How to Produce Reggaeton Music
By Ivan Valles
In the years of 2005 and 2006, Reggaeton music became a rather popular style of music. Reggaeton’s roots date back to the early 90’s, but it is the modern music of Shakira, Alejandro Sanza, J. Lo, R. Kelly, Don Omar, Daddy Yankee and other popular artists that have used reggaeton as an influential tool to create music. I’ve gotten several emails suggesting me to talk about this style some more, so I decided to dedicate this article to explore the main production aspects of Reggaeton.
As I mentioned before, Reggaeton first appeared around the early 90s. It basically blends some Jamaican styles of music such as reggae and dancehall, with other common Latin American styles like Bomba and Plena, finally incorporating hip hop into it as well. The result is a catchy rhythm which people love to dance to.
For very long time Reggaeton music was not very well appreciated and was part of the underground music world of countries like Panama and Puerto Rico. But as soon as Reggaeton artists were able to get a break and become a part of the music industry, they climbed their way up to the top of many Latin billboard charts. Because of the difficult situation that music is experiencing, Labels soon tried to put out as much Reggaeton music as they could get their hands on. Today, Reggaeton remains an influential style of music. So let’s talk about some of the most important music production aspects of Reggaeton.
It’s important to mention that Reggaeton music shares some of the common production elements with hip-hop music. For example, vocal layers for the choruses are generally performed for one chorus only, and later copied and pasted into the rest of the choruses. Most of the times, choruses will be sung or rapped several times to give a fuller sound. The voices will preferably have different panning in the stereo field. If the chorus is melodic, I personally recommend looking into adding some nice harmonies to accompany your main melody. I like to fully pan some of them to the left and right respectively. The rap sections are normally complemented by some adlib parts. When it comes to adlibs, I like to add a chain of effects, with a radio effect (filtering so that only the mid frequencies can be heard), distortion and eight note or quarter note delays.
Sequencing Reggaeton drums can lead to some groovy and interesting results. Fruty loops and Reason are to very common tools in which Reggaeton can be sequenced. Even though the basic Reggaeton pattern is usually present, it is up to the music producer’s creativity to break its continuity by adding some artistic fills and breaks, as well as some provocative percussion elements. Several snare sounds are usually used in the song, to help differentiate its different sections. The basic Reggaeton drum pattern involves quarter notes on the kick, and the snare sounding on the fourth sixteenth of the first and third quarter note, and the second eight note on the second and fourth quarter notes of a measure. Whenever producing Reggaeton music, if it is within your budget, you should experiment with adding a live instrument like percussion or guitar to complement the sequenced tracks. This gives the music a more human feel. Being a musician myself, I like to add live instruments to spice up the music track.
Whether you are using Reggaeton music only as an influence or as your music’s main style, it is very important to get a nice low-end bass sound. The bass plays a critical role in this music. When matched properly, bass and drums invite its listeners almost immediately to the dance floor. So always keep in mind that Reggaeton listeners will typically want to get up and dance to the beat, so always keep your drums and bass in the continuity of the groove.
It is very common to search for electronic keyboard sounds to complement your beat. There are a lot of very good keyboards and several virtual synths that will help you create your various layers of keyboards. I often use delayed and filtered effects for some of the rhythmic keyboards to help their sound feel fuller.
When the situation calls for it, I like to take some of the tracks I sequence and take them through outboard gear, particularly gear with good quality vacuum tubes, such as preamps, compressors and equalizers. Some popular brands out there include Manley, Avalon, Universal Audio, Summit, Focusrite, among others. These processors help to fatten your signal significantly, while adding some extra warmth to your individual tracks.
In Reggaeton music production, that the musical elements will normally be present as a 4 or 8-bar loop. This loop will typically be muted or un-muted, depending on what you want to accomplish out of a particular section of the song. It is always a good idea to play with the loop you’ve created so that you listen to the interaction of your tracks and find interesting ways of combining them and muting them. This will be helpful in discovering interesting changes for the dynamics of the song.
Always keep in mind that the lyric and melodic elements in Reggaeton should be playful, seductive and above all dance full and catchy. So always search for interesting ways of performing your vocals in Reggaeton tracks, and listen to your favorite Reggaeton influences to take some musical sense and ideas.
When you’re mixing and mastering Reggaeton, keep in mind that the drums tend to be somewhat higher in volume than they typically are in other styles of music, Hip Hop included. Reggaeton snare drums tend to be very loud. In the case of Vocals, they will have several different effects, some of which include filtering, equalizing, reverbs and delays. Make sure you are mixing these elements in to make your Reggaeton song stand out from the rest. In Reggaeton, as in any other type of music, your songs should stand out and be as unique as possible.