SEPTEMBER 29, 2023

How to Make a Beat: Everything You Need to Get Started

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The evolution of music production has given rise to an exciting craft: beat making. It's where music meets technology, allowing artists to create entire tracks without touching a traditional instrument. In this guide, we’ll dive into the tools and techniques that have shaped industry legends. By the end, you’ll understand the process that transforms a simple loop into a chart-topping banger. Whether you aspire to produce the next hit or are simply curious about the magic behind your favorite tracks, let's dive into the art of beat making.

If you want to follow along and apply skills you learn along the way, download Pro Tools Intro for Free. It’s a great first step to learning a tool used by GRAMMY® winning producers—a tool designed to grow and evolve with you as your skills develop. Let’s get started!

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What is beat making?

Beat making is a type of music production that leans on digital tools, samples, and software instead of traditional live recordings with musicians. Historically anchored to genres such as hip-hop, trap, house, and techno, the techniques and artistry in beat making have evolved to influence and shape a vast spectrum of musical genres.

Central to the process is the relationship between beat makers and artists. Beat makers not only craft music but also invest time to truly understand an artist's vision, ensuring the resulting music resonates with genuine authenticity. For many embarking on a music production journey, the world of beat making offers a comprehensive, immersive starting point.

What do I need to make beats?

At its foundation, beat creation involves manipulating audio, sequencing samples, programming rhythm sections, and composing parts using virtual instruments. Once you decide you want to get started, equipping yourself with the right tools and mastering their functionalities is essential. Let's check out some of the common tools producers use to make beats:

MBOX Studio-HB_0682E

  1. Computer, iPad, or Smart Phone

    In the digital era of music production, your device is central to the process. While computers remain the primary choice for professionals for their processing power, the growth and sophistication of tablets and smartphones have made it possible for producers to craft beats from virtually anywhere.

    With a free app like Pro Tools Sketch for iPad, for example, you can draft your musical ideas on-the-go, and then effortlessly sync them up with Pro Tools for a more in-depth session.

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  1. DAW

    PT Intro

    At the heart of any modern music production setup lies the DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation. A DAW is software that allows you to record, edit, mix, and produce audio tracks. It's your virtual studio, providing all the tools and capabilities that were once exclusive to multi-million dollar studios.

    Choosing a DAW often comes down to personal preferences, specific needs, budget, and compatibility with friends and collaborators. There are numerous DAWs available, each with their own strengths so we’d recommend you try out several before settling on the one that feels right for you.

    While there are many DAWs available today, Pro Tools has revolutionized the industry, transitioning studios from analog to digital setups. With a legacy that's intertwined with award-winning producers and blockbuster scores, Pro Tools offers industry-standard quality that has positioned it at the forefront of countless professional studios and iconic projects — from GRAMMY®-winning productions to blockbuster films and video games. If you’re just getting into beat making, download Pro Tools Intro for free to follow along!

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  1. Audio Interface

    If you're recording live instruments or vocals, you need a clear, high-quality capture. An audio interface is a useful tool in music production because it allows you to connect instruments, microphones, and other sound sources to your computer for recording. Looking for a complete setup? The MBOX Studio not only ensures great sound capture but also comes with a Pro Tools license, giving you everything you need to start crafting beats with a top-tier DAW.

 

  1. Audio Plug-ins

    Audio plugins are the digital magic behind many of the sounds and effects in modern music. Think of them as mini-applications that you add to your DAW, expanding its capabilities. There are two main types of audio plugins: audio effects and virtual instruments.

    • Audio effect plugins: processors used to enhance an audio signal. Whether you're looking to add reverb, compress a vocal, or recreate the warmth of a vintage synthesizer, there's a plug-in for that.
    • Virtual instrument plugins: digital representations of real instruments like synthesizers, samplers, bass, guitars, and even entire orchestras.

    Essential for fine-tuning and flavoring your productions, plug-ins empower producers to craft their signature sound without a room full of physical equipment.

  2. Loop and Sample Library

    At the core of many iconic beats lie samples and loops, which are snippets of pre-recorded audio that can be manipulated, repeated, or combined to form the foundation of a track. Think of them as the building blocks of beat making.

