How to Drop a Beat
This is one of the best times in history to be living if you’re a musician or someone that wants to make music. Why?
Well, there are lots of resources that exist, both online and offline, to show and teach you how to make your own music, beats, or instrumentals. And there are even more ways to turn that into a way to make an extra income, full-time or part-time income (yes, you can). Isn’t that exciting?
Well, this blog post, and this entire site, really, is dedicated to helping you make your own beats. And in order to do that, first, you need to know what you need to have, and how you’re going to use them.
Making your own music…
It’s simply, actually. This can be broken down into only 2 steps:
- Finding out what you need
- Finding out how to use what you got
All we need to do now, is to extrapolate that into some steps that will get you started making music. First, let’s get the first step out of the way…
What you need to make beats
What we are talking about is not so much how to start a home studio, or even get into music production, we just want to know how to make a beat, whether that is for a piece of music, or an entire instrumental composition.
If you want to start a home studio dedicated to beat making, or get into music production, read the guides in the links above.
Now that we’ve gotten some words out of the way, here is what you need to get…
#1 – Laptop or Computer
The first thing you need to make your own beats is a laptop or computer. If you already have one that’s fills the basic requirements of being a music production machine, then skip to the next thing you need. Or you can check out these laptops or computers to see if you’ll need an upgrade.
These days, the laptop is the best choice in being a beat-maker or composer. The reason why is, obviously, the portability.
You can take your laptop from between your home studio to a pro studio. You can carry your laptop to the park and, with a pair of headphones and MIDI controller, compose your own beats on the spot.
Your laptop, of course, needs to have certain specifications to make it capable of producing high-quality beats. The best beat-making laptop is the MacBook Pro, hands down. But you can also get premium Windows laptops. And if you’re on a budget, there are laptops for you as well.
Requirements? Make sure you have a decent size hard-drive, enough RAM, a powerful processor, and ports to plug your external devices in.
If you need help in deciding on those requirements, see the link below…
#2 – Digital Audio Workstation
So, you have gotten yourself a high-quality laptop, what else do you need? A digital audio workstation.
This is what will bring all your musical ideas together into one package. With a DAW, you can record, mix, manipulate, edit, arrange entire musical compositions. And it’s very simple once you get the hang of it.
Chances are that, if you’re reading this post, or you’re just starting out, you’re more interested in making music and beats than, say, recording, mixing or mastering. The latter skills are important, too, and you should have some basic knowledge of sound engineering in order to make professional industry level music. But the reason why I mention this is because some DAWs are actually more conducive to beat-making than others.
FL Studio, Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, Propellerhead Reason, Logic Pro X, and PreSonus Studio One are examples of music production softwares that are great at making your own music and beats, because it has the best of both worlds: music and beat making, as well as mixing and mastering).
There are different reasons to choose each DAW, since each DAW has its own particular strength and will suit your purpose based on what you want.
If you need help deciding on the right DAW, see the link below…
#3 – Education
Next you need some education. Yes, you need to know what you’re doing…
This is where you learn the engineering and technical side of music, but here are other things you need to learn–take out a pen a paper and note this down when looking up educational materials and tutorials:
You need to learn:
- Music theory and harmony for electronic musicians.
- The technology of music production and sound engineering.
- How to make beats like the best beatmakers in existence.
- (Optional) If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can pursue a degree or get certified in music production.
All the resources and courses have been compiled to be some of the best you can find online, by the best people that you can trust to will lead you in the right direction.
See the resources compiled from around the web in the link below …
- Read: Best Online Course & Schools for Music Production
#4 – MIDI Controller
Earlier we mentioned something called a “MIDI controller.” This is simply a device that you plug into your laptop that controls various aspects of your music production software. The most basic type of controller is a keyboard with a USB-MIDI connectors in the back. With it, you can use your keyboard controller or a drum pad to control the sounds that come with your DAW, or that you’ve installed later-on.
These sounds would be produced by what are called virtual instruments, or VSTi plugins. They are either software synthesizers, drum machines, or sampling machines, that will either generate note sounds or trigger recorded samples of real instruments or real life sounds that came with your DAW or is stored in your VSTs sample pack (or samples that you’ve download elsewhere from the internet).
If you’re new to music production, simply stick with the VSTi plugins that came with your DAW, or try some free alternatives online.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable and want to go pro level, it’s time to invest in some professional VST plugins.
- Read: Best MIDI controllers, Keyboards and Pads
#5 – Headphones and Studio Monitors
Of course, you need a pair of high-quality headphones, as well as studio monitors. These are the way you are able to hear what you are doing. Consumer speakers or headphones will not do it, as they are desired to “please” and not be “honest” to you about how your music will sound once it’s played across various devices. That said, these are essentials and can’t be skipped.
If you can only get one, get the headphones, as they will be valuable in you being able to make beats anywhere you go (and not disturb any neighbors, roommates, or the sleeping cat).
