If the term “DJ” makes you think “someone playing Barbra Streisand songs at my cousin’s wedding,” then you might think gas is $1.20 a gallon, and wonder how Ronald Reagan will turn out as president. DJing has changed radically over the past two decades, fueled by accelerating world-wide popularity, technological advances, and splits into different styles.
Step sequencing has aged gracefully. Once a mainstay of analog synths, step sequencing has stepped into a virtual phone booth, donned its Super Sequencer duds, and is now equally at home in the most cutting-edge dance music. In a way, it’s like a little sequencer that runs inside of a bigger host sequencer, or within a musical instrument. But just because it’s little doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, and several DAWs include built-in step sequencers.
Yes, loops are convenient because you can use them “out of the box.” But why be normal? Or for that matter, put up with a loop that’s close to what you want, but not perfect? There are quite a few tricks you can use with loops to make them groovier, courtesy of digital audio editing. So, let's get started...
Drum loops: Boring. Repetitive. Yawn.
The cliché is that drum loops are boring and repetitive. This isn’t really surprising, because many times, they are. But you don’t have to succumb to dumb drums—there are lots of ways to make drum loops anything but a yawner.
You don't have to do hip-hop, rap, or dance music to have the need to program beats—even singer/songwriters want something better than a metronome. But there are beats that just sit there lifeless, making you wish you hadn't gotten into an argument with your drummer and caused him to quit the band, and there are beats that jump out of the speakers, grab you by your butt, and get you moving. So what's the "it" factor that makes the difference?
Some dance music tracks feature a pumping, dynamic dance mix drum sound that almost sounds like the drums are breathing. This is the result of applying extreme amounts of compression to mixed drums, then triggering the compressor with an individual drum (typically snare) via sidechaining. The individual drum “smashes” the drum mix when it hits, but otherwise leaves the drum mix alone. It's a pretty cool effect, and this article tells you how to achieve it.
Your drummer just came up with the rhythm pattern of a lifetime, or your guitarist played a rhythm guitar hook so infectious you think you might need to soak the studio in Clorox. And you want to use these grooves throughout a song, while cutting some great vocals on top.
A loop isn’t the same as the part played over and over again . . . and vice-versa. When you want consistent, hypnotic repetition, here’s how to create a loop—from start to finish.
Garage has been around since the 1990s, but it continues to influence other EDM genres as well as retain its own following. Whether you’re interested in creating “pure” Garage music using UK Garage loops or want to incorporate some its elements in other forms of music, the following tips should help get you off to a good start.
Why settle for static audio and MIDI tracks when you can use clip envelopes to add animation and expressiveness? Envelopes aren’t just about fade ins and fade out, but altering parameters over time in a way that adds interest.
Ableton Live makes it easy to create modulation envelopes, as well as edit them “on the fly,” using virtually the same procedure for both MIDI and audio tracks. Check it out!
Many musicians use Ableton Live with a laptop for live performance, but this involves a compromise. Laptops often have a single, fairly slow (5400 RPM) disk drive, and a limited amount of RAM compared to desktop computers. But why compromise? This article tells you how to use USB memory stick to give huge performance gains with Ableton Live.
Although beat-oriented programs like Acid and Ableton Live usually use relatively short loops to create projects, you’re not limited to that option: It’s possible to “beatmap” long, unlooped files so that they can match up with the project tempo. This works by importing the file you want to beat map (even ones with slight tempo variations will work). You then add markers so that the file plays back in sync with the rest of the project, or the project tempo syncs to the file. It sounds like magic - but it really works.
Sonar was the first program after Sony Acid itself to allow turning standard WAV files into the “Acidized” format. This format adds metadata to the file that indicates where transients exist, and links these to tempo so that the file can “stretch” to accommodate tempos other than the tempo at which it was recorded. If you're into grooves and loops, the Acidized format is a huge help - and many programs, not just Acid and Sonar, can import them.
You know the problem: You have the perfect loop, but it's the wrong tempo. There are several ways to make a loop stretch to different tempos - from DSP to converting to a particular file format, like the REX or Acidized WAV format - each with their own advantages and disadvantages. But if you're into Apple, there's a format designed specifically for you: Apple's Apple Loops format adds metadata to WAV or AIF files that allows them to conform to arbitrary tempos and pitches.
Ableton Live offers a way to deconstruct an audio file into individual slices. You can then edit each slice with respect to placement in a loop, filtering, envelope characteristics, and much more. This is a great way to take existing beats, then mutate them into something completely different - and this article tells you how to do it.
The REX file format, invented by Propellerhead Software, "slices" a rhythmic file into several pieces (e.g., every 16th note, although you're not restricted to particular rhythmic intervals), which are triggered for playback. This allows for easy time-stretching, but as we'll see, REX files provide lots of other creative possibilities.
Pads can add beautiful atmospherics to a recording, but if you’ve ever tried to loop a pad, you’re probably aware that it’s not an easy task. Fortunately, the tools needed to create perfect loops are available in just about any DAW - and you can create pads that just go on forever, with seamless loop points.
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