We are heading fast to an age where in order for an indie artist to really succeed they are going to need to wear more than one hat; they’ll need to know more than one trick. And I’m not even talking about the business of music yet. I’m talking about being in control of every aspect of the creative process of your music.
If you are an artist that doesn’t play an instrument, make your own beats, mix, master or produce full songs, you’ll find it hard to compete with the ones that can do these things. Yes, you can simply lease a few beats from a popular beat maker on soundcloud or hire someone to mix and master your songs or even write the songs you’ll sing or rap. But the problem is we all have our own agendas. And the music industry has the most ambitious and intelligent group of people you’ll ever find. Some of them have years of experience manipulating artist in to either seeing things their way or making music they don’t want to make. I know this sounds dark and I’m not trying to discourage you from working with others, but in order to make the music you want to make and get something completed and released, you’ll have to become a “self-reliant artist”.
What does it mean to be a “self-reliant artist”?
A self-reliant artist is someone that does not rely on someone else to accomplish things that they want to get done. Self-reliant artists rely on their own abilities and skills to reach their goals and make their dreams come true.
While relying on others for help is necessary at times, a artist music eventually learn to solve problems.
If you’ve decided that being an artist with one trick is enough for you, It is highly recommended that you at least understand the terms and all the processes of creating and finalizing your music. And even if you don’t care about what your fans and followers think, I know for a fact your aim is to create the best music you can. However, the best way to do this is by giving yourself more options and tools to recreate the music you hear all day long in your head.
So the first thing I’m going to show you is how to make beats or instrumentals for your songs. But before I show you how to make beats, there are a few music terms that you’ll want to get familiar with.
#1 Beat: In music and music theory, the beat is the basic unit of time. When you are listening to your favorite song and you start bobbing your head or tapping your finger, each time you bob your head or tap your finger is considered one beat.
#2 Bar: A bar, or in some countries a measure, is a group of beats with the first beat usually slightly louder to indicate the beginning of a new bar (or measure). Try listening to your favorite songs and tapping your finger or bobbing your head along to them. Since you know that each time you tap or bob your head is a beat, count in groups of 4 like this: 1234 | 2234 | 3234 | 4234. This means that you have counted out 4 total bars.
#3 Time Signature: It tells you how many measures there are in a bar. Most of the time, in urban music, the popular time signature is 4/4. Basically, this means that you have 4 beats in every bar. As another example, if you are using the 3/4 signature, this means that there are 3 beats in every bar.
#4 Tempo: It is basically how fast or slow the music is going. It is the beat or constant pulse of a song, influencing the vibe and the feel of the song. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM). For example, R&B or hip hop might be 60 to 100 beats per minute; whereas Dub step will be closer to 120 to 160 BPM.
#5 Melody: Melody is a tune – a sequence of single notes or tones combined with rhythm and pitches to create something musically satisfying. It is that catchy part of a song that gets stuck in your head all day (think: “Mary had a little lamb”). It is also the principle part in a harmony or, in other words, a sequence of notes to build a harmony on.
#6 Harmony: When it comes to composing an instrumental, harmony is the combination of notes being pressed at the same time to produce chords and chord progression. Essentially, it is complimentary instruments or vocals that blend with the main melody, creating a very pleasing sound.
Now that you are familiar with some of the key terms when putting together a beat, let’s jump into the basics of form, song structure or in this case, the format of a beat.
The Four Main Sections of a Beat
The intro is the beginning section of your beat. This is ultimately your chance to make a good first impression on the listener. Many producers do not give much thought or time to this part of the beat, but it could be the most important section of your track. Think of it as the stage at which you prepare their emotions and ears for maximum emotional impact. This section is especially important if you plan to submit your music for placement opportunities. Many times the professionals that are accepting your submissions do not have the time to listen to every song that is submitted all the way through. Many of them believe that you can tell if a track is going to be likeable in the first 10 – 20 seconds. An Intro for an urban track is normally anywhere between 4-8 bars. Get creative and use this section to really get their attention!
#8 Chorus (or hook)
This is the part of your track that you want people to remember. It is the catchy part of a beat or song that can “hook”a listener into wanting to continue listening to the rest of the story or the next verse. An intro is a sort of a ‘strip down’ version of the hook, where the instruments that you leave out in the verse sections are reintroduced or build back up once you reach the hook section of the beat. The hook is the section with the most activity and depth; it is the most exciting part where the energy and volume are the highest. I like to look at the hook or a group of hooks as the climax or progressive stages of the climax – the part of a beat where you try to lift the listener off the ground. It is like you are using the other sections of the track to build momentum up to this section. The hook section of the beat is normally 4 – 8 bars long, but I recommend going with the flow and feel of the beat. The hook is usually shorter than the verse; in a typical hip hop song, the hook is 8 bars long.
The verse section of your beat is where the story is told. The lyrics of a song will change from verse to verse, but the instrumental part (rhythm and melody) generally stay the same. As in the intro, this section is a stripped down version of the hook, it is a much quieter section with fewer instruments. This is important so that the beat does not distract the listener from the story being told. Allowing the verse sections to have less going on will give your track a climax or crescendo effect when approaching the verse sections, making the hook feel more exciting when it hits. This will also create a musical divider between the verses and the choruses, giving the listener a better idea of where the different sections of the beat start and end. The verse sections of a beat tend to be longer; in a typical hip hop song, verses are 16 bars long.
The bridge section is a contrasting section of a beat that prepares the listener for the return of the verse and hook or the release before the grand finale or climax of the beat. It can also be used to keep the listener interested by breaking up the verse/chorus/verse pattern. This section usually comes in after the 2nd or 3rd chorus and is usually 8 bars long.
Although this section is not necessary to consider a beat complete, it can set your track apart from others making your music more interesting and exciting.
The outro, in some cases, is pretty much the exact opposite of the intro. It can be the final chorus or a 4-8 bar section after the final chorus. It is the grand finale section or the climax. You can create an outro or ending to your beat by repeating the chorus or hook section, or you can use the hook and chorus section with layering instruments to give this section added fullness and depth. There are multiple ways to create an outro for your track; in a typical hip hop track, you would hear the song fade out or end with a sting-like ending. As I mentioned before, if you are in doubt, you can simply use the final hook as the outro and fade it out.
For homework I want you to pick 2-3 of your favorite songs and listen and find all of the terms we’ve gone over in this article.