Whether you’re brand new to music production as a whole or you’re looking to stay fresh by exploring a new genre, electronic-based music is a great way to learn new production techniques. As a producer that primarily works with rock and metal, taking a break to reset with a genre I’m not as experienced in helps keep me sharp and even gives some inspiration I can take back to my more traditional projects to add a new spin on.
Within electronic-based music, there are tons of different avenues you’re able to go down, but one of the most prevalent options today is trap music. A quick search online will show you hundreds of trap beats available for sale with many producers choosing to release samples of their work on YouTube or Soundcloud for exposure. Some producers have built whole careers out of releasing a handful of free beats to showcase their work.
All this to say the sky's the limit for those that can craft great beats in the style they’re trying to work in. Let’s get into the core concepts of a trap beat that makes them so instantly recognizable and widely sought after today.
Starting From a Loop
One of the best ways to jump right into a trap-style production is finding a loop to start building around. This can be done from a sample pack that you’ve picked up online, from the loops included with your DAW, or even by sampling parts from other songs. While not a trap artist, Kanye West is well known for his use of classic samples of old soul records pitched up or down and changed to flip the style into something new. If you do choose to sample from other sources, make sure you’re getting the appropriate clearance before any kind of commercial release – you don’t have to look far to see beatmakers faced with legal troubles after using a sample without permission.
For trap specifically, many big names will start from a loop that fits the vibe they’re going for from the start. This can range from short, plucky strings to a vocal sample and everything in between. The genre gravitates towards “haunting” sounds - usually in the form of a warbled, slightly out-of-tune sample.
A great sample pack is going to have all of the information you need about the sample – the key, tempo & style before you press play. You don’t have to stick to the original key and tempo though. Just take a look at this video where I speed up a trap-style loop to fit the BPM I was after for this beat:
Beyond the sample, trap beats are all about the percussive elements of the song. Kicks and snares need to be punchy and clear, but they also tend to feel off balanced – feeling more like a groove than a steady beat like you might find in a rock track. If you find yourself bouncing along with a trap beat, you’ll know its working.
To start with your trap beat’s percussion, it can be helpful to place a kick on your downbeats and a snare on the half beats of the song (where you might stomp and clap if you’re just keeping time) to give yourself a baseline. From there, adding in short 16th note kicks will help craft the push and pull of the song. Short bursts of energy followed by long spaces of ambience/silence work perfectly in this style with it comes to kicks. Don’t be afraid to go slightly off-beat to keep things interesting.
Your snare drums should be just as sparse in the production to create ambience and space – letting your production “breathe”. Snares are often used for transitions between sections and can be changed up bar-to-bar to keep your production constantly morphing and moving.
As a final touch on your percussion, hi-hat production is key to trap beats. You can craft your own hi-hat patterns with multiple sounds and fills, or use a loop where this has already been done. The characteristics of a trap hi-hat are fast, dynamic & clicky. Many hi-hat loops will combine a handful of hi-hat samples mixed together in 16th, 32nd, or 64th note patterns to create a glitchy sounding, futuristic sound.
Finishing Up With Sub Bass
The final touch on a trap beat is similar to wrapping up many other styles of electronic and hip hop music. No matter how far we go with production, there’s something so powerful about including 808 bass samples and sub bass to fill out the low end of your mix. By aligning these low-end elements with your kick, you can make a very triggered-sounding bass line that instantly morphs your kicks into something bigger and more bombastic than they are on their own.
Using something like Sub Destroyer to play a MIDI bass line in combination with 808 samples and kick samples can really fill out your low end without a lot of effort. Once you’ve got it all played out, add some compression to glue your mix together and you’ve got a trap-style beat that’s ready for some vocals.
Expanding on a Basic Beat
Your production doesn’t have to stop with the basics we’ve discussed here. If you’ve got a trap beat that you feel good about but your looking to make it more interesting, sweeteners might be the perfect option to help your track stand out from the crowd.
In our latest eBook, The Producer’s Guide to Synthesizers & Sweeteners, we go deeper into how your productions can go from good to great with the simple introduction of specific types of synth parts and stingers/sweeteners that might add some one-off flavor to different sections of your song.