Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to be a professional creative on a budget. But given its bad rep, I’m surprised that indie hip-hop artists aren’t really speaking on the hidden gem that is the world of type beats. So, I took it upon myself to write about the experience my friend Abeye and I had—together as The HabeshAmericans—creating 13 Months of Sunshine a project produced solely by type beat producers.
Hopefully, this account gives artists of all levels perspective on what can be done on the Internet. I want aspiring rappers looking for inspiration online to find it here. And if you’re just curious about how music gets made by the young folk these days, hope you learn something!
I wanted to do it the “right” way. Fill out a notebook per month with bars, get cold at freestyling, link up with every aspiring artist/producer I could find hanging around lowkey hip-hop concerts in the Twin Cities, and “grow organically.” You know the saying.
Common wisdom tells struggle rappers that thriving as a hip-hop artist means starting a ground-up operation from scratch with a bunch of Day 1s. Homemade studio, homemade beats, in-house engineering, the kind of local effort we romanticize in the come-up stories of our favorite rappers. Those are the unwritten standards for artists looking to create a genuine sound and pave their own lane in the game. But what if the search for a beatmaking soulmate is what’s keeping you from growing? What if the time spent trying to find the perfect ground team to “grow organically” with is putting your creativity on hold?
While the narrative of the lazy SoundCloud rapper rules this era, artists can do more online than spam your news feeds and chase clout. There’s a world of opportunity on the Internet for artists to develop their craft, create a sound, and market themselves with a team of people they’ve never met in-person. Internet producers and their online operations have been the most crucial part in my start as a recording artist and played a huge role in the creation of 13 Months of Sunshine, the debut album of my friend Abeye (Ahbee C) and I (Zander) as The HabeshAmericans.
“Indie” =/= By Yourself
Before we were The HabeshAmericans, Abeye and I were just friends who couldn’t stop geekin’ around each other. Once we both discovered our mutual interest in songwriting—despite my reflective raps contrasting his simp R&B/pop hooks—we wrote together for years until we decided to do something official in the fall of 2017: a project about optimism, self-determination, and turning losses into lessons. Writing songs for 13 Months of Sunshine was certainly a task with me having moved to Arizona and Abeye being in Minnesota. But having phone meetings and taking flights to record together was nothing compared to the rest of the process.
Much like self-publishing my first book, the challenges of recording an album as an indie artist had nothing to do with the content once the going got tough. Like anything done “independently,” it ain’t done independently. Trying to put a team together remotely was tough. That being said, it was actually easier than my experience trying to collab with people in person.
Spending YEARS Searching For Day 1s
After spending years as a closeted rapper writing and recording to YouTube instrumental remakes, I spent another year writing nothing but a capella verses to find my natural strengths. In due time, I started spitting shit I liked. The bars were more concise, the voice more confident, and my content—tales and thoughts of a confused Ethiopian kid from Minnesota—more honest and engaging. Naturally, I then set out to find the 40 to my Drake.
It started out with kickbacks at the cribs of local artist-on-the-side type dudes who had an EP (i.e. 5-song Soundcloud playlist) out and were cool with other local cliques. Those relationships didn’t go anywhere, so next were several recommendations of the “Aw yeah, ______ be makin’ beats in his dorm lowkey,” variety. More dead ends. And even when I did get lucky enough to link up with a raw, affable producer through mutual friends, trying to get on the same page was a nightmare.
Half the challenge of releasing your own music is simply being organized. Even talented folks I met who could record, produce, and engineer fell victim to sloppiness. Always losing the one good headphone cord. Not being able to use Ableton since the laptop’s storage issue hasn’t been fixed. Always forgetting where the GOTDAMN demos were saved (a trigger point, clearly). Those are just a few of the many (often self-induced) obstacles I’ve seen producers and engineers face in my quest to assemble a winning studio team.
I wanted to keep trying for pride’s sake, but like any good relationship, “growing organically” was proving to be a lot of work, even with producers that I vibed with musically. I had to pause my dream of building from the ground up with a Day-1 producer if I wanted to get my vision out to people asap.
So, what does an aspiring rapper with a bunch of ideas, little money, and no connections in the music game do when he wants to create a sound?
You guessed it! Write to type beats.
Type Beats Were Dumb Until They Were Brilliant
I used to laugh at type beats. I’d listen to the really popular ones with 7-figure view counts on YouTube and be disgusted. So overproduced, so obvious in the sound they were going for. Beats so obnoxiously industry your dad could jump on ’em and make passable Hot 100 hits. Man, I’d think to myself after kissing my teeth at another beat, niggas so LAME these days. Make your own kinda music.
