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.


  1. I’m curious, but how much of an *idea* is a beat, actually? It seems to be me to be something almost anyone could make, 100 times a day. What actually goes into making a beat that might definite it as a discrete piece of intellectual property? I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of skill involved in it and I am sure I am wrong.

    1. There’s an element of creativity in making a hip hop beat. Sure, some artists copy the same sounds and techniques and this would come under the “something almost anyone could make 100 times a day” category but you get certain musicians who may hear a particular nuance in a song (if they’re even sampling) and come up with their own idea for a new song through it. One thing we do have to clarify is the difference between a sampled beat and a non-sampled beat. Sampling has often come into question for that very question you’ve asked but obviously not all hip hop tracks use samples. They don’t necessarily have to be discrete pieces of intellectual property to convey the kind of imagery, sound and emotion meant by the producer as that’s the beauty of hip hop; its roots go back to people rapping over soul/funk breaks and later, jazz. That’s where the real creativity lies.

      1. The borrowing of beats or ”riddims” has been going on for years before hip hop. look too the reggae music industry, a riddim would be created by a producer,musician just about anybody and ripped of by just about anybody. This is a time when copyright was unheard of, the borrowing or sampling of a dubplate or riddim was a common thing just like the credit not going too the rightful person. A little off topic too what has been mentioned, however the making of these beats and riddims is the roots of most music industries and cannot be labelled as idle doing when without it there would be none of the great music today. I am one of those seemingly few people who is very concerned with the modern day industry of liking the image rather then the music of an artist. 40 years ago musicians would have been delighted too be paid for there music whereas nowadays you have to have 40 million hits on youtube and a costume that cost about the equivalent of a lifetimes wage of an average person. the sharing of beats and sites like soundcloud are some of the few things keeping music alive, i mean how much money do these millionaires really need? not like they even write there music themselves.

    2. Just like a writer can write 100 pages every day and a painter can paint 100 pictures every day……..I know a few people who play each part of their beat individually without samples, and when done right, using samples can turn a small part of another song into something completely new and different.

  2. These issues affect all the arts – the ease of computer generation and propagation vs the need to make a living. I’m not talking about big business corporations; I’m talking about the artist (musician, photographer, writer, painter and so forth) getting enough out of their creativity to pay the grocery bill. On the one hand, there’s the altruism of sharing – and building something better by doing so.

    That’s particularly true of sample-based music where the same tired noises keep circulating – not just hip-hop, I’m thinking of things like that 8-bit Fairlight Orch5 hit sound, circa 1983, which seems to have triggered a raft of clones to this day. There’s also a pretty standard raft of the same bird calls and animal noises that keep turning up in games and movies. But the problem for people wanting to create new sounds – to make something that isn’t a faceless corporate product – is figuring out how to do that and still pay that annoying grocery bill.

  3. Giving away free beats is logical if no one at present is buying your beats. You get your work out there, and free advertising as well. Keep doing what you love and exentually if your good someone will hear your sound and well thats when you get paid.

  4. Well said. Congrats on Fresh Press. I can see the point of those not wanting to give away beats. Once someone gets something for free they expect it to remain a free commodity, so no one is ever going to be able to make a living from it. I think that’s a shortsighted (and cowardly) view, though. I think there’s enough people out there willing to pay for something worthwhile while allowing free beats (or any free art) to thrive alongside. And it’s not fair to rob an individual of their right to give a gift to whoever they please, that gift being a free beat. And we just have to get past putting a dollar sign on everything on the face of the earth.

    1. Perfect, I totally agree. My music business tutor discussed the problem with giving music away for free and people expecting everything you produce to remain free but at the same time, I think there needs to be a happy medium when it comes to free/paid products and they do eventually become “products”.

  5. Reblogged this on LMX's Blog and commented:
    If the music industry is to keep on living, we need guys like @Sampleface

  6. Nice to see something different get Freshly Pressed! Congrats!

    As for giving away free beats, I think it’s a necessary evil. Take for example the tons of unknown producers on Soundcloud or bandcamp. For an equally upcoming artist, they don’t have the budget to pay $500 per beat and still have money left over to market the finished song. They’re essentially a minnow in the ocean. With hip hop especially, it’s heavily reliant on “take care of me now, I got you later” relationships. So I don’t see anything wrong w/ free beats if you’re an unsigned, undiscovered producer. I mean look at Hit Boy — he went from being just another producer from humble beginnings to the massive success of NiP and his own deal.

    Quiet as kept, some of the biggest complainers of #nofreebeats don’t have beats worth buying anyway.

  7. Great post. I totally agree with JDoubleU. It’s basically a great way to market yourself when your budget does not allow you to spend a huge amont of money upfront. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed : )

  8. Found your blog via freshly pressed and so glad I did! Love your thoughts on free beats and samples, especially your points on young / new artists and producers. As a writer I started out by offering free interviews and reviews and most of my subjects were unsigned music acts. Many of the people I interviewed then felt that they were managing to move into the industry BECAUSE they’d made their music available for free, and so had managed to build up a fanbase. Totally agree with some of your commenters that free collaboration can be the best way to make your name, find your style and build a community – no matter what the art form!

  9. Smart pull quote, because that sums up the strength of your point perfectly. If you are a full-time, professional producer, you obviously got to make money.

    That doesn’t mean you need to go all Lars Ulrich every time someone samples half a bar from one of your beats. Just enjoy the fact that someone liked it enough to incorporate it into their own music.

  10. Good article. Free beats are where its at. All those people who are in the opposite camp also fully embrace the capitalist nauture of what hip-hop has become. Originality has been suppressed in favour of widely marketable product. Whack MC’s don’t get tossed off stage anymore, they get a bigger contract. IMHO there very few innovators out there and wide spread beat sharing helps to keep the spirit alive. The 90’s are noted as being the “golden age” of hip-hop. Just imagine how differently things might have turned out if every home studio in 1993 was connected to the internet and every producer out there had affordable access to something like Reason or FL.

  11. Very insightful.

    In my opinion, free beats can’t do anything but help the industry. It allows producers to get their product to the masses, and it allows rappers to have something to rap over. And, I would think free beats also encourages collaboration between producers and artists.

  12. Relating to choice of samples, I’d like to show you this:

    which is related to this:

    …if only to demonstrate how funny and strange things get when a group of computer musicians who mostly give their music away for free notice that a few of their ideas have been lifted and used to make someone else money.

    People who complain that the oceans of free stuff are preventing them from making money are usually people who wouldn’t make money if all the free stuff was taken away, in my experience. If anything, it raises the bar and makes sure the people who make money off of their music are that much better at making money off of their music.

    “Good music” and “making money off of music” are completely unrelated ideas.

  13. “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.” Love this. Wish more people thought this way!!

  14. I agree. I can’t bear rap at the moment, constant repetition of the same old lewd concepts, being pumped into the people who listen’s brains. Surely not great for society?

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