When a producer sits down, opens up their DAW of choice, turns on their speakers or plugs in their headphones with a blank canvas, the possibilities are endless. With that limitless ability to experiment also comes the ability to feel stuck. Have you ever flipped through tons of TV channels and wondered, “Why is there nothing good to watch?” You have so many options, but feel like there’s nothing worth sticking around for. Well, that same “stuck” feeling can apply to beatmakers. So, if you are feeling like you can’t come up with anything good, or you just want to start over, before going into a new project file, try evaluating some methods to really help you hone in on your creative output, There are countless ways to make music — none are better than the other. But there are a few surefire methods to really get your production off its feet.
We’ve listed four ways that you can make a quality beat from scratch, even if you’re in a creative rut.
1. Choose a tempo from a song you’re into
So, where do you start with crafting a beat? Well, usually the tempo comes first. Finding the right tempo is integral to communicating the core emotion and feeling of your beat. While you can always rely on the standard 120 BPM, ask yourself, what tempo have you had on repeat lately? Go to a song you’ve been jamming to, tap out the tempo, then start there. In many ways, this is similar to the exercise of writing lyrics to the rhythm of another song’s lyrical pattern. No one owns the copyright to a specific tempo, so follow your inspiration and start from there.
2. Emulate, then cut and chop
Now, if you want to take it a step further, try emulating the beat of the song you’ve had on repeat. Let’s say it’s a trap beat: you’re probably going to have some rattling hi-hats that oscillate in pitch and EQ, a bouncing 808, and a reverb-tinged clap. If that’s what is in your favorite tune of the day, make it. By the nature of you being a different artist with different tools, it’s going to sound a little different to begin with. But to really make it your own, flip the beat on its head. Slow it down several BPM, or speed it up. Replace the hi-hats with tambourines. Put the snare in a different part of the rhythm. This allows you to have a good beat as your foundation that you know you like, but then you have room to mix things up and add your own unique touch.
3. Make a simple loop and expand on it
If you’re feeling stuck like you don’t have it in you to come up with something great from scratch, start by lowering your standards for something simple. For example, lay down a four on the floor kick pattern — kicks hitting every quarter note. This pattern is the foundation for countless great beats, especially in dance genres. You can slowly build from there. Add in a snare or a clap. Gradually introduce new elements into this simple loop you’ve created. Don’t worry about getting it all right at first, just ease into the loop. Once the beat starts feeling full, extend the loop for a few more measures. Get dynamic with the beat’s structure and effects. As you slowly expand on this simple loop, you will end up with a much more compelling and interesting rhythm at the end.
4. Challenge yourself with percussion you don’t normally use
Sometimes, our creative ruts come from our own doing. We box ourselves into the musical ideas we’re familiar with. But if you really challenge yourself to break out of your comfort zone and experiment, it can open you up to new ideas. For example, if you’re an EDM producer, instead of using pulsing kicks and punchy snares, try experimenting with other percussive instruments like a mazhar, sakat, or tabla. You could also try working with timpani percussion. Additionally, you can create percussion out of anything! Get a field mic and record yourself making drum shots with things you have around your house. Then, get started on building a beat. This use of new and different instruments will unlock parts of your creativity you may not have used before.
Sam Friedman is an electronic producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, creating music as Nerve Leak. Praised by major publications, his unique blend of experimental and pop music has earned him hundreds of thousands of streams across the web.