Keeping Your Beats Simple vs. Breakdowns

“You need more changeups” is a running joke I have with a few friends, and it dates back a few years where producers on a certain website would leave that as feedback on everyone’s beats. While it’s not constructive criticism, it does hold some truth because, well, your beat needs more changeups!
But beat breakdowns is probably a better term because the breakdown of a beat is something that I don’t hear too often nowadays.

Don’t Be Repetitive
Hip Hop beats from the 1980’s and even in the 90’s, were mostly made up of 1 and 2 bar loops. Yes, 1 bar loops! Someone like Marley Marl was great at producing music but when it all boils down to it, a lot of beats from back then were super simple.
But they worked.
Today though, you could still make a 1 or 2 bar beat certain times, but since we have so much technology at our fingertips, why not do more? This is where the beat breakdown comes in.
Normally, your beat would be 4 bars and then every 16 bars or so, you would have your hook. Many producers use the hook as an opportunity to say, “yeah, this is my breakdown right here”, but that’s not it. A breakdown is a part where you change things up completely. It could be that you just take out the drums, or you bring in a new instrument for a few bars, or it could mean an entirely different composition.
Listen to this song from John Miles, called “Music”. Granted, he created three distinct sections to his song, but to me they’re all breakdowns and changeups.
What he did with that song is he had a theme that he stuck with – singing about music – but he broke down each part into sections. If you listen carefully, he’s singing about music from the past, present, and future. What he does is he has a breakdown between each one. It’s not like he just transitioned from one era to the next. Instead, he broke it down into completely different parts.
The great thing about a technique like this is it keeps the listener very involved. As I mentioned in the beginning, there are plenty of times you can have a repetitive beat (especially for Rap music, as it’s what’s needed), but changing up your beat is well worthwhile.
In a recent article that I wrote, it’s always best to get emotional when producing music. The reason is because your emotion will come out through the speakers and into the listener’s ear, and they will get emotional as well. This is why the John Miles song is so powerful – it’s a song that I remember from when I was a kid.
Keep It Simple And Repetitive
But breakdowns are not always called for because many times you will be producing music to have a rapper or singer perform over it, and if you have many breakdowns, it could backfire.
So if your beat instead is kept as a simple loop, it could definitely work.
Take a listen to Remedy’s “Never Again”:
It’s not a 1 bar loop, but the way it just sounds with the classical samples – amazing. What’s even better is that it’s a perfect match because the emotion from the strings matches the emotion and meaning of Remedy’s lyrics.
So, what do you do?
The short answers is: it all depends.
All of this ties into what I mentioned earlier about emotion. If you produce a track for a rapper who is rapping about money and women, I don’t think you need to worry about having breakdowns with complex changeups.
However, if he’s rapping about something emotional, and there is a story involved, then you could easily change things up. Here’s why:
If you don’t know by now, the music you produce needs to match what the rapper or singer is doing. This is why you hear all these Pop stars with the same style of music – because their lyrics and delivery are meaningless. All the music does is follow a pattern, that’s it.
With something like a rapper spitting a story, that changes everything. Sure, rappers can spit over anything, but a great production will go far beyond just matching the tempo to the rapper’s lines.
The trick is to produce the track in segments, then build it from there. This is why songs from years ago sounded so good, because they actually took time to build them! Nobody is rushing you to produce a beat in 5 minutes.
So the next time you work with an artist, don’t just throw beats at them, work with them and build around both the beat and the lyrics. Trust me, it works.

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