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Becoming a Beat Maker

May 16, 2020 9 min read

Beat Maker

What is a Beat Maker?

A beat maker is usually the person who comes up with melodies, drum patterns and loops. Beat makers don’t necessarily care about fleshing out the loop and making it into a full song. If they have 8 bars of a loop that sounds good, the beat maker’s job is done. The next step would be to send the loop to a producer or an artist who has a production team behind him. The producer’s job is to structure the loop and introduce different sections like verses, choruses, or even a bridge. A producer can also add new musical instruments to the loop to beef it up and add variation. However, the producer doesn’t have the full creative control because the artist’s input matters a lot as well. Typically, producers and artists work closely together. They strive to achieve a balance so that both the artist’s creative vision, as well as the producer’s input, is respected.

There’s often a debate about the importance of beat makers in the process of creating a song. Sometimes beat makers’ role is looked down upon because all they do is make loops. Producers, on the other hand, enjoy a lot more respect because they turn those loops into hits. For that reason, most beat makers don’t want to be labeled as such and often refer to themselves as producers, although they rarely step outside their house to work with artists in-person. Those who are ambitious enough do try to forge relationships within the music industry to make that step up and graduate to being a real producer. But the truth is, there’s no shame in being a beat maker. Without beat makers there would be no songs. It is the beat maker who provides the musical foundation, the proverbial fertile soil that allows for creativity to prosper. Without the beat maker’s skills to combine sounds tastefully, there would be no musical idea for the artists or producers to draw their inspiration from.

How Can I Make My Own Beat?

To start making your own beats, you need some basic equipment. Don’t get discouraged when you see beat makers in fancy studios surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of hardware. You don’t need that kind of environment to get started. Your beginnings can be humble, and over time you can always add more equipment to your home studio as you become more and more serious about making music.

  • Computer: The central piece of every home studio is the computer. It doesn’t matter whether you have a basic laptop or an expensive gaming PC. Beat making doesn’t require all that much computing power, so even old laptops will suffice. What’s more important is the system you work on. Generally, Windows is preferred to Mac because more plugins are compatible with Windows systems.
  • DAW: The digital audio workstation (DAW) is the software that you will use to create your beats. There are a lot of paid and free options out there and we will discuss this subject more in-depth later in this article.
  • Samples: Here’s a secret — only a handful of beats are made entirely from scratch. Usually, beat makers rely on sample packs to source the right sounds. The biggest advantage of using sample packs is that they save a huge amount of time because they already provide ready-to-go drums, melody loops, and even midi sequences. A beat maker who uses sample packs can focus on the important creative decisions regarding the sound selection and overall vibe instead of spending countless hours tinkering with a snare sample to make it sound right. We give away free sample packs to stock you up with drum loops, vocal loops, midi presets, and more, so make sure to take advantage of that offer.
  • Monitors: This point is optional but recommended. You can make beats on regular laptop speakers, but you’ll quickly realize that you can’t hear the sub-bass on them. Even if you have a pair of speakers that can reproduce low frequencies, chances are they have a built-in EQ profile that emphasizes certain frequency ranges more. As a result, your beats might sound good in your room but will sound off in a car or at the club. You have two options to address this issue. You can either use what you have, remember how commercial beats sound on your sound system, and try to get your own beats as close as possible to that sound. Alternatively, get a pair of quality studio monitors that are specifically designed to reproduce the sound as true as possible to its source.
  • MIDI Instruments: Now we are deep in the optional territory. A MIDI keyboard or a drum pad are nice little toys to have. They will make your beat making experience a lot less abstract. A keyboard is useful for brainstorming melody ideas, and a drum pad will make your drum programming sound less robotic. If you don’t have the budget for these gadgets, no worries. You can always click-in the notes inside your DAW with your computer mouse, and that’s how most beginner beat makers do it.

home studio equipment

What is the Best Beat Maker?

As of now, we’ve spoken about beat makers in the context of different roles that participate in the creation process of songs. Sometimes DAWs are also referred to as beat makers. In short, the term beat maker can refer both to a person who makes beats as well as the software that was used. There is no definitive answer to the question of what is the best beat maker software on the market. Nowadays, the products have a lot of similarities, and the decision which DAW to use mostly comes down to personal preference. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options available to help you make up your mind.

  • FL Studio: It is by far the most popular DAW in the hip-hop community. It had somewhat of a bad rap in the past because it used to have a funny name (Fruity Loops), and professional producers didn’t take it seriously. But today beats for most rap songs in the billboard charts are being produced inside FL Studio, and this trend will only continue. There are four different editions of FL Studio ranging from $99 to $899, and all of them include lifetime free updates. The FL community is large, and the amount of tutorials online is immense, so you won’t go wrong by choosing this beat maker as a beginner.
  • Ableton Live: This software is widespread among EDM producers, but that shouldn’t stop you from using it for beat making. Ableton Live has three editions, with the most expensive Suit edition topping out at $749. One of the features that set Ableton Live apart from its competition is the Live feature that allows you to manipulate a track in real-time during a live performance. While this capability might not be too relevant for beat making, it is one of the unique selling points of the software.
  • Logic Pro: This beat maker is only available on Mac and costs around $200. There is only one edition of Logic Pro so you will get the full version for that price. In comparison to FL Studio and Ableton Live, it is the cheapest beat maker of the bunch but offers pretty much the same production possibilities. Some Logic power users complain about bugs that persist despite multiple version updates, so take that into consideration before making your decision.

