Quick Word of Warning – This is a LONG Guide. No time to read the whole thing? Scroll down below the Table of Contents to listen to the audio version of this article.
So you want to learn how to make beats and songs? Welcome to the ultimate guide on beat making, music production and how to make songs for beginners.
In this guide, we’re going to go through the basics of everything you need to know.
In this guide you’re reading right now, we’ll go over music theory, beat making software, hardware, and some strategies to making pro beats.
After that we’ll talk a bit about how to turn your beats into full songs with vocals, effects and getting that “industry” sound you hear on the radio.
Don’t want to create your own beats but make your own full songs? You can always buy rap beats from us to record vocals on.
But if you do want to learn how to make beats, just remember one thing…
Your Beats Are Going To Suck At First.
But don’t beat yourself up. Just keep making beats every single day, as often as you can. This isn’t something you can just learn and be good at in a month or two.
We’ll show you how to make professional music, but just keep making beats as much as you can. After some time, you’ll notice how amazing your beats are getting.
If you want a full step-by-step beginner’s video course on making your very first beat click on the video above..
So let’s get to it…
Maybe it’s just a melody you hum to yourself.
Maybe you don’t have any ideas, but are inspired by something in real life – another song, an event, a movie/book, etc.
Your job as a beat maker or music producer is to find instruments and create sounds that work well together and use them like building blocks to:
Now, not every producer does all 4 of those things all the time – especially when collaborating with others – but you should learn about all of them.
There are a few different ways people make beats. Some have an idea in their head – like a melody or chorus line – and try to recreate it in the studio
Other times, producers will have a bunch of sounds on the keyboard in front of them and just play around on it – freestyle – until they come up with something that sounds dope.
You can start with the main melody, the underlying chord progression, the drum pattern – whatever you want.
And then you add another layer of sound – maybe a piano or a bassline, etc. Then add layer on top of layer until you come up with something that sounds full and musical.
Either way the basic process is this:
Load up Sounds (or Grab Your Guitar/Drum Machine/etc) -> Play Around & Record Some Loops -> Add Another Sound That Works -> Repeat Until It’s Hot -> Record Vocals -> Mix and Master
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But before you go banging on some keys/pads you should know one thing…
You have to know how music works. Study it. And that doesn’t mean go to school or pick up a music theory book.
Knowing music theory helps, but really just study the music that you love. Listen to it intensely and figure out it’s moving parts.
That’ll help you figure out how real music is put together – the sounds used, the way the drum pattern is put together, the intro/verse/chorus/bridge/etc and where they happen, the rises and falls throughout the song, changes in sounds/musical key/emotion/vibe.
Study your favorite songs and they’ll tell you a whole lot about how to make good music.
I know… you hear the words music and theory and you fall asleep.
But when you’re making professional music, you have to know the very basics.
You need to know what beats, notes, bars, time signatures, chord progressions and other musical elements are.
You need to understand the structure of a modern popular song – what are verses, hooks, bridges, etc?
We get into all of this stuff in our beat making course (you can sign up for it at the end of this post).
Also check out our full basic music theory section.
You use a lot of different studio equipment and software to get it all done.
And the process above is just a simple breakdown of stuff that’s more complicated than that.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a ton of money in the beginning. And it’s not as hard as it seems when you first start.
So let’s get into the equipment you’ll need when learning how to make beats.
And if you want to really make professional music, you’ll need to buy a few different things.
But let’s make one thing clear – if you just want to make beats (and not full songs), all you really need is a laptop and some beat making software.
Making full songs will usually require more (unless you’re just making instrumental music). But even if you’re just making beats having a keyboard and a drum midi controller makes it easier.
Pretty much every studio setup nowadays is computer based.
Technology has made it so much easier to make professional music without spending tens of thousands of dollars like you’ve had to in the past..
So let’s talk about what you need to make music.
Mac or PC? Laptop or Desktop?
Really it all comes down to your personal preference on both questions.
Don’t believe the hype about Mac – it’s not “better” for making music than PCs. They used to be back in the early 2000s, but that was still only half true.