During this period of cynicism marked by my hopeless producer search, I watched a HOT 97 interview where A$AP Rocky claimed the instrumental for “Fine Whine” off of his second album At. Long. Last. ASAP. was found through a YouTube searching using the phrase “A$AP Rocky type beats”.
I also read another story that Joey Bada$$ resorted to type beats of his own name when none of his producers had anything for him during the making of B4.DA.$$. The first Joey Bada$$ type beat he found ended up becoming the album’s second single “Christ Conscious”.
I then followed a few internet producers back on Twitter after conceding some of these guys were actually dope. That’s how I caught Taz Taylor, founder of Internet Money, ranting on Periscope about the music industry, prompting a phone call with him and a deeper dive into the world of internet producers that turned into this article. It was after this research that I realized most type beat producers were creating original sounds and simply using artist names as marketing tools. With no producer, little money, and just as little patience, I finally decided to give type beats a try.
Whoa, I thought, Joey and Rocky were onto something.
Why debate with an acquaintance about a hi-hat on a throwaway beat when countless sonic inspirations, and more by the hour, were uploaded hot and ready into the vastness of YouTube? I no longer had to wait on anyone once a creative urge hit. Writing songs to type beats, even if they only existed in my notebook or my phone’s voice recorder app, helped me find myself as an artist quicker than working with anyone face-to-face.
I know I sound like the socially-stunted asshole some older folks want to paint today’s young adults as, but it was simply a matter of efficiency. All I had to do was come with a few search terms and dive in.
Don’t get me wrong, I still pray to form a producer-artist relationship where I can go from concept to finished demo in an hour. But between writing a book, past failures, and not having the patience to mingle all night at shows and open mics hoping to hit it off with someone, I desperately needed another way to sharpen my music into shareworthy content. Type beats were it.
My juvenile experiences recording over remakes of popular beats taught me a valuable lesson that improved my type beat selection: loving another artist’s sound doesn’t mean their sound will love you. Doing demos to Rick Ross and Travis Scott beats in the past bluntly told me that I was nothing like Rick Ross or Travis Scott. My co-HabeshAmerican Abeye had his own learning curve in this regard, throwing his cheery, radio-friendly voice onto Dave East and Meek Mill type beats until he realized that simply wasn’t him.
Learning from my losses, I searched for type beats of artists with similar vocal traits, subject matter, and/or approaches to production. Instead of spending hours trying to write to a Future DS2 type beat just ’cause I fucked with that album heavy, I wrote to beats that drew me into certain pockets. Beats that invited me to a lyrical dance rather than challenged me to a wrestling match.
Before ever listening to a Smino track, I listened to dozens of Smino type beats. And while my interest in Aminé’s Good For You faded in and out, I found myself hooked on Aminé type beats with sparse percussion and bouncy melodies.
Another great thing about type beats is that searches ultimately lead to producers who specialize in certain sounds. For instance, after a few Aminé x Goldlink x Kyle type beat searches, Abeye and I stumbled upon multiple producers who each had entire catalogs of sunny up-tempo sounds to choose from. In fact, one of the first Rob Kelly beats we heard—made in September 2016—became our lead single “Monday Morning” almost 2 years after it was uploaded:
While “Monday Morning” didn’t end up sounding like “Caroline”, producers like Rob Kelly stockpiling these sounds online allows artists like us to finish the stories they started with surprise endings. It feels like quantum collaboration, where kindred spirits bend time and space to create heat without so much as a phone call.
In writing songs to type beats, I also found musical influences I wouldn’t have considered if I stuck to the artists I listened to the most. I was finding and curating a sound for myself way faster than I was waiting on the beat packs my real-life producer friend sent me every month or so. Being his first experience as a recording artist, Abeye felt the same way about the ease of making songs with type beats.
Intentional type beat searches felt like having an endless library of instrumentals with producers that created every single variation of a sound you were looking for. For instance, between Wonderlust, Rob Kelly, and Kris Ja’Lon, I got Aminé type beats that were bouncy, hard-hitting, fast and light-hearted, slow and pensive, and more.