What is the Best Free Beat Maker?

If you are on Windows and don’t want to spend any money on a beat making software, check out Cakewalk by BandLab. This DAW used to be known as Cakewalk Sonar ⁠— a paid software that cost around $500, but it was discontinued in late 2017. The program became completely free after BandLab took over the intellectual property rights in 2018.  So if you want to get your hands on a DAW that used to be expensive, was developed for many years but is now available at no cost, try it out. The only disadvantage of using it might be the fact that it has a low user base since many people switched to other products when the future of Cakewalk looked uncertain.

cakewalk by bandlab free beat maker

For all the Mac users, there’s one really good free beat maker, and that is GarageBand. You could describe it as the little brother of Logic Pro. The two programs are so similar that you can open your GarageBand projects in Logic. This is especially useful if you are just starting out and want to experiment with free software before moving on to something more professional. None of your GarageBand projects will get lost, and you can easily continue working on your best beats inside Logic Pro once you decide to make that upgrade. Another advantage is that GarageBand is available on all iOS devices. If you happen to be on the road and don’t have your laptop at hand, you can use your iPhone to capture those strokes of inspiration. You shouldn’t underestimate GarageBand just because it is free. In fact, whole albums have been recorded inside it. One such example is the New York rapper Prince Harvey who secretly recorded a full album using a display laptop in an Apple Store. This truly shows that not having access to a paid software shouldn’t be an obstacle for you to start making beats.

What do Professional Beat Makers Use?

It would be naive to assume that professional beat makers have some magic secret software that allows them to produce hits consistently. The truth is, any popular beat making program is good enough to make a hit song. It’s not the software that is important but rather the creativity of the person who uses it. The more experience you have with making beats, the likelier it is that one day your beat will be picked up by a professional artist. So a word of advice: Don’t focus too much on the software. Stick to the one that appeals to you the most, master it and get as much practice making beats as you can. It doesn’t even matter whether you have the latest software. Some well-known producers stick to older versions of their favorite DAW simply because that is what they are used to working in. Even if a recent release of a particular DAW has more bells and whistles about it, your creativity and workflow will always be the most important elements.

To give you some real examples from the industry and prove the point above once and for all, let’s take a look at some of the biggest hip-hop hits of our recent times.

  • Post Malone’s "Rockstar" was produced in FL Studio by Tank God. It was one of the hottest hip-hop songs of 2017, and as of Spring 2020, it has 672 million views on YouTube.
  • "Black Beatles" by Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane was produced by Mike Will Made-It in FL Studio. The song is certified 6x Platinum and stayed on top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks between late 2016 and early  2017.
  • A lot of beats for Drake’s songs are being produced in Ableton Live. To mind come tracks such as "In My Feelings" prod. by TrapMoneyBenny or "Sneaking" prod. by London On Da Track.
  • Kenny Beats, the producer behind the beats for artists like Ski Mask the Slump God, and most recently Denzel Curry, also uses Ableton Live as his DAW of choice.
  • Speaking of Denzel Curry, the beat for his breakout song “Ultimate” was produced by Ronny J in Logic Pro. Ronny J has also worked with artists like Rich Chigga, Lil Pump, and SmokePurpp. Even though we are mentioning Logic Pro last, this shouldn’t detract from the fact that it is reasonably popular among professional beat makers.

Which is Better: Ableton or FL Studio?

Comparing FL Studio to Ableton Live can feel like comparing Nike to Adidas. Both tools are exceptional, and your affinity towards one or the other will largely depend on subjective reasons such as: What does your favorite producer use? Which software did you discover and try out first? If you are still having a hard time choosing between FL Studio and Ableton Live, here’s a quick overview to help you decide.

  • Workflow: The workflow inside FL Studio can feel fiddly because all the major tools open in separate windows. Ableton Live is a lot more straightforward in that regard because it packages everything in one tidy screen and generally requires fewer mouse clicks to achieve what you want.
  • 32-bit Plugins: If you have older plugins that are only available in 32-bit, you will need a third-party tool to be able to load them in Ableton Live. Using 32-bit plugins in FL Studio won’t be a problem because of its built-in bridge functionality.
  • Stock plugins: FL Studio has more stock plugins, and it has a very slick looking plugin browser that makes it super easy to find plugins quickly. It would be fair to say that FL Studio has better synth plugins, whereas Ableton has a slight edge in the effects plugins department.
  • Sampling: FL Studio is improving on ways to work with audio and has the almighty Edison, but sampling and live recording in Ableton Live is still better. What really sets Ableton apart is the warping feature inside the sampler. You’d need a lot of cutting and stretching in FL Studio for what would take a couple of clicks in Ableton.
  • Updates: FL Studio has lifetime free updates, whereas Ableton does require payment for major version updates.

FL Studio has a free demo version, and Ableton Live offers a free 90 days trial. If you are still undecided, try both of them out and see which one resonates more with you.

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