Making Beats the Alchemist Way: 6 Do’s and Don’ts

By Agus

Want to make better beats?

No one’s better equipped to teach you than sample manipulator Daniel Alan Maman, better known as The Alchemist.

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An industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience in hip-hop, the Alchemist has serious skin in the game.

From his teenage years as Mudfoot in rap duo the Whooliganz, working closely with Dilated Peoples, Cypress Hill and Mobb Deep, to producing acclaimed work for heavy hitters like Griselda rap crew, Freddie Gibbs, Eminem, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, and Kendrick Lamar just to name a few — The Alchemist is one of the most revered producers of his generation, perfecting his craft with each project.

So what goes into making an Alchemist beat?

Here are 6 Do’s and Don’ts to help you on your way, directly from the sampling wizard himself.

Photo: Samuel Regan Asante

1. Do get down and dirty with digging

It may come as no surprise that Alchemist loved making picture collages as a kid — naturally he started out young digging for samples too: DJ Muggs taught him how to use a sampler and mixing board as a teen, and to this day, he hasn’t lost his passion for it: “Over the years. I think digging and looking for records is one of the things that’s kept me inspired musically.

There’s a feeling when you’re buying records or walk into a record show and you’re like, damn it’s in here — the infinity stone is in here.’

2. Do travel musically IRL

While there are plenty of ways to access music online without physically traveling, Alchemist says,“I promise you: there’s still stuff you will not find in that realm.” Making time for record shopping whenever he travels, he recommends always checking out the local music first. “If you’re in Belgium, go into the section with their music that’s unique to the city you’re visiting first. That’s one of the amazing things about buying records and traveling.”

3. Do think about monetizing your beats beyond music sales

When the Alchemist entered the business of hip-hop it was all about selling beats and getting an advance for a track. “If my goals would have only stayed at producing for artists and getting checks from record labels, I think I may have washed ashore, and not been able to survive off music,” he says. Since then, Alchemist has become smart about alternative revenue streams, doing DJing, scoring GTA V for Rockstar Games, instrumental releases, merchandise, along with some of hip-hop’s hottest vinyl releases for ALC records.

4. Don’t make it all about work

Alchemist stresses the importance of making the artists you work with feel comfortable in the studio. “Keep in mind you don’t want this to feel too much like a job,” he says. “You want to have an environment where the artists are comfortable in a way they don’t feel like there’s a camera on them, a manager paying attention, or a stopwatch.” Also, pay attention to each artist’s personality — some might perform better with more people in the studio, others might feel more inhibited by it. “It’s about understanding the particular artist you work with”, he says.

5. Don’t go too crazy with plug-ins

While some artists like to record with a full vocal chain, the Alchemist prefers to keep things simple, warning that that using too much EQ and compression on vocals early on could make you less likely to pick out important details, saying he’s “a fan of recording everything flat — nice and dry!” After recording, he imports his vocal chain, does what he calls a “quick mix” for a listenable but not fully mixed track for him and the artist to listen to, without drowning out anything important with plug-ins.

6. Don’t miss the magic moments outside the verses

Capturing what makes a rapper unique outside their verses is something that can add a lot of soul to your tracks. “One thing that is unique is when a rapper will talk before or after the song — these moments that aren’t lyrics, but basically the full personality of the artist”, says Alchemist. One of his tricks for capturing this is hitting record the minute a rapper walks into the booth. “Rappers have a lot of personality”, he says, “and sometimes when you tell them the mic is on, you don’t catch the greatness.”


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