Back in the days a beat tape was the main way to shop your beats to artists. Today a lot of producer sell there beat tape directly to their fans, because instrumental hip hop is a thing now! Some of them even make it stardom, solely through releasing stellar beat tapes on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. I’m sure you’ve heard of Knxwledge and MNDSGN. Both rose to fame through releasing beat tapes online and eventually got signed by the Stonesthrow Records.
But how do you actually make a good beat tape that stands out amongst the crowd?
Some people just slap together the beats they are feeling most, while others put a lot of thought into the structure. The content, aka the actual beats, are the most important thing, but just like in real life, the packaging makes a big difference how people perceive the beat tape. Let’s look at some proven strategies, that countless beatmakers already put into practice.
The key to success is to set yourself boundaries…
Length of the Beat Tape
The best thing you can do at the beginning is set a total duration of the beat tape in advance. This gives you a clear goal of how many beats you need to have lined up for the release.
This seems counterintuitive in the times of digital downloads and virtually no limitations, but remember a CD can only hold 74min of music. That was the limitations artists had to work with, no negotiations.
74min for a beat tape is actually quite long. There’s exceptions in the game, but most people end up between 30-50min. Any less and it’s too short to really get into the vibe. Anything longer has to be really top notch and is hard to pull off nicely. My suggestions is to aim for 40min.
Length of the Beats
Just like the overall length of the tape, you should consider the length of each beat. Generally the more you put into the beatmaking stage, the more flexible you are here. If all you have is a simple 4 bar loop, then you’ll find it hard to turn this into a beat that’s running longer than a minute before running out of effects and breakdowns. If you go any longer you risk boring the listener to death.
If you have an 8 bar loop with a verse and chorus type section you should be able to creatively stretch it into a 2.5 minute beat. Think a 15 second intro, a 16 bar verse with a couple effects placed, a chorus, a break where you drop out some of the drums, back to another 8 bar chorus and let it fade out.
If you commit to a runtime of 40min and your average beat length is 2.5min, you’ll have to have 16 beats to complete the project. If you’re going for the 1min beat snippets, that’s obvisouly 40 beats, but either way you know exactly what you need to complete the beat tape now!
Pick a Theme
Don’t add beats you like to the tape. Take the listener to another world and immerse them. The theme is as flexible as you like, as long as you are specific. How about going for a lofi hip hop beat tape that you can listen to when doing homework for the next day? Or maybe a tape of hype trap beats you can bump in your car on a friday night before hitting the clubs?
Structure it like a DJ Set
Ideally you want to be able to perform the set live, so plan accordingly. All DJ sets have an intensity curve, which depends highly on the theme of the tape. A mellow lofi beat tape won’t have ‘bangers’ where people go wild in the bar. A party rocking beat tape won’t have smooth ambient beats peppered in between. In both situations you would kill the vibe.
For example: A boom bap beat tape that people bump while hanging out with the homies, would go for heavy head nodding, more groovy nods with people starting to mumble freestyle rhymes, mixed with mellow parts that blend in with conversations.
If you are clear on the above criteria, it’s time to narrow down your beats with these three magical questions:
Can you make the beat run for 2.5min?
Does it fit the theme?
Does it have the right energy?
When you found the 16 beats that make it onto the tape, you have to get them out of your software and into song format. Bounce out the beats and name them as: BeatName 88bpm Dm. The bpm is important to keep the beat tape moving organically and not jump from a faster tempo to a slow one and then right back to fast. Just like the energy, the tempo change should happen gradually if possible. The Dm in the example means D minor and is the key of the beat.
Keys can be a great tool for smoother mixes. How you can mix across different keys is a whole other topic and something for another day…
But yeah, that’s it people. Hope this helps put together a dope beat tape in the near future. Send it over if you feel like, we love to listen to submissions!