There are as many worthless lyricists out there as there are people pumping out horrid beats in their bedrooms and filling up SoundCloud and YouTube. Let them work together. You are the one high quality producer out of the thousand that has any lick of musical talent.
The problem is that nobody knows you're there.
They don't make their way to your music profiles to stream your beats. They don't give you the time of day when you mail demo discs out. Even though your beats are a hundred times better, they still choose that guy with the crappy drum patterns, nonsensical melodies, and non-existent mixing, all because he has a little name recognition.
Meanwhile, your beats include chord changes found only in classical music. You follow the rules of advanced music theory. While everyone is using their "ABC 123" melodies in Fruity Loops, you're composing full blown counterpoint harmonies with tension and release cadences and more. What gives?
We all know that this game is entirely about marketing. A lot of times the worst rappers get the record deals and the most absurd producers get the beat placements on the big albums. It's because you are expected to grind out the beginning stages of marketing yourself. Once you've proven you have the drive and a product worth pushing, then you might get the support you're looking for.
So today we're going to talk about gaining a reputation as a beat maker. You've already mastered the art of beat production, now you need to take a look at the business side of things. With this guide, you'll be making your first sales in no time. Once you get past that point, we'll teach you how to make alliances with rappers, how to refer buyers to other producers and receive some in return, and much more. Let's do this.
It's not just hip hop artists that need beats these days. R&B singers and pop singers are relying entirely on the rap crowd to provide them with beats. You should start within the hip hop genre and branch out though. That's the main key to this entire discussion. It is much better to be a big fish in a small pond than a big fish in a huge pond with countless other big fish.
The game is a lot different than it was even in the 1990's. Back in the day, you would create demo discs of your beats and start shopping them around to A&R's for big labels and to artists directly. This might mean mailing them out, going to local concerts and trying to butt in after the show, or even showing extreme dedication of the sort that would get you a restraining order these days.
Today beats are generally sold in three ways:
You'll be working the 2nd and 3rd angles. The 1st will start happening for you after you finish the round of marketing we're going to teach you. The first method is how most big label work is done these days as well. Points 2 & 3 are what you'll be building from your library and then using marketing to direct attention to them.
I'm not going to explain most of this part in any deep detail since you're all likely familiar. Your job is to constantly create beats. Some are going to be the best work you've ever done, some will be average, and some won't be that hot. Each will have a purchase in your marketing methods. But you need to be constantly replacing your stock and growing it, which will in turn help you grow your skills and keep up with the trends.
Your worst beats - These are the ones you'll give away for free. That's right. You'll give them away with no strings attached other than having an audio tag at the front for your production company or producer alias and asking anyone who uses them to give you credit. The assumption here is that even your worst beats are better than the crap 90% of other producers are making, so it's still a good thing to have out there. They won't reflect negatively on you. You may even choose to have a separate section on your website or a second profile to separate these freebies from your main accounts on streaming sites. These can end up being stingers on television and commercials too, providing you with extra royalty payments over time.
Your average beats - These are really good beats, all things considered. The reputation you develop will make these highly desirable for rappers on the come up hoping to flaunt a nice list of producers on their album. These are the kind that you'll offer a lease price for so multiple artists can use them, while you'll also list them with a much higher exclusivity price with the understanding that they may have been leased out before but won't be ever again if a rapper purchases it. You'll be surprised how many of these semi-exclusive sales get made. For the longest time, these will be your bread and butter, where most of your income is derived.
Your best beats - These are your highly private, unbelievably dope beats. You'll only sell them as exclusives. They all have audio watermarks over them so they can't be stolen as you let decent artists hear them. The key here is that you can deny rappers from using these. If a whack rapper offers you an unbelievable amount of cash for one, you may do better to say no. Your goal here is to make money but also to associate your name with the top artists you can manage to work with. Eventually you'll start appearing on albums with higher production quality, more sales and reach, and start getting referrals from rappers. They'll also start purchasing more from you and you'll begin to build a client list that keeps giving you money. The goal is to leap-frog up to the majors from here.
As far as pricing your beats go, take a look at the article linked below for more information. It'll largely be up to you to know where to start your prices and when to elevate them as your demand and reputation grows. It explains the pros and cons of leasing beats versus selling exclusives (you'll be doing both regardless) and also has a list of beat selling tips too. Check all that out here after you finish reading this post:
Additional Reading: How to Sell Beats Online & Work Your Way Up to Pro Placements
You'll also find a summary of the points we cover below that'll serve as a nice refresher for you. Let's jump into those points now.
This is what we're here to talk about. From above, you understand that you'll have your beats scattered across two types of "collections." Your entire goal is to put yourself in front of as many interested eyeballs as possible. We're assuming you don't have a marketing budget, so we'll be doing this from the ground up. Some streaming sites like SoundCloud and YouTube are okay, but those listener's don't have a built in "buying intent."
