There are many tricks that you can use to make your beats better, but one of the easiest and most obvious is the subtle track. This is where you have a track that contains some sort of audio that just chills in the background of your beat and it’s barely noticeable – but take it away and it makes a difference.
Having a subtle track is a good way to make beat making interesting again, especially if you’re stuck in a rut or you just feel like changing things up. Let’s start.
It’s There But It’s Not
One of the earliest beats I ever made was when I had drums, synth, strings, piano, and bass, all together in harmony. What I did was I started with the drum loop and then started adding in one by one, all the other instruments. The synth, then the strings, then the piano and finally the bass. The beat just kept going as everything built up and sounded great together, then I took out the synth and strings.
What was interesting was that the beat still sounded great, but there was something missing, something that was there but it wasn’t. The synth was barely noticeable actually, but it made a difference when it was taken out. Our ears can hear a lot of range, and in this case, even though the synth was right there, once it was removed it instantly changed how the beat sounded. But the other thing I noticed was the strings. They were prominent enough in my beat and when I had all the instruments playing together, it wasn’t what kept my attention. Instead, it was the piano.
A lot of it had to do with where I panned my sounds, but the point is that the strings were loud but blended in so well with everything else that once they were taken away, it was immediately noticeable.
Add Some Subtlety
We’ve all heard songs that sounded really great during the chorus, but when the verse dropped in, something was missing. Whenever that happens to me, I go back and try to hear what sound is missing, and most of the time it’s something so small that I didn’t notice the first time.
The Bomb Squad were notorious for that.
Back in the day, the Bomb Squad produced lots of beats for Public Enemy and they were the kings of using little bits of sound to piece together a complete sample. Often times it sounded like noise, and other times it was something like a guitar or a scratch. Either way, it was there and as they did that over and over, they managed to create what one would call a “controlled chaos”, if you will.
But they didn’t necessarily take out those sounds, instead they left them in, and that’s how good they were. You could be listening to a Public Enemy song and not even notice certain sounds throughout the entire beat. That’s both amazing and hilarious at the same time.
I was going to give a YouTube video of one of their songs as an example, but there are so many to choose from. If anything, take a listen to “Rebel Without A Pause” – great example.
Do It Yourself
It’s not hard at all to add a subtle track to your beat. It doesn’t have to be THAT subtle, but just something that will add some sort of flavor to your beat, but not overpower it. A lot of times I will use guitar or piano for a subtle track because they can both easily be masked behind other guitar or piano, yet really make a difference.
There are two ways you can do a subtle track:
- Add it first.
- Add it at the end.
What I like to do is start with my drums (you can do a drum subtle track too, if you wish), then add a subtle track and build upon it. Adding it at the end is fine too, however, I just think it makes it a little harder to blend in with what you already have. But that’s just me.
Experiment with different sounds and then once you have something that sounds good to you, you can choose to leave it in, or take it out in some spots and see what kind of a difference it makes. Good luck!