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How To Build A Beat In 5 Simple Steps


New to beatmaking? Want to know how to build a beat with free or cheap software?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. As a songwriter/producer who’s made plenty of beats and played around with many different beat-making programs, I’d like to help you.

So here is the basic 5-step process for creating a kick-butt beat.

Pick Your Plugin

The first step is to choose a weapon. This is an important decision — this will set the trajectory of the entire experience and the overall sound of your beat.

There are so many free and affordable plugins for making beats. My two favorites are DRUM PRO (free) and Addictive Drums 2 (affordable).

DRUM PRO gives you hip-hop, pop, and electronic drum pads while AD 2 has more realistic-sounding drum kits (jazz kit, rock kit, funk kit, etc.).

Here are some other free drum plugins I’d suggest trying:

I also highly recommend Regroover, a plugin that can split up a drum sample into its respective parts. So you drop a Creative Commons or public domain drum beat into Regroover and it will divide it into drums, snare, high-hat, etc. Then you can grab the different parts and make your own beat.

Choose A Sound

Once you’ve got your plugin, it’s time to browse through the different drum pads and kits to find the right sound.

If you have an idea of the sound you want, drum plugins usually have clearly labeled sounds. Personally, I think it’s more fun to listen to all the sounds until I hear something cool.

Either way, the sound of your beat — the kit you choose — is one of the main factors that will guide the end result.

Decide On A BPM

Before you start building your beat, you need to choose a BPM. I put this as the third step because you’ll have a better feel for what you want the tempo to be after you’ve picked your plugin and drum sound.

Generally speaking, here’s how you can divide the different stages of BPMs:

  • Downtempo: 60-80 BPM
  • Mid-tempo: 80-120 BPM
  • Uptempo: 120+ BPM

Also, if your DAW allows this, you don’t have to keep the same BPM through the entire song. You can speed up during the chorus or slow down during the bridge — wherever you feel is needed. Changing tempos can really help with the dynamics of your song (if you can pull it off smoothly).

Pro tip: if you have trouble hearing the click track, double the BPM. You’ll still be playing at the same speed, but there are twice as many clicks for you to hear. Therefore, it may be easier to follow.

Start Experimenting

This is the fun stage. This is where the real magic happens.

Take your time experimenting. Enjoy it. Get all of your ideas out and recorded, then sift through them later to decide which you like and don’t like.

In this stage, you may feel the need to change drum sounds (or even plugins), and that’s totally fine. That’s all part of the process.

The previous steps were the foundation and this step is the actual “building a beat” part.

If you need inspiration, check out Oblique Strategies, a method developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt to help musicians get unstuck from creative blocks.

Compare The Beat To A Reference Beat

After you’ve experimented and played around with different sounds and gotten the beat down, it’s time to use a reference track.

When mixing engineers mix, they often use a reference track — someone else’s professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered track. They put their song next to the reference track to make sure the quality is at the same level.

This is what you should do when making a beat.

Grab someone else’s beat that you love and drop it into your DAW. Then you can easily switch between your beat and their beat, ensuring the quality matches.

This step is really important if you want your beat to sound professional.

And that, my friends, is the very basic process for building a beat.

– – –

Caleb J. Murphy is a singer-songwriter and music producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.

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