The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.
It’s 2019. Computers and phones are more accessible and affordable than ever. A Spotify or Apple Music subscription is at our fingertips. Youtube and Soundcloud are bottomless pits of great music that’s waiting to be heard.
As a result, it’s never been easier to make music.
You may not have noticed, but just in the past few years, a significant chunk of popular music has shifted from being produced in the biggest studios to the smallest bedrooms. An entire generation of underground producers is sending their beats to rappers and singers on Soundcloud, hoping to make it big. Take the example of Ronnyj, a Miami native who was a virtually unknown Soundcloud producer until he sent the beat for “ULTIMATE” to Denzel Curry.
The fruits of this trend extend beyond pop music. How many times has Youtube recommended you a live stream or playlist like this? It’s true: the rising popularity of “lo-fi hip hop” can be attributed to the numerous bedroom producers that make compilations and EPs full of simple, jazz and 90s boom-bap inspired songs that make it onto these playlists.
You might be disappointed to find out, though, that more producers do not necessarily mean more talent. The idea that “anyone can make music” has brought greater diversity and new ideas to the scene, but it’s also created a market for babysitting beginning producers. Here are just some of the reasons why music production has gotten so accessible and popular.
Sample Packs / Melody Packs / Loop Packs / MIDI Packs
My apologies if this breaks the mystery around the music producing process, but most of what music producers come up with, and a lot of what makes it onto the top charts, isn’t even made from scratch. In reality, most of the drum sounds and some of the instrumental melodies you hear are from “sample packs” that can be downloaded or bought from the internet, created by other producers. Sometimes, pulling three to four samples from a sample pack can end up sounding like something that’s ready for Drake or Kanye to rap over. There’s definitely a stigma around using these premade loops and melodies–and rightfully so–but the sample pack industry has become extremely lucrative.
To give you an idea of just how widespread this new business is, take the example of Internet Money. It’s a collective of producers (most notably Nick Mira, the producer of pretty much all Juice WRLD songs) that live together in a giant mansion and make music. A huge portion of their income reportedly comes from the samples they sell on their website. That’s right: samples are lucrative enough to afford a mansion.
Splice is arguably the best thing that has come from the bedroom producer trend: it’s an app and website that allows you to buy music software and plug-ins on payment plans, share your project files with other users like Dropbox or Google Drive, and browse through a near-endless bank of samples. It’s a great way for beginning producers to dip their toes in the game and see if the temperature right for them. Just from browsing through Splice’s samples, it’s clear where lo-fi hip hop producers get virtually all of their sounds from.
This is the main reason why producing is so appealing to hobbyists: the prospect of making a little pocket money from it. Gone are the days of having to lawyer up to sell a song: today, you can easily “lease” mp3s of your track to vocalists for a flat fee, through middlemen services like Traktrain and Beatstars. Producers post these instrumentals on Youtube with titles like “Drake Type Beat” or “Lil Baby / Gunna Type Beat” as a marketing tactic. Most famously, Desiigner’s song “Panda” was a type beat he bought for $200 from Youtube in 2014. For producers, type beats are a further affirmation that producing can be profitable as much as it is enjoyable.
There’s no doubt that as of today, it doesn’t take the same amount of studying music theory, learning the ins and outs of software, and taking classes on audio engineering to make a beat worthy of the Billboard 100. And at this point, it’s clear that no amount of complaining about loop packs or mediocre type beats will reverse the way the music industry has shifted in the last few years. What we can only hope for is that through the bloated market of Frank Ocean type beats on Youtube will come new genres and new sounds, reflective of the unpredictable ebb and flow of the music world.
Featured image: Wallpaper Safari