The first and one of the most basic things you need to do is listen to lots of music, mainly hip hop music but as many other genres as possible in order to practice your ears and your musical perception and broaden your horizons, and obtain a better understanding on how song and instrumental structures work in general.
You need to focus on making your own hip hop beats, study their “architecture”, listen to every sound closely and try to imagine at first how it was made, what sound were used by the beatmaker that made it and then try to achieve as similar results as possible.
This will help you understand how a hip hop beat was made, how the main ideas are perceived and finally how different sounds are combined to end up to the final result of each beat.
How to make your own hip hop beats for free
Listening to lots of music from other various genres will help have a better view on how beatmakers work on their own beats. Sampling being one of the main techniques hip hop producers use to make their beats, many of them dig old jazz records, other use funk or soul records for their sampling and same goes about rock, 70s psychedelic, country, middle eastern music and many other genres.
You need to what you like the most, and start working on that kind of sampling. Also many beatmakers do not use sampling at all, which means that they compose their own music. This is a great way to produce your own music especially if you have the appropriate skills. What is more, if you do not, you can find session musicians and ask them to compose or help you compose your own music.
How to make the beat
Assuming you have listened to lots of music, specifically hip hop and rap, you have some idea on how your beats should sound.
You need to decide on the style you want to create, such as 90s hip hop beats, trap beats, dirty south beats etc., and start creating your beats according to the style you have selected.
Although those style differ a lot, they all have some general similar basis you can start and evolve your music in the process. A nice and preferable way to start making your beat is to create a melody. There is a number of ways you can do this, and you have to see which one you like the most.
Creating the melody
The first way which is considered the most classic way to create hip hop beats, is to sample some part of a song, preferably an old one. A lot of beat makers use this method by digging old records, from all genres and styles such as funk, soul, jazz, blues, country, rock and so on.
In this method, the producer selects parts of the song or songs he wants to sample, cuts and chops them and uses those smaller pieces of sound to recreate a new melody based on the old one. Effects are applied and the sound is polished so that it sounds fresher and there it is.
The second way to create a melody for your beat, is to handcraft a new melody from the beginning. You choose the synth or every other instrument plugin of your choice and you start composing a new riff for your melody.
Using this way is a bit more complicated and needs advanced skills as you need to be at least able to play the keys, but if you do not there are a lot of e-books or videos that will help you learn how to play the keys.
Third way is to combine the two methods mentioned above. You can use the sampling method to create a basis and then compose a new riff over the top based on the chops and melodies you have created. All methods are equally important and can bring excellent results if used the right way.
Add a bassline
What most beat makers do next and what you should do also, is add bass to your beat. There are a lot of bass sound option available, and some of the most common examples are:
- Sub bass
- Electric bass
- Acoustic bass
Using the right kind of bass is crucial when it comes to hip hop music, which is a genre which relies big time on bass to emphasize the hip hop beats and songs due to the fact that they are played by large audio systems in clubs and stages, and they need to bounce a lot.
After you choose the type of bass you want to use there are two main ways to apply it to your beat.
The first one, is to create a bass riff based on your melody that you have previously created. This way you have a guaranteed tonality match and your entire mix is enriched with more layers of sounds that play together at the same tone.
The second and the bouncier one, is to create your bassline in perfect match to your drum loop, and more specifically to the kicks of your drums. That being said, let’s see how to create the most important part of the beat, the drum loop.
The drum loop
The most important step when you create a hip hop beat, no matter the hip hop genre, is the drum loop. It is the part when the entire beat starts to have its own unique rhythm. There are a lot of drum loop packages and kits to choose from, covering many musical genres for you to create whatever style of music you wish. Here we have some examples:
- 90s hip hop drum loops
- Trap drum loops
- Dubstep drum loops
- Rock drum loops
- Experimental drum loops
Most beat makers start building their drum loops with the kick, even though this is not the rule. Arranging the kicks gives the producer a basic rhythm, and helps him combine them with the bass and create the bounce for the beat or the melody that was create in the first step.
After the kicks, the snares and hi-hats enhance and give our drum loops its final shape and sound. Snares have usually got more preoccupied position and are played after the kicks (although there is no such rule), but hi-hats on the other hand are used more freely and can be applied under the kicks or snares and combine their sounds easily.
Finally, many times percussion is added to the drum loops, such as shakers, tambourines or toms and can enrich the drum loops in many ways, especially when our drum loops sound a bit monotonous.
Special effects and other sounds
Last but not least, special effects and additional sounds can be added on our beat to make it sound richer. Heavy panning compression and equalization is usually applied to this kind of sounds so that the main melodies and riffs stay clean and clear.
You can purchase special effects sound packages or find free sound libraries all over the web. Some great sound libraries we use and suggest are the following:
- Special effects
- Vinyl crackles
Although such sound and effects might sound of less importance to the creation of the beat, we must emphasize the fact that they are pretty important and will improve the beat’s overall sound results.
How to structure the beat
When it comes to the structure of the beat, there a number of methods the beat maker can use in order to achieve interesting results.