    Samples could be anything from a single drum hit to a vocal shout, while loops are repetitive sequences, often instrumental, that can be strung together to form the rhythm or melody of a track. These tools offer a shortcut to achieving rich soundscapes without having to record every single element live.

    Utilizing samples and loops not only speeds up the production process but also provides a vast palette of sounds to inspire creativity. Beat makers often tweak these to impart their unique touch, ensuring that even if multiple artists use the same sample, the end result sounds distinctly different.

    Whenever you’re ready to get started, the free download of Pro Tools Intro comes with a library of loops and samples from Loopmasters to get you going. Additionally, Pro Tools Artist, Studio, and Ultimate users get a monthly Sonic Drop; free collections of loops, samples, instrument presets, and more.

    MIDI Controllers

    MIDI Controllers serve as the tactile bridge between a producer and the virtual world of music production. While it's entirely possible to produce beats using just a mouse and keyboard, a MIDI controller can drastically enhance the workflow, offering a more intuitive and hands-on approach to crafting sounds.

    There are primarily two types of MIDI controllers to consider:

    1. Keyboard and Pad MIDI Controllers: These are physical keyboards or pads that allow you to play virtual instruments in your DAW. While you can program notes on a sequencer with a mouse or a track pad, a keyboard MIDI controller allows you to perform them like you would on an actual piano.
    2. DAW Controllers: Tailored to help you navigate and control your Digital Audio Workstation, these tools can significantly speed up the production process. With faders, knobs, and touch-sensitive controls, they provide a tactile way to mix tracks, adjust levels, and apply effects. Our Avid S1, for instance, offers a seamless and intuitive interface that can supercharge your beat-making experience.

    Avid S1 DAW Controller

    While investing in a MIDI controller isn't strictly necessary, incorporating one can offer efficiency, enjoyability, and a touch of tangibility to the digital art of beat making.

  1. Headphones and Monitors

    The quality and clarity of your beats is influenced by how well you can hear them as you make adjustments. Enter: headphones and monitors.

    Headphones offer a direct sound, ideal for focusing on details, especially in noisy environments. Monitors, on the other hand, deliver an open, room-filling sound, revealing how the beat translates in open spaces.

    Use headphones for precise edits, layering, and when working in shared or noisy places. Monitors are best for mixing, mastering, and getting a genuine feel for the final output. Together, they're the one-two punch ensuring your beats sound great in different environments, whether it's on headphones, a phone, or in a club. For those looking to truly elevate their productions, the combination of both is unbeatable.

How to get good at making beats

Becoming good at beat making is a journey that blends skill, knowledge, and creativity. It's not just about the right tools, but also understanding music's core principles, learning from your favorite producers, and refining your craft through consistent practice. Embracing change, seeking collaboration, and stepping outside your comfort zone will further shape your unique sound.

Here are some tips for getting good at beat making:

  1. Practice

    Regular practice not only builds muscle memory, ensuring quicker and more intuitive maneuvering within your DAW, but also deepens your understanding of music production techniques. With each session, you're not just repeating processes, but refining them, discovering nuances, and sharpening your creative instincts. The path to mastery in beat-making is paved with persistent practice, learning, and exploration. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, and the more fun you’ll have in the process.

  2. Study your favorite producers

    Every great producer has a distinct touch, a signature that makes their tracks stand out. By analyzing the works of your favorite producers, you can glean insights into their unique techniques and sounds. This isn't about copying, but understanding the nuances that set them apart. Perhaps it's the way they layer drums, or the specific swing they add to a rhythm. By actively listening and comparing, you refine your ears and, in turn, your ability to craft better beats. Over time, you'll start to merge these influences with your own style, leading to a sound that's both inspired and uniquely yours. If you want to dive into the techniques of some of the best producers in the game, check out our That Sounds Great podcast series.

 
  1. Understand the basics of audio processing

    Audio processing forms the backbone of stellar music production. It encompasses key aspects like sound design, the craft of shaping and creating unique sonic textures; audio editing, where you fine tune every note and sound; mixing, which ensures each element coexists harmoniously; and mastering, the final polish that brings a track to professional standards. Dive deeper into each domain, and you'll find your tracks resonating with clarity, depth, and impact. Equip yourself with this knowledge, and you set the stage for truly iconic music.