You can make hit music on Macs, PCs, desktops and laptops. So don’t worry about it too much.
If you plan on making beats in your basement or bedroom and won’t need to go anywhere, go for a desktop computer.
You can often get a more powerful computer for cheaper compared to laptops.
If you plan on going to other peoples’ houses or studios a lot to make music, or like to make beats in parks/beaches or outside, go for a laptop.
The portability of laptops is amazing.
At the very minimum, you want a computer that has an Intel dual-core processor and at least 4 or 8 GB of RAM. You might get away with 2GB of RAM, but I wouldn’t risk it. You also want a pretty big hard drive to store all your music/sounds/etc.
But to be honest… that won’t be good enough at all in a year or two.
If you can afford it, spring for a system like the one we recommend below:
You don’t have to worry too much about the video card (unless you plan on editing and playing back HD video a lot).
In terms of sound card, don’t worry either. Most computers/laptops have ones built in, and we’ll be discussing professional sound cards (i.e. audio interfaces) later.
Tablets like the iPad have come a long way in terms of making music, but they’re still not 100% there. You can start projects on a tablet, but to really finish them you’ll still need a laptop/desktop computer.
So hold off on buying a tablet for music production for now.
Next, you’ll need some music making software to run on the computer. This software is where you’ll load up your sounds, create your loops, arrange your song and even record, mix and master the final track.
There are a few different types of beat making software options available to you depending on what you need.
If you just plan on making beats, go with a software beat maker or a hardware/software combo.
If you want to produce full songs and record instruments/vocals, you’ll also want to pick up a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
These are programs that allow you to program your beats with nothing more than a laptop.
Most modern music is loop based, meaning you make a bunch of music loops and they repeat in different sequences.
We’ll get into how most beat making software works a bit later, but basically you program sounds into a pattern using your mouse or record yourself playing them with a MIDI hardware controller.
You can stacks sounds on top of each other and arrange them into full blown beats.
A MIDI controller is a keyboard or a set of drum pads that control the sounds in your beat making software. With a MIDI controller you don’t have to use your mouse to click in little squares of where you want a sound to be. You can play/tap it out by hand.
Software Beat Makers includes stuff like
Most people who use FL Studio or Reason also pick up a MIDI hardware controller (we’ll get into these more below). But it can be complicated trying to get certain pieces of hardware to work with certain pieces of software.
That can leave you super frustrated, especially if you’re new to music technology.
But you don’t have to go that route. You can buy a software/hardware combo beat maker.
This is a bundle that has a hardware MIDI controller (usually drum pads) that is specifically designed to work with it’s own software beat maker.
This is the best of both musical worlds – the feeling of hardware and the power/flexibility of software – and so is the ideal choice for a lot of producers.
Options include products like:
A digital audio workstation (or DAW) is a full software-based studio setup. It provides you with everything you’ll need to make a beat or a full song (except the hardware stuff).
DAWs are different from software beat makers because they have so much more power and capability.
Software beat makers are mostly good for making beats and instrumentals.
But if you want to record vocals, arrange a song easily, mix and master music or even score a film – you need a digital audio workstation for that.
If you just want to make beats and leave the rest for others, just get a beat making program. But if you plan on setting up a proper studio and doing actual music production, you should consider buying a DAW as well.
Different DAW choices include:
Check Out Our Full Beat Making Software Reviews Today!
Just a quick note about hardware beat makers – software isn’t the only choice for making beats, but it’s the one most people choose.
There are also hardware beat makers which are entire music production centers within a single piece of hardware (like a music production keyboard or drum machine).
Think of the legendary Akai MPC series, or the Yamaha Motif.
These pieces of hardware have everything you need in them to produce a full musical composition (you’ll still need a DAW or old-school studio to make a full song, though)
Here’s the problem with hardware beatmakers:
BUT – there are some people who prefer hardware beat makers to software ones. But if you’re just starting out making beats, we really recommend going the software route.
These additional pieces of software and hardware will help you make better music – faster and easier. But don’t think you need to buy any of them.
