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2 posts from May 2012

May 15, 2012

Use Your Drum Sounds to Improve Your Compositional Workflow

Knowing Your Drum Sounds Makes for a More Efficient Compositional Workflow


Compositional workflow, the collective processes, methods, and time it takes a beatmaker to create a beat, can be improved in a number of different ways. Depending on the individual EMPI (Electronic Music Production Instrument), the steps within most beatmaking processes can be condensed. Likewise, the various methods of achieving particular production goals can be realized, retooled, and/or retranslated in ways that bring about desired results faster and more efficiently. Even the reshuffling of one’s production environment can improve workflow. (Do not under estimate the power of a comfortable chair and/or a good view.) But among the countless ways to improve compositional workflow, often the most overlooked way can be found in the area of drum sounds and drum sound modification.

Most beatmakers—myself included—take pride in crafting their drum sounds, despite the fact that there are also lots of beatmakers who depend (heavily) on pre-set drum sounds with little to no customization at all. For those beatmakers who see their drums as a major component of their overall production identity, individualized drum sound customization is key. But that being said, the processes of drum sound customization can impede workflow whenever they are overly applied during the making of a beat. This is why simply knowing your drum sounds is a great way to improve compositional workflow.

Check it out… Whenever I’m making a beat, I choose my drum sounds quickly because I know them. I know their texture; I know their color; I know what types of sounds they’ll go well with; I know how they’ll sit and sound in the final mix. So for me, selecting the right drums for the right style and sound of beat that I'm working on at the moment doesn’t involve a prolonged scroll through my drum library.

And although I may make a couple of modifications to a drum sound during the process of making a beat, those tweaks are minimum and on the fly, nothing too tedious or vibe busting. Again: I know my sounds, so I reach for the sounds that I think may fit with the current arrangement that I’m working on. I do not, however, embark upon some sort of drum-tweaking journey that can shift my focus from the beat—the entire arrangement—to just drum sounds. Moreover, I do not allow my workflow to be disrupted by a prolonged search of a drum sound folder. This is yet another reason why I like to keep my drum sound library tight with a reasonable number of sounds. In other words, when I’m composing a beat, I’m leery of shifting too far away from composer to drum sound technician, or anything else for that matter.

Compositional workflow determines your ability to harness your creative moments in real time. Therefore, the longer your compositional workflow is disrupted, that is to say, the longer the act of composing is left on hold—in this case, by drum craft or “tech” work—the more you defeat your ability to harness your creative moments. This is why it's just as important to look for ways that improve your compositional workflow as it is to guard against anything that can inhibit it.

Now, technically speaking, any tweak of a drum sound during the creation of a beat makes you a “drum sound technician,” which, in effect, disrupts your compositional workflow. But to what degree? During the “live vibe/feel” of making a beat, should the arrangement and scope of the beat be placed on hold until you tweak drum sounds to perfection? Or should drum sounds defer to the overall arrangement, with little to no consideration of their fit within the arrangement? What I mean here is, is easier to find what fits from a well-known personal arsenal of drum sounds than it is from a big box of endless unknown sounds? Further, isn’t it better to spend time making major tweaks to a drum sound, in a stand-alone context outside of the beat arrangement at hand? I certainly believe there is a time for major tweaks—customization—of drum sounds, in a stand-alone context. This is why I strongly believe that it’s important to set aside time for beatmaking sessions that are solely for the purpose of going through new drum sounds, modifying them to specific taste, and creating a trusted core set of drum sounds.