  2. Learn the basics of music theory

    Music theory is the backbone of all great compositions, including beats. It provides an understanding of scales, chords, and progressions, allowing beat makers to craft harmonically rich and compelling pieces. Grasping these basics can elevate a simple beat into a complex and catchy rhythm that resonates with listeners. Even in genres where experimentation rules, a foundation in music theory helps producers make informed decisions, ensuring their creations are both innovative and harmonically sound.

  3. Experiment

     

  1. Stay curious, venture outside the familiar. Beat-making, at its core, thrives on innovation and the element of surprise. While foundational techniques are essential, it's the fusion of ideas, the unexpected shifts, and the novel sound choices that often define iconic beats. Dive into genres you're unfamiliar with, draw inspiration from diverse cultural sounds, or even reverse engineer a track you admire. Don’t limit yourself to traditional instruments or ways of creating; the world is your instrument. If you’re looking to get inspired, check out our video series, Beats on Trips, where we challenge producers to create beats using sounds recorded from their environment.

  2. Collaborate

    Working with others introduces you to new workflows, fresh sound palettes, and innovative production methods. It's a symbiotic exchange: you gain insights from their expertise, and they from yours. Whether it's co-producing a track, getting feedback, or just experimenting with sounds, collaboration can significantly elevate the depth and breadth of your music. Embrace the collective genius; it's often where the magic unfolds.

  3. Find ways to stay motivated

    In the winding journey of beat-making, motivation is the fuel that keeps the engine running. There'll be days when inspiration seems scarce, and beats don't resonate the way you'd hope. In those moments, lean on various tactics to reignite that creative spark:

    • Set Clear Goals: Whether it's mastering a new plugin or completing a beat each week, having tangible milestones gives purpose to your endeavors.
    • Curate Inspiration Playlists: Listen to various genres, even those outside your comfort zone, and let them stir new ideas within you.
    • Join Producer Communities: Being part of a network where you can share, critique, and celebrate each other's work can be immensely uplifting.
    • Take Constructive Breaks: Sometimes, stepping away, taking a walk, or indulging in another hobby can refresh your perspective.

    Remember, every producer faces creative ruts. It's the perseverance, constant learning, and genuine love for the craft that truly distinguishes the greats. Stay inspired and keep the beats flowing!

What Makes a good beat?

A good beat possesses a blend of several core elements: a memorable melody, clear rhythm, dynamic range, unique sound selection, emotional connection, and a good song structure.

  • Memorable Melody: At the heart of any iconic beat is a melody that's instantly recognizable and resonates with listeners.
  • Clear Rhythm: The rhythm should make listeners nod their heads, driving the emotion and pace of the track.
  • Dynamic Range: Great beats often have a balance of quiet moments and impactful peaks, ensuring they don't sound monotonous or flat.
  • Unique Sound Choices: Using a mix of traditional and unexpected sounds can distinguish a beat from the rest.
  • Emotional Connection: The best beats evoke emotions, whether it's nostalgia, joy, or introspection. They tell a story or set a mood.
  • Solid Structure: A well-structured beat progresses logically, building anticipation and delivering satisfying drops or hooks.

Remember, while these elements offer a foundation, the beauty of music is its subjectivity. What's most vital is that the beat connects with its intended audience and leaves a lasting impression. So, as you craft your beats, prioritize authenticity and the message you wish to convey.

How to Make a Beat

 

There are myriad ways to craft beats, with every producer having a unique method. Some prefer starting with chord progressions, others with the rhythm of drums, while some work exclusively with samples. If you're unsure where to begin consider the following methods:

  • Use your strengths: Dive in with the instrument you're most familiar with.
  • Use sample packs: Kickstart your creativity using a loop from a sample pack.
  • Genre Conventions: Certain genres like house and hip-hop come with identifiable drum patterns which can serve as starting points.
  • Experiment: Sometimes, unplanned jamming sessions birth the best beats. Feel free to jump in and improvise until you find an idea you want to build on!

