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Creating a Song Structure Using Sample Loops
Written by Bill Gibson - © 2005, Cengage Learning. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Producing Music with Samples, Loops, and MIDI.

When you're selecting loops to work together musically, you must evaluate them on a few levels.
* Do they have the same or compatible meters?
* Are they compatible texturally?
* Do the fall into the same groove?

Of these considerations, it's most important that the loops all possess the same groove. If the primary groove feels laid back, the rest of the loops either need to feel laid back or they must adjust the groove in a calculated and musically intelligent manner. Sometimes it's a good idea to use a groove that is a little less relaxed for the chorus, but it's not typically effective to randomly change the feel throughout the song just because the perfect loop didn't immediately reveal itself.

The process involved in creating an excellent song structure using loops can be very time-consuming--often it feels almost as time-consuming as tracking real drums. You must be diligent in finding loops that provide the solid foundation your music deserves.

Creating A Bed
The foundation for most popular commercial songs comes from the drum track. As you begin to build your foundation using loops, search through your library until you locate a loop with just the right feel. Because most loops are simply audio recordings of real performances, you must realize that with each performance comes the musician's groove tendency. Some players find the groove behind the beat, while others find it on top of or ahead of the beat. When loops are strung together, it feels uncomfortable when the groove tendency changes abruptly.

Most libraries group a loop with several versions of the same loop. With the same drummer performing variations, the feel is usually very consistent between loops. When building your foundation for any song, take advantage of the patterns that have been grouped together—they'll provide the same feel and the same drums, and they're convenient.

If you need to use loops from a different family, be sure the feels match. The only way to verify that loops flow well together is to set up a track where the loops in question play together. Be sure you check them in any possible combination. It must feel musical no matter how the loops are arranged.

Layering
Once the rhythmic foundation has been established, consider the textural arrangement. It's a good idea to add the bass guitar part next to help establish the form and tonality. Once the basic grooves are in place, the bass guitar part can be constructed to fit with the kick and snare patterns. It's almost always a good idea to build the bass guitar so that it matches or complements the fundamental rhythms of the kick drum. Rhythmic punches and anticipations that match the kick-drum pattern provide momentum and polish.

Once the bass and drums are established, consider layering percussion loops over the main groove track. Percussion loops vary dramatically in texture. Some very simple loops contain a single instrument playing a simple rhythm; other percussion loops contain an entire ensemble playing nearly every percussion instrument ever made. Your decisions must be based on musical needs. Sometimes a loop sounds great all alone, but once it's in the track with the other instruments, it's far too busy. With a substantial library at hand you can always add more percussion tracks, so add ingredients sparingly.

The goal should be to build the musical sections, creating contrast and emotional flow.

Once you've layered the percussion parts over the fundamental groove and the bass guitar is functional, construct the harmonic bed. If you're using loops for the harmonic foundation, be sure you've defined the key. Most harmonic loops indicate their original key, which provides a couple functions.

* It indicates the key of the original recording.
* It helps provide intelligent options for transposing the loops to support the harmonic structure.

When the rhythmic and harmonic structures have been adequately defined, record a reference vocal. Whether in a traditional or rap genre, this reference vocal is a very important part of the production process. Quite often, the reference vocal contains the most life and raw emotion of all the takes, Always save the reference vocal track—it might be the take you use in the final mix.

Build the remaining tracks according to the breaks in the vocal track. Listen to the arrangement and determine whether the drums and percussion loops are too busy or whether you need more rhythmic support for certain musical sections. Base further additions on supporting the vocal track. Almost every genre depends on the melody and the primary vocal sound and delivery, so keep the focus on the lead vocal. For more information, see The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Producing Music with Samples, Loops, and MIDI.


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