All Is Fair In Love And Free Beats


The best things in life are free? Not according to some. Here’s our take on the culture of “free beats”.

I’ve decided to give you all a full length post for a change. I hadn’t planned on writing this but a Twitter event triggered the urge. While on Facebook, I noticed a screengrab of a tweet a person named CaptainNoFreeBeats sent to a fellow producer friend of mine.

You can find some more of his drivel here. Now, I’m a producer myself and for the most part, I give beats away for free, whether it be for fans or for rappers I trust. I also sample. Now, I haven’t got the kind of budget Kanye West has so I can’t just start putting my music anywhere and everywhere for large sums, hence the “freeness”. My main problem with this guy’s mantra is his ideology that music has always been business and by giving away free beats, this damages business and music. This is all wrong. Music industry is all about business because it’s the industry. Music has always been about the culture that creates it, the emotions conveyed through it and because of it. These two things should never be confused but unfortunately they are everyday.

There’s an ongoing non-battle between making the most money out of your ideas and giving your ideas away for free. The former is thrown in our faces by the successful media-savvy entrepreneurs you see on TV and in the newspapers telling us how THEY weren’t affected by the recession because they were intelligent enough to know how to avoid it, to “ride the storm”. We’re told this is the way to go if we want to get out of the deep black hole those same money hungry people put us in. On the other side, we have the “crazy radical new thinkers” who do this crazy radical new thing where they give their work away for free (or a low cost, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch). People like Prince, for example, are seen by some as weird and social pariahs and free ideas just add to this media mystique they have created for him. He was once quoted as saying:

If you give away an idea, you still own that idea. In fact, giving it away strengthens it. Why do people feel they have to take credit for everything they do? Ego, that’s the only reason.

I live by this. Sort of. I admire those who live by it and it works for them. Unfortunately, the industry won’t allow this unless you, paradoxically, have the money to fall back on should it fail. Most ideas you hear in hip hop tracks these days don’t come out of thin air; originality in sound is all but dead in places other than the originality in inspiration. How many times have you heard those 9th Wonder snares in a track? Or a full 808 kit used in a trap song? However, nobody is really making the kind of music someone like Flying Lotus puts together. When you give it some thought, a lot of these artists would probably work for free and give their music away if money didn’t have such a chokehold on their movements, and a lot of them do.

Instead of attacking those who give music away for free and tarring “good” and “bad” producers with the same brush by doing so, we should question the quality of the poor generic music being giving away for money. Is a free beat really the disease sucking goodness out of music or does Nicki Minaj’s discography need to be scrutinised? There are plenty more issues within hip hop (and music) such as misogyny and violence before we can give this non-battle some brainpower. Look at the culture and the history and how sampling without the tight pressures of copyright shaped the golden age – it was all about the love and the message sent out. Now we’re stuck with illiterate, terrible hashtag rapping, tight zebra-printed legging wearing, money waving, fauxhemian pandering, constantly collaborating rappers asking for beats to “kill”. But perhaps that’s another debate for another day. I’ll let you know when I’m free… or should I add a cost to my time?

About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.