5 ways to make songs better: hip hop edition

To make a song better, a few simple changes can make all the difference. Five ways to make hip-hop songs better are:

I. Change up the back beat

Poetry can get you far in hip hop, but you have a much better chance at fame and fortune if you put your rhymes to a solid back beat.

Pretty much everybody knows that, but few amateur MCs change the beat once it’s laid down.

That straightforward tempo was OK back in the eighties, but if you look at the real geniuses, people like MF Doom, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, they often change beats twice, even three or four times in a track.

That means more complex songwriting for you, but you’re the best, right? You can hack it.

II. Make songs better by making songs shorter

Some music genres seem built for repetition, like EDM and New Age music, but hip hop doesn’t benefit much from it.

In the ’80s lots of MCs let their songs trail off with beats from an 808 or scratches from their DJ’s turntables. That went out of style for a reason.

Too-short songs may leave listeners unsatisfied, but too-long songs bore them. And what’s wrong with leaving your fans wanting more, anyhow? If it’s really too short, tack on another verse or whatever. Just don’t make songs too long. That’s death, and pretty much everyone does it.

III. Make songs better by taking ideas from your crew

Make songs better by asking members of your crew how to make them better.

Your DJ, your beatboxer, your turntablist, your beat programmer and the other rappers in your crew, all these people have creative ideas. Every song will be better if everyone feels welcome to add their perspective.

Lots of crews have a tendency to let each member’s songs stand as-is. If it works, it’s pure chance. They’d probably benefit from some revision, anyhow.

IV. Embrace the space between the beats

Nothing can make hip hop obnoxious faster than beat crowding.

Beat crowding is when there are so many beats that the listener can’t hear any space between them. It can be easy to lose track of the space when you’re layering snares on top of bass and tom drums with a hi-hat keeping time, but when the space has all been used up, the effect is like listening to a machine-gun orchestra.

Then you’re going to lay your poetry down on top of that, which has its own rhythm. Not good.

Insert some silence between beats, instruments and lyrics, too. If you can clap your hands or snap your fingers in time without landing on anything, you’re on the right track.

V. Make songs better by recording your own samples

Today’s indie rappers have become excellent at using online resources to craft great original hip hop. With millions of samples and instrumentation available, the toolbox can’t usefully get larger.

You can automatically sound more original and have much, much more control over your sound, though, if you simply record your own raw samples.

It’s a simple — and ridiculously fun — skill that 99% of amateur hip hop artists never think to use.

 

That’s it for this week. See you next time!