade, is determined by the members of that trade, not simply the abstract laws of supply and demand. For instance, actors in SAG (Screen Actors Guild) get paid a standard minimum rate for work on a cop show (even it’s just three lines) whether there’s a demand for another cop show or not.
    When members of a trade band together, either in the form of a trade association or a union, they set and determine the pricing floors for their services. A union like AFM (American Federation of Musicians) has the power to establish minimum standards—industry standard prices/fair pay—and conditions. Again, as with SAG, they are not simply subjected to the abstract laws of supply and demand; they are lead by the power inherent in their membership, as well as the overall *respect for their organization.
    I’m glad that we are all having this open discussion here. It was part of my purpose for writing the above article. I’ve long called for the creation of a beatmakers union, due in large part to precarious matters like recognized minimum pricing standards and declining views of general pride in the trade.
    —Sa’id

  • Josh,
    Excellent point! »”If music becomes my bread and butter then I don’t want to be chained again to a desk cranking out product for a client I have no connection to.”
    Also, I want to point out that Motown had an assembly line approach to making music, *but it was an assembly founded upon the idea of quality control, not ill-thought or cheezy/cheap music practices.
    —Sa’id

  • True. The Motown assembly line would be one I’d work at.
    You will not see me peddling steak knife “HOT WIZ KHALIFA w/ hook” beats on the net. But you will see me plug my albums, http://www.beatstothefuture.com.
    Most of what is on the radio can probably be done in any daw in 2hr or less, if you can figure out the sound library they used. I think the magic in radio music right now is the mixing. All I know is with all the noise out there, I’ve got to make sure what I’m putting out pierces through it. If it’s not back to the drawing board. I would advise the same.
    The most impressive beat making I’ve heard in a while was off of Danny Brown’s XXX.

  • Dutch

    Please help! I need some experienced advice!
    Off Subject! but I do agree with you on the article!
    OK I have some quick question: What size mixer should I get: 16,24,or 32; would 24 or 32 channels really be needed? Would you recommend a 3-band eq section or 4-band(like Mackie) and direct outs or 4 or 8 bus mixer?
    Also, I was looking at the Soundcraft FX16ii, what do you think about it, I’m trying to setup a hybrid signal flow system?
    I have a MPC 2500, Korg TR 61(more instruments to come), Project Mix I/O, Octane pre, Pro Tools 8; so I have 16 inputs simultaneously into Pro Tools!
    Big props on the book too, every aspiring beat smith/producer should buy your book!

  • Dutch,
    Send me an email with your question to: beattips [at] gmail [dot] com; I’ll answer your question. Please understand, I reserve the comment section of each post to address the subject at hand or something related.
    You can also post your question in TBC (The BeatTips Community) at: http://www.beattips2.com/vb3/index.php
    P.S., thank you for comment about my book; I appreciate that.
    —Sa’id