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making loop-based music: dumb newbie questions


JES

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Hi Folks --

 

This is really a question about creative workflow for people who aren't virtuoso keyboardists. Hell, I don't even know if this is a good question for the forum, but I'm giving it a try!

 

Here's the short version: to those of you who create loop-based, deep, rhythmic music: what tools do you use and what is your workflow like? Do you use software stuff, or are hardware samplers still the way to go? Where do you get your sound and loops from? What do you use to chop them up?

 

Long version:

 

I'm not a keyboardist, unless you count that one semester of piano class in High School. I play stringed instruments (have been since I was 10), but I find that I really *like* a lot of music performed with synthesizers of various sorts. Some current favorites: Massive Attack (of course), Amon Tobin, Nightmares on Wax. But since Pink Floyd was a favorite rock band growing up, the interest in synthesis has always been there.

 

So I'd like to start incorporating loops, synthesized sounds and that sort of stuff into my work. Downbeat trancy stuff. But I'm a bit blown away by all the options in terms of workflow. Hardware or software? Which bit of kit? Sources for sounds?

 

I've messed around with Acid (mostly to create metronomic drum loops for rock tunes) and want to take it further. But I worry that if I go out and start buying sample CDs, I'm just going to wind up sounding like everyone else. On the other hand, I really have no idea of how to go about sampling stuff and making seamless loops. Should I be using Sound Forge or something else?

 

Then, of course, there are all the copyright issues (not like I'm going to be famous, but I want to at least KNOW if I'm doing something wrong).

 

Anyway, any advice you can offer a complete newbie would be appreciated. Good books, articles, etc., that talk about the practicalities of workflow (as opposed to "this piece of gear will solve everything for you" that you sometimes find in the glossy mags.

 

Thanks for your patience. I look forward to your wisdom and flames.

 

Best,

--JES

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there are no dumb questions, only dumb... well no, i guess there are dumb questions, but yours isn't. :D

 

DAW stands for "digital audio workstation", and the top 4 are Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase, and Pro Tools. they all do pretty much the same thing- record, arrange, & process audio & midi. i think all are PC/Mac.

 

i was asking the same question as you three years ago, and the answer was Akai's MPC. now i use Cubase, and things are far easier (although i'm still learning). there are great soft synth, sampler, and effect plugins out there (many free).

 

there's a "Pro Tools Free", and i think the others have free demos.

 

don't think too long about your choice- just do it!

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Finally, another Massive Attack fan. Aren't they great? :thu: I did a short cover of "Teardrop" for someone a couple of months ago.

 

Music production software is plentiful, and for an "all in one" solution for loop based music, you may want to check out a program called Reason from Propellerhead Software. It's got everything you need to get started. ReCycle is a popular tool for taking sampled drums and chopping them up, but if you can get samples of single drum hits, it will probably be easier to create your own loops.

 

You'll definitely need a softsequencer, and Cubase is what I use too. There are many cool softsynths and samples available, but in my opinion nothing will replace actual hardware. My main synth is a Triton, and I know that many "non-keyboardists" own one also. My best advice is to take it one step at a time, and learn a little as you go. I'm still trying to figure all this stuff out too. :D

 

Chris

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Originally posted by JES:

I've messed around with Acid (mostly to create metronomic drum loops for rock tunes) and want to take it further. But I worry that if I go out and start buying sample CDs, I'm just going to wind up sounding like everyone else. On the other hand, I really have no idea of how to go about sampling stuff and making seamless loops. Should I be using Sound Forge or something else?

I use Acid, and yes it helps me sound like everyone else. :eek::D

 

Just kidding. You can sound like yourself using loops. But you'll want to roll your own at some point. If you can't, try sampling a few hits from different kinds of things that you can blend into store bought loops. And use some unique processing. Even that will sound dated if and when tastes shift back to acoustic drums.

 

Sound forge is a good tool for making loops.

