music with loops

Producing music with loops? Find a way to make them your own.

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When creating music with loops from libraries, taking the time to customize and personalize will make your music more your own.

When it comes to producing your own music, high-quality pre-made loops can provide you with nearly endless possibilities when it comes to groove, vibe, flavor, and intensity. But using loop libraries brings its own set of challenges, namely, how do make your music with loops sound less like the composers and producers who built them and more like you?

Here are a few ideas to help you customize loops acquired through libraries and give them your own signature and power.

Play with pitch

Whether the loop you’re working with is an electric drum groove or a jangly strummed banjo motif, you can often get interesting and unexpected results by shifting the entire loop higher or lower in pitch. Whether you’re just fine-tuning it down by a couple cents or transposing the whole thing up by two octaves, the results can be inspiring.

Adjust tempo

Nearly all recording and production software packages let you tweak the speed of a sample, so don’t hesitate to toss your loops in the proverbial time machine and see what happens. Whether its compressing a sample to double-time or just making it a hair slower, tempo adjustments can make a big difference in how a loop sounds and feels.

Put it in reverse

Many software programs let you flip a sample and play it backwards. How would that ultra-hooky drum loop sound in reverse? Give it a try and see if it inspires you.

Compress, distress, and distort

Does your loop feel too clean, mechanical, or electronic? Just add dirt.

Whether they’re physical units or digital emulators, tools like guitar amps, stomp boxes, and compressors can add all sorts of grit and hair to a loop, transforming it from tame to raging. They can also be applied subtly, helping you alter the color or warmth of a loop to make it better fit whatever vibe you’re going for.

One tip — if you’re playing with distortion or compression, remember that a little can go a long way. Be sure to listen back to your track with fresh ears to make sure effects you add to your loops don’t end up overwhelming the track or distracting from the song.

Mess with echo, reverb, and modulation

In my own productions, I’ve had a lot of fun playing with these sorts of effects with loops. Cranking up the reverb, adding an unusually-timed echo, or throwing the whole thing through a Leslie simulator can completely transform a loop in unexpected and often wonderful ways.

There are lots of tools to choose from — chorus, ping-pong delay, phasers, and flangers among them — and lots of parameters within each effect. Experiment and see what works for you and your music.

Layer it up, mix, and pan

I’ve also had lots of fun layering multiple loops on top of each other to create something new. I’ve had the most success when the loops I’m layering are vaguely similar — say, two hard rock drum grooves that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, or synth bass loops that mesh in an equally organic way.

The key here is to mix as you go, so you’re not just creating sonic mud by putting loop on top of loop on top of loop. Tweak the EQs on each loop to make sure they’re not competing for frequencies, and be creative with panning and volume as well. I’ve had success panning some more eclectic choices of loops hard left or hard right and reducing them in volume so they’re audible but not dominant — in other words, the loops are there to add more texture and intrigue to the sound, but aren’t too overwhelming or distracting from the main groove or theme of the track.

Cut up and customize

Do you like the hi-hat from one drum groove but the bass drum from another? There’s no rule saying that loops have to be used on an all-or-nothing basis. Take the best parts from multiple loops and splice them together into a hybrid that serves your creativity and the song at hand.

Do you have any additional tips on how to make pre-existing loops sound fresh and unique? Tell us in the comments below!

Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.

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