Music

12 pro tricks for making a Trap beat

Hip Hop and Trap producer Dusti "Raw" Miraglia (regular collaborator of Killer Mike of Run The Jewels) offers up his tips and tricks for making a Trap beat.

1. STARTING OUT

Beat block: we all know it, we’ve all experienced it, and we can all agree that it is absolutely infuriating.

Thankfully, the team over at EvaBeat is laser-focused on making the initial music-creation process significantly easier, so you’ll be able to get right into the zone, and beat block will never be able to beat you again! On that note (pun intended), we’ve created this series of articles, not only to show the magic of Melody Sauce in action but, more importantly, to teach you how to effortlessly build an instrumental from start to finish; with, or without your favorite beat-block plugin cure.

One vital thing to keep in mind when attempting to get into your creative headspace is that harping on any one sound, or instrumental in particular is the LAST THING you ever want to do during the compositional stage. Not only does it disrupt your workflow, but it’s extremely frustrating and tends to prolong that creative breakthrough you’re ultimately searching for.

The solution? focus on the compositional aspect first, and worry about the sound-selection later. For example, pick what sounds good, and matches the general tone/feel of what you’re going for, as well as what is readily available, then dive into sound selection.

Now, let’s get started! (By the way, you can download the full track and stems for this project. Check it out at the end of this article).

2. DOUBLE UP

When creating a trap instrumental, you are going to want to get into the habit of bringing the BPM up to ‘double time’ territory (usually around 140BPM). This might come as a shock to some of you but, no need to worry, as this increase in speed is simply an illusion… Meaning, you’re not implementing this method to increase the actual speed of your song, but rather to give the illusion of 8 beats-per-bar on the grid.

You might be wondering, ‘why on earth would I want to do that?,’ and the answer is simple: it makes working on the grid, and creating fast, triplet, signature hi-hat, and 808 rolls (amongst other elements) not only possible but astonishingly easier. So, while the melodic part of the instrumental will appear to be carried out at the standard BPM, the drums, percussion, and 808 will have the flexibility to be successfully programmed between each beat, and you will have all the freedom in the world to create those much-anticipated (signature) trap drums.

For example, let's say the intro-sample is 8 bars long, and the verse begins at bar 9 in the DAW (at the standard BPM), in double-time the DAW will be tricked into thinking the intro is actually 16 bars long; making it so the verse starts on bar 17. Let’s imagine we’re creating an average trap tempo of 140 BPM… each bar still technically contains 4 beats, but enables us to work in much finer, more intricate increments on the grid; as if we had 8 beats per bar.



Each bar is still perceived as 4 beats, but we are given 8 to work with on the grid. Now, the melodic elements, as well as the chords, will span DOUBLE the duration (as we’re doubling the tempo) so, essentially, every related component will be doubled as well.

3. DRUMS

While there is no one ‘proper’ way, or method when it comes to starting a beat (as it’s based on personal preference, skill set, and your mood at the time) there is, in fact, a correct way to go about creating an instrumental based on the element/instrument you chose to initially start with… and today, we’re beginning with everyone's favorite: drums! The initial goal is to simply program a standard 4-8 bar drum loop, to give us a launchpad to work with.

NOTE: Unless you’re planning on doing some serious experimentation, there is really only so much you can do in terms of programming trap kicks/snares, so keep it basic.

After you’ve successfully laid down the kick and snare, the fun part begins: introducing the hi-hats and bouncing snare. My personal go-to, and what I highly recommend, is having the snare hit a few times BEFORE the loop wraps up, and programming it to the 3rd beat of each bar. This will fabricate that amazingly intense ‘bounce’ that trap is known for, and people crave.

Now, when it comes to hi-hat rolls, they are much easier to program than you might have anticipated. Simply start off by programming the hi-hat to hit on every OTHER beat (yes, we will get to the rolls in a minute).



4. THE SECRET INGREDIENT

Buckle in, and pay close attention to this next part, as it’s not only where the beat transforms from ordinary to extraordinary, but it also happens to (typically) be the hardest step of the production process: melodic phrasing.

Even the best of us tend to have those days where we just cannot knock out a super catchy melody, or come up with something original, yet identifiable and relatable. The goal here is to create something that people and the artist will both immensely love and won’t mind hearing continuously looped throughout the track. Plus, keeping things consistent will prevent the artist from veering off course.

People subconsciously love to hear repetitive loops which are, whether they realize it or not, responsible for why they are so obsessed with a certain song, or hook. So remember, don’t get too crazy when it comes to variations because our main goal is to get your unique, simple melody ‘stuck in their head’ so they are inclined to play it constantly, and share it with the world.

6. THE SPECIAL SAUCE - MELODY SAUCE

The first thing we do after loading Melody Sauce into our MIDI FX Slot is to determine the key of our song.

This is what we’re going to base ALL of the melodic elements around (including the 808), so it’s an extremely important step. Don’t forget to anticipate the intended mood/vibe of the song when it comes to scale selection.

