It is not very difficult to define the origins of Trap Music. It is a fusion of hip hop, crunk (a hip hop subgenre) with elements of EDM (Electronic Dance Music). It is a much slower subgenre of hip hop, with minimal melodies and lots of crunchy synths and special effects.
The trademark of trap music, is the use of Roland TR-808 drum machines and its sounds which most of trap producers tend to use. Of course, there are also variations of those sounds when it comes to creating a drum loop, due to experimentations of music producers and the evolution of this music genre.
How to produce trap beats
In order to produce trap beats, every beat maker can create his own variations of the TR-808 sounds, although there are a lot of loop companies that have already done the job for you, and offer high-quality loop packages base on the TR-808 drum machine.
After you acquire the quality sounds and loops, you can start creating your own trap beats. Here are the steps that are going to help achieve it.
Preparing your DAW
In order to be able to make a trap beat in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you need to set it up the right way before you begin. This way you make it easier to achieve the best results possible and speed up the process as well.
First of all, you need to set the appropriate bar length for the loops you are going to create. You can set it to the typical 8 bars, which for some music productions is considered a small bar length, and if you need to increase the bars to 16 or 32, you can do it along the way.
Music producers tend to set the bars to 16 or more when they know that they are going to create big melodies and riffs or complicated drum loops, but trap beats tend to have a more minimalistic style and many times 8 bars are enough.
The tempo can be set somewhere between 60 or 80 bpm. A general characteristic of trap beats, is the slow tempo, which makes the music production approach simpler and adds to the general minimalistic mood of the particular genre.
Creating the intro
As an introduction to your beat, you have to decide on the length of the bars that are going to be used. You can choose a really long intro like 64 or 128 bars, or go for a smaller one of 8 or 16 bars. What is more, some of the beats have very steep introductions, of 4 bars or less.
A common method used to build intros, is to begin the beat with one of the instruments, often one the quieter ones and start adding the rest of the instruments while structuring the beat.
The drum loops can be added next. You can create a special variation of the drums as an introduction for your beats, or fade them in so that they can make a smoother appearance in the beat. Another option is to place the bassline first, and let the drum loop play when the main part of the beat starts.
The main loop patterns
After the introduction, it is time to create the main loops of the beat. You can add a heavier bassline and sidechain it with the kicks so that you can make the entire beat sound stable enough.
Create different variations of your main loops that you can use in scattered parts of your beat. This way the beat becomes more interesting and you can engage the listeners more easily. Make sure that you experiment and apply filters to your main loops in order to keep the beat changing.
You can test different sounds and create several more secondary melodies that can support your main one. You need to keep the volume of those melodies down, so that they do not get in the way of the main melody and make sure all your loops are combined harmonically.
As general rule, choose more subtle sounds for the melodies that support the main loop in order to help it stand out. If one the other hand, your main loop is already subtle and smooth, you can use crispier sounds for your secondary loops, but remember to control them at a low volume.
The chorus (hook)
For the chorus, you can keep the basis of the main loops (the melody, bassline and drum loop) and start adding additional synths to emphasize it. As a general rule, you want give extra energy to the chorus part and make it substantially louder than the rest of the beat.
Although, this method does not apply for every trap beat. Sometimes the beat remains minimalistic in the main part and the chorus part as well. You can use bridges between the main loops and the chorus to prepare the listener for the hook.
Finally, you can chop vocals and add them in order to emphasize the chorus even more. You can effect to make the beat sound fuller and use automation filters to change the melodies and make the transition from chorus to main verse smoother.
Keep in mind, that if your song requires for example three chorus parts, you can test different additional melodies for all those parts so that you can enrich the beat structure.
The drum loop
A very important part of a trap beat, is the creation of the drum loop. Although trap beats tend to have pretty minimal drum loops, they are very characteristic and it is essential that you know how to properly make them in order to be able to give to your beat the trap feeling.
The main drum machine used to create the drum loop of a trap beat is the Roland TR-808 drum machine. This drum machine has a very specific and distinctive sound library, which is the main tool you will need to create a trap drum loop.
The sound of the kick varies from one track to another. You can make the kicks banging when you want to create a bouncy track, or you can keep your kicks subtle when you create a softer track, like a trap ballad or a beat with an abstract mood.
