Loops Hit The Musical Mainstream

Formerly the province of ivory tower electronic music experimentalists and Red Bull-swilling DJs (how’s that for an odd couple?), taking a piece of audio and repeating it over and over to create a “groove” has hit the musical mainstream. From rock to rap and country to soundtracks, loops have woven themselves into th
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Formerly the province of ivory tower electronic music experimentalists and Red Bull-swilling DJs (how’s that for an odd couple?), taking a piece of audio and repeating it over and over to create a “groove” has hit the musical mainstream. From rock to rap and country to soundtracks, loops have woven themselves into the fabric of modern music — whether as bit players in a standard recording session, or as stars in an environment tailor-made for them.

If you think all loop music is just a 4/4 kick drum and a synth bass line, that just testifies how well they’ve done their job of integrating into today’s scene. You’ve heard loops everywhere, whether you recognize them or not. Loops have expanded way beyond their dance roots into . . .

Commercials. The ability to time-stretch loops makes it easy for that fantastic 36-second music bed to fit into a 30-second spot.

Overdubs to existing tracks. You have a slammin’ rock track, but want to add an exotic flavor with some world percussion. No Djembe player? No problem. Grab an idiomatic pattern from a percussion sample CD, and lay it in.

Inspiration creator. If you’re bored by a metronome’s “TICK-tock-tock-tock,” load a cool drum loop to kick start your creative juices.

Additional production elements. Whether it’s a rock, pop, or country record, chances are you’ll hear loops being pressed into service as additional production elements. In many cases, traditional percussion (e.g., tambourine and shaker) is replaced with more ear-catching looped material created from live performances of the drummer or other band member.

Transposition. Your singer would be more comfortable if the tune was a full step higher. Fortunately, most digital audio loops can transpose as well as stretch time.

Video soundtracks. Audio-for-video can be a high-pressure environment where the clock and budget rule all. Loops to the rescue: Lay down a quick rhythm track, record a blistering solo in real time . . . call Fed Ex for a pickup.

Special effects. By abusing loop parameters, it’s possible to slice and dice audio into something completely different — from freakishly musical to hi-fi sci-fi.

Practicing. Working out a solo? Set up a loop of multiple tracks, click go, and practice until you get it right.

“Data compressed” files for collaboration. If you’re a songwriter doing melodies and collaborating with someone else on lyrics, it’s a lot easier to email a file based on loops — a loop repeated eight times takes up 1/8th the memory of the music expressed as a traditional digital audio file.

Live performance. Loop-based software (such as Ableton’s Live) encourages using loops as performance elements — raw materials that you shape, in real time, into evocative, evolving music.

Loop-based music. Oh yes, and there’s always music based on loops: Rap, techno, hip-hop, trance, ambient, house, and so on through the endless mutant variations that keep butts shaking on dance floors.

Unlike the old school loop days, where you spliced tape to created a physical loop and let it run over a tape head ad infinitum, today’s slick digital tools let you stretch audio in a way that makes Silly Putty look downright inflexible. Yes, the days of calculating tempos and laboriously trimming lengths to create a loop have mercifully joined the Elcaset on the scrap heap of recording history. In many cases, you can just drag and drop loops into today’s tunes and get creative, rather than switch into geek pocket protector mode.

If you’re already using loops, you’ll pick up a bunch of tips and tricks exclusive to EQ. The following pages are chock full of vital information that will help get you well on your way to adding loops into your bag of production tricks. And if you’re not using loops yet, keep reading . . . and discover why loops are here to stay, even if your musical point of reference is Led Zeppelin rather than Kraftwerk.

—Craig Anderton