Destroying the music industry vs. a much needed makeover?
Type beats changed the hip-hop landscape. Suddenly any young rappers can have unimaginable worlds of sound accessible to him. But can newcomers really compete with established artists like this? The type beat is already an integral part of the industry, but what that means exactly is still unclear.
Old Town Road by Lil Nas was arguably the biggest hit of the year and it would be like a small sensation, if that changes until the end of the year. The song has already broken all records in the USA alone and stood an incredible 19 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. And it is clear: this song marks more than one turning point for the music industry.
This has little to do with the fact is was banned form the country charts or the new take on trap music. There’s been many country crossovers over the past twenty years, think the annoying techno hit “Cotton Eye Joe” (1994), country-hop with Everlast’s “What it’s Like” (1998) to the groundbreaking “Wake me Up” by EDM producer Avicii (2013). These are just the ones that everyone will recognize, there’s many more believe me. And the debut single of Lil Nas is just the latest entry.
But the song actually turns the whole industry on its head, because the whole story sounds like cheesy Hollywood plot: A 19-year-old, who still liveswith his older sister and has not yet published a single track, buys a beat of the 18-year-old beatmaker YoungKio from the Netherlands. He raps a text about horses, tractors and cowboy hats and turns this $30 investment into a lucrative record contract, an international hit and a collaboration with the legendary country star Billy Ray Cyrus.
Now, of course the track wouldn’t have blown up this much without some support of Columbia Records. But it wasn’t the industry pros who made this hit come together, it’s the bare bones, overproduced beat that helped Lil Nas rise to fame!
Flashback to the 90s
Type beats are also a flashback to the early ’90s. A time, when bedroom producers shook up the market with fresh sounds, new genres, and unconventionally produced tracks, forever changing the industry. Lil Nas and YoungKio have never met in person, the beat he used was a $30 downloaded from the Dutchman’s website. It’s an approach that many successful artists are catching on to. For example, some very successful tracks from the past few years have been based on similar collaborations. Most notably Designer’s “Panda” was a huge hit and helped the rapper make a deal with Kanye West. Similarly Rich the Kids “Plug Walk” and Drake’s “Blue Tint” are based on so-called “type beats”, which have been uploaded to online stores or were found simply on Youtube and licensed at low cost. The term “type” simply refers to the method used to market these loops. Producers tag their beats with the hashtag of a well-known rapper, for example beats in the style of a 21 Savage, Lil Baby, A $ AP Rocky or Post Malone. What began as a niche phenomenon has quickly the perhaps most important growth segment in the industry. Some producers reportedly earned half a million dollars a year on selling loops and type beats.
Supply & Demand
Often times these type beats are not dumbed down copies of the referenced artist. Their success is based on a much simpler and rather trivial equation. Aspiring rappers simply have a need for high-quality beats. On the other hand, producers often sit on a huge pile of unused material. This is not a modern phenomenon at all. Quincy Jones traveled to the sessions for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” with 800 song demos in his luggage – just eleven of them finally made it to the finished album.
Thanks to technology the creative process becomes ever more efficient. On his most productive days, the influential producer Lex Lugerfinished 12-20 beats a day. And don’t forget that the sale of these cheap beats also represents a lucrative side income for producer who aren’t established yet. Even more so, when clever licensing policies involve the producer in future revenue. For example, the “Old Town Road” contract explicitly stipulated that approval would only apply to 3,000 streams on Spotify. Subsequently, a new license had to be negotiated. In this way, some of the type beat producers themselves have become insider celebrities. CashApp for example claims to achieve a “high six-figure income” with his type beats and is now represented by influential manager Steven Victor.
Laziness or the Missing spark?
There are two reasons why Type-Beats are not to be considered cultural laziness, but rather a welcome makeover. On the one hand, they are giving newcomers and financially weak artists access to the high quality beats. Anyone who does not find a producer by chance who can tailor suitable material for him, has been automatically without a chance of making it so far. Because there are now type beats from all corners of the musical spectrum, a whole world of sound suddenly opens up for ambitious vocalists. In addition, everyone can ultimately agree that buying a beat is just the first step in the process. Many people think that if they buy a beat, they can buy a whole production right away. In truth, they really only have what they bought. A beat. That may make you smile when you are making beats. But Mercedes Benz can not just put a car shell in front of their customers and say: That’s it, now you finish the car. To turn that beat into a proper song you’ll need to go at least another 50% of the way.
In this context, it is not surprising that nearly all successful type-beat makers eventually give up and instead aim for a more classical producer role. Commercial aspects aren’t the main reason – the sale of loops still generates wonderful returns for them. Rather, it seems that the endless work in the quiet chamber, that is your bedroom studio is ultimately not really fulfilling. Precisely because the type-beat is more of a spark for creative exchange, the traditional collaboration, in which all participants sit together in one room, represents a more satisfying situation for many producers.
Type beats can definitely promote a fast food culture in music, where the quantity trumps quality and originality. Since they open the door to quick wins for producers with unsual approaches, they can also be good thing though! They should be seen as a foundation to spawn new ideas based on mainstream attributes. So don’t be afraid to use them and expect them to show up for other genres like EDM and pop in the very near future. The result of “Old Town Road” may not have been as earth shattering, but the songs that will follow could well be!