It’s common for every music producer to take their own route when it comes to making beats, but there are still a few staple techniques that most people use when making trap beats. A widely popular genre, trap music generally comes with a signature sound. Yet, it’s also open to influence from many other genres.
For this article, I’m going to dive into my production process of making trap beats so you can have a comprehensive guide on the elements that need the most focus.
Starting From Scratch
Known to be a challenging aspect for any producer, starting a new track is where writer’s block happens. Whether you begin with percussion or melody, that’ll be the base for the rest of the track.
This is where most of the other ideas will come from for the rest of the instrumental. I think it’s always advantageous to start with a solid melody, and it doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just catchy enough not to tire out the ear.
Of course, it may sound simple all on its own, but it’s common to have multiple melody layers in trap music. Once you have that initial melody locked in, this is where I would start to focus on a lot of the swing that many trap beats are known for.
To clarify, an excellent recipe for a solid trap beat entails a lot of bounce between the melodies and the percussion.
With your initial melody laid out, you can move on to simple aspects of the percussion, such as the kick and snares. This will act as the bare bones for the meat of your track, as you should already be able to hear the swing between the few layers you’ve put down.
You’ll also be able to navigate the open space you have left, which is vital as you never want your track to sound too muddy. Nevertheless, layering is essential, but trap beats can sound great, either with a simple or more convoluted approach.
Layering Melodies and Percussion
Now would be an excellent point to start playing with a few more melodies, as the build-up is essential, especially when leading into the hook. I generally stick to two main melodies through each verse and write an additional melody to crank up the energy when the hook comes around.
Working with two main melodies helps with a few things. It gives you some alternation throughout the verse and won’t conflict with the other dynamics in the track to the point where it starts to sound crowded.
This isn’t to say less is always more, but if you’re producing instrumentals for recording artists, you want to give their vocals ample room to shine through.
Too many layers can take the spotlight from the artist and may make it more challenging to get a placement, as artists can usually hear this as well. Regarding the melodies, you can go either an organic or synthetic route and even a blend of both.
I prefer to play out my melodies, but that doesn’t mean the idea of sampling should be left out. Sampling will forever be a part of music production, and it’s easier than ever to incorporate it into your beats.
However, one of the most significant issues with sampling is getting the proper clearance to use it so your tracks can be distributed and sold.
Thankfully, many companies online have helped fix this issue through royalty-free sampling. Although a variety of companies offer sample banks for producers, my personal choice is always to use Splice samples.
If you make beats, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of them before, for a good reason.
I may not use them in every track, but it’s an excellent resource for one-shot and loop samples that don’t come with the headache of sourcing and clearing samples.
Better yet, many of the samples they provide are created by other producers, which gives you a long list of genres and styles to choose from.
So, after you’ve put down the base melodies and percussion, now is an excellent time to start looking into some light mixing.
Start Mixing Your Track Together
It’s crucial to note that each producer has their own way of mixing their songs, and it honestly comes down to what sounds good to you at the end of the day.
However, there are a handful of dos and don’ts. Keep reading to get a brief idea of what a bit of light mixing looks like.
The first thing I think about when mixing my melodies is to cut out the low-end, as that’s usually necessary to let the kick and bass shine through.
You always want to give your track some wiggle room here, as not every melody needs the same treatment, but a good range to cut out of your low end would be between 50 to 100Hz. This ensures that the low frequencies of your melodies won’t clash with the low end of your bass and percussion.
Moreover, a significant driving force in trap music is the kick and bass; in many cases, it’s the primary focus of many instrumentals. You also want to analyze the EQ of your melodies and ensure you don’t have any peaking frequencies.
Then again, there may be others that are too low, and a minor tweak here and there should help give your melodies a well-rounded tone.
Most producers would agree that if your kick sounds off or isn’t hitting right, it can significantly affect the quality of a trap beat overall. Sure, you could use all kinds of fancy plugins to shape this sound, but I wouldn’t say that’s where you should start immediately.
Before anything else, start with the EQ of the kick, and make sure the frequencies are shaped to offer the most punch with a decent amount of low-end. Usually, this requires a blend of adjustments between the high and low-end frequencies.
A good tip I received early in my career was to learn the plugins your DAW offers before anything else and start with those when mixing. In most cases, your DAW has a lot of the essentials you need, and if you’re looking for a unique flare, that’s when you can move on to more specialized plugins.
Nevertheless, working on basic EQ and compression is a good starting point when mixing your kicks. With compression, you usually don’t want to go overboard with it.
Still, I like to work with a 4.1:1 ratio and continue with minor adjustments to the threshold, attack, and release. Again, a lot of this comes down to your personal preferences and a trained ear.
This is where mixing can get tricky for some producers, as it may call for a lot of back and forth between the bass and other layers in the track, especially with the kick.
No matter which type of bass or 808 you choose, it can quickly muddy up a track with minimal effort. Adjustments will be needed, and like the kick, you can start with some simple EQ and compression to make a substantial difference.
Where you want the most attention is how the kick and bass blend together. Although they should be layered together, when they hit simultaneously, they tend to fight for the same spot in the frequency spectrum.
You can do multiple things to help with this, and it’s generally advantageous to let the kick dominate when it hits. Once the kick hits, the bass should follow close behind, and you can achieve this with a blend of EQ, compression, and side chaining.
You may find plenty of information about distorting your bass or manipulating it from numerous angles. Still, you want to consider how it sounds on its own first.
There’s a term in production called “over-producing,” which means you can tweak something to the point where it sounds pretty bad. If the bass sounds good from the jump, you may not need to adjust too much.
Much of this pertains to personal preferences depending on the sound you’re going for. With trap beats, you always want the kicks to knock and the bass to sound clean but strong. How you adjust both parameters will significantly depend on what they sound like together in conjunction with the other layers of your track.
Aside from the main points of your instrumental, you should also use various percussive sounds to keep your track interesting.
For example, when using hi-hats, open hats, and other perc, you want to focus on the swing and bounce it adds to the track.
Not only does it help tie everything together, but the right hi-hat roll or additional knocking percussion can keep the listener’s ear interested and act as a great lead into other sounds.
Like any element of an instrumental, you don’t want to overdo the percussion; otherwise, the track will start to sound unorganized.
With my own productions, I focus a lot of swing between each layer of my track. I like to describe this because it should sound like each layer is having a conversation with the other, giving each other space to speak while fluidly moving together.
The last thing you want is each layer of your track sounding like it’s fighting for space to be heard; any listener will be able to pick up on that.
It’s always important to remember that with any instrumental, never stray away from what you’re trying to achieve. Although some facts about mixing and mastering are helpful to follow, music is a vastly subjective topic. You shouldn’t ever copy and paste someone else’s method into your own.
On that note, all of the information in this article offers the standard approach I take with most of my trap beats. After you have basic layering and mixing out of the way, that’s the best time to start fine-tuning each aspect so it can reach its full-fledged potential.