Taking the first step is often the hardest, but each choice you make paves the path forward, leading to the next. So just make a move and see where the journey takes you. For those moments when inspiration is elusive, however, a structured approach can often be a savior. Below, we outline a step-by-step process to guide your beat-making practice, blending structure with spontaneity. Let's start by setting the right vibe.

  1. Brainstorm ideas in pre-production

    Before laying down your first note, it helps to brainstorm the unique audio landscape you aim to create. Each musical genre, from hip-hop to techno, has its defining characteristics — specific tempos, signature chord progressions, bass lines, rhythmic patterns, and sound palettes. By identifying your desired sound, you set a clear direction for your creative process.

    Think of this step as setting your musical compass. Are you aiming for the soulful melodies of R&B or the punchy rhythms of trap? Perhaps the ethereal tones of ambient techno? Deciding this early on not only guides your decisions but also ensures every element you add aligns with your vision, making your beat cohesive and authentic to your style. It's all about crafting an unmistakable identity that resonates with listeners.

    Here are three things you can do to set yourself up for a great production:

    Define the mood

    Your beat should communicate an emotion, tell a story, or set a tone. Do you want it to uplift, to resonate with melancholy, or perhaps to energize? What’s the story or message the artist is trying to tell? By pinpointing the desired mood, you create a clear pathway for the subsequent steps – from tempo decisions to instrument choices.

    Collect Reference Tracks

    Art thrives on inspiration, and sometimes, a glimpse into existing masterpieces can guide your own creation. Compile tracks that resonate with the mood or style you're targeting. These references act as benchmarks, offering insights into tempos, arrangements, or techniques that embody your intended vibe. It's not about mimicking but understanding the anatomy of a mood.

    Sound Selection

    A signature beat often emanates from signature sounds. Every choice you make, from a snare's timbre to a synth's warmth, becomes part of your sonic palette. During pre-production, sift through virtual instruments, samples, and presets that align with your envisioned aesthetic. These choices set the stage, ensuring that when the creative flow hits, you have the right tools to paint your masterpiece.

     

  1. Set up your DAW session for recording

    With brainstorming out of the way, it's time to set up your DAW session up for recording.

    Here are some steps to consider:

    • Connect your audio Interface and MIDI controller: Ensure that your MIDI controller and audio interface are connected to your computer, typically via a USB connection. Navigate to the 'preferences' section of your DAW. Designate your audio interface as the primary audio device and your MIDI controller as the MIDI device. Once that’s done, you should have tactile control of your virtual instruments via MIDI and your computer should be outputting audio to your headphones and monitors.
    • Make your session easily navigable: You can minimize interrupting your creative workflow by organizing your DAW session ahead of time. Load your instrument tracks, label them, and color code them to make it easy to find things as you work. Lack of organization can slow you down and interrupt in-the-moment ideas.
    • DAW Templates: Consider creating and using DAW templates. A template preloads specific instruments, effects, and settings tailored to your unique workflow. This way, every time you start a new project, your personalized setup is instantly ready, eliminating repetitive tasks and letting you dive straight into creativity.
    • Essential Session Settings:
      • Dial in Your BPM: Set your session's tempo. If you're unsure of the exact BPM, use the 'tap tempo' to feel it out.
      • Metronome: Turn the metronome ON during recording to keep the performance in-time.
      • Count-in: Enable a one to two-bar count-in in your recording settings. This offers a brief metronome window before the actual recording starts, helping you sync with the track's tempo.
      • Loop Locators: Set the loop locators to either 4 or 8 bars and activate the loop setting so that this section is repeated. This confined space will be your sandbox, allowing you to layer and craft your foundational beat.

    With your DAW ready for recording, you’re ready to start tracking!

  2. Add a chord progression

    While you can start with any element of a beat, a chord progression can be a good place to start because they quickly provide a sense of direction to your track. Chord progressions create both tonality and rhythm, which can help inspire vocal parts, bass lines, drum parts, and more.

