Category Archives: beatmaking
1. Get it done. Don’t make everything perfect.
Write all the time, and stop striving to reinvent the wheel. You’ll never write “In My Life” or “Fix You”. Neither will I. They’ve already been written. Just write. A lot. Daily. Slow and fast songs. Silly stupid songs. Serious ones. Get it done, and stop giving a damn what people think.
2. Get opinions from those you care about.
You made a 5-song digital EP? Awesome. Check in with friends. Send mp3s via email. “What do you think of the EP? Which song is your favorite? Am I onto something, here?”
Low-sung verses. Higher-sung choruses. Slow guitar strums with a fast beat. Or the opposite. Piano songs. Acoustic songs. Mix it up. Maybe a song entirely with bass guitar, sax, and drums (the band Morphine made a career of a similar sound).
4. Forget what you know.
Know a lot about music theory? Who cares? Forget about it, when you write. Detune your guitar into some weird altered tuning so you are forced to try new shapes with your fingers. Go into a sound in your keyboard that makes little sense. Don’t always run to the grand piano preset. Throw an effect pedal in between your keyboard and computer, and see what comes about. Experiment with a loop pedal. Take chances!
5. “I’m not as good as…”
Never compare yourself to others. Friends of mine are insanely talented. INSANELY. Their keyboard skills make me want to quit playing keys. Their singing voices are insanely trained. So what? I am not a trained singer, but I can sing, and harmonize. I can play basic piano stuff, but I cannot play difficult passages or songs. I can’t shred a blues solo, and my fingerpicking is capable, but nothing spectacular. Doesn’t matter. I focus on my strengths. Do the same for yourself.
6. Focus on the end result, the goal, the reason you do this.
Stop dissecting every step along the way when you’re writing and recording. “Too much string noise when my finger scraped the strings, there”… or “my voice cracked a little, in that part”…. “my harmony sounds a little weird, but ok…” Who cares?! Roll with it. Then listen to the song when it’s done, then make new decisions and choices. I wrote a song years ago. Recorded it in late 2014. It was cool, but I decided I hated it when listening to it again, last week. I changed the keyboard parts, and sped up the song while retaining the same key (thank you, computers). Now I love the song, and it’s infinitely better. Took two years to tweak it. Needed to give it a rest… listen, and then all the “here’s how I need to change it” brainstorming came out, within one listen of the song. I’ll release it soon… hopefully. End goal, right?
7. Be YOU.
Be yourself. Always. Stop singing like John Mayer or Ben Howard. Sing like YOU. I taught myself to sing listening to Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Ben Lee and Jimmy Eat World a lot in the late 90s. My voice is similar to theirs, and I love that. My songwriting style is similar, in some ways, too. It’s simple. It sounds like me. I can’t do Sigur Ros, and I can’t do Jason Mraz. I can’t do Bon Iver unless I’m playing with my vocal harmonizer pedal and lots of reverb. I fuck around, and roll with whatever sounds good to me. I love so many singers (and TONS of female singers, too) but I can’t do them. I can only do me.
8. Minimalist. Simplicity.
I saw an acoustic singer-songwriter a month ago. Too many fancy chords, rhythms, fancy-pants nonsense. His shit was forgettable. Then a few days later, I saw another dude. Lots of G and Cadd9 chords with a capo. His lyrics, delivery, and vibe of the song spoke to me way more intensely than the first guy.
Matthew Sweet wrote “Sick Of Myself” in 10 minutes. He thought it was a stupid song. Turned out to be one of his biggest hits, and he never regretted putting it on his 1995 album, “100% Fun.”
Jason Mraz… most of his really easy shit… A Beautiful Mess, I Won’t Give Up… SIMPLE AS HELL. And perfect. John Mayer’s “Gravity”? NO ONE CAN ARGUE HOW FUCKIN’ GREAT THAT SONG IS. Simple, and perfect. People like shit that they can just vibe to. They don’t need masturbatory musicianship. They want something that speaks to their souls. Make music like that, and change the world.
I can do shit solo. And often do. But I also come up with some great shit, working with people. Don’t be afraid to. It’s important.
