How do DJs Make Beats?
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At the most basic level, a beat is what keeps the time of a song. Repeated over and over again, the rest of instruments, vocals, and harmonies follow its lead. When listening to a song, you might tap your foot or drum your fingers to the beat. The most common beat, in this respect, is “four on the floor.”
In that most common of all time signatures, there’s a beat every four quarters in 4/4 time and the rest of the notes fill in the spaces. The beat keeps a constant tempo for the song. The faster the tempo, the faster the song – this is known as the BPM of a song (beats per minute). The fastest forms of electronic dance music rarely dip below 250 BPM and speedcore often reaches 1000 BPM!
With the advent of hip hop, EDM, and other forms of electronic music, the popular meaning of “beat” has changed or, in a sense, expanded. Beat-makers and DJs producing music today are charged with creating beats that get people on the dance floor by incorporating rhythms, grooves, loops, and pulses.
Changing the Beat
When producing a track, DJs will still work with a standard beat, but what they incorporate into the song is what puts people in the mood. Along with BPM, the melodies, vocals, and samples help shape the genre they’re producing.
Electronic music has genres on top of sub-genres to appeal to almost every taste. Each one has its own take on the beat. Industrial music is abrasive, aggressive, and altogether angry. House shares many of the same qualities of disco, but done with a minimalist flair. Dubstep uses syncopated drums and borrows from reggae. For the most part, all of them still use a traditional 4/4 beat, just with varying BPMs.
As a DJ producer, it’s up to you to decide what your beat will be. Chill, party, smooth, or jagged, your beats determine who will take interest in your music and how the audience reacts to your creations when they’re played at a club or in a set you’re DJing.
No Trainwrecks Please
One way to keep them dancing on the floor by expertly beat matching or sewing together two songs to create a smooth transition that doesn’t let the vibe or the beat…drop.
By matching the BPM and tempo of two songs, one song can be phased into the other, then phased out. Used on conventional turntables, good beat matching skills were and are one marker of a proficient DJ. Today’s DAWS and CDJs, which enable DJs to spin CDs and play digital music files along with the aid of a mixer, are today’s tools of choice.
Nowadays, an entire set can be created well before a show. This allows DJs to concentrate on adapting their music on-the-fly to match the mood of the audience. The best DJs on the globe use DAWs to create and play highly polished pieces that they can improvise on as-needed in order to bring an audience up or down.
Creating Your Beats
The advent of DAWs in the late 90s made it far easier than decades prior, enabling thousands to create their own music without being stymied by the cost or a lack of electronic know-how.
With a computer with proper processing speed, sound cards, and the right DAW, nearly anyone could start making beats. It’s one of the reasons EDM music – and its subgenres – became so popular and widespread. Still, the software is only as good as its operator.
In order to make beats that sound great, original, better than what’s out there, it takes more than playing with Ableton Live or Logic Pro for a few hours a week. A certain amount of music theory, knowledge of the physics of sound, and the physiology of hearing all go into becoming a great beat-maker and artist.
Take piano lessons in grade school? Were you a member of the marching band? Have parents who love music and explained what made a song so good? Chances are, you already have a pretty solid foundation on how chords, scales, harmonies work, you just don’t know why your gut is right.
If you’re interested in making music your career, bringing that knowledge into the foreground and using it to amplify your talent should be at the top of your list. Then, when it comes to breaking the rules, or creating something altogether new, you’ll know what works (and why).
Gain Experience from Experience
By placing you with a professional beat-maker, engineer, or producer in their studio, you’ll be getting one-on-one mentoring in a fully immersive environment. You’ll learn from an industry insider that has already paid their dues, understands the business of making music, and what it takes to get noticed.
Want a sneak peek? It takes hard work, determination, and a willingness to learn, practice, and learn some more. This is more than a hobby – it could eventually lead to a career. Many Recording Connection graduates have gone on to get hired at the very same recording studios where they trained.
Others have become successful beat-makers, DJs playing clubs, venues, and festivals throughout the US and abroad, and others have launched careers as studio owners, songwriters, artists, music producers, and more. We gave them the access, the instruction, and the experience; they made the most of it. If building your career in music is something you’re willing to work for, apply to Recording Connection to start.