The key to making great beats is consistency. Consistency keeps you in a music-making zone and away from the dreaded beat block. Consistency also ensures your growth as a beatmaker. In this tutorial, I outline five things that will help you make beats consistently and grow your own style and sound.
1. Write Down a Theme, Then Make a Beat to It
Having a clear theme to work from can give you tremendous focus when making beats. So write down a theme or title, then try to make a beat to match it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a sample-based beatmaker or not, beginning with a set idea can streamline your approach, saving you time and improving your skill for developing beats as you intended.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the greatest beats that you will ever make will come from moments when you have no clear idea, when you’re just trying out random sounds. That’s cool, the “riff” method always plays a role in every music makers approach. But beatmakers are often music-makers for hire, which means we often know the task or the artist that we’re making music for and, any many cases, we receive specific requests for a certain style and sound. So getting in the habit of constructing beats from an initial theme will keep you sharp in this regard.
2. Listen to the Music of Other Producers: Creativity Breeds Creativity, Part 1
Nothing leads to creativity quite like creativity. Listening to music, a practice I like to call MusicStudy, is the single most inspiring activity that you can do to help get your creative ideas flowing. In my interviews with DJ Premier, Buckwild, 9th Wonder, and DJ Toomp, all of them told me how, on various occasions, they were prompted to make a specific beat because they were inspired by a given song/beat made by another producer.
But MusicStudy isn’t just about listening to the beats of other producers. Listening to music outside of hip hop is very important. It introduces you to new music genres, forms, and musical tropes and invites you to learn about the commonalities that exist across all music forms. It helps generate new ideas and make sense of some of your older or underdeveloped ones, and it underscores who you are as music maker.
3. Swap Sounds with Fellow Beatmakers
Collaboration, in any art form, always results in an exchange of ideas and often leads to greater productivity. One way to collaborate with fellow beatmakers is to swap sounds. Trading sounds with fellow beatmakers not only deepens your sound arsenal — which can enhance your own style and sound —it also puts you in a position to develop new relationships with fellow music makers, relationships that can then be parlayed into collaborative projects.
4. Listen to Music Outside of Hip Hop: Creativity Breeds Creativity, Part 2
As I say in my book The BeatTips Manual: “MusicStudy is the most important form of practice for all musicians. Because practice is one of the most vital factor’s to our individual development, I believe that before you can even begin to really understand the whole craft of beatmaking, you must first develop a respectable knowledge and appreciation of music and music history. Whether you favor soul, rock, or hip hop/rap, you should possess a respectable knowledge of music in general. A familiarity with the basic kinds and forms of music, in particular the gateway music traditions and forms, can only have a considerably good effect on your development as a beatmaker.”
This is all to say that when you listen to music, especially outside of hip hop, you gain a new perspective on how music is put together and you develop an understanding of the fundamentals that tend to exist in all great songs. Furthermore, as with listening to the music of other hip hop producers, when you listen to different music genres, you gain insight into stylistic and sonic nuances; you also expand your pallet for sounds and how to incorporate multiple influences into your beats.
5. Create (or Update) Your Own Drum Sound Library
Drums are a prominent feature of the hip hop/rap music tradition. As such, it’s beneficial for you to have your drum sounds organized into your own drum sound library. Creating (or updating) a drum sound library not only keeps you in the music making zone, it works as a form of beatmaking practice — one that often leads to the making of new beats, if not from inspiration alone.
One great way to approach creating a drum sound library is to think of your drum sound library in terms of having a combination of standard and unique sounds. When it comes to drum sounds, there are only but so many standard sounds that you can have: A typical bass kick, 808 kick, boom kick, mid-pitch snare, truncated snare, shekere, hi-hat, open-hat, closed-hat, ride, and crash. An appropriate number of standard drum sounds (within your choice of sound) should comprise of your base set of drum sounds.
Once you’ve added the appropriate standards (within your choice of sound) to your drum sound library, the remaining balance of your drum sound library should be made up of customized “uniques”. Uniques can be any sounds that can’t easily be classified as one type of drum sound but are percussive in nature nonetheless, or they can be standard drum sounds that you’ve customized.
And for most beatmakers, the most effective drum customization comes from the manipulation and modification of drum sounds that are already in their base (core) drum sound library.