I'm a beatmaker, does that mean I'm a composer?

Reading time: 6 min

Beatmaking has been widely democratized over the past couple of years as a result of two main factors: more and more tools are being developed to simplify music production, while social media continue to expand and grow. This has led to the creation of many communities where it’s extremely easy to find beatmakers and other assistance of this kind.

The role of a beatmaker is nevertheless still often compared with that of a producer. Yet, protecting yourself financially in the music industry depends on knowing your rights and that depends on your role within the industry being clearly defined.  

Spoiler: yes, if you're a beatmaker, you are a composer of music. We prefer to tell you right away, as your profession has not yet been consistently framed and defined, meaning that payment for your role in musical projects is also not yet so consistent. To get things a bit straighter, we are offering this focus on the role of beatmaker and on its origins. In this way we can establish a clearer picture of its links to, yet differences from, the professions of composer and producer. Then we’ll be in a better position to cover how you should be paid for the creation of your beats.  

Where does beatmaking come from?

The terms beatmaking and beatmaker appeared in the United States around the same time as rap in the late 1970s. Although all musical genres have used these skills since then, they remain intimately linked to rap.

A rap song consists of a rhythmic loop – the continuous repetition of a piece of music – on which the lyrics and flow of the performer are placed. This loop is created from a sample – a sound captured elsewhere and cooked in a new sauce until it becomes the instrumental part of a new track: the beat!  

The work thus accomplished is carried out by beatmakers, whose skill is thus to make something new out of something old, to compose an instrumental without any instrument or classical music theory training.  

For example, the instrumental of ‘Rapper's Delight’, the Sugarhill Gang’s flagship track, released in 1979, is taken from the bass line of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ from the same year.

The progression of the beatmaker’s role echoes that of his tools, and vice versa: from the drum machine to the groovebox, via software and samplers, it is the mastery of these means of creation that defines the beatmaker’s skills, and these define new needs to which the technologies respond.

As they enable the use of pianos, synthesizers, guitars and other musical instruments, these tools (hardware and software) bring the beatmakers who use them closer to classical composers trained in music theory.

Beatmaking originated in rap music and originally consists of creating an instrumental or beat by using existing rhythms to create new ones (sampling). It shares its history with this genre, but also with the technical evolution of the tools that enable its practice.

What exactly is a beatmaker?

A synonym of the term ‘beatmaker’ might be ‘creator of rhythm’, which describes the role well: the beatmaker conceives the instrumental part of a track. It is he who creates and arranges the elements that compose it. He is then considered as a composer, even if it is not always a status valued by the music industry.

Why this devaluation? First, sampling was initially perceived in the industry and by the collective management organizations as theft. So, they took a long time to adapt their rules and recognize beatmaking as melodic composition. Second, it is not necessary to know about music theory to master the tech tools of musical composition. This nuance sometimes leads people from outside the rapping world to believe beatmakers are less competent than composers with a more classical instrumental background.  

That said, the profession is increasingly valued around the world and beatmakers (often called ‘producers’ in the US) are now at the heart of conversations among rap fans. We think of Metro Boomin from Atlanta who works with Migos or Future, the Belgian Le Motif, who produced for all the big names of French rap, like Niska and Booba, or the German PVLACE, who composed for Young Thug.

Good to know, there are also beatmakers who are known thanks to type-beats – in other words, beats whose title indicates which artist’s style the creation is inspired by.

The beatmaker conceives the instrumental part of a track and is therefore a composer. If you have this role, it is important to clarify your status before a collaborative project to protect your rights.

Am I a beatmaker, composer, or producer?

To clarify the subject, we give you a quick portrait of each role and we repeat that the best way to ensure the success of a project is to communicate clearly about your functions with your collaborators.  

Beatmakers compose the instrumental for a song – usually rap. Their role may also include arranging it with sound effects, new instrument choices, etc. Conclusion: beatmakers = composers.

Between the anglicisms and the musical jargon, the roles of beatmaker and producer are often confused. In fact, the real role of the music or record producer is to supervise and accompany the creators of a track or a project, either artistically and/or financially. A beatmaker is therefore considered a producer if he also combines these tasks.

A beatmaker is a composer of rap songs; a music or record producer artistically supervises the people working in the studio on a joint work and/or finances the costs of creating and promoting the work. If the beatmaker does all of this, he or she is considered a producer.

How do I get paid for my beats?

Again, it depends on the situation. Generally, a beatmaker puts his work online when he starts (royalty-free beats), sells them directly to an artist (beats under exclusive or non-exclusive licence), or in exchange for a commission (custom beats). In all cases, the beatmaker is initially the owner of his instrumental – his master.

In this explanation, we are basing ourselves on the licences proposed by the platform All-Beats.com, where you can sell your beats (at a price of your own choosing) – or buy some.

When beats are free and royalty-free, the people who use them cannot commercialize them, diffuse them outside the internet, modify, sample or rearrange them. There is no transfer of musical rights or any financial exchange.

If the beats are under exclusive licence, the beatmaker gives them to a single user, who compensates him for the commercial exploitation of his master, with a fixed price and for a limited period of time. The user does not become the owner of the master and can only use the beats by integrating them into a new song: he cannot leave them intact. This contract concerns the use of the beats on television, on the radio, during concerts, or to record a song which would then be sold either through streaming or on physical support – in short, everything except the online sync.  

If the beats are under a non-exclusive licence, the principle is the same, but they can be sold to several people. In both cases, the beatmakers can access their royalties as co-composers, depending on the licence agreement with the user.

Then there are beatmakers with more mature careers, whose work is commissioned. In cases where the beats are custom-made – i.e. commissioned to be used as instrumentals for songs – the user of the master pays to own it. When a beat is used in this way, the beatmaker becomes the composer (or co-composer) of the same song. As such, he gets a part of the royalties generated by the commercialization of the final track. To access it, he is a member of an independent management entity like Bridger, or a CMO/PRO.

A beatmaker puts his work online when he starts out (royalty-free beats and sometimes free) or sells it directly to an artist (beats under exclusive or non-exclusive licence) for a fixed price and royalties as a co-composer, according to the licence contract, or sometimes following an order (custom beats) where he is credited as a composer. In all cases, the beatmaker is initially the owner of his instrument but later on he will need to negotiate his package, and the proportion of his composer’s rights versus the totality of the author's rights, in order to protect himself financially.

What do I need to remember?

As beatmaking originated from rap, the beatmaker is originally a composer of rap songs. Often confused with a producer, the beatmaker is actually considered a producer if, in addition, he accompanies and supervises the other collaborators in the studio, either artistically or financially. There are different ways to make a living out of beatmaking –either by creating your own projects or by selling your beats/type-beats under different licences.

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