    For those wanting original chord progressions, a basic understanding of music theory and the emotions different sequences convey can be helpful. Begin with basic chords familiar to your genre, then play around with inversions or add chord extensions for a richer sound. Whether it's the somber descent of minor chords for a melancholic feel or the uplifting sequence of major chords for a dance anthem, your choices here will dictate the emotive impact of your beat.

    Alternatively, if you’re looking for a spark of inspiration, you can try browsing through a sample pack for a loop that fits your desired genre or mood. Whichever way you choose to start your track, remember to take your time, experiment, and find an idea that speaks to the essence of your track.

  3. Sequence your drum pattern

    The rhythm and groove of your track are often anchored by its drum pattern. As the percussive backbone, it sets the pace, brings the energy, and drives the movement within your song.

    Starting with the kick drum can provide a foundational pulse. Layer this with snare hits and hi-hats to introduce complexity and cadence. Using a sequencer you can plot out these elements visually on a grid, simplifying the process of crafting intricate rhythms. Don't be afraid to shuffle beats around, adding fills or breaks to maintain interest.

    It's essential to maintain a balance – while complexity can add excitement, sometimes less is more. Allow space in your drum pattern for other elements of your track. Reflect on your chosen genre; a hip-hop track might favor heavy, staggered beats, whereas house music typically relies on a four-to-the-floor kick drum pattern. Your drum sequence is pivotal in defining the overall vibe, so invest time in getting it just right.

  4. Create a bass line

    A bass line provides the song with a solid foundation, rounding out its overall sound. At its simplest, a bass line can follow the root notes of your chord progression, offering a steady anchor to your melody.

    When tracking a bass line, consider the sound and rhythm of your drums. Your bass should dance alongside, accentuating the beats and providing depth to the overall sound. This synchronization between the drums and bass gives your track a cohesive, full-bodied feel.

    Sound selection also plays a crucial role. Different genres have signature bass sounds and the one you choose can affect the overall vibe. For instance:

    • Future garage often leans on the mesmerizing whirl of a Reese bass.
    • Trap tracks typically feature gliding 808s that add a resonant punch.
    • Deep house basses are smooth and groovy, often with a pulsing, warm undertone.

    Try exploring the different virtual synthesizers and samples in Pro Tools to find the bass tone that perfectly complements your track's vibe. Listen to popular tracks in your genre for inspiration but remember, it's also about blending established norms with your unique touch.

  5. Incorporate Melodies and Harmonies

    While the bass and drums provide rhythm and depth, it's the melody that sings the song's main theme, and the harmony enriches this theme with complementary layers. A safe way to write melodies is to use the notes within the chord you’re playing.

    • Melody: Think of this as the story your song tells. Whether carried by a vocal, a keyboard, or a guitar, the melody is the sequence of individual notes that often gets stuck in our head.
    • Harmony: This supports and enriches the melody. By adding chords or secondary melodies, harmony creates a fuller and more intricate sound. For example, while a piano might play the main melody, strings or synths can provide harmonious undertones.
  6. Enhance with audio effects and samples

    You can elevate the sound of your track the creative sampling and audio effects techniques. These elements not only add depth and color but also create unique textures that make your creation stand out.

    • Samples: These pre-recorded snippets, which can range from vocal chants to instrument riffs, or field recordings, infuse your track with character. They can act as a focal point or simply be used to create ambiance. Try choosing samples that enhance the mood, theme, and story of your beat and lyrics. A well-placed vinyl crackle, for instance, can instantly transport a listener to a nostalgic realm.
    • Audio Effects: Effects like reverb, delay, and compression shape and polish the sound. A bit of reverb can give a vocal or snare drum an ethereal quality, while compression ensures consistent volume levels across the track. Creative use of effects like flanger or phaser can introduce movement and make elements of your beat more dynamic.

    Integrating these elements requires a fine balance; it's easy to overdo it. Always trust your ears and aim for a result that complements, not overwhelms, the foundational elements of your beat.

  7. Arrange your beat

    Arrangement is the act of organizing and structuring the various elements of your beat to craft a cohesive musical narrative. It's here that your beat transitions from a loop to a full-fledged track, unfolding over time. Now that you’ve recorded a 4 to 8 bar loop, it’s time to arrange your layers into a complete song.

