The Pros and Cons of Using Beats for Your Songs
Beats are becoming an increasingly common production practice in the modern music industry, and not only in rap. More and more, pop songs are getting banged out with the help of pre-made instrumentals—even major labels and top artists use them. So what are the pros and cons of buying a beat? Should you outsource the work or make your own backing tracks? Let’s look at both sides of the argument so you can decide the best course of action for your own songs.
What is a Beat?
When using the term “beat” in this article, I’m not just talking about drum patterns. A beat in this situation means an instrumental backing track made for a singer or rapper to record their own vocals over top of. With a beat, all the accompaniment is already composed and recorded for you (guitars, piano, synth, bass, drums, etc) and all that you (the vocalist) has to do is add your lyrics and melody. Sometimes, a beat will include a “hook”; that is, a pre-written and recorded lyrical chorus.
Beats can be found in most any genre of rap, hip hop, pop, and even indie rock. Beat producers come from every level of production experience, from total beginners to seasoned hit-makers or veteran composers. The experience level of a beat producer (also called a beat maker) can impact the value and cost of their instrumentals. A well-known name could run you thousands of dollars for one beat, while many lesser-known producers will offer free or discounted tracks.
Advantages of Beats
Let’s start by looking at the advantages of using a beat. Primarily, they are a great way to bridge the gap between songwriting and music composition for singers who don’t play instruments. To be specific, the pros of using beats include:
- Pre-mixing (you’ll have to do less production work). Beats will usually have some level of mixing and editing applied before the audio files reach you—at least, if the producer knew what he/she was doing. If you buy the individual track stems for a beat, then those stem files won’t be mastered but they should have gain staging, compression, and EQ already applied. If you start with a compiled beat (you only get the one full audio file, not each separate stem), most the staging, EQ, and track-level compression has likely been applied already.
- No composition skills needed. Not all songwriters and singers know how to compose music; I can safely tell you that songwriting, composition, and arrangement are all separate skills unto themselves. That’s not even mentioning the need to learn instruments and how to record them the right way. If you are a beginner with little or no compositional skills, then buying a pre-made beat means you won’t be limited by your own music theory capabilities.
- Faster turnaround on songs. Using a beat will save you a lot of time compared to composing, recording, and producing an entire track yourself. With a beat, it could be as simple as: tracking your vocals, fitting them in the mix, and exporting the WAV file.
- Access to more unique sounds and instruments. If you record your own backing tracks, you may be limited by just what instruments or VSTs you already have or can afford. But a beat producer will likely have access to far more instruments and larger sample libraries. Want an instrumental featuring a full string section? You can find beats with ‘em already. Want a jazz hop track but you don’t know how to write jazz? You can find those beats, too.
Disadvantages of Beats
Of course, there are also drawbacks to using beats. In general, you’ll have to sacrifice some creative control when you opt for pre-made instrumentals. The cons of beats include:
- Music mood disconnect. Music can express a wide variety of emotions. Trying to find a beat that matches the emotional tone you want for your song could be like digging for a needle in a haystack. Perhaps you want a beat with a specific chord progression or scale to elicit a certain mood; most beat producers do not list that information. You’ll have to search by ear.
- Tempo troubles. Even if you find a track that hits the right mood you’re after, it could still be too fast or too slow for your lyrics. You’re at the mercy of the beat makers on choosing what tempo and pacing you can choose for your songs.
- Quality is not a guarantee. There are many thousands of beat producers on the internet, and not all of them are professionals. Many beginner producers live by the quantity over quality ethos and will pollute social media with hundreds of low-effort instrumentals. That leaves you with the task of sifting through the chaff to find experienced and quality-centered producers.
- Monetary costs. Constantly buying beats can get expensive if you release a lot of songs (and you need to release consistently if you want to build your online presence). There are low-cost and free beats on YouTube, but you may have to dig for diamonds among the coals. At some point, you’ll have to weigh if the cost of regularly buying beats may be better spent buying your own instruments and learning how to make your own tracks.
- Distribution limitations. Most beat producers restrict where you can distribute songs made with their instrumentals. Low-cost beats almost always come with a disclaimer that you cannot distribute them to major streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music, etc.
Should I Use Beats or Make My Own?
With all of these pros and cons in mind, you’ll need to decide if beats are a viable solution for your songwriting needs. It will depend on your long-term goals for your music.
- Beats are great if you want to get your feet wet in the world of music. You can write songs, sing them over cheap or free beats, and post them on your social media to gain listeners. If you’ve never played an instrument, this may be the easiest way to supply instrumentation for your vocals.
- Beats can supplement your own original recordings if you do play and record your own instruments. Rather than composing all your own music, you can focus on crafting original instrumentals for your best songs but procure beats for your demos and second-tier songs (lyrics you’re not totally in love with but have some good qualities). This will help to fill in your posting schedule if you don’t have time to make a full song every week.
- Making your own instrumentals is the preferred method for songwriters with music experience. If you can play an instrument and you own a microphone, most the articles on this website are dedicated to teaching you the ins and outs of home music production. The internet is rife with material teaching beginners how to record, mix, edit, and finish their own music. You will have more control over your music’s mood and pace if you write your own backing tracks.
Other Articles to Consider
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