But when you upload your beats to beat marketplaces online who's sole purpose is to help you sell your beats, you can be rest assured that every visitor has some interest. Better yet, they're out doing marketing for their own platform so you can free your hands of that part. They can end up introducing rappers to your instrumental work that you otherwise wouldn't have reached.
The other way you're going to put your work in front of rappers is by becoming engaged in online forums and message boards dedicated entirely to the craft. I'm not talking about forums for fans of rap. I'm talking specifically about sites for rappers and producers who share their work and give each other feedback, engage in contests, battle each other, and continue honing their crafts. You'll meet upcoming rappers, work with the bests on the platform, and build your "big fish" reputation in that smaller pond. The chances are that some of those rappers will hit the big time and you'll have already established a point of contact with them and continue working with them.
Let's get into this, point by point...
You're going to want to find a medium-sized forum to get started. The reason is, the biggest ones might have a couple thousand beat makers all competing for attention. Every time you post, you'll get drowned out in all of the noise, as they all do. By starting on a smaller forum, you can establish a reputation there before expanding out to bigger ones, which will help you then stand out as a signal in the noise. It's far better to get 20 sales a month from a medium-sized forum than 10 sales a month from a bigger forum. It'll be later that you can jump into the bigger forum with a pre-established reputation that lets you get straight into 50-100 sales a month.
You don't have to wait for rappers to reach out to you first. Offer an exclusive to the better rappers in the community. Ask them if they have a specific sound they're looking for and make it for them at no cost. They'll use it on their album or use it as a promotional single, and already you'll be siphoning their reputation and turning it into yours. What this allows you to do is create a list of artists you've worked with in the community that will make all the other producers jealous and cause the up-coming rappers to want to purchase from you too. This will keep you from feeling desperate and working with rappers you wouldn't work with otherwise. Remember to not work with people who could hurt your reputation (if they completely suck or have poisonous attitudes).
Notes: With the two points above, you should already be getting some sales trickling in. They may not be ground breaking in number or price, but continuing that work will increase your volume of sales. It's then that you may consider increasing your prices so your sales don't outpace your ability to create new beats. There's also ways to behave on the forum that will increase your reputation. Let's look at those next.
When posting on the forum, especially in this kind of community, people will try to drag you into the mud. They'll insult you, lie about you and your work, and more. Never engage in this nonsense. The fastest way to separate yourself from amateurs is to only be seen acting professionally. Nobody wants to work with a poisonous person. Never engage in that.
Remember - Your goal is to build a positive reputation and make sales, not win arguments or bolster your ego. Nobody will remember who won the disruptive debate (or care), but they'll remember who participated in the negativity.
Also, be very careful about what you type, because once you hit post you won't be able to take it back. People will definitely read all of your old content to try to hurt your reputation later. There are a lot of people that think dragging others down is the same as lifting themselves up, so take real care with what you say. Part of what I mean is that you should only give advice when you know what you're talking about. Stick to your specialty and always be helpful. Never criticize someone if you can't also offer them two positives to help them out. You want to be seen as an incredibly helpful, positive, and most importantly, accurate person.
Make sure you clear it with the moderators first so you aren't accidentally breaking rules about self-promotion. If they say it's okay, then you may consider doing a giveaway. Maybe you produce 3 or 5 beats and give them away for free on the forum, asking users to share whatever songs they create with them. Alternatively, you can post 3 beats as choices for rappers to drop a verse on and have the moderators or anyone else cast their votes on who had the best verse. You can include a cash prize and a free exclusive beat to the winner. The ideas are endless for you to give back to the community while being seen as an authority and helpful member.
Approach the best rappers and singers on the forum and ask them if you can have the acapelas to create a free-of-charge remix for them. Tell them that you won't share it unless they approve of the final result first. Maybe they'll like it so much they'll keep it for an album, hire you to do an entire remix album, or let you promote it on the forum and help you do so. Even if it only results in promotion, at least one rapper will hire you to do a remix for them. You can do this once every few months to keep the promotion rolling, but don't get annoyed when other producers start copying you. They'll give up eventually while you continue to persist and grow.
If you have a cool studio that you know is better than most everyone else's, that can increase your reputation big time. You can start a thread like "Show your studio!" and start with your own. Yours will always be first and that thread will remain popular forever.
But the main point here is to do it under the guise of being useful and interesting. I suggest making tutorial videos to teach other producers how to make better beats. The key here is that you immediately position yourself as better than them, since they're watching and learning. This makes you the teacher.