Like we said earlier, if you just want to make beats you can get by with a laptop and some software. But if you want to make full songs or take your beat to the next level, you’ll need some help from the stuff we talk about below.
Now, we don’t mean actual musical instruments (but you can buy guitars and pianos if you want). We mean virtual instruments, sound/sample/loop libraries and things you can use if your studio software.
Most software will come with stock sounds and instruments, Some of them are actually good, but most will be mediocre.
To get really good sounds (which make a HUGE difference in your beats), you’ll need to buy third-party sound packs and instruments.
You can buy pre-made loops, single drum sounds and even entire virtual instruments like pianos or synthesizers.
Some can be pretty expensive, but they’re well worth it.
As a starting producer the first thing I’d suggest is getting GOOD drum sounds. They can make or break a track. Download some of our free drum sounds here.
Then work your way up, buying loop packs, sample packs, VST instruments and more. The great thing about virtual instruments (especially synths) is you can use some of them to create brand new sounds on your own that no one else has.
Bottom line, keep your sounds fresh. Your beats will only be as good as the sounds you use in them.
Here are some good virtual instruments to look out for
An audio interface is basically a computer sound card that is designed to be able to handle professional audio production work.
Your computer’s built-in sound card just isn’t good enough. Sure, you can make beats using it. But if you want to use a MIDI hardware controller or hook up a microphone/guitar, it won’t work properly.
For that you need a pro audio interface. There are a ton of options out there, but they all basically hook up to your computer (usually through USB) and allow you to connect studio microphones, guitars and other instruments/sound sources, MIDI controllers and more to your computer.
If you just want to record vocals, a 2 or 4 channel option will work. If you plan on recording a drummer or full band, you’ll need more inputs.
Another thing you want to be aware of is the circuitry inside the audio interface. The microphone pre-amps matter a lot when it comes to the quality of your recordings.
Check out some reviews online before making your choice.
Here are some options out there:
Now you’re going to need something to playback and hear your music while you’re creating. That’s where studio monitors (i.e. professional studio speakers, not computer screens) and headphones come in.
If you’re new to making beats, you can get by with a decent pair of headphones (or even computer speakers). But if you plan on making full tracks and doing some mixing and mastering work, you’ll need them.
But even as a beat maker, once you get better and better you’re going to want to purchase a set of studio monitors. Normal speakers and headphones don’t really give you the detail you need to make important decisions.
Studio monitors/speakers are specifically designed to give you the truest sound that’s not colored or distorted by your sound system. They let you hear all the tiny details and errors in your music. This way you’ll be able to adjust the volume of different instruments properly.
And a good set of headphones can also work if you’re in an apartment or place where noise isn’t allowed.
Here are some different options for monitors:
MIDI controllers are pieces of hardware that let you control the sounds in your beat making software. So instead of clicking your mouse into a grid, you can play out your melody on a keyboard or your drum beat on some drum pads.
If you choose a software beat maker instead of the hardware/software combos, you can still get a third party midi controller.
They work great, but can sometime be difficult to get working fully since they’re not designed specifically for a particular piece of software.
If you want to make good beats, we highly recommend buying a good MIDI controller. It’s very difficult to get natural sounding music when you’re using just a mouse.
Here are some MIDI Controller Options:
If you plan on doing any vocal or instrument recording, you’ll obviously need a microphone.But even if you’re just making beats and not full songs, you should eventually purchase a microphone.
You can record different sounds yourself to use in your beats, that no one else will have. You can also add your own “hooks” into a beat which will allow you to sell it for more money.
It’s just a really good idea to have a microphone if you’re making music at all. But don’t skimp here and go for that $30 “Vocal USB Mic” you found at Wal-Mart – it’ll sound like trash.
To get a really good vocal or instrument sound recorded you’ll want to spend a couple hundred dollars on a solid studio microphone.
There are a lot of options out there, and they widely vary on price. Here are some different options you can try out:
There are other pieces of hardware/equipment you could use to help you make better music, but the above are the basics you’ll want to consider at some point in your beat making career.
