Making Tracks: Loop-Overs

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FIG. 1: This Beat Detective window shows the settings I used to quantize the audio loop.

Live drums, no matter how well played, have variations in timing and feel. If you want a drum loop to work with a live drum track and you want to avoid flamming, you must either quantize one to the other or — my preference — align both to a quantize grid of your choosing. In this month's “Making Tracks,” I'll take you through that process using Digidesign Pro Tools Beat Detective (see “Step-by-Step Instructions”). If you don't have a file-slicing program, such as Beat Detective or Propellerhead ReCycle, you can carry out these steps by hand.

To use Beat Detective effectively, you must first consolidate each of the drum tracks so that you are dealing with just one audio file per track. Then you must go through each track visually, bar by bar, to make sure that Beat Detective's analysis of the track is correct; it will often mark transients where there are incidental noises, such as kick-pedal-return clicks, and miss the actual attacks. Through trial and error, you will find that Beat Detective works quite well (see Fig. 1).

All Together Now

It is important to slice and align all of your drum tracks together. If, for example, the overhead mic tracks are aligned differently from the hi-hat track, the hi-hat leakage on the overhead tracks will be out of phase with the hi-hat track.

It isn't necessary for you to quantize every nuance of a live performance. For instance, if the drummer swings the 16th notes, it may sound better to quantize just eighth-note slices, leaving the swung 16th notes where they were in relation to the eighth notes.

It is important that you choose compatible loops. Doing so can take quite a bit of time, even with a small collection of loops. I usually listen to loops that have tempos as much as 20 bpm faster or slower than the live drums. Smaller-sounding loops usually work better; larger, fuller loops tend to conflict with the live drums. To make a big loop sound smaller, filter out the top and bottom frequencies and apply heavy compression.

The key when auditioning loops is to listen for a part of the loop that will fit when it is mixed with the live drums. Avoid phasing effects, 32nd notes, very bright sounds, and pitched elements, which all stick out when a loop is mixed in.

Once you've chosen one or more loops, you'll need to quantize them. If the live drums swing, try to match that swing in the loop. You may also want to slice the loop and rearrange the order of the slices to fit the pattern of the live drums.

Be particularly aware of how the kick drum of the loop interacts with the live kick. Also consider how the low frequencies in the loop interact with the live drums. If the low end is too messy, apply a highpass filter to the loop with the cutoff between 60 and 100 Hz. I often try adding a second or third loop as the song builds.

Let's Be Frank

I asked a talented drummer friend of mine named Frank Vilardi to record some short drum beats for me in his home studio ( He gave me two challenging examples — one with swing and one without. The faster, nonswing beat has a side-stick backbeat, so most loops that have snare backbeats would overshadow it. The swing loop is played at 65 bpm, and because there aren't many very slow loops on the market, I didn't have as many loops from which to choose.

The loop player I used was Spectrasonics Stylus RMX ( I like Stylus because you can bounce the loop directly to the track or use MIDI with Stylus to sequence the slices of the loop. I use both methods, depending on the situation. Using SAGE Converter, you can import REX files into Stylus.

I started by quantizing Vilardi's first beat (see Web Clip 1). I then added a loop from Spectrasonics Retro Funk S.A.G.E. Xpander (see Web Clip To hear the loops before and after processing, see Web Clip 3. ). Next, I added another loop from Sonic Reality R.A.W. Urban Grooves Style Pak (

I took a similar approach with Vilardi's second example (see Web Clip 4Web Clip 5). First, I added a pop-country loop from the R.A.W. collection (see ). Then I added another loop from the Stylus Core library (see Web Clip 6M).

Even with excellent tools like Beat Detective and Stylus RMX, choosing appropriate loops and aligning them carefully with your drum tracks is time-consuming. But the results can often take a good track to the next level.

Steve Skinner has programmed, arranged, and produced many recordings. He recently added loops to live drums on Steve Carlson's new release, Groovin' on the Inside.
The live drum tracks for the Web Clips were recorded in Frank Vilardi's home studio

[Online links]
Spectrasonics Stylus RMX and Retro Funk S.A.G.E. Xpander were used in the Web Clips
Sonic Reality R.A.W. Urban Grooves Style Pak used in the Web Clips is marketed by IK Multimedia

Step 1: On this bar of a live drum track, notice that some of the hits are slightly off the click.



Step 2: Here, Beat Detective has separated, conformed, and edit-smoothed the bar shown in step 1.

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Step 3: This loop was recorded directly from Stylus.

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Step 4: I used Beat Detective on the loop, adjusting 16th-note slices to get a swing amount that works with the live drums.

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Step 5: This MIDI file was imported from Stylus to play another loop.

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Step 6: I''ve altered the beat by moving and quantizing the MIDI notes with the same swing.

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