The general rule is: MINOR for conveying a darker, more intense emotion, and MAJOR for a brighter, more upbeat feel. However, in reality, it’s more about how you use the notes, as opposed to the notes themselves.

Next, we’re going to determine the melodies’ speed, as well as enabling syncopation for a more ‘off-beat feel’; saving the rest of the tweaking for after our melodies have successfully been generated. Every time you click any of the 9 MPC-like pads (which are used to indicate the notes in-use), a brand new melody is generated based on the current setting the pad resides under… and here lies the true ‘special sauce!’

We can not only determine the mode of generation (either simple, or complex) in addition to the overall mood of the note’s individual movements (within the melody), but we’re also offered a ‘both’ option, which provides you with a unique blend of dark and light as well as simple and complex pattern functionality. So, without further adieu, let’s generate some melodies!

I begin by selecting ‘options’ and clicking on a pad, which enables a new melody slot to appear on the righthand side. TIP: Experimentation is key. Try adding some swing, turning on ‘triplet’ mode (because let’s be real, it IS a trap beat), or toggle the syncopation on/off, just to see what it sounds like. You can even swap notes, between your dark and light tones, all without skipping a beat…literally!

When it’s time to incorporate a switch-up/break-down halfway through our verses (at the 8-bar mark), we possess the amazing ‘Harmonize’ option. Place it in ‘MID’ mode, and you’ll be able to hear how it interacts with our new melodies in a surprisingly intelligent fashion. After experimenting with (approximately) 4 melodies, and choosing the one best suited for my specific vision, I have the ability to actually hear the entire song in my head already… it’s truly incredible!

When completed, simply drag-and-drop any of the melodies directly onto the intended track and it’s MIDI file; then it’s ready to be looped and manipulated further if desired.

However, in this specific case, I only make a few minor alterations to the positions of a couple of notes and I'm almost good to go. I simply create a few more variations of the melody we’ve generated, swap a few notes, add some additional harmonies (dragging and dropping for every change we make in order to obtain a MIDI file for each variation, and start placing them where they need to be… that’s it! You can use Melody Sauce in a variety of beneficial ways; ranging from a starting point to a source of endless inspiration. It’s especially helpful when you’re experiencing the dreaded ‘beat block.’

From amateurs to professionals alike, Melody Sauce is an undeniably advantageous tool. Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself, and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear how YOU use Melody Sauce… we may even feature your unique method in a future post/video!

7. 808 - FROM THE GATE

Like I previously mentioned, when composing your beat, it’s most beneficial to program the 808 after you lock down a melody or chord progression, as it can make the rest of the song effortlessly fall into place…so, let’s grab our favorite 808 and start building the foundation of our low-end!

TIP: It’s helpful to use an 808 with a kick tied into it, or a very thick Attack because it not only helps in terms of creating a more fluid workflow but with the mixing stage as well. It enables the whole process to get accomplished quicker, easier and, if you’re not an audio engineer, more cohesive… you’ll thank me later, trust me.

Now, 808s have an undeniable reputation of being considered ‘tricky,’ or hard to work with, but that's simply because you (most likely) do not know how to properly execute them. Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place.

You’re going to first search for the note that sounds supreme (aka the key of the song/root note), and plays throughout the loop; never changing, or alternating notes.

Once you’ve successfully found the general pattern you’ve been searching for, you can lay it down the same way you’ve played it; using one note.

TIP: It can oftentimes be difficult to pinpoint the desired note when playing around in the lower octaves. The trick is, if needed, to program your 808 a few octaves HIGHER, and then simply drop it back down when you've finished your note selection.

#Next, we’re going to program the notes, experimenting with what sound good and match the scale in use. Once we lock them in, dive a little deeper into adding and removing notes, refining you 808 bass-line. However, remember to wait until you’ve completed assigning all your notes to the desired pitch before you alter what we've already programmed.

Keep reading for a few insanely beneficial tricks of the trade. Similar to the hi-hats, we’re going to make it so the 808 re-triggers in such a fashion that we, as humans, could never dream of programming by hand!

8. SLICE AND DICE

There are countless ways of going about introducing rolls of various types, however, when it comes to the trap genre, in particular, the hi-hats are the signature/key component.

One standard method of programming a general hi-hat pattern is by mimicking what we’ve previously done when inputting the kick and 808; having it trigger every 8th note, without any complexity/variation.


However, what if we wanted it to become a 16th note or, furthermore, a triplet roll?

Well, first you select the note where you envision the roll to be implemented, and extend the note to the desired length of the roll.

Next, you’re simply going to change your snap-to-grid setting to either a higher value,  or triplet value (for example, a 1/16th note), select the desired note or triplet, and use a key command to split the note based on the grid size… mind-blowing, right?

NOTE: Alternatively, you can use your DAWs ‘slice’ tool to manually slice each note, which will produce the same effect as if you had used the key-command described above; only with more control and customization.

TIP: Once you’re done slicing the notes, it’s not solely about what’s actually there, but rather, the effect you can manifest by eliminating some of those slices. From there, you will unleash a whole new realm of endless possibilities.