But implementing extensive drum sound modifications and/or a prolonged drum sound selection process during the composition phase of making a beat can disrupt your flow of ideas, and severely limit your ability to bring about the beat you envisioned. Simply knowing your drum sounds, particularly a core set of sounds, can improve your compositional workflow and cut down considerably the amount of time it takes you to complete a beat from start to finish.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

May 12, 2012

BeatTips.com Beat Battle, March 2012 Winner Announced

GeeWiz Edges out d.C. and Castro to Win the Third Contest of the Year


The winner: GeeWiz - ""Give Her the World""

Here's the March, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle breakdown. You can also read it in TBC at: Winner of the February 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Is...
And you can hear all of the beats for March, 2012's battle here: BeatTips.com Beat Battle, March, 2012

GeeWiz - "Give Her the World"

The urgency and tension in this joint is incredibly gripping. The emotion, which many beatmakers struggle to infuse in their beats, is thick; and the beat’s narrative structure is precise. The way in which you use progression is very encouraging! There’s a dope build-up, and the ebb and flow of the changes work like cousin motifs talking to one another; yet the rhythm rides through it all, keeping everything tight and consistent. I found every decision within this beat to be a masterful choice.

2nd Place:
d.C. - "Send My Love"

First, I gotta point out the ironic similarities between the title of your beat and that of GeeWiz’s. Both of you have titles that on the surface appear to be about something else. Instead, both titles work as beautiful setups to serious beats!

So, dig it, d.C., this is what I was talking about to you a while back. You’ve recaptured your grittiness and utter wrecklessness with this beat!!! You’re music will always have a smoothness to it; smooth polish is one of the main dimensions of your style and sound. But like I told you before: That’s just one of your chambers. This joint is your hardcore, banger chamber! NEVER abandon this side of your creativity…

Side note… I know someone who may want to use this track for their album. I’ll hit you with the details.

3rd Place:
Castro - "Better Promise"

This beat is HUGE, Billboard/MTV-anthem like huge. You’ve perfected that pop sound while still maintaining your drums. Kudos, brother! It’s good to see here again your exploration with progression and stand-out synth stacking work.

Side note…Listen to me, man: Be very careful with this track. Do NOT put it in the wrong hands. Do NOT allow it to be thrown into a track dump, etc. In fact, I think you should take the track down. Only make it available for serious inquiries. If you want to discuss it further, give me a call.

Segundo Award for Consistency and Contribution

SC Beatz – “Scream”

I didn’t know what to make of this beat at first. I mean, it drew me in, but I was still trying to see the beat’s narrative. This is a very distinct sounding beat. I believe that it could be rhymed over. But it’s now more clear to me then ever before: Your biggest strength is really in film and television scoring. (By the way, there’s more money, consistent work, more appreciation, and less bullshit in that industry.) I strongly suggest that you look into that.
The DJ Pas Rhyme Award for the Beat that Made Me Write a Rhyme to It

d.C. – “Send My Love"

(For breakdown, see 2nd Place breakdown above)

Get Paid With Heart Award for the #1 Crossover Joint that Still Pays Homage to the Beatmaking Craft

Castro – "Better Promise"
TBC Most Improved Award

Honorable Mentions:

Influence210 – “You Got Me Now”
Heavy sound. The pulse of the synth work is nice, not generic or run-of-the-mill. And the sample elements match up well. So many different ways the rhyme could go with this joint.

bigbenbeats – “Brotherhood”
I dig tough loops with straight forward drums. Shows you how effective the groove can be… I almost wrote to this joint.

Smelly Pants – “Human Being”
Like with bigbenbeat’s joint, the loop was good and the drum accents were on point. I could see Ghostface destroying this track!


Phillipic – “Neocrack”
After several listens, I was able to get an idea for where you were going. I dig the smoothness of this track, and it started to grow on me (although, the snare sounds too perfect/mechanical; that may be due to quantizing). At the 2:04 mark, a new motif begins that should have been a major part throughout…That part added a nice ambiance to the entire track.

Upright – “Last”

What happen here, man? This beat is really laid back and seemingly unfocused. Not like the hardness of your previous beat. This beat sounds like you were going for something highly experimental. And nothing’s necessarily wrong with that; experimentation is what we all have to do. The only pitfall with experimentation is that if we’re not careful, we can get away from our core strengths. I noticed that you used that same tom-tom fill that you featured in your beat that won you January’s battle. Is that a trademark of most of your beats? Also, where you attempting to make something that wasn’t meant to be rhymed over?

