A beatmaker. They can be composers. They can be real musicians. They can be artists. Beatmakers are the modern music-maker.
Even so, beatmakers get a harsh look when it comes to what some consider to be ‘real music’ and what isn’t.
Throughout the past 40 years, almost every genre of music has shifted towards hip-hop inspired production techniques and at the centre of it all are the beatmakers.
These are the musicians and the producers who sit in the studio, and they craft the perfect beat on which the melody, rap, and song is set. In discussing both melody and rhythm, beatmakers help to shape and define both.
In many cases, there ain’t no song without no beat. This makes a beatmaker a key ingredient to hip-hop and its many subgenres.
Be it pop, rap, hip-hop, country, or rock, beatmakers have been employed throughout all genres of music in the last two decades. When we’re discussing the different jobs that go into crafting a track – i.e. songwriters, producers, recording engineers, etc. – beatmaker is worthy of inclusion as a ‘real musician’ for sure.
That said, sure, an argument can be made as to why beatmakers aren’t true, traditional musicians.
What Is A Beatmaker?
The art of beatmaking is an American invention. Beatmakers started to appear in the United States beginning in the late 1970s with the emergence of rap and rhythm-dominant music.
An early example of beat-making is the instrumental sitting behind 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang which is in large part borrowed from Chic’s “Good Times” released earlier that same year.
A beat is, in essense, a rhythmic loop. A beat is a continuous piece of music created from a multitude of sounds and made into an instrumental on which a melody can be set and a song can be sung.
Beatmakers cook up these beats and they do it sometimes purely off creativity. They don’t need to learn an instrument or have to understand how music theory works.
A lot of beatmakers work purely from their ear based on what sounds good according to their personality and style.
Why Beatmakers Are Not Musicians
Among instrumentalists, there’s this philosophy that beatmakers are not real musicians and in a sense, they may be right.
Beatmakers do not necessarily sit down in front of an instrument, master it, create a unique artistic voice within its context, and then bring that to market or bring that to a music collaboration.
They don’t do that. What beatmakers do is far different. Beatmakers manipulate a beat. Now, this manipulation can be done with instruments though for the most part, it is done through a mix of keys and computers.
In fact, some beatmakers don’t even pick up an instrument. Instead, they will use their computer keyboard to move different instruments, melodies, and rhythms into place.
Evidently, some might say that the act of creating a beat on a computer is no different than manipulating an image, posting a status update to Facebook, writing an email, or even doing online shopping.
If you believe this then yes, of course, it’s understandable why one might believe that beatmakers are not technically musicians.
Why Beatmakers Are Musicians
The flip side of the coin is how one might define ‘musicians’. They are not necessarily those who play instruments but are instead, those who produce music. If one goes by the definition of ‘musician’ in the dictionary, it says “a person who plays a musical instrument, or is musically talented”.
The beat of music is so important to popular music and has been for as far back as the early days of the Rolling Stones.
There are plenty of bad beatmakers out there in the same way that there are plenty of bad guitarists. When you look at some of the world’s best beats though, any musicians should be able to appreciate the work put in.
Beatmakers today are essentially ‘beat composers’, in the same way that melody and music would have been composed hundreds of years ago by Beethoven, Bach, and others.
Even beatmakers who might operate exclusively through a computer still need to make choices on how to arrange a beat, what the most powerful way to present a beat is, and to fit a beat across the natural rhythm of a track.
They are today’s best example perhaps of what a composer is. So yes, in this way, beatmakers can be classified as musicians.
The Art Of Making Beats
Let’s be clear in saying that it’s perfectly ok for you to believe whatever you believe as it pertains to beatmakers.
In the same way that one could argue that rap artists who sample music are not real musicians, beatmakers sort of fit into that same area of ‘alternative musician’ if you will. They’re using non-traditional music creation methods to produce music. In some respects, that can be hard to understand. Especially when they don’t play an instrument.
However one might define the job, the work speaks for itself. At the end of the day, they’re composing a beat.
A beatmaker may not be at a drum kit to smack it out themselves but they’re still making musical choices that some may define as musicianship and others may not. If you consider a musician of any type to be someone making choices about the sounds they create and/or the sounds they have available to them, beatmakers certainly fit the definition.
No matter what, minimum, you got to respect the work. Beat-making is an art. No question about it.