How to Produce a Pop Song Inspired by Global Music Beats and Melodies
How to produce a song inspired by global music beats such as African, Caribbean or Middle Eastern music?
Easier than you may think.
In this blog, we’ll go in-depth with examples and techniques how to produce songs inspired by global music beats and melodies.
Thanks to the remarkable evolution of the human race in the last century, our world has become a cultural melting pot. International travel is easier than ever. Access to the music, film, dance, and art of any culture is right at our fingertips.
Let’s take a look at pop music’s most commonly used beats and melodies with global origins. The integration of this music into the vernacular of Western culture’s sound blasts open a world of possibilities as you produce your songs.
Many of the songs we’ll be studying today use samples or quotes directly from older records. If you choose to sample, be sure to go through appropriate channels to attain the rights to that intellectual property.
As you study a different culture’s music with the intention to weave it into your own, be respectful by cultivating a true awareness of the roots of that sound.
Be sure to steer clear of cultural appropriation. Use your new appreciation to lace your music with a sense of reverence. Make sure the music sounds self-aware instead of mindlessly inserting a beat under a chord progression.
The music industry may have moved past the point of such artistic decency in this day and age. That’s why, “mindful” may not be the first adjective that describe the sampling of the songs we’ll look at today.
However, their success and world-wide reach are undeniable, and therefore worth a look.
Speaking of global music beats, reggaeton is used a lot in today’s popular music. Reggaeton is a genre of music created by Jamaican migrants that traveled to Panama to build the Panama canal. Then it bloomed in dance halls during the birth of Hip Hop of the Caribbean in the 1980s. The central beat in Reggaeton is called Dembow. As a result, the likes of Ed Sheeran, Shakira, and Justin Beiber have had multi-platinum hits thanks to these amazing beats. Take a look at this incredibly informative video:
Here is the general kick/snare pattern we’re working with:
Here’s a helpful video by The Analyst Soundz who breaks down three different Dembow beats using the program FL Studio. No need to use that software to learn these beats inside and out (warning: this video uses explicit language):
The explosion of Dembow’s/Reggaeton’s popularity is a phenomenon that could only happen in this modern age. If you want to really move some feet on the dance floor, try writing a song with this intoxicating beat!
Going for a smoother, more laid back tone for your next song? A Reggae groove may do the trick!
While Reggae and Reggaeton share a similar origin, nothing is more iconic to Jamaica, peace and good vibes than Reggae. Study up on Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, etc. There are a plethora of incredible artists who are responsible for the popularization of this genre.
Reggae was born from Jamaican folk music called mento. This guitar-focused music used all acoustic instruments, even some handmade instruments. Mento holds a similar place in Jamaica’s history to that of early blues music of the U.S.
Another type of Jamaican music, ska, is closely associated with Rastafari. It’s an Afrocentric religion that is known for its peacefulness and empowerment of the individual.
As Reggae became formalized in concert halls with electric instruments and drum kits in the 1960s, Western producers started running to Jamaica to cut records with the likes of Bob Marley.
While there are many key arrangement tools in creating a Reggae track, the main focus when starting your journey is in the guitar or keys as they play the off beats.
Another option for the kick drum that is commonly used is four-on-the-floor: a kick on every beat. This energizes the song and puts a driving force behind the groove. There are many examples of Reggae being sampled in house music thanks to the identical kick patterns. Even if you aren’t writing a Reggae song or using the groove, you could call upon one of the many classic drum fills that start off most Reggae songs. A great example is the very first moment of Three Little Birds:
If you are able to use a pre existing sample or create a fill on your own, it could serve as a flavourful element to any song you’re producing.
A huge hit that borrows from both Reggae in the verses, and Reggaeton in the chorus, is Rude by MAGIC! This track has 1.633 billion views. Yes, billion.
Middle Eastern influence
The sound of the Middle East has been especially popular in hip hop and the art of sampling. A break out track for Jay Z and Timbaland was Big Pimpin’ in 1999.
They quote Khosara by Abdel Halim Hafez, an Egyptian romantic singer, and base the entire track on the vibe of the first few moments of his song.
While there are many elements to pulling off authentic sounding Egyptian/Middle Eastern music (it take a literal lifetime to embody the nuances of most world music), one of the key elements is the melody.
This melody specifically is in the melodic minor scale, which we don’t usually hear in pop music. It incorporates both the minor and major 7 at different times. The inflection of the flute as it plays the lick has these trills that flicker freely, almost out of time, conveying a snake-charmer vibe that obviously makes everyone want to move their hips.
The beat of the original also has an amazing bounce to it, which Timbaland accents with the hi-hat on every off-beat. The recipe: one part 20th century Egyptian, and one part hip hop, and it cooked up the perfect hit song.
Classical Indian music has one of the oldest, most epic traditions on planet Earth. How to produce songs inspired by these exotic beats? There are two branches: Cartanic from South India, and Hindustani from the North. Students of these traditions study from the youngest possible age to become masters of this music, and it is transferred guru (teacher) to disciple, one on one.
Break into the richness of this music, listen to as much of this thorough playlist from Spotify as you like:
This is a mostly improvisational form, so get ready to be impressed by the creativity of these musicians who make this music their life.
Two of the main instruments they use – that Western music lacks – are the Tabla: a double hand drum, and the Sitar, a plucked string instrument. Check out these amazing instruments and what they can do all over the playlist above.
Indian vocalists make some of the most exquisite soulful sounds on earth! Check out the articulation, phrasing, huge range, and improvisation of these artists:
Hits inspired by Indian beats
One of the most successful songs that use Indian flare is Toxic by Britney Spears. The song samples a track Tere Mere Beech Mein by S. P. Balasubrahmanyam.
Not only do Spears and her producers sample this awesome melody, but they are also inspired by the silky slippery vibe of the strings when composing the pre-chorus: “Too high, can’t come down, it’s in my head and it’s all around…” They use a very unique string of notes: 5th, major 6th, minor 7th, and she touches a very high 4th with a slide up and a slide down, mimicking the articulation of a classical Indian singer. It results as an effectively sexy moment that leads us into the successful hook.
During the chorus, they combined these classical Indian elements with the American Wild-West style guitar.
The popular group Indigo Girls had a hit in the 90s called Least Complicated. While it for the most part is a lovely singer/songwriter folky song, take a listen to the ride out at the very end:
They use that Indian articulation and that major 6 to minor 7 move. It does something pretty magical and make the listener hang on until the very end.
Lastly, if you haven’t gotten into Jeff Buckley yet, now is the time. Listen to his album Grace, which is regarded as one of the most brilliant performances of our modern age. Buckley long regarded Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as a major influence, and you can hear it all over his music.
If you’re a vocalist, see if this style of singing can infuse your performances with that same passion, embodiment, and resonance of those incredible singers. Or, hire a session vocalist that will bring some oriental color to your song.
Produce pop songs inspired by international music
The world is so vast and full of genius of music. So, you’re encouraged to find what inspires you! Other types of music you may enjoy are Ethiopian, Moroccan, Irish, Traditional Chinese music, K-pop and many more.
The whole world is singing. Listen up!