From Download to Arranging: Your Complete Guide to Drum Loop Manipulation

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Need to make drum loops and don't have a bunch of cash to spend? If you have a PC, learn how to make great drum loops with totally free software.

This article was originally written for Home Recording Central by "drk_sum", who has not been around in a while. You can find him here.

Drum loops are fantastic things. In this article, you will learn how to make the most of drum loops using freely downloadable programs only. This should be fun.

What you will need:

  1. Goldwave
  2. Hammerhead Rhythm Station
  3. Audiomulch
  4. Some VST Effects
  5. Pro Tools Free

Once you have these programs, it is safe to begin. Note that this is the order in which you will need each program, meaning that if you want, you can put off getting a program until you reach the mentioned step.

Step 1: Get some loops.
Without a doubt, the easiest way to get loops is to visit Audiorank and visit every single listed site until your harddrive is smoking and brimming with drum loops. At this point, you might find you need a new harddrive. Or at least a broadband connection...

Step 2: Why do my loops sound so bad?
The loops that you get off the internet are free for a reason: their cost is proportional to the care taken in their production. Which means that many loops will require some tweaking before they loop correctly, and some may require you to trim some samples that end too abruptly. This is where Goldwave comes in. Goldwave is effectively free, as its copy protection/shareware registration system just doesn't work.

For each loop, you can check the extent of the looping quality by slowing down each loop to half-speed and then listening to them. You will note that many fast breaks have either too much or too little time at the end, and will affect the placement of the internal drum hits when looped.

What does this mean? If the loop-player that you use adjusts the loop length in order to fit the entire loop in the span of 1 bar, additional sound at the end of the loop will force the internal drum hits to occur earlier than they should; conversely if the loop is not long enough, the drum hits will occur late. If your drum hits don't sync to the rest of your song, you will lose beat resonance and the power of your beats.

Goldwave also includes a batch converter. The batch converter is one of our best friends, as it can be used to convert 4-bit files to 16-bit files. Many loops that you get off the internet are compressed to samller 4-bit files and will not work in sample players. The batch converter can be used to convert hundreds of files to either 16-bit mono or 16-bit stereo. Remember to dump your 16-bit files into a new directory or replace the old files, as you don't want to get the two filesets confused. For smaller harddrives, it may be a good idea to archive the 4-bit originals (after you get them looping perfectly) or to store them on a data cd.

Step 3: My loops are boring by themselves
Most loops are quite boring by themselves. They hardly ever inspire an entire song based on a single loop. Generally, that is why live drummers are better. Most live drummers know more than one pattern. Unfortunately, the standard method of remixing loops involves a sampler, ReCycle, X-Razor, or access to the drums and MIDI patterns used to make the loop. Most of the time, it takes far too long to operate on a single loop in ReCycle and X-Razor in order to produce significant results. As well, the exported MIDI result is not always easy to manipulate in order to produce musical results. Fortunately, there is an answer.

Hammerhead Rhythm Station is a drum machine that saves processing power by gatingits channels. This means that the most current playing of a sample cuts out the playing of any previously playing sample on the same channel. This is most beneficial to us, as we can use this feature to make new variations of our loops.

Begin with a new bank of newly downloaded loops. Make a new bank of six loops with Makebank.exe (comes with Hammerhead). Make sure to set each loop to Stretch To Measure or tempo will matter. Close 'er up, and head into Hammerhead. Load the bank, and set the first channel to the first user loop. Put a trigger in the first step. Since the Stretch to Measure option was selected, your loop will now be chugging along at 135 BPM. Note that the Stretch to Measure option eliminates the necessity for knowing a loop's tempo as long as the loop is not required to match a certain pitch.

Drop a trigger on step 11. Export to wav
Drop a trigger on step 7. Export to wav
Remove the trigger on step 11. Export to wav
Remove 7, drop on 3. Export to wav
Remove 3, drop on 5. Export to wav
Remove 5, drop on 15. Export to wav
Vary to taste, export to wav.

It is a good idea to specify the original loop and tempo in the file name of the exported wav, or just set up a new folder and specify the variation/step number. Congrats, you now have 8 versions of your loop.

Step 4: My loops are dry and plain
If the loops you are using are a little lacking in the sonic character department, or maybe you would just like to add effects to your loops, you can with Audiomulch. Audiomulch can also be used to add drum flourishes to your beats, and to program new beats. You might be asking: "Why didn't I just program drumbeats in Hammerhead?". Well the short answer is that Hammerhead just isn't very good for programming beats. Audiomulch lacks only the shuffle option, and adds instant sample loading and a wealth of other effect features. These features include filters, mixers, loop players, drum sequencers, bassline sequencers, and the most important feature of all: the ability to use VST effects. Go nuts. Add distortion, lowpass filters, highpass filters, cymbals, vocal lines, everything you could ask for, and then export to wav.The new version of Audiomulch supports the graphic interfaces of any VST plugins you use, so you can now see what it's like to use the plugins in more expensive VST-compatible software.

Step 5: How do I arrange my loops?
If you don't have a Multitrack MIDI/Audio studio, Pro Tools Free is going to do you wonders. I have never used Pro Tools Free, but I read Electronic Musician and I know the power of the Pro Tools machina. If you have been scrounging the net for free multitrack studios and you haven't found Pro Tools Free, you might be stuck toying with the Inwire Version of Cubase or your parents might have fooled you into thinking the cardboard box your TV came in is actually a computer. Regardless, Pro Tools Free will guide you to excellence.

Import all the loops that you plan on using in your song. By now you should have AT LEAST 8 variations of your loop (including all retriggered and effected versions). Dump all of the loops into a new track in the arrangement window. Keep them all as separate parts. Now arrange them as follows (this is kinda algorithmic, but it makes a great basis from which to work):

  • Paste the original loop into track 2 at your starting point
  • Copy and Paste appended. Delete the last part (loop) and Replace it with variation 1
  • Copy All of track 2 and paste appended. Delete the last part and replace it with variation 3
  • Copy all of track 2 and paste appended. Delete the last part and replace it with variation 4
  • Copy all of track 2 and paste appended. Delete the last part and replace with variation 5

Track 2 will now go like this:
o,1,o,2, o,1,o,3, o,1,o,2, o,1,o,4, o,1,o,2, o,1,o,3, o,1,o,2, o,1,o,5.
keep it up until all the loops are used.
Another variation of this is o,1,2,3, o,1,2,4, o,1,2,3, o,1,2,5.

Step 6: My Rhythm is still a little flat.
Even after all that work, you still need some more variation. We have varied the syncopation, and the tonal character, but now it is time to vary the dynamics. This is really the easy part. Scan along the track, and remove the last 1/8 or 1/16 of some of the 4-bar measures. Keep it sparse and don't over-do it, or your emphasis will change from the fundamental rhythm of the loop to the noise of silence broken by an unfollowable beat.

As an added bonus, I will give you another treat: if you plan on cutting out the drums for a quiet interlude, consider replacing the last 1/8th note of the measure before the interlude with a version where the that last 1/8th note has a 3x1/4 note delay and feedback below continuous feedback (perhaps 5 repetitions). This is a favorite of mine that I stumbled across.

Finale - A Route Well Worn
This is the part of the article where I try to tell you about inspiration or trying new things. I won't tell you that. What I will say is this: anything you hear on the radio can be reproduced with a little creativity and some free software. However, doing it for free might take a lot more work than just shelling out the big bucks. The time you spend getting free software to work could be better used earning the money to pay for Cubase 5 or Reason. I have been a registered Cubase user for more than a year now, but I still use free software everyday that I'm in the studio. And I'm always looking for more...

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