Aspiring to be the next legendary and transcendent producer like J Dilla, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Kanye West, or NoID? We asked friend of the brand and frequent contributor Scotty Banx to share his tips for taking your production to the next level. This is Part 2 in this series; you can read Part 1 here.
Scotty Banx is a very DOPE producer, artist, and engineer from Baltimore, MD. In 2008, at 13 years old Scotty recorded his first mixtape after convincing his mother to let him go to the studio by leaving a few demo songs he recorded on an MP3 player up on his computer. By age 14, he was performing in night clubs around the city where he soon realized that rapping over other rappers beats won’t get you that far. “If you go to the show and you do a freestyle over the hottest beat out, there will always be at least one other artist over that same beat and you won’t stand out anymore.” says Scotty. However, in 2012, Scotty decided to take producing seriously after seeing his favorite rappers J.Cole and Big K.R.I.T produce their own projects by themselves.
“I think that's what did it for me. Seeing them have that creative freedom for their projects is beautiful. Making something for yourself is great because you know exactly what you want".
1. Getting Started (Drums first vs. Melody first)
There’s an ongoing debate among producers about whether you should start with the melody first or lay the drums down and then create the melody. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. When you’re having fun making your music, just have fun. There is no distinct formula that has to be followed each time. If you come up with a crazy drum beat before you come up with a melody, cool. If you come up with a crazy melody before you come up with a drum beat, cool. Run with it. It doesn’t matter how you start, just get started!
2. Use Layers
Ever wonder how or why you cant find a certain sound you hear in the beats to all your favorite songs? It might be two or three sounds layered together. Layering is having multiple sounds play the same exact melody. Sometimes they might be in different octaves, but they’re playing the same melody. This helps to add depth to the track. Sometimes when I produce, I make a layer out of three different sounds, pan one left, one right and keep one dead center. That way each sound stands out as it’s own more.
3. Use Effects
Sometimes the only thing you need to take your track to the next level is an effect on one of your instruments. One of my favorite things to do is add a low pass filter during the end of a verse section before the beat drops. You want to have a beat that leaves enough space for the artist to be able to work, but also have enough going on to keep the listener interested.
4. Alter Your Snare & Clap
As stated above, keeping the listener interested is important. One way to do this is to choose when to have a snare and when to have a clap. What I like to do is, during the first four bars of the verse, leave all drums out and only have the clap there. After that four bars, bring the kick and 808 in hard as hell and switch that clap for a nice crisp snare. That little change will set the mood for the track. It changes the energy and keeps the listener interested without being too dramatic.
5. Have A Memorable Tag
Having a tag is by no means necessary, but this is a nice way to easily set yourself apart from people. Your tag can be your name, or it can be a phrase (“If young Metro don't trust you..”) whatever it is needs to be something that will make listeners know that it’s you when they hear it. If you can’t make a cool one by yourself, get a girl or a little kid to say whatever you want them to say and run with it (“Jahlil beats, holla at me!”). It’ll be a fun process and the end result is always rewarding.
6. Sampling Is For Lovers, Not Businessmen
Nothing screams “Hip-Hop” more than a sampled beat. You find a dope sample from some unknown 60’s group, flip it and hopefully Nas picks it up, right? That would be so dope, but what wouldn’t be dope is dealing with getting that sample cleared and potentially losing more money than you make just from paying for that clearance. I won’t get too deep into sampling in this post, but understand the legalities that go with that before you decide to spend hours chopping and flipping. Sampling is dope, but don’t expect money from that.
7. Make Your Own Samples
What I like to do is take a few hours on a Sunday and just make beats I could hear Luther Vandross on. I keep the tempo around 40 - 80 BPM and just let the vibes come to me. I never add drums because thats the worst thing to deal with when flipping a sample. Once the beats are done, I render them, bring them into another session and flip them just like you would any other sample. This way the beat has the same feel I'm looking for, but I have no clearance to worry about. One less headache for me!
8. Fear The Eight Bar Loops
When producing, the worst thing you can do is have a generic ass eight bar loop that never switches up. Even if the beat is fire, you need some flavor in it. Find a way to make things switch up. This is what took Kanye’s production to the next level. His mentor told him to do more than just an eight bar loop and the music industry has never been the same since.
9. Fake It Til You Make It
If you’re like me and you can’t really play piano as well as you’d like to, you have to find a way to make your piano sections sound believable. Once you do your musical typing or placement in the piano roll or whatever you like to use, all the keys will most likely be played at the same velocity. That’s not how a piano is really played and it’s your job to replicate the real sound. So take time and go through to adjust velocities in the piano section. This of course only matters for songs that require a piano to sound “real”, a trap beat doesn’t necessarily need that.
10. HAVE AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE
I first started making beats on one of those little $250 netbook laptops you get from target. I thought it would last forever since I was only using it to make beats. I wasn't downloading anything on it or going on the internet either, thinking that would stop viruses from getting onto my laptop. Little did I know, the laptop wasn't made to store as many files as I had on there. Now, whether you have a little netbook, or a desktop it doesn't matter. You need to back all your files up in three places. I learned this the hard way when my netbook overheated and never turned back on after me doing two years worth of music on it. Take it from me, save every time you make a change, get an external hard drive and back up ALL your files, it’s well worth the investment.