What are ‘type beats’, and can you actually make money from producing them?

A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky ended up using a 'type beat' that was made to sound like him. (Image credit: Getty Images)

In today’s attention economy, getting noticed can be tricky. Search algorithms have become so important that academics have suggested that our reliance on them might lead individuals to lose the ability to store and process information effectively, and with the rise in popularity of short-form media like TikTok and YouTube Shorts, there’s always a new imbecilic novelty for viewers to become distracted by. 

This is an issue for trap, drill and hip-hop beatmakers, who are already working in a challenging, saturated market.

Beatmaking is a specific type of production that involves creating instrumentals designed for rappers to record tracks over, with the ‘beat’ referring to the entirety of the music contained in the instrumental, not just the drum part. Beatmakers will licence their music to independent vocalists and record labels in the hope of scoring a hit, making a fortune in royalties, and furthering their careers in the industry. In fact, Kanye West started his career as a beatmaker, making tracks for artists such as Mos Def, Trina and Da Brat.

Beatmaking is a potentially lucrative endeavour, but the difficulty of getting your work noticed by potential collaborators when there’s so much competition is significant. A solution that’s become increasingly popular over the last decade is to use the name of a popular artist, album or subgenre appended with ‘type beats’ to indicate the flavour of an instrumental track when uploading it to YouTube, SoundCloud, or any other media hosting platform.

While this approach to raising awareness of one’s work might not sit easily with our (arguably erroneous) preoccupation regarding the importance of originality, this method is nonetheless effective. Take, for example, the case of Polish producer Young Ravisu, who posted a ‘Finally Rich type beat’, named after Chief Keef’s 2012 album. This was used on Chief Keef’s 2013 track Citgo, which became a bonus track on the deluxe edition release of ‘Finally Rich’.

Another example of a type beat that ended up being used by its inspiration is A$AP Rocky’s Fine Whine. In this video, the rapper talks about how he discovered the instrumental by searching for an “A$AP Rocky type beat”.

So, type beats are more of a search engine optimisation tool for beatmakers than a genre unto themselves. But what’s the first step if you’re interested in getting into the type beat business?

By their very nature, type beats are specific, requiring not just a good understanding of the style you’re producing, but also of the specific nuances of a well-known artist’s particular style. If you’re already a trap, drill, or hip-hop nerd you may well already have an intuitive understanding of these factors, but if you’re less confident in your familiarity with specific genres or artists, there are some techniques you can use to improve your appreciation of their particular nuances. 

A straightforward way to learn about beats you’d like to emulate is to drag them onto an audio track in your DAW. Here you can discover a lot about what makes them tick: what BPM they are, what key they’re in, how they’re structured and so on. Taking the time to mindfully analyse a specific beat is a useful complement to having a less formal, more vibes-based understanding of it, and if you’re really determined to find out what gives a beat its specific feel you can dive deeper and begin analysing the specific programming of the drum elements, and look at how loud the various elements peak with a spectral analyser such as the excellent free Voxengo SPAN.

'Type beats' are more of a search engine optimisation tool for beatmakers than a genre unto themselves.

Noting the types of sounds favoured by particular artists or on specific tracks you’d like to emulate can be helpful, too. As can an understanding of which plugins can deliver specific types of sounds. Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 is a popular tool for beatmakers, though it’s a touch on the expensive side; more wallet-friendly options include AIR Music Tech Xpand!2 and Sonic Cat Purity.

Having the right drums and bass sounds is of the utmost importance when making type beats, as these sounds in particular are fundamental to getting an authentic trap or drill feel. These kinds of music tend to rely heavily on processed Roland TR-808 sounds, especially for bass, and there are many well-used and now infamous processed 808 kick drums. Two in particular, the Zaytoven 808 and Spinz 808, are ubiquitous in contemporary trap music, and many variations of these sounds can be downloaded from a variety of sources online. You can find many, many kits and bass tones at Reddit’s Drumkits community.

Once you’ve made a type beat, you’ll no doubt want to give it some exposure and ultimately licence it to an artist. Naturally, YouTube and SoundCloud are popular destinations for producers looking to upload their work, and platforms such as BeatStars and PremiumBeat offer integrated payment and licensing options, too.

The type beat phenomenon has had its fair share of success stories such as Nick Mira and Taz Taylor of Internet Money, and CashMoneyAp, but naturally not everyone makes a fortune from the type beat game. In this interview from 2013, the previously mentioned Young Ravisu mentions he was still to receive a royalty cheque or beat requests from other artists, at least not in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Citgo’ release.

You can find more discussion on the art and science of selling type beats by searching ‘Beatstars’ or ‘type beats’ at r/trapproduction on Reddit, and searching for ‘type beats’ on YouTube will give you an insight into the current state of what people are uploading. There’s much discussion online about how many beats it's optimal for a beatmaker to create, with some ‘speedrunning FL Studio’ and claiming to create 100 beats a day.

Naturally, for some this quantity-over-quality, art-as-content approach is a turn-off, but with an enormous amount of competition online and the looming spectre of AI haunting the world of production, it doesn’t seem as if mass-produced type beats are going away any time soon.

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