Why you should use references when mixing your trap beats

Here’s a neat mixing exercise for you: Go and put on your favourite trap song or trap beat and listen to it.  But don’t just listen to it and enjoy it, listen to it with reason.

For what reason you ask?

Well I’m going to explain that in this article. I’m going to give you a few things to focus on when you turn up those beat references so that when you’re mixing trap beats you can make much better decisions on how to make them pop!

Where Are They Placing Things Between The Speakers?

An important thing you can do is to try and determine what type of panning decisions were made in the beats you are listening to. You can do this while you are listening on headphones (I use these ones), then just jot down what you are hearing. Where are the vocals? The Delays? The Drums? How close and far away are things from you?

By going back to the trap beats that I have loved for a long time, I am often surprised that the panning decisions are not what I thought they were. A perfect example is I sometimes will think that sounds are super wide and panned hard left and hard right but to my surprise, almost all the tracks were panned to the centre. Yep, most of the sounds, were in mono most of the time.  Crazy, I know.

How Wet or How Dry is It?

Just like fashion, musical trends will come and go and as a beat maker/engineer, it’s important to try and take note of the amount of reverb and delay is being used.  During the 80’s, it was quite common for things to be very wet and sometimes artificially so. But in the decade before, things tended to be more on the dry side. All of that is cool but, what’s more important is to find out the styles and trends that you enjoy.  Trap music these days is tending to move towards more ambient sounds in the productions and is also moving heavily into the EDM genre, so you should definitely pay attention to that.  Especially since EDM has a lot interesting sounds in it.

You should try and focus on two things if you can help it – the vocals and the snare drum. Try to listen to how wet they are. Does the vocal sound like it’s in a small space? Maybe a large hall? Is there any delay on it at all? This is pretty important because they can sound remarkably different. Investigate the reverb in the beats and then try to take note of it for your use. This should help you make better decisions when you use reverb in your trap beats.

Arrangement

Without a doubt, this is the most helpful thing that you can learn from a professional beat maker. You need to focus on what instruments they used throughout the song to make it pop. Can you notice any pianos, guitars, tambourines, strings?

As you investigate further, you might be surprised to hear certain trap songs that use heavily delayed arps, actually also have very dry drums. You also might be shocked to hear a hip hop song with a piano or pluck on the outro. There’s a lot to be learned from the professional recordings to see how they make songs interesting from beginning to end. These should all help in your future recordings.

Start Investigating – Take Action!

So I’ve done my part, the rest is up to you. Slap on some headphones and listen to your favourite trap beats. Grab a pen and pad and jot down all the cool and interesting things you hear. Take notes on what you are hearing and then copy it and use it on your projects, you will see some noticeable improvements.

If you are a video type a person, make sure you check of this video from Mulah Beatz.  It’s a great starting point for trap….

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