By now, you know the basics of making multitracked scratch compositions with PC-based tools, such as using audio-file-sharing programs as a means to obtain hard-to-find and sample-worthy MP3s; you are also familiar with software for converting MP3 files to WAV files. Now, it's time to forge ahead into WAV editors and loop-based music creation software. As a basic foundation for combining multiple loops into a scratch backing track, you also need to know the steps to create a loop, as well as the more detailed process involved in combining multiple loops into a multitracked scratch composition.
To create consistent loops that synchronize with each other in the multitrack looping software, I create all of my loops so that they start just before the downbeat of bar 1 and end after the last beat of the final bar in the loop — at the point where the first downbeat of the next bar would begin. For a simple four-part beat (kick, snare, kick, snare), that means starting the WAV file at the beginning of the first kick and ending it at the end of the second snare. By exploring downloaded drum loops, you can recognize what is involved in creating your own loops.
For the purposes of demonstration, I will describe the steps to create a basic drum loop in a WAV editor. Of the many WAV editors available, my favorite is Cool Edit Pro 2.0. This software package has many powerful features, starting with an intuitive and well-designed interface (see Fig. 1).
FINDING THE LOOP
To create a drum loop, open a WAV file of a song in Cool Edit Pro. Pick a song that has a section in which the drums play without any other musical elements. Play the song and follow the vertical bar that moves along the waveform as the song plays. Zoom in on the section you wish to loop.
Highlight the section to loop and click on the Play Looped button. Cool Edit will play back just the highlighted portion of the audio file. Using the Shift key, fine-tune the start and end points (zooming in farther will help) until the loop sounds seamless. Hit the Stop button and then select Edit > Trim. Cool Edit will delete everything that is not highlighted (see Fig. 2). Save the file as type Windows PCM with a .wav extension. With that, you have a new drum loop.
Drum loops need not be one bar in length. If you have a sample-worthy four-bar drum break, loop all four bars. Also, when creating your loops, try experimenting with Cool Edit's Auto Cue > Mark Beats and Phrases feature. Cool Edit will mark the start of the beats (based on decibel rise and rise time). Use these cue points as a guide to help you locate the correct start and end point of your sample loop (see Fig. 3). With practice, it will become easy to get the start and end points right.
Now that you have created a loop, you need to combine it with other sounds to make a track over which you can scratch. Repeat the steps above to create a bass loop. Additionally, select and create a couple of one-shot samples (such as vocal phrases) that you want to combine with the drum and bass loops. After experimenting with drum loops as your foundation, you can also experiment with recording an entire track of beat juggling for your backing and then layer additional tracks of scratched samples and sounds for a completely scratched song.
Many turntablists are experimenting with multitracked tools to create turntablist music. Most non-mix-tape-style DJ albums involve some form of multitracking. In addition to creating loops over which you can scratch, you can record multiple tracks of scratching and combine them into a single track. As one of the first all-scratched turntablist albums, DJ QBert's Wave Twisters is an excellent example of what is possible by combining multiple tracks of scratching.
LOVE THAT ACID PRO
Many loop-based music-editing tools are available. Sonic Foundry's Acid Pro 3.0 is my favorite. But Sonic Foundry recently released Acid Pro 4.0, an update to this already great product. To add loops and samples to a track in Acid Pro, simply paint them onto the track with the mouse. Acid takes care of matching the tempo to that of the existing project. If the audio file is a loop, it will repeatedly loop until you stop painting the track.
Open a new project in Acid Pro, and you should see a blank project window. Right-click in the section to the left and select Open. Find the drum loop you wish to use and click on the Open button (see Fig. 4). Acid adds the loop as a new track in your project. Repeat this step to add your bass loop and the two one-shot samples (see Fig. 5). For each of the one-shot samples, right-click and select Properties. Change the track type to One-shot. That instructs Acid not to adjust the file tempo to match the project tempo, but to leave the file as is. Now you can arrange the tracks.
Starting at the left-most part of the project window, left-click in the drum-loop track and drag (or paint) the drum loop across the screen. Do the same for the bass loop, but start it eight beats after the drum track begins (at the square marked 3.1). Those markings represent your track's bars (the number before the decimal) and beats (the number after the decimal). You may find it helpful to zoom in or out of your project.
Next, click-and-drag to insert your one-shot samples at logical spots within the project (for example, the start or end of every second bar). Listen to the result. You should hear the beat kick in; four bars later, the bass should start up. The one-shot samples should play at their respective points. You may find that the beat and the bass line don't mesh well or that the samples don't match the track. Experiment and change things around to hear the difference it makes. You will also have to spend some time adjusting the volume of each track to make sure the levels blend well.
MULTIPLE SCRATCH TRACKS
With Acid, you can add more than one track of scratching, allowing you to experiment with multiple scratched sounds over the top of your loops. To add a scratched track to your project in Acid, click on the Record button. In the Record dialog, set the Record Type as Audio and give it an appropriate file name. Choose whether to start the track at the beginning of your recording or at a specific position, based on where and for how long you want to add your scratched track.
Providing that you have a full duplex soundcard (which most current soundcards are), you should hear the other elements of the track play as you record your scratch track. However, you won't hear the scratches that you are recording, so you will need to monitor that through a set of headphones plugged into your mixer.
When you have finished scratching, press the Stop button, and Acid will add the new track to the bottom of the project. You can now listen to your project and hear how the scratched track sounds. Because the new track is a WAV file, it is also editable, which allows you to make changes or remove parts of the track. To build multiple layers of scratching on top of your loops, repeat the steps outlined previously.
When you have your composition sounding the way you want it, mix it down to a single track. Select Tools > Render to New Track. Acid will mix all of the respective parts of your project into a single track. The mixed-down track will be saved to your hard disk, from which you can burn it to CD or play it back on your PC for use as a backing track while scratching.
Computer-based audio tools have become easily accessible to the average computer user, and today's basic PC system comes well-equipped to run them. Both Cool Edit and Acid include effects and filters that you can apply to your audio. Through experimentation, you can find many ways to enhance and vary the sounds you create. As with your scratch sessions, practice makes perfect. I urge you to play around and experiment with the concepts introduced here.