So once you know what you want to use to make beats and songs you need to setup the computer, install the software and hook up all your equipment.
There’s too many different types of software/hardware for us to get into it in detail on how to set it all up, but you’ll be able to find tons of tutorials on YouTube about this stuff.
Basically what you’ll be doing is this:
That’s a very simplified version of how you set it all up, but read your manual, check YouTube and you’ll be fine.
And there are other different aspects to your DAW too – the sequencer, arrangement window, mixer and more.
They all work together to let you create a full beat. When you’re learning how to make beats and songs, it can all be overwhelming. But we break it down in our full email beat making course (sign up at end of post).
If you’re making electronic music you have a couple different ways to go about it. You can make sample based music, or you can play musical instruments from scratch.
Sampling is something that has been around for a long time and very much popularized by Hip-Hop music.
It’s where you take a short snippet of another song (just a few seconds) and then chop it up and assign each “chop” to a different pad/key on your MIDI controller. You can then trigger and play back the samples however you want to come up with a brand new sound loop.
You can get as creative as you want with it, but there are some copyright issues you should be aware of if you plan on releasing that song publicly for sale.
The other way to make beats is to just play live from scratch. You’d load up an instrument (like a piano or a synth) and use your keyboard or mouse to come up with a fresh music loop from nothing.
You can either program the notes into your sequencer with a mouse, or play them from a midi controller. Either way, you’re not taking someone else’s song and chopping it up to create new sounds. You’re playing an instrument from scratch.
You don’t have to worry about copyrights with this approach like you do with sampling (unless of course you re-play another song exactly).
Both approaches are great and come with their own unique pros and cons. If you’re a good producer, you’ll learn how to do both.
Basically what you do is choose a module (like a synth, sampler or drum machine) you want to start with.
Then you go to your software’s “browser” and load up some sounds/samples. If you’re sampling or using a synth, you’re not stuck to the defaults/presets. You can create your own unique sounds too.
After that you program (click little boxes with the mouse) or play out (on your MIDI hardware controller) a melody/drum line within the “sequencer.” You create different musical loops (or longer musical sections) and stack them on top of each other.
How long should your music loops be?
The longer the better. Yea, we make loop-based music that repeats, but the more repetitive something is, the quicker it becomes boring to a listener.
Don’t do a small 2 bar loop. 4 might work, but 8 is better even if it repeats within those 8 bars. And if you really wanna get wild try making 16 bar loops.
Then you take those different loops you created and arrange them in the “arrangement window” so that it sounds like a full song.
Once that’s done you add finishing touches – drop out the drums in certain parts, add cool sound effects in others, etc. The idea is to add variety that makes a listener’s ear keep interest in your song.
Then, if you want to go that far, you can do some basic mixing (adjusting levels/volume/etc) and even record some vocals on top.
And there you have it – you’re a damn producer now.
This is a question that many new producers (and even experienced ones) struggle with. And to be real, there’s no right answer.
It’s all up to what you prefer or what works best for you.
The whole process that you use is called workflow. And different software has different ideal workflows. But don’t sweat it too much. It doesn’t matter how you start, as long as you finish.
But here are the basic elements every beat has:
New producers often get overly excited when making beats and fill up every sonic crevice with some type of sound.
The finished product sounds way too busy and complex. That can be ok if you’re just making instrumental music.
But if you’re planning to put your beats up for sale online then that’s a no-no.
You have to remember that someone else is going to be singing or rapping on top of your beat. So you can’t make it too crowded otherwise there will be no space for the vocalist!
When it comes to making music, it’s often true that LESS IS MORE. Simple beats are often then best ones in these cases.
So be careful when you’re making your beats to not stuff them with too much sound.
Starting With Drums
Some producers start with their drums. In certain genres of music (like Hip-Hop) drums play a very important, central role. They’re the heart of the instrumental.
So what some producers will do is start with a kick drum and a snare drum to lay out the basic pattern. They’ll then add in some high hats and other percussion elements to get a full sounding drum loop.
