We may be in the anyone can make a hip hop beat on GarageBand age, but if you want to earn a spot in the hip hop hall of fame, there are a few things to consider to up your game and get attention for the right reasons.
Whether you’re making your first beat or looking to stylise your sonic signature, this curation of the 5 top tips when producing hip hop music will help you make those aural epiphanies a reality.
How to Become a Hip Hop Producer
1. Time for a Reality Check
Before we get into how to arrange and produce hip hop, we will go into the number one issue we see in the 2022 hip hop industry; new hip hop artists and producers trying to run before they can walk. There is no quick fix to becoming a producer pro overnight; no tweaks that can turn you into Dr Dre in a beat; no hack that can take you up the billboard charts.
All hip hop producers new to the art will need an unrelenting will to learn and the time to home in on their craft. Some rappers can create a track in as little as an hour; with others, it could take months; if you are new to production, we’d advise you to make record speed the last of your priorities.
Just because you can instantly upload your music to SoundCloud and submit your music to hip hop blogs, that doesn’t mean that you should jump the gun. Always go back to your track with a fresh mind several times. When listening to your mixes, think critically. Is there some originality in there? Is there room for improvement? How does it hold up to your favourite hip hop records?
2. Choose the Right Samples
Choosing samples on a whim is one of the biggest mistakes new hip hop producers can make. Having an ear for what fits is one of the most prized skills of talented producers. In the beginning, it will very much be a process of trial and error, but the more you build your sample library and spend time acquainting yourself with the sonic textures within it, the better position you will be in to bring them into your sound. Having a golden sample ear will never happen overnight; it can take years to build exceptional intuition. While developing that desirable skill, build your library of one-shot instrumentals, percussion, hi-hats, kicks, snares, shakers and 808s.
3. Bring the Kicks with the Bassline in the Right Time
One of the most gilded golden rules in hip hop production is never to let the bass and the kick clash; always make them play at different frequencies to each other. If you are new to hip hop production, utilise short kicks with strong sub-bass to reduce the interference. Sidechain compression can help you avoid the bass volume while the kick track is contributing to the original audio. All of the most popular DAWs provide this option; if you aren’t acquainted with the process, head to YouTube in search of tutorials.
4. Saturate Your 808s
If you have always wondered how to get your 808s sounding thick and juicy, the trick is saturation. Your 808s should ideally carry a heavy low-end; you can check this by listening through your laptop speakers, which are generally not great at projecting low-end frequencies. If your 808s are sounding weak, you can guarantee that your track will lack energy. To put enough juice in your 808s so they resound regardless of the device listened on, insert saturation on a return channel before sending the original signal through.
5. Keep the Instrumentals Simple
Have you ever noticed how some of the most powerful hip hop tracks from across the decades, including our current one, keep the instrumentals simple and make the vocals the centrepiece? When creating your beats, always leave ample room for vocals to avoid making the mix busy sounding. Once again, this is another fundamental error of many up-and-coming hip hop producers.
Instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at your mix; practice making simple beats sound amazing; that means cutting back on drastic changes of melody and anything else that can interrupt the vocal flow. When starting on your instrumentals, all you will need is a solid bass structure, simple drums, and a couple of main sonic elements. If you do your research, you will find that the best hip hop hits only have a few core elements that run through the length of the track.
6. Pay Ode to Your Hip Hop Idols
Copying and assimilation will rarely get freshly emerging hip hop artists and producers anywhere. Yet, by studying the tracks that inspire you, you’ll find the building blocks that will help you create a solid foundation for your tracks. Pay particular attention to when every piece of percussion hits, how subtle the changes are, the use of special effect to build tension, and how every instrumental interacts with the other. One of the best ways of building this skill is by trying to create your favourite instrumentals from scratch – for purpose of practice, not your own creation.
7. Get in the Loop with your Melodies
For aspiring hip hop producers without any knowledge of music theory, the prospect of creating beats from scratch can be daunting, at best. If chord progressions and melodies are where you are struggling the most, there is always the option of using royalty-free loops – you can always find ways of making them your own by using unique samples around them. Don’t forget that some of history’s best hip hop tracks were constructed by chopped up samples from vinyl records. However, it is extremely important to keep copyright law in mind if you’re borrowing sounds from other artists and making them your own. One of the best ways to get around this is by using royalty-free samples for peace of mind.