The practice of incorporating a trademark snippet, or producer tag, into a song has become typical among today’s beatmakers hoping to draw public attention to their work.
Founded primarily on disadvantageous streaming numbers, today’s music economy fails to provide stable revenue for those whose efforts uphold the industry – the singers, songwriters, rappers and producers – more so than in the history of artists being screwed over by their labels.
A single income source has remained monetarily inadequate for musicians since the 1920s. Generally, said income has to pass through the hands of label executives first. More lucrative sources of income have always been required to make a living. Playing live shows, teaching lessons, and writing music for other artists.
But since the shift to digital streaming, and away from physical CDs, music artists have experienced an even greater blow to their income. This unprecedented economy forces creatives to adopt more long-term strategies, in order to maintain a revenue stream and build a genuine following.
For beatmakers, particularly in hip-hop, the trademark snippet has become a quintessential promotional strategy. However, in recent years, it has also taken on an artistic flair.
Promotion and Copyright
The foremost motivation behind implementing a producer tag lies in branding and copyright. That they protect an artist’s beats from theft, while contributing to their cultural presence, is a significant commercial incentive.
Beatmakers frequently fashion their tags from a snappy audio recording or sample, which almost always conveys their stage name. And as a result, the producer’s name isn’t lost in the seldom explored credits. The name alone can garner potential clients and a wider audience.
The modern, mainstream awareness of hip-hop producers – such as Pi’erre Bourne, Metro Boomin’ and Tay Kieth – is unusual, considering the relative invisibility of ‘90s beat makers. As the tag makes their presence and importance obvious, we learn to appreciate their work. A particular producer’s style has the chance of becoming as familiar as a singer or rapper’s voice.
The Tag is a Voice
Some undermine the tag by suggesting that it acts as the sole distinguishing feature between modern trap producers. They make unfair comparisons to Dr. Dre, Kanye West and RZA, who distinguished themselves stylistically without a beat tag. Yet it is somehow forgotten that these producers also frequently rapped on their beats, which made them more prominent than their non-rapping contemporaries.
The Cam’ron single “Down And Out” is often misconstrued as a Kanye West beat. It makes sense why: he features on the song and is attributed to the chipmunk-soul sound. But West admitted on an obscure DJ mix from 2006 that lesser-known producer Bryan “All Day” Miller composed the beat, and that he, regretfully, took credit.
Would Dre, Kanye and RZA be as prominent today had they not rapped on their tracks?
I don’t wish to suggest that these producers were not exceptionally talented, but that their voices factored in their mainstream acceptance. A voice is certainly more relatable than a beat. A producer tag, likewise, permits a beat maker a voice. As Memphis’ London on da Track delineates, “the more you hear the tag on the radio, the more people are ready for it.”
But if you’re frequently on the radio or “Top 50” playlists, the ubiquity of producer tags can be irritating (understandably.) Although the logic behind embedding tags at the beginning of each song is sound, the complaints against their overuse are just as valid.
Des Moines hitmaker Bangladesh posits that, in some ways, beat tagging should be the privilege of a skilled and successful producer rather than a birthright – used with care and sincerity.
When you haven’t arrived as a producer, tagging is irritating. I hate when producers who are still trying to pursue a career play me beat and they got these tags all over ’em. I’m like, ‘Man, you don’t even know how to produce right!’Shondrae Crawford, a.k.a. Bangladesh
Privilege or Birthright?
In 2016, Kanye West presented The Life of Pablo, his seventh album, at Madison Square Garden alongside his fashion showcase. After the gospel intro on “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1”, Metro Boomin’s tag unexpectedly followed –“If young Metro don’t trust ya …” – as if to announce the legendary beat drop. Unexpected, because Kanye doesn’t usually include his co-producers’ tags on his songs. Nonetheless, he personally sought permission from Metro to play his tag.
Metro’s tag excited both the in-person and online listeners, and the song remains the most memorable moment from the showcase. Implementing the tag behind the instrumental drop is a quintessential technique among hip-hop producers. Yet the positioning of Metro’s tag purposefully disrupts the exulted gospel intro – reflecting the tension between faith and hedonism that runs throughout Pablo – and distinguishes the trap beat.
The Pablo listening party showed that tags can have genuine musical merit.
The Frequency of Tags
In his own project, Heroes & Villains, released in 2022, Metro Boomin’ employs his tags sparingly – only where it makes sense. For instance, to precede an instrumental shift or occupy negative space. Metro implements his tags more in other artists’ work and commissions, such as the new Spider-Verse soundtrack, and for obvious reasons. But despite the economic incentive of producer tags, one should still take care not to hinder the music with their addition.
On the other hand is DJ Khaled, who oversaturates his records with frustratingly repetitive mottos, shouting them at every turn. The impulsive aphorisms he expresses on social media are, on their own, at least entertaining. But for the same jarring phrases to interrupt each song is tiresome. Khaled’s tags merely function as an algorithmic, self-promotion tactic.
Producer tags make up only a few seconds of most songs, but their scale is undeniably substantial. They pass us by quickly, but in the lives of emerging or successful beatmakers, their influence has been life-changing. Whether they are implemented sincerely or overly, producer tags, as long as the internet is flourishing, are here to stay.