Tips & Tricks: Making a Hip Hop Beat

Making a Hip Hop Beat

If you are new to music production, there is a reasonable chance that you are interested in creating hip hop beats; Hip hp is one of the most popular genres in the world, after all, and even if your aim is to create a different genre of music eventually, learning how to create a hip hop beat could be a useful way of building your skill set by learning how to use the advanced features of your sequencer, virtual instruments, and effects. 

The first step is to create a setup that makes It easy for you to express your creativity. Using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the most common method of creating music today, but you can also use workstation hardware such as Akai’s MPC ONE, or perhaps Native Instrument’s new Maschine production and performance system. Next, you’ll need to create a sample library – your DAW or hardware music production device will almost certainly come with a library of sounds, but you do not want your music to sound the same as everybody else’s, therefore, finding a suitable library of samples and sound effects will be crucial to your success.

Getting Started

Do not worry about having to spend a lot of money on these things; there is a wide range of royalty free music out there, along with royalty free sample libraries and free digital instruments and effects. The easiest way to get started is to use these free resources, and as your profile increases you may be able to earn enough money to purchase a better library of sounds and music-making tools later. 

There are several items which you will need to purchase, however, before you will be able to produce music effectively. High quality studio monitors or headphones are an essential requirement, for example, along with an audio and midi interface for your computer. A Midi controller will also be useful – the Novation LaunchKey series is extremely popular due to its low price and provides both a keyboard and drum pads. 

Native Instruments also produce a similar device, known as the Komplete Kontrol, as does Arturia with their KeyStep Pro, however both are much more expensive than Novations offering. They do offer larger keyboards though, which may be an attractive feature for those who can play the keyboard efficiently. 

Establishing Your Workflow

There are several ways to make a beat using a Digital Audio Workstation. Ableton Live is one of the best pieces of software for this, as it offers a session view which is extremely useful when you just want to jam and play around with new sounds, effects, or instruments. Sequencing your drums can be achieved using audio samples exclusively, or you can also use MIDI tracks to trigger sounds from external hardware or virtual instruments. 

You can even cut up existing drum loops from sample CD’s and rearrange them in new ways to create original beats. Your midi controller will come in extremely handy here, as you can use it to trigger sounds on the fly with physical touch pads, rather than being restricted to using a computer keyboard or dragging notes around using your mouse. 

Start by creating a few bars, then duplicate the loop a few times, making changes to each successive iteration. Repeat this process until you have an eight or 16 bar loop that you are happy with.

Laying out the Basics

The foundations of any electronic music are kick drums and snares; hip hop is usually made at a tempo of around 85-95 bpm, so you should lay out your kick drums at this type of tempo. Your kick drum provides the momentum for the track and is usually placed on beats one and three at a 4/4-time signature and can be thought of as “the question”. The snare drum, on the other hand, is “the answer” – and should sit on beats two and four, effectively responding to the kick drum. 

Start with a simple pattern following these rules, then build upon it with additional sounds. Hi-hats provide groove and energy to your track, and hip hop usually uses a combination of open and closed hi-hat patterns to give your beat momentum and energy. Open hats are longer sounds and usually work best on the offbeat, whereas closed hats can be positioned in far more creative ways – combining 8th note patterns with faster closed hats on the 16th or 32nd notes is the key to making an effective hip hop beat.

Humanizing Your Music

Electronic music can sound robotic if all of the notes are played on exact beat divisions at the same velocity. You can “humanize” your beat by changing the velocity of your notes, playing with the stereo separation, such as making some hats play towards the left and others to the right, and using the “groove quantize” function of your sequencer to move the positions of notes into slightly off-beat positions – just like a real drummer playing on a kit.

You can even alter the pitch of some drum hits by using the transpose or detune controls of your sequencer, or by using a pitch shifter plugin. If you are using a sampler, look for the transpose, pitch, and glide controls on your hardware or virtual instrument plugin. Changing the length of your hits can also help to make your loop sound less robotic but be careful to apply suitable ADSR envelopes to the sound so that the notes do not sound as if they cut off suddenly – if you fail to apply this step, your modifications can have the opposite effect to what is desired, making your music sound more robotic than it already was.