    1. Introduction: This sets the mood and introduces some of the main elements. It's your track's first impression, so make it count.
    2. Verse: Typically more stripped-down, allowing space for vocal performances or the main melodic content.
    3. Chorus or Drop: The most intense or catchy part of the beat, often repeating multiple times throughout the track.
    4. Breakdown & Bridge: Moments of tension, release, or change that break the monotony and keep listeners engaged.
    5. Outro: The wind-down of the track, providing a resolution and easing the listener out.

    Remember, while there are traditional structures in music, the beauty of beat-making lies in experimentation. Don't be afraid to break norms. Whether you choose a linear progression or opt for something more experimental, the goal is to take the listener on a memorable journey.

  8. Polish the beat transitions

    Transitions are the glue that binds the sections of your beat, ensuring seamless movement and setting the stage for what comes next. Think of them as the breaths between sentences in a story, guiding the listener and setting the rhythm of the narrative.

    1. Drum Fills: Quick, rhythmic alterations in the drum pattern can signal a change or emphasize the end of a section.
    2. Silence: A brief moment of silence can create tension and anticipation, making the subsequent section hit even harder.
    3. Mix Automation: Gradually adjusting volume, panning, or effects can create a crescendo leading into a new section or a fade-out preparing for a breakdown.
    4. Reverse Sounds: A reversed cymbal or vocal snippet can act as a ramp, ushering in the next section.
    5. Effect Sweeps: White noise or filtered synths sweeping up or down in pitch can smoothly bridge two parts together.

    When refining your transitions, trust your ears. If it feels abrupt or jarring, it might need some polish. Aim for fluidity, ensuring your beat unfolds smoothly, guiding listeners through its musical tale.

  9. Mix and master your beat

    Once you've arranged and polished your beat, it's time for the final touches: mixing and mastering. These processes are essential in ensuring your beat sounds balanced, clear, and professional across all playback systems.

    • Mixing: This is the stage where you balance the levels of individual elements, pan instruments, and apply effects like EQ and compression. It's all about making sure each part has its own space in the frequency spectrum. Avoid elements clashing, and ensure the beat has both clarity and depth.
    • Mastering: This is the final polish. Here, you're working with the track as a whole, ensuring consistent volume levels, enhancing overall tonality, and giving the track that radio-ready shine. It also ensures your beat will sound consistent across various playback systems, from headphones to club speakers.

    Remember, while tools and plugins can assist in mixing and mastering, your ears are the ultimate judge. Regular breaks can prevent ear fatigue and help keep your perspective fresh. And if you're unsure, Avid Pro Tools offers a wide range of tutorials to guide you through the mixing and mastering process.

  10. Share your music

    Sharing and distributing your beat can be just as enjoyable as the creation process, as it can connect you with friends, listeners, and potential collaborators who are on the same wave as you. If sharing your music is something you want to do, Avid has you covered from creation to distribution. Here are some things to consider:

    1. Promotion and Marketing: Distribution gets your music out there, but promotion ensures it's heard. Engage with your audience on social media, YouTube, and collaborate with influencers or fellow musicians and consider paid advertising to boost your track's visibility. Every like, share, or comment amplifies your music's reach, turning passive listeners into loyal fans.
    2. Distribution with AvidPlay: Easily get your beats on the most popular streaming platforms worldwide with AvidPlay. Whether it's Spotify, Apple Music, or emerging platforms like TikTok, AvidPlay ensures your music reaches fans everywhere.

    In the music world, a great beat is just the beginning. Consistent promotion and smart marketing strategies can elevate your craft from a hobby to a career, if that’s your goal.

  11. AvidPlay composite

Get started making beats

Stepping into the world of beat-making can feel like a daunting journey, but remember: every seasoned producer started with a single beat. Your unique voice and creativity are what will set your tracks apart, and with dedication and practice, you'll soon be crafting beats that resonate with listeners.

So, here's our challenge to you: Dive in, get curious, and start crafting. With tools like Pro Tools Intro available for free, there's never been a better time to transform your musical ideas into beats that shake the world.

Go make some noise!

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