With Aminé type beats alone, 13 Months of Sunshine has songs ranging from the hyper-active “Goin’ Up”:
to the reflective “Sunset”:
Fueling the Indie Fire
Finding professional sounds and writing dope songs to them are great. But a good experience with type beats as a broke, dream-filled rapper just makes you hungrier. Wanna record that joint you wrote? Lease a WAV file of the beat at the very least. Want to make sure the mix sounds amazing? Go one step further, lease the trackouts. Soon enough, Abeye and I were digging for tips on improving our recording technique, searching for engineers, and doing our research on the standards of online distributors. As I said much earlier in this piece, finding beats and writing songs were merely the start.
As the months went by and songs Abeye and I recorded weeks ago still weren’t complete, every email and phone call to our three engineers—one in MN, two in Florida—became so much more important. The availability of Sunita, our graphic designer, grew more valuable as we approached July, our release month. Every little tweak we requested from our collaborators and every new decision on the rollout gained a little more gravity. As we continued down this path, Abeye and I understood the value of every step in creating a quality record, not just a collection of songs.
Things To Look Out For
While the process of searching for type beats, writing to them, and recording with them is doable to anyone with a wifi connection, it isn’t always perfect. Sometimes a purchased WAV file is arranged differently from how a beat sounds on YouTube. Sometimes producers have online store errors and take a while to fix them, leaving you unable to move forward with a song. And on rare occasions, internet producers just do bad business. I once leased a beat with the intention of putting it on 13MOS, but the leased WAV file turned out to be 3 seconds of complete silence. Several emails and months later, still haven’t heard back from that producer.
Even the most generous, kind-hearted internet producers aren’t as responsive as they could be, and miscommunications of any sort are bad for business, especially when you don’t really know the person you’re doing business with. This is where polite persistence comes into play. For instance, Abeye and I leased the WAV file for the instrumental that became our 2nd 13MOS single “Say So”. But the last 8 bars of the instrumental had an extra layer of percussion that wasn’t in the YouTube version of the beat which fucked with the rhythm. It took several emails before the producer acknowledged the mistake and sent trackouts to make up for the error.
We’re human, so no mode of business transaction will ever be perfect. But with direct and respectful communication, purchasing type beats from internet producers comes with very little hassle. You might have an unprofessional experience early on, but don’t let it discourage you. The type beat world is still magical.
Making and distributing your own music is tough. But the Internet has democratized the process, and the gateway for many young artists who just want a start is the discovery of type beats. Knowing you can get any sound you want for as little as $30 and make a legit commercial track out of it means the world to folks who can barely afford an hour of studio time.
On a similar tip, a huge s/o to Distrokid for making online music distribution as simple for us as finding dope beats for 13 Months of Sunshine was. Along with internet producers, accessible distribution services have created an ecosystem where anyone with passion and care can make and release a professional record.
Producers have always been wells of inspiration for hip-hop artists. Now, with thousands of producers’ bodies of work available at our fingertips, artists don’t need money or industry clout to dip into any well they want. The world of type beats gave our dreams life, and I hope more aspiring hip-hop artists learn how to take full advantage of it.
UPDATE (10/15/2018): 13 Months of Sunshine the book dropped last month! It expands on the album’s themes of self-determination, optimism, and creating your own space in life through trial and error.
Cop the paperback or much cheaper e-book on Amazon. OR get the paperback version for FREE by copping the album (iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play). Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of album purchase for your free copy. Thank you!
Thanks for this article. I’m curious if any of your type-beats had restrictions on content identification systems? One of my favorite producers prohibits them (using TuneCore & CDbaby as examples) but I’m trying to figure out if that means I can’t promote using Distrokid like you suggested
Thanks for reading and commenting Kiya.
We didn’t run into any content ID issues, but the biggest risk in that regard is uncleared samples. It’s up to the artist, not the producer, to clear ’em before release. Platforms that host music for streaming may catch samples or duplicates of the same beat (e.g. YouTube), but distributors like Distrokid, TuneCore & CDbaby don’t screen for that.
When you say the beats had restrictions, does that mean the producer(s) were not allowing their beats to be used for commercial purposes? If so, this is often the case for free-for-use beats. The implication for beats marked as “free” is that you don’t use them in records put up for sale/streaming. If you go to a producer’s catalog on a beat store, you should have the option to lease beats at various prices for different levels of ownership and access to that beat for commercial purposes. Usually, you’re allowed to get more streams, more radio plays and performances out of higher priced leases. Paying to own a beat ensures you never have to renegotiate with a producer after a certain amount of use/success, but it’s rarely worth it for fledgling artists.
Hope I answered your question, best of luck.
Thanks for posting up your journey through type beats. Album is fire, keep on droppin’ um.
*prayer hands emoji* We’ll keep it up, thanks Tri. Stay tuned as always!