To create an amazing hi-hat sequence, you can either use single hi-hats from your trap sound libraries that you acquired, or combine two or more hi-hats sounds to create a new one.
A special characteristic of trap hi-hats is the use of a variety of velocities and note lengths in order to create trap hi-hat sequence. For instance, you can for some of the bars of hi-hat pattern, you can use the standard 1/2 notes of the hip hop tracks, then make them 1/4 notes, use again some of the 1/2 notes and end your sequence with 1/8 notes.
You can use different patterns for your hi-hats so that you can create several more variations, after you decide which one is going to be the main structure of your hi-hat sequence.
This way, you can create an engaging and non-predictable structure for your drum loop that will be intriguing for your listeners and prevent your beat from becoming boring, even if it has a long duration.
As far as snares are concerned, the process is similar to the process of the hi-hats. You can either use one of the single drum oneshot sounds, or combine multiple sounds to make a unique new one.
What is more, snares rolls are a characteristic part of a trap drum loop, so make sure that you create them using the same technique described in the hi-hat sequence, by making variations of the note lengths and using them in different parts of the drum loop.
Automation is an essential method used to create almost every trap beat. It is the element that makes your beat more fascinating and brings it back to live.
It is important that you learn to use different types of automation, so that your tracks do not sound the same, because you can create the general feeling of every individual beat or instrumental with it and make your song distinguish from the rest.
Making the outro
The purpose of the outro is to start closing the beat. You can begin removing the instruments (synths, bass and effects) used in your beat one by one, or in some rare occasions remove them all together and close your beat abruptly.
Drum loops are usually one of the first elements of the beat that we remove so that quieter sounds can play until the end of the beat, but another way to structure the outro is to start removing one by one the elements of our drum loop, starting with the hi-hats, then the snares and leaving the kicks for end.
What is more, you could create new closing melodies and loops, completely different from those that you used as your main one for an unpredictable and interesting outro.
Mixing the beat
It is extremely important that all beats are mixed and mastered properly, once their creation is considered finished. The audio mixing and mastering process is usually the job of a sound engineer, but these days most of the music producers have the knowledge to mix and master their own beats and songs.
When mixing a trap beat, your first job is to focus of the drum loop. You have to make sure that the kicks sound bassy and bouncing, and that the hi-hats and snares sound crispy loud and clean. The sound of the trap drum loops is differs a lot from the sound of classic hip hop beats.
Hip hop beats tend to be a lot smoother and dirtier than trap drum loops, and that makes tha mixing process completely different.
Keep in mind that you should add reverb, mainly to the hi-hats and snares in order to create sound space, and make the drum loop sound natural.
One thing that you should always pay attention to, is to acquire high-quality sounds and loops so that you have a great basis to build nice drum loops. No matter how hard you try to mix them properly, the drum loop will never sound loud warm and clean if the sounds are not good enough.
Considering the bassline, you have to apply the dynamics properly so that you can control the volume range of your bass. Balance its sound, and sidechain it to the kicks to clean the beat even more.
Use equalization for all your sounds, and make sure that your main loops and melodies are the ones that stand out. Use panning to keep the middle of your mix clean, so that you can enhance the stereo values of your beat.
What is more, you can create groups of similar instruments into your mix, and apply bus compression to them. Bus compression is usually used to compress some track channels againsth the kicks of the beat.
This way, every time the kick is played in the mix, the instrument what were chosen for bus compression are compressed, and a nice effect is created, that makes the beat sound a little cleaner too.
The mastering process
After the mixing is complete, you need to export all the mixed track of your beat as one single track. This way you prepare it for the mastering process.
Load up the track in your music software and use a frequency analyzer to take a good look at the overall frequencies of your beat. The analyzer will give you a better perspective of any corrections you might need to make.
If you see or listen to any imperfections, use an equalizer and correct them Use a stereo widener to expand the mid-high and the high frequencies and keep the low frequencies to the middle to ensure the stability of the beat.
Make sure that you use a multi-band compressor and a dynamics compressor to control the volume ranges of your beat, and after the compression apply a limiter to make your track louder, warm and make it sound unified. Use the limiter with caution to ensure that you will not cause saturation to your beat.
When you are satisfied with the result, export your beat to the best quality possible, usually the WAV 16-bit which is the standard CD quality.
Make sure that you listen to your beat carefully and make any necessary correction to ensure that you achieve the best result possible.