#6 – Audio Interface
At some point, when you want to record audio into your laptop using a microphone (either your own vocals or another singer), you plan on recording instruments, you’ll need a device that’ll interface with your computer so you can get high quality recordings.
Audio interfaces bypass your computer’s consumer sound card so that you get the best quality from your recordings. They also output to your studio monitor and headphones as mentioned above.
#7 – Microphone
If you’re a vocalist, or plan on recording vocals over your beats and instrumentals, you need to have a good quality microphone that will sound good on your recordings.
Professional studio microphones are designed for this reason, and only these types will be able to capture the nuances of you vocals well.
Time to make some beats!
Now that you’ve gotten all the gear you need, how do you make your own beats?
Most of what consists of making beats or any form of instrumental is similar to what is involved in the songwriting approach of creating a new song.
Only that, this time it is your DAW that is your electronic instrument.
However, there is no real rule to making beats, or any form of instruments, you will find your own workflow after a while. What’s essentially important is that you follow a songwriting structure that ensures your music has a logical flow, from beginning, to the middle, and in the end.
You can learn about this structure some more from this post on songwriting for beginners.
The two schools of beat-making…
I’ve observed that there are two schools when it comes to beat making. There is the “beat first” school, and there is the “music first” school. But there is no right or wrong way to get started.
Some producers like to start making a beat by laying a drum beat or groove down first, others like to start with “music,” and by that, I mean adding keys, strings, synths, and bass first, and then adding the “beat.”
Why choose either?
There are various reason why you’d want to start with either. But I think it’s a good idea mix it up. Many have found themselves starting with the “beats-first” approach, switch it up, and then produce using the “music first” approach. Switching between helps with your creative flow. Give it a try yourself.
However, as you will see, there are benefits and necessities that may lead to you wanting to start with either your beat, or your instrumentals, first.
The “beat first” approach
The beauty of this option is that, if you like making beats, beats will automatically be playing in your head. Either you’re tapping it out on table, our using your mouth to generate beats. The trick is to capture them in your DAW.
If you already have the music beat in mind in your head, capture them using the recorder on your phone, using your mouth or whatever is handy. Then when you’re by your DAW, simply play out the beat idea as a loop on your drum pad or MIDI keyboard. Make sure you get at least the kick, snare, and hi-hats in.
If you actually don’t have a beat in mind, then just start with the typical beat of the genre you’re working with. Look up a favorite song, listen to the beat, and play or write (with your mouse) the basic beat in your piano roll, using the kick and snare and hi-hat.
Loop it over and over for the rest of the song (3 to 4 minutes should be sufficient).
A note of BPM: If you know what genre you’re making, ensure that you know the tempo that music is supposed to be at.
Here are some guidelines:
- Hip Hop is around 80-115 BPM
- EDM tends to be between 120-150 BPM
- House is usually around 128 BPM
- Dubstep tends to be between 138–142 but averages at 140 BPM
- Trap be from as low as 100 BPM to 176 BPM, but on average it’s usually 140 BPM
- Future Bass is all over the place…
As you may have noticed, the sweet spot for most electronic music, except traditional house music, tends to be 140 BPM. Hip hop is slower, with 90 BPM or 100 BPM being the most popular.
So once you have your BPM, turn on your metronome, and start writing in or playing in your beat, using the drum groove style of whatever genre you’re trying to make.
Remember to keep it simple. Kick, snare, hat. Once you have a simple beat of the genre you want to produce, there is one out of a few directions you can go…
If you’re a keyboard player, start by choosing a nice keyboard sound and jam to your beat until you get something you like. You’ve looped your beat so for the next several minutes you’re bound to find something that sounds good. When you’ve found something you like, just copy that into a few measures, and loop it. If you want to add variations, you will know when by listening back.
You can also start with other things. You can start with strings, synths, etc. It all depends on the genre.
This is an excellent option if you’re a singer or rapper. You can simply vibe off your own simple beat, or perform your song into a microphone as your music plays, recording yourself over the beat inside your DAW.
If you work with vocalists, or you have vocals from a song you want to create a beat around, adding vocals over the beat helps to give you a sense of how to create instrumental arrangements.
Working with vocals is one of the favourite ways to make a beat. And even if you’re lacking inspiration, grabbing vocals from an already hit song and slapping it onto the arranger view can really add inspiration. Just listen to all the popular remixes by Flume and Baauer of songs that were already popular and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Above, I talked about the choices of instruments by genres. Although there is no hard and fast rule (Flume, for instance, has EDM songs that more string samples intensive than synth), there are some general guidelines that can assist you…
Instrumental styles by genre
Trap and hip hop tends to have a stronger emphasis on keys, samples (especially hip hop), pads (especially trap) as their core instruments.
