Music Production - BPM Supreme Contributor - June 1, 2023
9 Beat Making Tips That Instantly Upgrade Your Sound

It’s a wonderful time for music makers. Studio quality software and gear that was once gatekept behind industry elite are now available for just about any beat maker hoping to produce their own music. With democratization, however, comes the increased need for differentiation – the more saturated the music market is, the more difficult it is to stand out from the ever-growing crowd. 

It’s easy to tell an amateur beat from polished production from a listener’s standpoint, but how can you build better beats as a producer? Below, we’ll showcase some of the top tips to take your music production to the next level so that you can become a stronger beat maker.

9 Music Production Tips To Take Your Beats To The Next Level

Use these beat making tips to upgrade your sound across any genre of music. Most of these suggestions revolve around beats or drum parts specifically, but many can be used as an overarching principle to improve your music as a whole. 

1. Solo Drums with the Bass 

If we reduce a song’s production to its major elements, we’ll often be left with the bassline, drums, and vocal, especially true with more electronic-leaning genres. The bassline and lower-frequency drums like the kick can reside within the same frequency range, leading them to sometimes compete for space within a mix. 

This is why so many beginner mixes tend to lack punch and clarity, creating an overall muffled sound. If you find yourself getting stuck, try soloing your drum and bass parts and assessing the groove. Are they gelling well together? Do you need to use sidechain compression to help the kick drum hold its own? If you focus on making the bassline and drums strong together first, you’ll have a better chance of building a strong song on top of it. Start with a strong foundation.

2. Record Parts Live 

A great way to work in some of the lost dynamics and nuances that can be challenging to build into electronic music is opting to record virtual instruments into your DAW, rather than just dragging and dropping them into your timeline. 

This may seem like a relatively small change, but the slight variations in timing (i.e. imperfections that come from someone playing something live) can give your beat more of a humanized feel. It will also help you build up some of your rhythmic sensibilities in the process. 

In your DAW, you can achieve this effect by recording parts with the quantize feature off. You’ll still have the flexibility to adjust the timing of individual notes while creating an ideally more organic sound. For a truly live feel, you can bring in session players, though keep in mind this route comes with additional time and expenses. 

3. Play with Velocity 

You can get two completely different sounds out of a piano depending on how hard or soft you hit an individual key. This same principle, called velocity, can be used to upgrade the sound in your DAW. 

In Ableton Live, simply drag or drop the bars underneath the piano roll to dictate the velocity of each individual note. The higher the velocity, the harder it sounds like you’re playing a virtual instrument or drum sample.

4. Modulate Drums with an Audio Effect 

Oftentime, we forget that drums are  sounds that can be processed with effects just like any other instrument. A repetitive drum beat can get stale even with the occasional fill, so experiment with filtering, resampling, or other kinds of processing. 

It never hurts to try something out and then undo it if it’s not exactly what you envisioned. A lot of music production boils down to exercising as many options as possible to ensure you’ve created the strongest combination of sounds possible. Test your ideas, especially if they seem outlandish. 

For instance, I’ve personally used a vocoder on drums with excellent results within the right sonic context:

5. Delete a Major Element 

It’s easy to get stuck when producing the same track for hours on end, listening to relatively the same mix over and over. Use the power of “Save as…” and create another version of your beat. Challenge yourself to delete a major element like the chords, bassline, or drum pattern in your new version.

Doing so will allow you to experience the track with new ears, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your original version. Many times, opening up our flow to new possibilities can be the push we need to get to the final mix.

6. Automation 

The reason why a good mix feels “alive” and we love live music is due to how dynamic it feels. This often gets lost in electronic music production, but we can bake it into our process using automation

By shifting tone, dynamics, volume, and position within a mix over time, we can keep the listener engaged and make for a more interesting mix. This is particularly important for styles of music that may have a repetitive structure, like the typical ABAB pop form. You can still retain the form of a song while building more of a progression for the listener. Learn more about automation basics here.

7. Opt for Ear Candy 

Have you ever listened to one of your favorite songs only to uncover details you hadn’t noticed before? You’re probably discovering some ear candy! “Ear candy” is loosely defined as sounds, samples, and FX that show up only once or a handful of times in a mix to keep a listener engaged. 

Building ear candy into your mix promotes active listening and can help keep an otherwise repetitive loop interesting. Try adding small touches of sound at transitional points, around an important phrase, or when entering or exiting a key section of your song.

8. Record and Produce with the Right Tools 

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on gear to make a radio-ready hit. However, it’s key to use studio headphones and monitors (not traditional commercial headphones) while you’re building your beats. Headphones that are produced for the masses typically have some sort of frequency boost that can distort your perception of a mix. 

It’s also a good idea to learn proper recording etiquette. Even if you don’t have a sound-treated space, you can avoid recording near reflective surfaces, and set yourself up for success by understanding microphone placement.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Open Up Your Process

Many DIY producers seek to complete the entire music creation process themselves, from writing to producing to mixing and mastering. This is super honorable, but it isn’t always what’s best for the music. It can certainly be done with dedication, patience, and lots of trial and error, but you shouldn’t do things solo just for the sake of doing so. 

Not everyone has the luxury to work with a professional mixing or mastering engineer, but doing so can elevate your sound, even if you’re already an amazing engineer yourself. Our ears get fatigued hearing the same thing over and over, so getting outside musical perspectives can only benefit your sound. Whether you’re working with vocalists, engineers, or other producers, take pride in collaboration and do your best to grow with each interaction. 

The best way to build stronger songs is to keep creating. Enjoy using these beat making tips to elevate your music production process.

About the Writer
Kate Brunotts is an audio engineer and music producer from New York City. When she’s not writing about music, producing music, or singing and songwriting, Kate helps others realize their unique sound, whether through a fresh mix, new instrumental approach, or total rework of a particular sound.
Related News