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5 Tips To Make Your Beats Sound Better

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Overview

“How can I make my beat sound better?” I think that’s the question for all the producers out there. I have been making beat since 2014 myself after working as a recording engineer and mixing engineer at the studio with some of the biggest producers you can imagine e.g. Murda Beatz, Boi-1-da, Frank Dukes, Vinylz etc. I am safe to say, I have taken beat making lessons from some of the best in the game. I had been struggling at the beginning to make my beat to hit as hard as those I heard in the studio, I studied and practised and with my engineering background I am safe to say I got it figured out.

Here’re the tips I want to share with you all that will make your beat sound better instantly.

  1. Stop laying your drums
  2. Gain stage your tracks properly
  3. Spend time sound designing
  4. Less is more
  5. Limit your drums

1. Stop Layering Your Drums and 808s

I bet we all went through the phase when your producer friends told you to layer drum samples to achieve a bigger sound! That’s not 100% correct. If you want your drums to hit hard and sound big, what you need to do is find good drum samples. You’ll also need a great monitoring system first that can show you the full frequency spectrum, but try finding good samples with headphones or in the car that can show you the low sub area.

Most producers struggle with the kick drum or 808 because they cannot hear what’s going on in the low end, thus they layer more kick samples and over process it thinking they got a better kick sound. 9 out of 10, it sounds terrible. Either the kick samples is all out of phase or it creates a sustaining 20hz bass note that fights with the bass. The same applies to layering 808s. You don’t need 2 different 808s stacked together. You only need to have 1 good one. 

When I find a good drum sample, I usually mix it with compression, eq, limiter or distortion to get it to where I want it to sound because I might want more punch, more low end, more attack etc. That took years of practice in terms of mixing, but when you can find a good drum sample to use, you are already 80% there. Most of the great sounding drum samples are pre-mixed. If you are not sure what you are doing in terms of mixing, save that for the mixing engineer!

2. Gain stage your tracks properly

This is like mixing 101. Gain staging is crucial as far as creating a good mix. If you can do proper balancing and panning when mixing, your mix is 80% done. When I am making a beat, I’ll pull down all my faders instead of leaving it all at unity gain. Don’t hesitate to bring it down to -10db or even -20db to start with, and then balance the elements in your beat. By doing so you won’t overload the master in your DAW, and you have headroom to turn up the kick drum, bass or 808. If you want a drum to hit harder, you can easily just turn it up to 10db… I am sure it will be in your face.

3. Spend time sound designing

I always tell producers to mix their stuff. What I am referring to is sound design your tracks! Add reverb, delays, EQ, compression, panning etc. on your instruments to your liking and commit to it. You don’t have to wait for the next person down the line to do it for you. By doing so, you are closer to hearing what your final beat is going to sound like, and you can make a better decision whether you want to add more elements or subtract some elements to create space.

A good example, back in the day, if you were producing a band, the producer and the band will spend hours getting the guitar to sound how they wanted. They would experiment with various types of guitars, amps, cabinets and pedals or even a combination of those to get the the final sound they committed too. And then, after that, they would find the drum sound, bass sound or keyboard sound to go along with that particular guitar tone. All the sounds in your beat are relative. This 808 will pair well with that kick drum. That snare works well with that Hihat and so on. The key is to spend the time and sound design of each element for the overall soundscape. Everything must compliment each other.

4. Less is more

This goes along with the previous point. When you want your beat to sound big, don’t try to add 200 tracks thinking you can get a bigger sound. Limit yourself to 10-20 tracks maximum to begin with, less is more is the key here. The least amount of elements you have in a beat, the more space you’ll have to create a cleaner mix and hard hitting beat. That’s because you’ll have more headroom and space to mix it bigger. Drake is a good reference. There’s only a few elements in his beat, but it sounds enormous. He literally only has the melody, bass, hi hats, kick and a snare. That’s it. Only around 6-7 sounds. Every elements has a duty in his beat and nothing is overlapping! Learning how to make your beats sound amazing with less elements will also develop your skills as a producer. 

5. Try limiting your drums

From what I observed, a lot of the pro beat makers love FL Studio for the drum sound. Why? Because a lot of the producers don’t know how to gain stage their drums and therefore the drums are hitting the output of the FL studio very hard and creating a digital clipping/limiting sound. Each DAW (Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic) has a sound when the output at your master is to high. FL studio created a more aggressive yet ear pleasing sound, it really makes the drums sound great for some reason. Technically it is wrong because it generates extra distortion to your drums, but musically, we got so used to it that is has become “the sound” that everyone is chasing for. If you don’t have FL studio and want to emulate that hard hitting drum sound, my trick is to use a limiter on the drum bus to create clipping and distortion.

That's about it.

The common misconception is that mixing will fix all the problems and make your music sound better. In reality, it’s the production itself that determines this. The sound selection, sound design and the beat making process itself is what will ultimately have the quality of your music sounding better. Mixing will simply bring out the best of your sound and make it more professional. We hope these tips help you in becoming a better music producer! Go out there a kill it.

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Matthew Sim

Matthew Sim

Grammy-nominated mixer, producer, consultant and designer from Hong Kong. He has worked with a long list of award-winning artists internationally, including Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Frank Dukes, DJ Mustard, Murda Beatz, and more.

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