Musically speaking, trap and hip-hop harmonies are, a lot of the times, modal. Meaning, they don’t typical adhere to the harmonic progressions found in most styles of music traditional found in the west (such as I-IV-V progressions).
Often a trap or hip hop producer will prefer choosing one of the minor modes to writing haunting pad and keys sounds with (trap), or jazzy riffs (hip-hop). This is a general rule, which is always broken, but it’s a good place to get started.
Another thing that trap emphasizes a lot of is high-speed hi-hat rolls wit 808 kick-bass. Getting the 808 kick-bass should be easy since you should be able to find those sounds in your DAW (all DAWs these days come with sample packs)
But how do you get those hi-hat repeats?
There are a couple of ways to get this, depending on your DAW. In PreSonus Studio One, you can simply write each quarter note in, then set the quantize to something like 7/8, select your hi-hat notes, right-click and select Split at Grid, and each note will be split based on your quantize setting (remember to change it back!). Simply select and remove notes as your ear tells you.
In other digital audio workstations, you will have similar options, as well as the ability to turn on the note repeat option to repeat each time you record a note into you piano roll.
Hip-hop emphasizes on sampling other music. You can do this too by downloading some music that you like, or using samples that came with your software. Next:
- Listen for a section that sounds really cool, like a groove or lick.
- Within your DAW, use either a sampling plugin or just edit the audio file to chop out that section.
- Slow it down or speed it up to meet the BPM of your project.
- Change the tune and pitch.
- Put a hi-pass filter on it to cut out the low-ends and give it that old-timey feel.
- Then trigger the chop rhythmically with your sampler or drum pad over a your drum beat to get a really cool classic hip-hop beats.
Now, you have a hip-hop beat!
EDM, Dubstep, and Future Bass focuses on synth sounds and harmonic progression, which would require a knowledge of chords, harmonic progressions, and synthesis.
In EDM and Dubstep in particular, the harmonies are generally very simple, I-IV-V, II-V-I, and other simple progressions are popular. Their complexity is more in the way of how you manipulate the synths to get growling and wobbling basses. So you’d have to have a good knowledge of the basis of audio synthesis, to compose these genres. The drum beats are pretty simple in and of themselves.
To learn how to make interesting and complex synth sounds like a pro, check out the courses in this guide.
In Future Bass, you get into complex harmonies that requires some knowledge of jazz theory. Future Bass relies less upon the sound design complexity of a particular synth, and more upon harmonic complexity, adding thick, rich chords, and layering your sounds with more than one different kind of synthesizer.
Another important aspect of future bass is the use of foley. So make sure you get a good collection of foley instruments and sound effects.
What you’ll need to make Future Bass is a knowledge of music theory, harmony, and sound design. Again, you can learn these principles by checking out the material offered from this course guide.
The “music first” approach
This would require some knowledge of music and music theory. It is more effective with genres like Dubstep, Future Bass, and some EDM. Whereas the “beat-first” approach is more appropriate with hip-hop, trap, and house.
Take the same principles that you would use if you were starting with the beats first approach when you were making your instrumentals, and simply begin playing or writing in your harmonies and riffs before you add the beat.
This approach has benefits in the sense that you get to focus on the music more than on the beat. What usually results from this approach are very well composed and arranged harmonies that sound really unique. The beats first approach can easily sound generic, in my experience, but when you focus on the music and harmonies, you are forced to come up with some interesting sounds through experimentation.
Once you’ve created a loop, I suggest copying that loop over and over again for the remainder of the song. Then you can make variations as your ear tells you. Either drop the bass at one time, then the drums another time, or a synth sound.
Sometimes a melody will pop into your head for a lead, get a simple piano on that track and play out the melody first, then transform that track into another instrument to see what it sounds like. Make some variations in the harmony where you see fit if necessary.
In other words, just have fun with it!
If you feel stuck, take a look at my other post on ways to generate song ideas if you’re a beginner (although these tips work well for pros as well.)
At this point, you should probably have a beat on your hands, and all that it requires now is some fine-tuning and mixing.
So to review,
How to Make Your Own Music and Beats?
First get the right gear:
- ✓ – Laptop
- ✓ – Digital Audio Workstation
- ✓ – MIDI controller
- ✓ – Headphones and Monitors
- ✓ – Audio interface
- ✓ – Tutorials in music production and beat making
- ✓ – Good quality studio microphone
Once you have those things, start by simply recording your beats into the DAW or by writing in or playing your harmonies or harmonic ideas. Make sure you know the BPM you’re making your music for, and understand the basics of the genre you’re writing your music, beat, or instrumental for. This includes harmonies, beat styles, and instruments and samples used.
Learning how to make your own music, whether beats or instrumentals is very fun. The entire process is one of self discovery and experimentation. But it’s good, from the outset, to have the right tools, and to get proper guidance.
Hopefully you found this information useful and helpful. If you know anyone who also will, share this post with your friends or anyone else you think will find this information useful.