The second method is even easier, and eliminates all the guesswork… all you’ll need is an arpeggiator, or a note-repeat tool (if your DAW does not come equipped with one, there are numerous free arp plugins available).

You are simply going to manipulate the rate at which the note repeats, in real-time, making experimentation effortless, and even fun.

First, ensure that nothing has been previously programmed, and set it so the arp does NOT change notes (either up, or down in octaves), because you are utilizing the arp strictly for the note-repeat process.

Next, enable ‘automation’ on the arp track.

You can either manually adjust the Rate on the interface, or you can route one knob on your controller (that you can automate) while simultaneously holding down a separate note.

Now, simply press play and hold down the key/note that your hi-hat is routed to while adjusting and manipulating it’s ‘division’ time using the knob you previously routed to the arp.

NOTE: If you’re not versed in trap hi-hats, and don’t frequent either aforementioned methods, your mind may not be immediately blown by the outcome, but you will, however, know exactly where to go from there to reach your intended level of satisfactory ‘dopeness.’ It is truly astonishing how (almost) every ‘iconic’ method which is considered a secret, is actually so simple almost anyone can achieve it.

9. FILLING OUT THE TRACK

While music, in general, relies heavily on melodies, a trap song is almost always identifiable not by the Melodic Phrasing, but more so the overall ambiance itself.

So, when you find yourself captivated by a trap song, and can’t quite put your finger on the reason, it’s as follows… so it’s time to flex your sound design muscles for this one!

NOTE: If you’re particularly skilled at Music Theory, and can identify the current key of the song, it helps to mute the melody while creating, and designing this part of your track.

The goal, as we now know, is to wholeheartedly intrigue and hypnotize the listener.  This can be accomplished with various methods and elements, but the superior one is a dope atmospheric pad.

This can be achieved in a super simple fashion, such as looping a note or two throughout the entire song… however, keep in mind it’s implemented with the intention of being felt, as opposed to heard; so make sure it’s not in the forefront, but rather, the backdrop.

When it comes to the hook, you have various options. My two favorite are as follows:

1. Drop out the drums and creative filtering for the remaining elements.

Or

2. Take the existing melody (plus contributing elements) and either stack them in a higher octave or simply transpose them up 1 or 2 octaves.

The creative filtering is implemented in a later step, so remember to make a note stating your future intention, to guarantee you don’t mistakenly forget.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Production and Mixing notes are crucial not only during those particular sections but throughout the ENTIRE beat-making process; Inspiration strikes at any moment, not just when it’s convenient, so make sure to ALWAYS write down any ideas you may have as soon as they come to mind!

Also, when listening back on various platforms, writing notes will be your best friend, as opposed to counting on your memory.

For example, if the bass sounds completely different on the car stereo than it does on your home system, you’re definitely going to want to make a detailed note of that. This way, even if you don’t immediately know how to rectify the problem, you’ll at least have a general idea of what needs to be changed/added, how a processor can affect a certain element, etc.

10. THE CHERRIES ON TOP: HOT SWAP

At this point, you’ll want to give yourself a little pat on the back, because you’ve successfully created a solid instrumental that can stand on its own… question is, how do you make it stand out? Especially since the entire production community typically uses the same plugins, same library banks, and the same sounds.

At this point, with most of the compositional phase behind us, you will need to swap out your instrumental placeholders with what is considered to be the final element: fine-tuning.

This is another time that sound design will really be your saving grace, as conveying the epic masterpiece you envision/hear in your head doesn’t just happen by chance because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

11. EAR CANDY

Now, once you’re completely satisfied with how each element sounds (down to the snare), it’s time to really zoom in and take a look at the track bar-by-bar, verse-by-verse, hook-by-hook.

Like I mentioned before, trap music is extremely repetitive by nature, so it’s up to us (as producers and sound designers) to keep it spicy and interesting. This will prevent the listener from ultimately getting bored, or feel like they are in a continuous loop that never takes them where they want to go.

Think of it like this… a rollercoaster is super fun, but if you’re just going in the same circle over and over again, you will eventually want to get off the ride. However, if there are some unexpected twists and turns, such as transitions, drops, risers, down lifters, etc., you will definitely ride again.

Throw them in during a verse, hook, when introducing a major transition (such as a bridge) or change in feel, and sometimes even where people least expect it… follow your intuition, and get creative!

12. CREATIVE FILTERING

Some of us prefer using fancy auto-panning plugins that are capable of moving the cutoff and parameters automatically but, realistically, all of this is unnecessary when you can easily do it yourself with your favorite Filter and/or EQ, some phasing/flanging (or Chorus), and some simple automation!

Play around with the cutoff position, enable the automation until you uncover something interesting/intriguing, and process these moving filters with even MORE movement and modulation… and most importantly, take chances and have fun!

BONUS TIP: You can, and honestly should utilize multiple types of filtering, and assign one (or multiple) cut off-related parameters to a few knobs on your Midi Controller. Once again, you’ll thank me later, I promise.


Pick up your audio files below and download the MIDI here

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