Listening and critiquing beats is something I have been doing for years, and every single time I still hear the same mistakes being made. Not every producer is perfect, and not everyone has the skills to make amazing music, but there are some basic foundation principles that need to be applied in order to make your beat a big hit.
These are six ways you can make a hit (hopefully!):
1. Have An Intro
Whenever I have a beat battle on IllMuzik.com, I let my members know that they need to keep their beats to no more than 2 minutes. The reason why I do this is because it forces them to be creative in a short amount of time. What ends up happening is there are some that send in 8 bar loops for 2 minutes, and others have a complete beat. The great thing about it is that the ones that send in a complete beat surprise me every time, and that’s because they usually pull off what seems impossible.
Having an intro to your beat right away gives the listener something to anticipate. Now I’m not talking about having a big long intro with useless talking (think Notorious BIG’s “I Love The Dough”), but something that shows the listener what the beat is about and leaves them waiting for the beat to drop.
2. Build It Up
I still have trouble doing this myself, but when done right, it’s a thing of beauty. I often listen to EDM, and what’s great about that genre is how they build up their tracks. Granted, a lot of them use the same techniques to build up their songs, but nonetheless, it still sounds really good.
This is because no matter what type of buildup you have on your beat, it will change the mood instantly and make the beat sound so much more exciting. Back in the day, a lot of Rap songs were 2 or 4 bar loops (even though they sounded great), but today that just won’t cut it. There’s no need for massive instrumentation, as something simple will do. Whether it’s your drum pattern with snare rolls or a buildup of horns, your beat will sound much better.
3. Find The Right Sounds And Make Them Match
I just reviewed someone’s beat the other day and even though it sounded good, there were a few problems with it. First off, he had a piano sample that actually sounded nice, but the way he chopped it was too abrupt. Second, the other sounds he had just didn’t fit.
For example, there were strings that were thrown in and a lazy drum track with dull drum sounds. Altogether, the foundation and planning was there, he just needed BETTER sounds. I’ve been there and it’s tough. When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to find dope sounds to use, so you end up using crappy sounds even though you have a lot of skill.
In this person’s beat, the piano sounded nice but needed better chops, and the strings were well placed but were completely out of tune. Sadly, I hear this way too often. Choosing the right sounds is the first step, making them sound in tune with each other is the other challenge.
4. Have A Breakdown
Just as with the buildup, having a breakdown is essential as well. One of the most popular tricks is to have a few bars where the drums get taken out, or something else like the bassline. However, you could also take it a step further and take everything out and put in other music completely unrelated to the main beat. This way, you throw off the listener and when your beat comes back in, it gets them nodding their head again.
I have used movie samples where someone was talking and it’s a great trick to change things up and give the listener something different.
5. Make Sure It’s Mixed Well
I’ve covered the mixing topic quite a bit, and basically it comes down to keeping things simple. Strip out all the plug-ins and start with basic things like reverb and EQ, then slowly build up your mix from there and add in effects as needed, without overloading your CPU.
But besides just keeping things simple, your mix has to sound GREAT. Keep your levels out of the red and don’t make it sound overly compressed or overly anything, really. The best way to tell if your mix sounds good is…
6. Let Your Friends Listen To Your Beat First
Having your friends listen to your beats before you release them is a great idea, although I can see how some people might be skeptical of it. The reason I mention that is because some friends might like your beat no matter what, so you won’t know if your beat is really good or not.
There is a trick you could use though, and it should work very well:
Have your friends over and play your beats for them but don’t tell them it’s you. Tell them it’s someone else like unreleased Dilla tracks or something, anything. Also, play the beats in the background so as to not make them think the beats are yours.
By doing all of this, if your friends are digging certain beats, you will know right away if they liked them or not, but there is a small downside. If you tell them the beats belong to someone famous like Kanye, they might like them just because they think it’s Kanye.
Either way, have your friends give them a listen and ask them for their honest opinion.
There are plenty of other ways you can improve your beats and make a big hit, as I will be covering some of them in part 2 of this article.