At some stage, most music producers get to a point in their career where they feel they are ready to collaborate with other musicians. If you’re producing beats, this is most likely going to be in the form of working with a vocalist. You’ve got the ability to put together every element of a track but you are just lacking in the vocals department. Now in the best possible scenario, you find a talented performer who likes the exact music you produce and you come together in a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, more often is the case that singers and rappers will want to tailor things to the way they like to write and the style they are going for. This is most common with rap music due to structure and flow. It can sometimes be frustrating for producers to have to change and modify their own vision in order to achieve that end goal of having vocals on your track. Today, I want to look at a few simple tips so that when you’re producing beats, rappers shouldn’t have much to change once it’s done!
1. Rhythmic Changes
One of the biggest turn-offs for any type of music is mundane repetitions. Now don’t get me wrong, repetition is important and when done right can lead to memorable and catchy music. However, when you’re producing beats that lack any real rhythmic variety they can get quite stale after the first minute. In my experience producing beats and recording rap vocals I’ve found that more often than not, they’re looking for a steady groove with good variety. Many rappers also want some clever areas in the track where they can change up the vibe or show off a little. This could include things like double time sections to show off a faster flow or switching from straight fours to triplets, providing a different rhythm.
The best way to enact good rhythmic variety in your music is to try to change things up every 8 or 16 bars. This doesn’t have to be a huge change but just enough to keep things interesting and provide little pockets of variety where the rapper can do something a little different. The best suggestion I can offer you here is whenever you are producing beats, start with your main rhythmic pattern and create clones from there.
These clones are where you’ll add in the subtle rhythmic changes and having multiple patterns will let you easily switch things up as you go. Keep your changes relatively simple as not to make the track to rhythmically complex. Adding in a drum fill sample to the end of a loop, dropping the drums out for a beat midway through a loop, adding in a few extra notes to the bassline. These are all simple ways that you can keep things interesting whilst resolutely pushing a steady groove.
2. Pre-Writing Hooks
Now if you have ever studied music or read anything about songwriting before, you’ll like know this one simple fact. A catchy hook is largely what helps to sell a song. If you’ve got that repetitive earworm presented confidently through-out your track, you’re highly likely to keep the plays rolling in. In the songwriting process, it’s often down to the vocalist to write these catchy hooks in order to give the track it’s popular appeal. However, if you’re producing beats and writing in catchy hooks before you even find the vocalist, you’ve got half the work done already.
This is likely to be something that any aspiring rapper or vocalists going to love. If you’ve got a strong melody line that catches peoples attention without a vocal line to accompany it then you can all but guarantee the track will be a hit with your audience. Pre-writing your hook when producing beats means that you can shape the track in the way you want whilst still providing room for the vocalist to be creative with the lyrics. It’s the best of both worlds and really represents what a good collaboration should be. It also kickstarts the process and allows you to learn what does and doesn’t work as a producer. This is incredibly valuable as you work with more and more vocalists.
3. Producing Beats – Following Formulas
When I refer to “following formulas”, I’m not suggesting that you become a beat making sheep. By all means, be a trendsetter and make sure that your work reflects who you are as an artist. What I do suggest you do though is make use of the common trends that certain genres utilise. If you’re producing beats for soulful singers, you probably don’t want crazy 808 hi-hat rolls all over the place. Take note of the common themes in the music you want to make. Doing this helps to make you popular with vocalists and provides a great groove for you to start with.
Many vocalists want to be and are very original. However, many of them still follow certain formulas within their writing styles and would be quite happy to receive beats that sounded like they were made for their favourite artists. This is why the Type Beat scene is so popular on YouTube. If you have a genre driven idea in mind when you’re producing beats for rappers, make sure that you do your homework. Keep some of the common themes alive in your work whilst utilising your own original ideas.
Now with that said, this doesn’t mean that unusual pairings won’t work. In order to be the next big thing, you quite often need to do something new and original. As I said before, my suggestion isn’t that you confine yourself to a box and copy the people that came before you. Learn from what they did and work on ways to improve on it and push the concepts. Being able to analyse and predict trends is what will set you apart from the competition and set you up for a prosperous career as a music producer.
4. Frequency Masking & Panning
For these last two points, I want to touch on some more technical aspects. If you’re simply producing beats with no intention of engineering them yourself then feel free to stop reading here. If you’re producing beats and mixing them yourself then these last two points are going to be really important to consider.
When I refer to frequency masking, I am talking about two separate signals that occupy the same frequency ranges as each other. A common example of this is a kick drum and bass tone. When we have multiple signals in the same frequency range we can end up with bloated frequency build up. This often results in a muddy mix. It also creates uneven mixes that are cluttered and don’t translate very well to the audience. There are two ways that we can avoid this issue.
The first is by utilising higher and lower registers within the music. Let’s say we have two synths that are both in the same frequency range. We like the relative level of them but the stacking frequencies are creating some horrible resonance. By moving one of the sounds up or down an octave, we shift the sounds out of the same frequency bands and create a fuller sound that is easier to balance. Our other option is using EQ. We can simply open up an EQ on the sound that has the least priority in the mix and make cuts to remove some of the clashing frequencies. This subtractive EQ will create a clearer, stronger sounding mix that balances far better.
So Why Are We Talking About Frequency Masking?
The reason behind this technical talk is simple. It’s about ensuring that when you’re producing beats, you’re remembering to leave room for the vocals. Songs that have focal instruments occupying the same range as your rapper can be hard to mix and sound overly harsh. This isn’t to say that you can’t have a mid-range synth playing your hook with a vocalist over the top. It does, however, mean that you will need to be prepared to make EQ cuts to that synth. This will allow the vocal to sit tight in the mix.
The same thing applies with panning. Having all of your instruments dumped down the middle of the mix isn’t going to leave any room for vocals. This is going to be hard to mix and sound cluttered. Equally, if you’re wanting to make backing vocals sound really wide, don’t have elements hard panned. This is going to make it difficult to push the vocals out. Be conscious of where you place certain elements and their relativity to the vocals.
5. Mixing Down for Recording
This final tip is a pretty simple one but almost always gets overlooked. If you’re producing beats for rappers to record over, they need to have headroom! Chucking an audio limiter on your beat to make it sound louder when you send it to potential vocalists is fine. This helps to give them more of an idea of the final sound of the track. However, when you send them the track to record over you must make sure it’s got space for the vocals to sit into the track. This means no master bus compression or limiting and leaving a good 6dB of headroom in the track. Audio Mastering should be done after the vocals are recorded and mixed, so don’t worry about loudness at that point.
As an engineer, there is nothing worse than having to record vocals over tracks that have been brick wall limited and are even clipping. It’s very difficult to get the vocals to match the pulse and rhythm of the track. They’re effectively having to sit on top of a track that has already been squashed and distorted. Rappers are going to appreciate having room to work in when they’re in the recording studio. It will please their engineers and make for a generally better all round track.
If you’re producing beats for rappers or singers to perform on, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. Keep your rhythms straightforward and easy to work with but make sure to switch them up as you go. This keeps things interesting and lets the vocalist have some fun. Have a go at writing some catchy melody lines that can be used as hooks. It’ll help the vocalist to get straight into the track and lets them focus on lyrics instead of melody. If you’re producing beats with a certain genre in mind, do some listening homework. Follow the formulas that popular music utilise but try to give it your own personal spin. On the technical side of things, pay attention to frequencies and panning so that you leave room for the vocals. Also, make sure to leave headroom in the mix for the vocalist to record.