What’s Reggaeton exactly?
Reggaeton is sweeping the Latin music world with its irrepressible blend of tropical Latin and reggae rhythms. Today many of the most popular reggaeton artists come from Puerto Rico, but you can’t keep this music from sailing out to the rest of the world.
The Rise of Reggaeton
Popular in the Latin American world for a long time, but not that popular outside of that market – until the early 2000s – Dancehall became popular, and the Latin-Pop equivalent wasn’t far behind. Artists like Daddy Yankee and Don Omar hit the American market and made Reggaeton a big thing. Towards the end of the 2000s, Reggaeton disappeared back into the Latin American market. But now, Reggaeton has returned and crossed into the pop market and is more popular than ever with songs including:
J Balvin, Willy William – “Mi Gente”
Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee – “Despacito”
DJ Snake, Selena Gomez, Ozuna, Cardi B – “Taki Taki”
Nicky Jam – “Hasta el Amanecer”
But what makes a good Reggaeton track and how does it work?
Rhythm is everything. Latin music (in general) depends on the drums. Always mix the kick and snare very up front in the mix. Drums are for Reggaeton as guitars are for Metal and piano are for Ballads. They usually need to be as loud as possible or even louder in the mix than the vocals, drums are usually the most dominant element in a mix. In addition, there are often multiple percussion elements present: toms, shakers, etc. These elements should also be treated in the same way as the primary drums, or maybe slightly lower, even if it makes the mix a bit loud or busy.
The kicks and snare tend to have a lot of frequency range. In dance music we would normally mix the drums to make way for a bass line, vocals and lead synthesizer. In Reggaeton it usually works better to keep the extra overtones. Having a full drum sound is one of the most important elements.
Many of the drum loops and samples producers use today sound very good. I usually think of the drums as the centerpiece and I mix around it. With this approach, there isn’t much of a need for processing and it is quite common to have no processing at all on the drums. The only exception is that the Reggaeton drums have a typical “dull” tone coming from extended transients. If the drums don’t have this quality, sometimes drums can benefit from using soft clipping.
We have to remember in Reggaeton that almost every other element will have a rhythmic structure. Pluck synths, guitars, etc. are usually there to support the rhythm, just as they are to support a melodic structure.
The vocals in Reggaeton are very interesting in my opinion. Some vocalists have a very polished tone in their productions, including J Balvin and Becky G. Other singers have an almost lo-fi sound in many of their hits like Ozuna. With regard to Ozuna, in particular, I know that many of his songs were produced before he became popular and were run on less expensive equipment in bedroom studios. Balvin and Becky G have been part of the music world for a while now.
Auto-Tune is also an important element of the well-known Reggaeton sound. The tuning is generally quite evident in the sound, as with Dancehall in the mid-2000s and Hip Hop today. Each artist has their own amount and mode of autotune usage, but almost all performers prefer the <20 ms range. There are also artists who use Melodyne to generally put the notes in the right place and use Autotune more for the sound (T-Pain).