If you think about it, making beats is a dream job. You get to mess around with cool sounds all day and, if you’re good, you’ll get paid—and a rapper might even shout you out at the beginning of a song. Next time you hear Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body,” listen for her to say, “And if the beat live, you know Lil Ju made it.”
How awesome must it be to be Lil Ju? Pretty awesome, we’d assume. If you agree, here are some tips on how to make and sell beats.
Beats artist Tashi, otherwise known as Natasha Home, told Lifehacker that she grew up in a musical, artsy family. Her parents ran a club in Australia and her mom managed the sound, letting Tashi hang out at the mixing desk. Her grandfather was a pioneer in computerized music and they encouraged her to busk, create “a fake radio station,” and get into music.
Even if your family isn’t that musical or you don’t know where to begin, start by listening to a variety of music and sounds. Figure out what and who you like, then get to work looking up how those sounds were made. Familiarize yourself with the necessary tech and equipment.
“I started making beats in high school,” said artist Mighty Mark. “I used to rap, and then a high school friend gave me a copy of the computer music program Fruity Loops, now called FL Studio, and I found out I could make my own beats to rap to. Eventually, I gave the rapping up and focused more on production.”
Mighty Mark recommends really studying your craft and using all of the resources available, like YouTube, Skillshare, and Twitch. Connect with other creators and learn from them.
“Also,” he added, “learn about publishing and the general business behind selling music.” No matter what you do in life, that’ll come in handy.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, try new things, and—if you’re not feeling something—move on to other endeavors in the space, like Mighty Mark did. This is your art, so do it as you please! Well, almost as you please—as Tashi cautioned, “Don’t copy stuff. Learn why you like it and always follow your own heart. You will be so much happier with your work if it’s true to who you are and how you feel.”
Figure out what you can do
Not every beat maker is going to get that Megan Thee Stallion shoutout, but there are plenty of other cool things you can accomplish.
“A beat maker normally just creates instrumentals for artists to write or rap to or releases instrumentals, so I would lean more towards a music producer myself,” said Mighty Mark. “I create beats. I release my own beats and singles. I create beats for artists, but I also direct artists on how to approach a record from top to bottom.”
Tashi agreed, adding, “I did try making beats for other artists but didn’t feel it was viable since the artists I knew and could get in touch with couldn’t afford to buy beats.”
Take note of that: Before you try to sell to others, think about your reach and marketability. Use your beats on your own project or consider other ways to supplement your sales, like Mighty Mark does with consulting.
Once you’ve mastered your sound—or at least one of its ever-changing eras—and come up with a plan for what you’d like to do with it, it’s time to get that music out into the world. But don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed right away.
“I had been posting my music regularly on MySpace and sending it to radio, but they never played it on Australian radio, saying it was too experimental,” recalled Tashi, who now has an album coming out with Leaving Records.
She took that rejection as a lesson in what kinds of companies she really wanted to work for: “I submit my music to compilations that have music that I feel mine would fit with. I’ve released on so many small labels, mostly cassette. I like to support small labels because they’re helping to distribute experimental music, too.”
Mighty Mark takes a different approach, selling directly to his clients by email or letting them in on the artistic process.
“My marketing is pretty much word of mouth,” he said. “People hear work that I produce for other artists and then come to me for that type of sound. Potential buyers also listen to my solo releases and that gets them interested in working with me. I also allow artists to book in person sessions with me and I make the beat live in front of them.”
However you go about it, persistence is crucial.
“Keep working!” said Tashi. “I’ve torn myself out of ruts by pushing through. It really is worth it.”