There is no exact formula to creating a great hip-hop song. As a matter of fact, the search for shortcuts has led to a lot of the cookie-cutter garbage we hear these days. The proper amount of inspiration, thought, and passion are necessary in creating a great song. It is obvious to listeners when a song lacks these qualities. If you're experienced at making songs, you probably already have a creative process. However, you can still get something out of this article. Beginners or novices will get plenty of quality information from this. With that being said, I have broken down the process of creating a great hip-hop song into 5 basic steps:
1. Beat Selection
2. Concept Planning
3. Writing Process
5. Mixing & Mastering
This is not a formula that will have you instantly putting out classics, but more of a guideline to follow. Every artist has a unique creative process, but they all go through these 5 general steps. Each step is equally important and no great song is made without taking every step very seriously. If you've been inspired and you go through the steps with deep thought and passion, you can and will create something special. Read more for my breakdown of each step!
1. Beat Selection
I started with beat selection because the beat is the very first thing the listener will notice. If the listener doesn't like the beat, they'll tune out and won't hear the message you're trying to convey. The first thing you need in selecting a beat is to decide what kind of mood or vibe you are going for. It could be based on your current mood or maybe you have an idea for the style of song you want to make later on. Next, you want to make sure you're selecting from a catalog(s) that have high-quality, professionally made beats. You can sift through Soundclick or Google to find good beats or you can simply visit the TMG Beat Store for professional hip-hop beats. If you don't have a good ear for music, just gather a couple beats and get someone, whose opinion you value, to help you choose which one is the best for your song. I can't emphasize enough how important this step is, so make sure you take your time and don't settle unless you absolutely love the beat.
Concept planning could very well be the first step in creating a great hip-hop. Some artists do the beat selection process after they've planned a song concept, and they use the concept to guide the mood of the beat. Other times, an artist falls in love with a beat and lets the beat inspire the concept. It can really go either way. In concept planning, you want to establish the general message of the song. Do you want to tell a story? Do want to talk on a specific subject? You want to develop an idea of what message you want to communicate. Make sure it is something that you are passionate about. I tend to like when songs are about more than what your first impression tells you. For example, Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" was perceived as being about drinking and partying. In reality, it's about the pit falls of alcohol and peer pressure to drink. Just something to think about.
3. Writing Process
Once you've established your concept, you can begin the writing process. The lyrics you write will act as the body or substance of the song. I like to start with the hook or chorus first to guide the verses but you can do whatever works for you. The hook, after the beat, is the thing that listeners will remember the most about a song. So you have to make sure your hook is not only in line with the concept of the song, but is also catchy. You don't want to over-complicate the hook and fill it with too many lyrics. In most cases, the simpler the better. The purpose of the hook is to encapsulate the message of the song with a few catchy lines. Incorporating melodies into hip-hop hooks is very popular these days and for a reason. Catchy melodies are more memorable than the lyrics a lot of times. If you're not good at writing hooks, look for a songwriter or another artist who can help you out.
After you got your hook, you can get writing the verses. This is where you want to go into great detail and tell your story or explain your topic. You should aim to be as descriptive as possible so work on your vocabulary. Also, try to develop your rhyme schemes and patterns to make them more complex. The verses are where you want to really show off your lyrical skills, so really try to push yourself. This part of the process takes longer for some than others. That really doesn't matter. All that matters is that you put forth effort and deep thought into your lyrics.
You might say, "Hey, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne don't write and they've made some great records". Well, they may not actually write anything down on paper, but they're doing the "writing" in their mind. They're not just getting in the booth and rapping off the top of their head. They still put great thought into their lyrics (at least Wayne used to). It's just that their writing process appears different on the surface. It takes a special talent to be able to write an entire song without physically writing.
After you've written your song, you can move on to recording your song. I put recording and delivery together because they absolutely go hand-in-hand. You first want to find a place to record that has a high-quality microphone and someone who knows how to operate Pro Tools, Logic Pro, or another DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). If you're interested in putting together a home studio, we'll get into that more on a later date or you can just contact me for some advice. Home studios are very common so you probably already have a friend with a home studio where you can record. Just pay them 10 to 20 bucks an hour depending on how experienced they are at recording vocals. If their willing to do it for free, still try to show your appreciation every now and then with some bread.
Next, you want to focus on the delivery of your lyrics. You could have the greatest lyrics ever, but if you don't delivery them with passion, energy, and precision, people won't listen. A good piece of advice to get the best delivery is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You want to get very comfortable with the lyrics before you record them. You don't want to sound like your reading, and you don't want any hesitation in your voice. You want there to be conviction in your voice so that listeners know that you mean what say. Try to avoid a monotone delivery. You want to put character and expression in your delivery. Emphasize words that need emphasis and keep your timing on beat. Make sure your energy at the moment matches the energy or vibe of the song. That way people will here the sincerity and passion in your voice and it will sound authentic.
5. Mixing & Mastering
Now that you've got a potentially great song written and recorded, the final step is to put the finishing touches on it with mixing and mastering. Like I've said throughout this article, each step is as important as the others and this is no different. You could have a great song with a great beat, but if it sounds like crap, it's not going to reach it's potential. Mixing consists of setting levels, panning, EQ'ing, dynamics processing, and adding effects to make every layer of the song fit together and sound good. Mastering is done after the mixing process to put the final polish on the mixed song. In mastering, the engineer can change the dynamic range and add shine to the track. Mastering is usually done as the final step to an album or mixtape. It's to make sure all of the songs are set at the same level and there is cohesiveness in the project. Make sure to check out some of our blogs on mixing and mastering to get more information and advice. TRU Music Group offers professional audio mixing and mastering services for reasonable rates. Some will charge less than others, but you want to make sure you get great results. Sometimes paying the extra money is worth it. It's your choice so take it seriously.
I promise you. If you treat each of these 5 steps with great care you will have something special on your hands. There's a reason certain songs are undeniably great. It's because they take their time on each step of the process and they put the work in. Approach the creative process with inspiration and focus. Let me know if this article helped you out or if you have any questions. I'm all for helping you create great music!