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Make Your Own Beats – Software Programs and Tools

As a beat maker there are other tools you should consider to take you into that next level once you’ve chosen your sequencer (or Digital Audio Workstation). First, before I get any further, I would like to remind you that you’ll always hear others claim that a certain tool is better than the other. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s kind of like the Mac vs. PC discussion: it’s never ending! The same holds true for beats, whether it’s MPC vs. MV3000, Reason vs. FL Studio, or Cubase vs. Logic. There is no better; only best for you. Try not to get caught up into all of that, because in the end it all comes down to your ability as an artist to use your creativity to create something, while effectively utilizing the tools you have at your disposal. A good producer should be able to become a master of his or her own tools.

A good way determine whether you’ll need to expand your production arsenal is by looking at what you already have and the style of music you intend on creating then figuring out what’s limiting you. This is the best way of gauging whether you should buy new gear because software and hardware is not cheap and investing in either or both of these things can mean a couple hundred or thousand of dollars spent. This free guide is about making beats on a tight-pocketed budget, so I’ll detail what I did and strictly outline some costs incurred as a result. When I did this evaluation myself early on, I realized that the most limiting factor was the variety of sounds I had which clued me into what I needed at the time, which was more sounds to work with.

Sounds:

In addition to containing nearly all the tools you’ll need to begin making beats, FL Studio also comes with some stock sounds to get your production game started. Bundled with FL Studio is some drum kits, bass tones, and several other sounds such as strings, synths, percussion, etc. While these sounds may help get you started, sooner you’ll find that they get used and re-used fast and you’ll need to load up on some newer sounds to stay creative.

Sampled Sounds:

Obtaining newer sounds can be done in several ways. A common technique is by sampling old records and has been popularized by producers such as Kanye West, Pete Rock, and the RZA. There are several techniques used when sampling music. While some people loop grooves and breaks, others choose to segment or “chop” components of the original loop to create something completely different than the original. A master of this technique is DJ Premier. By studying the sound of DJ Premier you’ll see that he barely just loops his samples and rather chops them up to the point where the original is barely recognizable. Key to sampling is having a good ear for what to sample. This is why record hunting or “crate digging” is a complex art on its own. Record collectors also known as crate diggers are constantly in search of records for a sound or a combination of unique sounds to create their beats. Whether it’s a horn stab, an ethnic instrument’s sound, or a drum break, as a hip hop producer, you should develop a keen sense of collecting, using, and transforming sounds. FL Studio has various tools to do exactly this. You can record sounds into FL Studio with either your own sound editor, or using the mixer in FL Studio. If you are a producer who plans on doing a lot of sampling, you may want to consider purchasing a turntable and mixer. And don’t forget to save some cash for the records you’ll be sampling from!

Sound Modules:

Sound modules are electronic instruments that contain a bank of sounds that rely on an external interface (such as a keyboard controller or a sequencer) to trigger its internal sounds. Usually this is accomplished through MIDI, a protocol typically used in electronic music. A whole book can be written about MIDI, its features, and advantages but since this guide is supposed to get you started rather than confuse you already, I’ll keep it brief. In a nutshell, MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is an industry standard communication protocol in electronic music. It is used for communication between interconnected electronic music devices through MIDI messages (no audio is transferred), sent from the sending device to the receiver. So in relation to sound modules, MIDI messages are sent from either the sequencer or a keyboard controller to trigger the sounds on the module. In essence, these MIDI messages can be sent in the form of musical notes, and typically dictate how they will be played by the sound module. An example of the properties MIDI messages can send are things like velocity, volume, timings, etc. Sound modules, in rack form, are a good option because they are usually cheaper than buying the keyboard version which essentially contains the same sounds such as drum kits, bass, and other instruments.

For example, The Yamaha Motif ES sound module is several hundreds of dollars cheaper than it’s keyboard counterpart, but lacks some features the keyboard version may offer, notably the keys, sliders and knobs, and smaller display. While sound modules can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, there is yet another solution for us trying to stick to a tight budget, and that’s where the world of VSTs come in handy. Now if you’re thinking, “Damn, another term I’ve got to remember” but you’ll be glad to know this one. VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology and is basically software replacements for real hardware instruments. Many instrument companies who have traditionally made hardware instruments are now putting them out in software form as VST plug-ins. These VST plug-ins can then be loaded as a channel into FL Studio and played as if it were a hardware device connected via MIDI cable. E-MU, who originally came out with the Proteus 2000 hardware sound module, no longer produce it and have now come out with the Proteus X which sells for about $150. The Proteus X features the same Composer sound bank as the original Proteus 2000 created in 1999. Additional sound banks can be purchased through E-MU’s website such as the Mo’Phatt and Planet Earth for only $50 which were both popular hardware sound modules.

Sound Libraries and Sample CDs:

Last, but certainly not least, another potential source for new sounds are from Sound Library CDs. Sound Libraries are usually a bunch of sampled sounds, such as drum kits, bass tones, percussion, stabs, or sound effects collected and compiled by the vendor, usually in .wav or .aif format. These vary widely in prices and can be anywhere from $10 to several hundred dollars, depending on the quality and how extensive the sound library is. While I haven’t purchased any sound libraries on CD before, I have heard people who rely a great deal on them and have no doubt that they come in handy. A very intriguing sample CD is one called “All the Breaks” which contains 300 drum breaks all in one CD for your sampling or chopping pleasure. With the wealth of all these news sounds at your disposal you may find you need a more efficient way of auditioning them and playing them. This is where having a MIDI controller may come in handy.