Uhoh – “Can’t Help Myself”
This of course is another solid joint. One thing though: Your drum programming is starting to mimic itself. Be careful not to get complacent with your sound. You can maintain your distinct drum style and sound and keep it fresh at the same time. And although “drawing in” drum hits may save you time in your workflow, always remember that you run the risk of focusing more on drawing in something where you know something goes rather than playing where you feel it goes. It’s no different using step edit on an MPC to insert something where you know it goes. That's why I limit how much I use step edit to insert events. Playing things out feels more natural.

Don P – “Ojayo”
You’ve returned back to sampling while trying to work in some light synth elements as well. The “knock” style drums work all right. But I can’t help but wonder how this beat would’ve sounded without the sweeps, knock style, or stuttering hi-hat. Just a straight forward tucked kick and classic snare style might work better with this sample. Remember, when the primary sample is dope by itself, sometimes overpowering drums can dull its feel and reduce its overall effect.

steadybeats – “Beat Breakin”
Sounds like you’re working through some ideas. And that’s a good thing. But listen to how lifeless or indifferent this beat sounds. When working through your ideas, try to maintain a steady direction and scope. Otherwise, your beat will sound like a pot-luck of disconnected ideas.

That said, your drums had a level of consistency to them. Build off of that! Also, consider sonically what you want your style to sound like. Take a listen to the beats of Castro, d.C., and S.C. Each one has a distinct style, sound, and consistent direction.

Final thoughts.

Before I get to the final thoughts on March’s BeatTips Beat Battle, I have to make an announcement. Nearly two months ago, I began serving as the Executive Producer of a Marco Polo/H. Stax album, entitled Seize the Day. Because of my obligation to this project, as well as several other obligations (that will be announced shortly), I was not able to get the results in for March’s battle until now. For that, everyone in TBC has my apology!

And now for the Final Thoughts…

It’s a rewarding experience for me to listen to each beat in every battle. I enjoy the analysis part, of course, especially since I know that you all, like me, take the study of the art of beatmaking seriously. But I also enjoy the emotion and determination and growth that I hear in your beats. Overall, it’s quite humbling to see such dedication to our craft on display. And then, I also enjoy the competition of it all! That each person commits their beat to a battle is a constant reminder that hip hop/rap is very much alive, well, and as defiant as ever.

This month’s 1st through 3rd place finishers went in three entirely different directions, yet all three were held together by the bond of fine craftsmanship and the ability to convey deep emotion. That’s what it means to have a quality sound that’s unique and stylistically distinguishable.

Again, my apologies for posting the results of this battle so late. As a result, we’ve lost a battle for April. BUT, May’s battle will be on beginning next Thursday, May 17th.

As always, I want to welcome all of the new members to TBC! Each month we’re growing stronger, and I count on everybody to raise the bar of our discussions and the level of our collective participation. Thank you for doing so.

One more note: The BeatTips.com Beat Battle is for BeatTips.com subscribers and TBC members only. If you have not subscribed to BeatTips.com, please do so before the next battle begins. You can subscribe to BeatTips.com by going to the home page, [url]http://www.beattips.com[/url] and clicking the “Get email updates” button near the top right, just beneath the menu bar. TBC members who are not subscribed to BeatTips.com will not be able to participate in future BeatTips.com Beat Battles.

The May BeatTips.com Beat Battle will begin on Thursday, March 17, 2012!!!

Congratulations to GeeWiz
GeeWiz email me at: [email]beattips@gmail.com[/email], include your full name and complete address for where you’d like your book delivered. Also, include a pic so I can feature you on the home page of BeatTips.com, and a phone number to where you can be reached at for your interview feature.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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