Once the drum loop has a nice groove to it, they’ll begin on a melody or bassline. Some will move to a basic chord progression instead, and then move onto a lead melody.
It all depends on what works for you.
Starting With Melodies
On the flip-side, other producers already have a melody line or idea in their head. They start out with that melody (by recreating what they hear in their head on their software), and then build the rest of the beat’s elements around that one melody.
Other times, a producer will have nothing in their head and they won’t start with drums. They’ll open up a new instrument or record/chop up a sample and just start playing around (freestyling) on their keyboard/pads until they play something that catches their ear.
Once they have a good idea, they’ll record it into their DAW and build the rest of the track up after that. Some will move to drums, others will put in a bass line before going to percussion. Sometimes you’ll want to build up the melody/accompaniment sections before you do the drums at all.
Again, it’s all about what works for you.
So if you’re trying to be a legit music producer, you should know how to make full songs, not just beats. You should be able to work with an artist from start to finish, handling each step of the process.
Once you’ve got a full beat made (or a mostly full beat made) you can move on to the vocal performance.
What you should do is export your beat from your beat maker as a WAV file (better yet, export each instrument separately so you have more control later on in the process).
Set up your microphone, connect it to your audio interface and open up your DAW.
When you’re in your DAW you’ll be adding in a bunch of blank “audio tracks.“ These tracks are where you’ll:
It’s usually a good idea to record multiple takes and “comp” them together. Comping is basically taking the best parts from several different recording takes and splicing them together to form one perfect vocal take.
Some people start by recording the chorus of the song first, and placing it in the proper section of the beat. Then they’ll come back around and record the verses after. Others record in the opposite order. There’s no right or wrong way.
Once you’re done with that you can get the vocalist to come back in with some harmonies, some adlibs and other unique vocal elements that make the song pop.
Remember how we said at the beginning of this article how your beats would suck at first? Well, sometimes even when your ideas are really solid the beat still sounds like shit.
If you compare your beats and songs to the stuff you hear on the radio, it’s really easy to get depressed.
How does every song on the radio sound perfect, loud, bright clear and amazing? While your sound flat, lifeless and dull? Two words… Mixing and Mastering
Once you’ve got everything arranged (instruments and vocals if applicable) and the beat or instrumental you made sounds like a full length song, it’s time to mix and master your beats.
What’s Mixing and Mastering in Song Making
They adjust volume levels, gain and panning (i.e. moving the sound either left or right in the stereo field). They also add audio effects like reverb and echos to make everything sound less flat and more alive.
Once you become a more advanced producer and you know how to make beats properly, you can probably handle most of the mixing yourself.
But mastering should still be left to an engineer – especially if you want radio play. Mastering is the last step in the music making process that makes sure everything is absolutely perfect. That’s why it’s often done by a Mastering Engineer.
But this is the secret sauce that makes all your favorite songs sound so damn good.
You should have a pretty good understanding of the entire music making process.
Now all that’s left to do is… go out and do it!
Let’s keep it 100 though, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than just what we’ve discussed here. But that’s all stuff that can’t really be taught in a beginner’s guide.
If you want a full step-by-step video tutorial on how to make your first beat using FL Studio for free, scroll back up to the TOP of this post and click on the video thumbnail.
There are so many different styles of music and styles of making music that it’s hard to cover everything. But now that you have a basic grasp of the overall process, you can start digging deep.
Start by making your first few beats and just keep at it.
Sign up for our beatmaking course below, and we’ll keep you updated on the latest tutorials, techniques and tools/resources to become a better music producer.
A lot of what we talked about above might seem over your head or confusing. But don’t worry, cuz like I said above – we got you covered.
Sign-up for our FREE step-by-step VIDEO tutorial series at the top of this post – in it we cover every aspect of the beat making process and even show you how to make your first beat step by step.
If you want to become a real music producer or beat maker, then this course is the first step in the right direction.
After you’re done the initial course, we’ll keep sending you awesome beatmaking tips and tutorials that will take your production game to the next level.
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