10. Rest. Think. Watch TV. Read. Kill it, but chill, too.
Rest. Rest. Rest. REST. Stop working so hard. Hell, just yesterday, I killed it with my friend Mike. We tracked three new hip-hop songs to beats we threw together in a few hours. We shot a video session for YouTube. We shot video as he tracked vocals, so we can have material for YouTube. We ate food and talked about nutrition and working out. We took a break and hung out. But in 8 hours, we did a LOT, and killed it. Today, I plan on doing the same. But first, I needed four hours to chill, blog, and help all of YOU. Then I’m going to hit the studio hard and work on shit. It’s 5pm. I have til about midnight. I’ll get it all done, and I’ll take a break in between. Don’t forget to fucking REST. Seriously. Ok? Cool. Get to work. Or chill.
Have a tip to share? COMMENT!!! 🙂
As some people know, I’m a huge fan of good hip-hop. I’ve made instrumental hip-hop for over a decade, and I guess my biggest “claim to fame” is my trip-hop duo Beauty’s Confusion (active from 2001-2006), which had a huge hip-hop influence, beat-wise.
Just wanted to share some tips I’ve picked up along the way. This is for people who want to make some good stuff, like Premier, Q-Tip (Tribe Called Quest), Dilla, Pete Rock, Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind, and all that good stuff (the first four, which many call the “golden-era” of hip-hop… and all five who many consider as the top 5 hip-hop producers of the last 25 years… it’s tough to argue that).
1. Collect vinyl and/or jazz/soul/ambient/prog/funk music from the 50s to the early 80s! Whether it be actual vinyl from thrift stores or bargain bins of good record shops (50 cents to $1 per record), or if you like to “e-dig” (believe me, you can find vinyl rip blogs if you do no more than 30 minutes of searching)… it’s worth looking into. The art of sampling is exactly that: the art. Sure, many people might say “well, you didn’t write it, and that’s stupid.” For those people, maybe you can simply skim this post… or ignore it entirely. Sampling and “sample chopping” is what makes for the best hip-hop, in my (and MANY others’) opinion.
2. Collect hip-hop-related royalty-free sample libraries! These are great sources for sampling and chopping, and you never have to worry about legal trouble (well, most of the time. Some libraries contain uncleared samples, which you have to watch out for)… some great sites include http://www.bigfishaudio.com (look for their sales), http://www.soundsonline.com, and http://www.timespace.com. Another KILLER resource is http://www.rawcutz.com (Loopmasters / E-Lab/Equipped Music partnership). You can never, ever have too many samples.
3. Listen to GOOD hip-hop. the producers mentioned above, plus artists like Eric B and Rakim, Tribe Called Quest, Molemen, Buck 65, Boogie Down Productions / KRS-One, Geto Boys, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, J-Live, Blueprint, Bluebird, Sole (and most of Anticon’s earlier output), Jedi Mind Tricks (could be the most underrated hip-hop group of all-time). You’ll be amazed at what you can learn, by simply listening.
4. Get a 4×4 drum pad controller (MIDI interface) — On the cheaper (but VERY useful) side: Akai MPD18, Akai MPD26, Akai MPD32, M-Audio Trigger Finger (get all of these used to save a good amount of dough), Korg Padkontrol (same– they average $100 used)…. or on the more expensive side– Native Instruments Maschine MK2 (Mikro or regular), or Maschine Studio. Stay away from the new Akai stuff– don’t believe the hype. It’s buggy and you can’t produce beats as fast as with Maschine, or with one of those controllers + a VST sampler such as Poise, Shortcircuit, or Motu BPM. A computer, plus a midi pad controller (and maybe a 49-key midi keyboard) is pretty much all you need to make good hip-hop (a little research goes a very long way).
5. Watch beat production videos on YouTube (especially beat production tutorials). Man, I love how people are so damn HELPFUL these days…. some of the tutorials might be on the boring side, but others are incredibly awesome. One of my favorites is Andrew Schellman’s tutorials with Maschine Mikro: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7ODfLapPcJt1Hjvbm_w0XD9u2mDKWKLF
This is just a simple tips list…. eventually I might do a “basics of hip-hop production” tutorial on YouTube… there are so many already, but I like to give people really affordable (CHEAP) options. When I was in highschool, none of this was possible for me financially…. 2013 offers a lot to the aspiring beatmaker/producer and all musicians/home recordists in general. You guys don’t know how lucky you have it. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Information is everywhere…. it’s a shame if talented people don’t put all the good info to use.
Here are four tutorials I made about the Poise VST, which is the best MPC-style sampler out there, hands-down. It’s actually a million times easier to use than an MPC. Along with Native Instruments’ Maschine, Poise + Reaper is how I make a majority of my hip-hop tracks.
Check these videos out, and download the Poise demo. You’ll be extremely impressed.