The purpose of the structure is to make the arrangement of the beat sound interesting, prevent it from sounding boring and make the listener pay close attention to new instruments and changes in the beat easily, offering him a relaxing and comfortable experience.
That being said, in order to make your beat more interesting for your audience, you can use different ways to start a beats, such as fade-ins and slow alternations of different instruments, to simpler and steeper ways.
The middle part of the beat is the main part which is played for the longest period of time. You can add many variations of instruments, add or mute drum loops, and play with your melodies to keep your audience’s interest unchanged.
You can also apply many pauses and bridges so that your beat never stays the same from the beginning to the end. Special effects, vocals and phrases taken by movies or tv shows can also help the beat become even more intriguing.
In the end, you can fade out the music, or start closing the beat slowly, by removing one by one the instruments. There can be also applied steeper methods of closing the beat, like in the beginning of the beat.
The structure and arrangement of the beat is solely the beat maker’s decision and he can combine a number of different methods to keep the listeners happy, and improve his beat structure.
Mix the beat
While talking about audio mixing is a huge chapter on its own, we can refer to some basic ways of mixing our own beats. A more detailed guide on how to mix a song can be found here.
Before you start mixing your beat, you should make sure you have all the appropriate plugins available. Some you should consider have as they may appear to be crucial to the mixing process, are the ones mentioned below:
- Waves Complete Bundle
- Izotope Ozone
- T-Racks Series
- Fabfilter Total Bundle
To start mixing your beat, you need to have all your beat channels separated and arranged one under the other, starting from the beginning of the session. Set your session bpm correctly according to the beat’s bpm and test your channels to see if everything is in order. Then, you are ready to begin.
First thing you need to do is apply the appropriate compression to each channel individually. Different sound need different approaches when it comes to compression, so you have to be very careful.
Sounds like bass and kicks, which are considered to be heavier than the rest of the sounds need to be compressed more, using a ratio of 4:1 or 6:1 while sounds like pianos, string instruments, or special effect need lighter compression and a ratio of 2:1 or sometimes even less.
As far as equalization is concerned, same principles like in the compression must be applied. This means that you have to search and find the unique frequencies each sound tends to react, and enhance those parts in order to help each channel sound clearer in the mix.
Pay close attention to the equalizer’s graphs, as they usually show in detail which frequencies you are looking for, and help determine which ones to cut, lower or enhance.
Next comes the noise reduction. When we talk about reducing the noise of a sound or a combination of sounds, we usually mean that like in the equalization process we search among the frequencies of each channel, and we find the parts that cause dirtiness and muddiness to our mix.
For example, in a sub-bass sound, all frequencies above 200Hz are not useful at all, so they are described as noise and need to be cut to sustain a cleaner mix.
On the other hand, the low frequencies (200-400Hz and below) of a lighter instrument such as the violin are of no use to this particular instrument and should be cut to reduce noise.
Same principles and process apply to all individual channels until we come to the point of having a pretty clear mix.
Panning is a very essential and important process for our mix because it places the sounds throughout the stereo mix. This is essential because the human brain receives and interprets the sounds both with its left and right part.
With panning, we place different sounds in different places throughout the mix and the sound become clearer and more sensible to our ears. It is a crucial step to making our mix cleaner and giving the impression of a more surround final sense.
Lastly, what we have to do to improve our mix and of course our beat, is to adjust the volume levels. Volume levels are applied at any given moment throughout the process of mixing, but they are also applied as the last step to improve the final sound.
After everything else has been applied to the channels, adjusting the volume levels would be the right step to improve the total final mix, as we want to prevent overcompressing and overequalization.
When finished, we export the final mix in the appropriate format, which in most cases is the WAV format.
Mastering the beat
When the mixing process of our beat is complete, the final optimization of the mix is called the mastering process. Mastering prepares the track or in this case the beat for distribution and quality of industry standards.
The main tools and plugin we and most producers use when mastering are:
- Waves Complete Bundle
- Izotope Ozone
- T-Racks Series
- Fabfilter Total Bundle
When mastering we import the final mix of the beat that we exported earlier, and we apply all our plugins to the master channel of the session. Unlike in the mixing process, here the changes we make will affect the entire beat and not the individual channels and sounds.
The purpose of the mastering process is to lightly compress, boost the presence of our mix and finally maximize the loudness of our song or beat.
A general rule when mastering, is make many small and delicate changes to achieve big results. It is not recommended that you apply whooping and excessive changes using the plugins, because there is the fear of noise gate, distortion and saturation.
There is a large number of options on what plugins to use, although our most important and final tool is the Izotope Ozone which consists of equalizers, harmonizers, dynamics processors, stereo wideners and of course the limiter.
They are all amazing tools and can improve the beat’s quality dramatically when used the right way.
A very important thing to consider, is having a reference track of high quality industry standards, mixed and mastered by professional audio engineers, so that you can compare your final mastered mix and try to achieve as close results to the reference track as possible.
When you thing you are pretty close to such a result, it is time to export your final mastered beat.