Making beats, whether you do it as a hobby or as a profession, is something that can be repetitive, especially since we all have our own style of beat making. A lot of producers today tend to follow what others are doing in the sense that they make beats that have that popular sound, but nonetheless, we all have a style.
My style is that I like to keep things simple.
However, there are times when it’s good to use some sort of filtering in order to achieve that certain sound, and that’s why it’s a good idea to filter and EQ.
Clean In, Clean Out?
Most of the time I sample and even if the vinyl I got the sample from is dirty, I try my best to clean it up so that I can process it better later on. But even though I process my sounds, I try to keep things at a bare minimum, so as to not muddy up my mix. Sometimes I don’t touch my samples at all, and I go from beat making to mixing without even touching an EQ.
I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, especially when it comes to mixing, so I tend to stay away from compression and EQ, mainly because I’ll probably just get out of control with it.
Take for example, Native Instruments’ Supercharger plug-in. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an awesome VST that will compress your sounds to make them sound SO much better. Whenever I record vocals, I start off by choosing the Vocal preset and then cranking up the volume, and it still sounds dope. The problem though, is that something like Supercharger is so good that I don’t want to use it too much. I could easily apply it to every track (especially drums), and my entire beat would sound so much better in the end result.
But I don’t want that.
Filtering is a great thing but it’s something that shouldn’t be abused, as it is in much of today’s mainstream music. Take a listen to any of the chart topping singles of today and you’ll instantly hear what I mean. Most of the time it’s the vocals that are noticeably filtered to the point where if you hear that singer live, they will sound completely different.
The biggest effect that was used many times over years ago, was reverb. When used correctly, it’s a thing of beauty, especially on vocals. But there are many times when reverb is used incorrectly (aka “too much”), and the entire song is one reverberated mess.
Some vocals use reverb and a bit of delay to give it a great sound, but then if you go and add the reverb to the drum snare, for example, then your reverb’s frequency spectrum will increase to the point that it’s just out of control. Most of the time I will add a small amount of reverb on my snare and a bit on the vocals, then I’m done.
Probably the most overused effect is compression, and that’s because it’s so good. Used the wrong way though, and it’s bad news. Compression will boost your sound and give it a bigger appearance, but too much and you will squish your audio to the point where your beat sounds overly processed.
A great example of over compression is The Beatnuts’ “Watch Out Now” drum track. Take a listen, it’s really noticeable on the kick drum.
There are a ton of VST effects that you can use to filter your sounds, and most of them are really good. One of the best that I’ve used is Izotope Ozone. It has a lot of features and it can take a bit of time to wrap your head around it, but the good thing is they have lots of presets that you can apply and tweak.
One of the best things you can use Ozone for is for mixing. Choose a preset and your mix will instantly have a new life, trust me.
It’s a good idea to try different plug-ins and see how you can tweak your sounds to your liking, but as I mentioned, the problem is that it can easily get out of control. I knew a guy that had hundreds of VSTs on his computer. He spent more time installing and just playing around with them, that he never had time to actually work on his beats! Don’t let that happen to you.