Notes: The above four tactics will help you gain the attention of eager rappers who want to align themselves with upcoming or established producers. You and them both only want to work with skillful hustlers, so paint yourself with that role and you'll start building the reputation you desire. The sales come as a result of this type of indirect activity. Next lets look at things you can do directly in your beats themselves to help you out.
It's accepted by nearly everyone now that producers can tag the start of the beat with their alias. You've heard it done by J.R., Maybach Music, Red One, and many more. This is a good move. People will begin to recognize your tag, and if they hear an amazing beat they know they can go back to the start and learn who it was that made it. You should do this on free beats, lease beats, and exclusives as well. If the artist prefers for it not to be there on an exclusive, you can remove it during the sale. On beats you have uploaded for leasing, you should drop audio watermarks over it every so many seconds so that people can't steal your work. Only when they lease it or buy it outright will you remove the watermarks.
If a rapper commissions you to sample something specifically, it will be up to them to clear the sample. But if you sample anything for any pre-made beats for leasing or exclusive sales, you should only slice from public domain movies and music. This way no artist ends up in legal trouble later, which will undoubtedly come back on you and reflect very negatively, since the blame will be passed to you for not clearing the sample. It won't be your fault legally, but you will lose reputation points for sure in the community. Always take note of what you sample and include that in the notes or description of the instrumental too, so the artist feels comfortable and can take any action they feel they need. Of course, sometimes you can chop a sample so well it's unrecognizable, but you should still protect your buyers.
The west coast was hot, then the east coast. Then it moved to Atlanta and then Houston and Memphis. Now everything is Trap beats. You should ride these trends, because it's what the rappers will be hunting for as they try to buy beats. That doesn't mean you should stop making other types though. Make Hyphy and G-Funk beats. Make R&B tracks and everything else so you'll be able to fulfill any need. But you need to stay on the forefront of what's hot so you can make the sales and keep getting attention. You need to show that you're able to make high quality beats fast, because you'll never know when an artist needs a special beat created as soon as possible. If you have the reputation of being fast, you'll get the job.
Everyone knows the stock sounds of Fruity Loops and Cool Edit Pro. You might get away with this in your drum programming but you definitely won't with any other sound. If people can detect that you're using cheap or amateur software, they will call you out on it to try and hurt you, no matter how good the beats are. The way to do this is to stop using any stock sound fonts. You can download sound packs, purchase one-hits on CD, or buy an outboard MIDI sound module to use with your keyboard.
It doesn't matter how you do it, but it's a must. Not only will this safeguard you from looking amateur, it's a great way to set yourself apart by having your own unique sounds. Modules like those inside the Korg Triton, Yamaha Motif, and Roland Fantom are always good bets.
Notes: The four above tactics will make sure that you get attention, and when you do that it's always positive attention. There's three more points I want to reemphasize before we end this column.
We mentioned above about running contests, giving away remixes, etc. The point is that you need to let the big artists know that you're always open to do them favors and make trades. Perhaps they need someone to remake a specific beat they want to use but can't buy. Let them know to always ask you, and then try to negotiate them doing a song or verse for your own album featuring other rappers. Not everything has to do with making money. You can build your reputation in a lot of ways just by being associated with others. Find ways to do that!
Finally, I keep talking about working with the best artists, but I want to make sure you understand that you don't have to work with everyone that approaches you. A certain hundred bucks might sound real good early on, but that sale could ruin your chances of making a three thousand dollar sale later, all because you didn't reject a bad artist. When I say "bad" I don't mean a whack rapper who can't keep time or spit multi-syllabic rhymes. They might be the best ever but they piss off everyone they come into contact with or are known for scamming people. You do not under any circumstances want to work with people like that, no matter how good the money is. Just don't do it. You'll get more respect for standing up against that nonsense.
Rappers need to know how to get in contact with you or window shop your beats. Drop links or contact information (just make sure you're within the bounds of the rules of the forum) in your signature and in your profile so it's always visible and available. Let people know you have a collection of free beats, an online instrumental store profile (or two or three) for leases and exclusives, and to get in touch with you about your most precious and best beats. Perhaps you can make your own website for those for an extra professional appearance.
If you follow the advice above, you'll begin building a name for yourself in a specific, medium-sized community. You'll start trickling in sales with the occasional big exclusive sales, and ultimately even move entirely into exclusives. Once you dominate that community, never leave it. You can slow down your interaction, but always keep it warm to you. They will do so much free marketing for you over the years.
But then you can jump to the next bigger pond and start it all over, except this time you'll have a head start because you'll already have a reputation you can leverage. Rinse and repeat until you're so busy with repeat customers who are climbing the ladder that you only accept more direct offers. Your name will keep spreading and eventually you'll land some big time placements.
The sky is truly the limit if you grind hard, but you have to work both the music production side as well as the marketing side. That is the only way to build a real reputation as a beat producer.