 

My work flow is to identify the types of sounds I wish to use (boom, bop, bish). These are typically one shots, not loops, although I will put snippets from loops there or at least try grab the air or the decay (not typically the hits) from loops sometimes. Then I chuck em into acid and move them around till I get a 2 measure groove that appeals. I save that file as my basic rhythm. Then I make some variations with varying degrees of complexity, and save those. Finally I open them all up and mix them down to loops (wave files). At this point, I may add some processing. I still have the construction kit Acid files, in case my loops need tweaking. I might have a set of "drum" loops and a set of "percussion" loops in this manner.

 

Finally I open a new file, import loops, start work on the song.

 

Hope this helps,

 

Jerry

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Definitely not a dumb question; with the baffling array of software and equipment out there, it can take eons to land on a setup and working method that works for you (it took me many, many eons!)

 

For my 2 cents worth, I find Acid useful as an arranging tool. Even the basic version (Acid Music) allows you arrange loops (and pieces of loops - you can slice and dice them) and add panning and volume envelopes and some minimal effects .... And you're not limited to loops per se, as of course you can use one-shot samples as well (I use individual drum hits, augmenting very spare loops to build drum tracks in acid).

 

As for getting original loops, I make mine, recording them in Cakewalk from various midi keyboards/modules, and clean them up and process further in Sound Forge. I also use some loops from sample cd's and the 'net. Throw it all together in Acid (hopefully in an original way) and voila!

 

Good luck coming up with an approach that works for you.

 

Chris

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This is probably the best use for Reason and Acid. Reason to make the loops, Acid to arrange them. You can also consider a hardware machine like the Yamaha AN200 and Korg electribe, or something more advanced and workable like the E-mu XL-7 or the Yamaha RS7000. Reason sounds good and is a bit easier to use. XL-7 will give you a greater variety of sound if you later add ROM's like the World Expansion. You can also create MIDI files in the same manner as creating a song in Acid. You don't have the paint tool which is very simple, but you can past in blocks of measures and throw in a bit more variety this way. Change an accent, move some notes around, work with the filter setting.

 

One natural progression, and there are many, is to start with Acid, then learn to roll your own loops, then migrate to a sequencer that plays MIDI loops to give you more control.

 

Robert

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Hi All,

 

I really want to thank all of you for your great responses. It's much appreciated. It all seems to boil back down to the hardware vs. software thing (I see there's a thread on that already).

 

I actually use the Audio-only version of Digital Performer for recording. As you probably know, almost everybody says that using the computer for audio recording is more flexible and powerful, but also much more difficult than analog or studio-in-a-box setups. This has been my experience as well. I'm blown away by the power and flexibility, but I'm also dealing with weird, unexpected computer errors -- usually only at INCONVENIENT times. So I'm absolutely blown away that you all say the opposite about synths!

 

Wager: you say you used one of the Akai MPC boxes and switched to software and now it's easier: what do you do for live performance?

 

All: Do you find it's as easy to "mess around" and "improvise" on a software setup as it is on a hardware box?

 

If you do your composition work in software, what do you use for live performance? Come to think of that, maybe that's a whole other thread.

 

Also, if there have been good threads on those "synth studio in a box" things -- Yamahas, Electribes, and the higher end ones -- would you mind pointing me to them? I played with a Korg MS-2000 once and really liked it, but that's just a synth. Also noticed some threads on the Alesis QS 6.1 being blown out -- though that looks like there's less to "tweak."

 

Chris: email me offlist and let's talk about bands. Other electronic stuff I dig: old Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, etc. New: early Hooverphonic and Morcheeba, DJs Shadow & Spooky, more Eno, Bill Lasswell, Nightmares on Wax, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead.

 

Again, I'm really, really appreciative that you all took the time.

 

Sincerely,

--JES

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Originally posted by JES:

Wager: you say you used one of the Akai MPC boxes and switched to software and now it's easier: what do you do for live performance?

 

i don't. i play bass, but i don't think i'll ever perform "live" with loops. actually, i don't really use many loops, i like to program every drum note. i usually start with a few 2-bar "midi loops", and copy them 50 times. then later i can change the beat, add fills, or drop notes by double-clicking on the midi block and changing things.

 

All: Do you find it's as easy to "mess around" and "improvise" on a software setup as it is on a hardware box?

 

hmmm... MPCs are probably more intuitive, but the more i learn Cubase the quicker i get.

 

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