Arts and Entertainment

A new musical step: switching up genres

Every individual has his or her own special bubble that people often like to dub “their comfort zone.” For me, my comfort zone lay in my love for hip-hop production, as I would often find myself rolling out up to five or six rap beats per day. But there came a point where those fast,…
<a href="" target="_self">Daniel Shi</a>

Daniel Shi

September 5, 2019

Every individual has his or her own special bubble that people often like to dub “their comfort zone.” For me, my comfort zone lay in my love for hip-hop production, as I would often find myself rolling out up to five or six rap beats per day. But there came a point where those fast, hard-hitting percussions and ominous melodies started losing their shine. They sounded out of date, in a sense.

Had I suddenly lost my passion for creating hip-hop? Not quite. Rather, I simply grew tired of my routine; my productions sounded too repetitive and mundane. They possessed no sense of uniqueness or quality. You could say that I grew uncomfortable in my own comfort zone. For me, I had reached a point where it was time for me to step out of this bubble that I have been cooped up in for seven months and tune my musical skills to try something new.

Although I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, I made sure not to take too many steps outside in order to prevent myself from falling off a cliff. That meant I had to start with a genre that possessed some similarities to rap but had its own unique sound as well: R&B. It was time for me to start drawing some inspiration. I began to tune into some of the R&B greats including, but not limited to Bryson Tiller, The Weeknd and Drake.

I meticulously studied the drum patterns and melodies that composed the instrumentals, finding all the sounds and elements that gave these songs their smooth, soul-like feel. When I finally grasped an understanding of how R&B was to be synthesized, it was time for me to begin cooking. I scoured the internet for samples that radiated an R&B vibe. I needed something romantic, something one can listen to during a late night drive at the beach. I was able to pull out two samples that I liked and from there, my first two R&B productions were born.


These two beats were perfect in the sense that they possessed the R&B sound that I craved for, but at the same time, the drum patterns still maintained that hip-hop feel. In doing this, I was gradually inching out of my comfort zone, but doing it with a sense of caution. I maintained an element of familiarity which manifested itself in the drums and percussion.

Little did I know, these baby steps would lead me onto a path I never thought I’d walk on…

A new dimension awaited me.

I had entered into a completely new era in my musical journey, where hip-hop was no longer at the forefront of my productions. My experiments with R&B allowed me to really push my creative boundaries. However, one issue remained: my productions still held an element of hip-hop in them. I was using the same drums and the same rhythmic grooves that garnished my older beats.

I knew that if I wanted to expand my musical versatility, I couldn’t keep relying on the same hip-hop sounds that I have spent all of eternity working with. It was time for me to create something entirely new. Creating R&B was simply a practice session. Now, I had to run the real race.

Initially, I had trouble thinking of which genre I should attempt to produce. But the solution came during a time of reminiscence, where I travelled back to my sixth grade days. What was musically trending at that time? Dubstep. Roaring basses, heart-pounding drops, and so many more sounds capable of turning ears deaf. And so my decision was made. My next musical step would be EDM. Now this was truly a challenge. If you thought making hip-hop was hard, EDM was a completely different beast.

It wasn’t just lay down drums and a melody and you’re done. Creating EDM is like writing a story; an extremelylong story. In addition, the amount of synths that are used far outnumbers that of hip-hop. EDM melodies consist of layers on top of layers of sounds. Furthermore, the bass that is used isn’t your average 808. It sounds a lot more violent, and it is hard to find such a sound in the DAW that I am working with.

Finally, the mixing and mastering process is also quite laborious. You want to make your sounds loud, as that is what generates that EDM vibe, but at the same time, you don’t want one sound to overpower another. In other words, volume control is crucial when it comes to creating EDM of the highest quality.

Despite these challenges, I immediately got down to work. I started studying some of EDM’s top-charting artists such as Skrillex, Alan Walker, and Disclosure. I tentatively listened to what synths and sounds they used and recreated those sounds in my own workspace. Whereas making hip-hop took less than 30 minutes, I spent weeks crafting my EDM projects, tuning every instrument and mastering to the best of my ability. Eventually, I completed my very first EDM track, which can be listened to here.

My second EDM track was far more easy to make, as less sounds were used and volume control didn’t matter as much since it was geared towards more of a Techno subgenre rather than Dubstep. Furthermore, I was fairly adept at creating EDM at this point due to the time I spent on my first EDM project.

A cool part about this track is that I actually used my own voice for some of the percussion. That “CH!” and the quick breath that you hear was from my very own mouth. I believe that doing stuff like this really harnesses one’s musical creativity. I had never used my own vocals on my projects until now, and I definitely plan on implementing more self-recorded sound effects in my future productions.

Within weeks, I had turned from a hip-hop producer to a full on DJ. I was able to push my limits as a musical creator and burst out of my own comfort zone. Granted, the process was difficult, but the results were worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Lailah Gifty Atika once said that you will never know how much you can accomplish until you try.

For me, this quote couldn’t be more true, as the time I spent expanding my musical repertoire proved to be a real eye-opener for me in realizing what I am musically capable of. As I continue my journey as a DJ, I will continue to push my boundaries and test my limits. I will strive to produce as many genres as I can and establish myself as one of the music’s most versatile creators.

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