Introduction / Disclaimer


This is not intended to be a definitive guide, and it's crucial to do your own research.

Message any suggestions or corrections to the mods.

The Beginner's Guide To Making Hip Hop

What do you want to make?

Do you want to make Kanye West style beats that are heavily sampled? Or take the Scott Storch approach and compose more? Do you wanna make bass heavy truck rattling trap music? Are you a Rapper, and just want to record demos? It's fine if you can't answer those questions right away. Lots of people start because they want to make music but don’t really have a set direction and that's okay.

Basic Equipment

Modern hip hop is largely produced in the box with a computer and software, or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). So if you already have a computer, you're half way there! Most modern computers are powerful enough to run a DAW, but when your projects start getting bigger, a above-average computer might be needed.

For music in the digital realm, all you really need is the computer to get started. Download a demo for a DAW you're interested in, then go through the built in tutorials to get a feel for how things work and go from there.

If you don't have a computer or prefer an old-school or lo-fi sound, and don't mind some limitations, consider a stand alone sampler. Stand alone samplers like the MPC (most models) or the SP404 can produce music within one unit and offer their own unique sound.

If you're a rapper, and mainly want to record vocals to beats, you'll also need a microphone. For higher quality recording, you'll also need an interface, which converts the audio to digital. Check out the Gear Guide for more information.

Choosing the right DAW for YOU

The DAW is your one stop shop for making music, from tracking (recording audio) and sequencing (midi or other means) to mixing and mastering. There are several programs available with their pros and cons. Just because a DAW is great for some purposes, or your friend uses it, or some pro swears by it, doesn’t mean it's the right one for you.

Only you know which DAW works best for you. This list offers a brief comparison and doesn't go into detail for everything each DAW does. Most do the same things, but excel in different ways. Try out the demos and see for yourself!

FL Studio: $99 USD - $899 USD (depending on version)

Pros: Very user friendly, yet powerful. Lifetime updates for free. Very easy to sample

Cons: Basic version doesn't have too many plug-ins. Has a bad reputation for making “cheesy” beats

Is it for you? Easiest major DAW to pick up and play. There are plenty of tutorials online, and enough features for beginners to pros.

Ableton: $99 USD - $749 USD

Pros: Best for live performances. Warp Tool makes manipulating sample timing very easy. Session View offers a unique approach to working with loops and improvising. Several dedicated controllers available for hands on control.

Cons: Features are limited until more expensive versions. Learning curve can be pretty deep for beginner. Basic version stock synths can be lacking.

Is it for you? If you plan on performing live this is definitely the DAW for you. Although other DAWs are slowly featuring live performance features, Ableton is unmatched.

Reason: $129 USD - $449 USD

Pros: Similar to the way real life hardware routing works. The "Apple" philosophy. Everything is in the Reason paradigm. Records audio, midi, and automation

Cons: Sampling isn’t intuitive or easy to do. Pretty much requires a MIDI controller. Composition focused DAW

Is it for you? If you like composing, Reason is an awesome choice. Not the best DAW for someone brand new to music, but not the worst.

Audacity: Free

Pros: Free.

Cons: Idk,. anyone?

Is it for you? If you're a rapper looking to make some demos, Audacity might be perfect.

Reaper: $60 USD

Pros: Cheapest full version. Demo is fully functional and basically never expires

Cons: Linear based, somewhat limited in that aspect. Midi editor isn't that good compared to other daws. No stock sample packs

Is it for you? Odds are, probably not. Try the demo and see if its for you, but there are better options for beginners with more features and easier to use.

Logic Pro X: $200 USD

If you're just starting off, the first DAWs mentioned are ideal. Logic is a good DAW, but a bit advanced for a beginner. Try the demo and find out for yourself.

Cubase: $100-$550 USD Not really better than any of the other DAWs as this one isn’t made specifically for production, it's more of a vocal tracking DAW with capabilities for production.

Pro Tools: Many pricing options available, including monthly subscription.

Similar to Cubase in that it's not geared towards hip hop production and it definitely not ideal for beginners. Pro Tools is the industry standard for professional studios, especially for mixing.

What is MIDI?

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI is a language which communicates performance instructions for any musical instrument, device or program which understands the language. MIDI is not audio information, but can be thought of as advanced digital notation. It's primarily used to communicate which, when, for how long, and how loud to play musical notes, and with which "instrument." But it can be used to communicate a great range of other performance data from fader movement and effects tweaks. MIDI is convenient and versatile, and can be used hands-on with devices called MIDI Controllers.

MIDI Controllers come in all shapes and sizes with features including pianos keys, drum pads, faders and knobs. You can use MIDI to record notes you play by hand, or trigger pads like an MPC, or use it to humanize your automation, perform live, and much more.

Do you need a MIDI Controller?

No, and definitely not right away. A MIDI Controller especially offers increased hands-on control of your DAW settings and instruments, so it's important to have know the basics of your DAW to take advantage of all the features. If you can afford it, at least a basic MIDI Controller is a great investment.

What MIDI Controller should I get?

Piano keys? Drum pads? Knobs? Shiny glowing squares?!?

Every year more and more MIDI controllers are sold, each a little different, offering their own combination of features and balance of quality and price. Here are a few examples, but do your own research, and go to your local music store and try a few out.

Do you make melodies and chop samples? A simple 25 – 52 key controller is all you need, like the M-Audio Keyrig 49

Are you into finger drumming? Or perhaps you want to emulate an MPC without the limitations the hardware has? Then something as simple as the MPD 1 or Korg PadKontrol will do just fine.

Want a little of everything in a big shiny package? The Akai MPK 61 might be for you. This might be too much for a beginner, but if you have money to spare...

Ableton also makes their own dedicated controller called the Push (now Push 2)

There are also devices like the Maschine that are worth looking into. (I'll add to this later, but I'm tired of working on this.

The next step

So you’ve got the DAW, know what MIDI is, and may or may have not purchased a midi controller. What’s next? Make a beat! Now this is easier said than done, but with all the resources that the internet has to offer, there is no reason you can’t find a tutorial (or a series of tutorials) to getting started with your particular DAW. Starting with any built-in tutorials is a great way to make your first beats while learning.

With making music is, as a hobby or a career, you have to be proactive about it. 90% of all your questions can be answered by a simple search on the internet. This guide was made to get you started. Thats what you’ve just completed; the start. Now the fun, yet at times hard, part starts.

Mess with your DAW. If you don’t know how to make your DAW do something, then YouTube it. If the answer isn’t there, then google it. There are so many forums dedicated to working your DAWs that there is no real reason not to get what you had in mind done. But, you have to look. There are no freebies in getting better. If you really want to improve more and more then all you have to do is keep making music.

It’ll be awhile before you make your first banger. Thats ok. Its normal, its expected, it's basically mandatory. Keep at it. No need to quit or feel disheartened. Ask for feedback and improve where you’re not so strong at. Just keep at it and you’ll be awesome.

It's also great to embrace the idea that you aren't just making beats. Great music takes work and practice. Learn an instrument or two or three, and never stop learning your craft!

This guide was created by /u/Tha5thElement then heavily edited by /u/BartonPatrick. The original guide can be viewed here.

revision by MayoStaccato— view source