Contributor: QL-Sound Labs
Real Music Hacks From the Community
The best advice comes from producers who were once in your shoes. So to help you go from song ideas to finished tracks, we asked members of the Soundation community to share advice they’d give their newbie selves — one topic at a time.
Meet QL-Sound Labs, Soundation user since 2015 whose track “Hood Hero” won third place in the Superhero Start from Scratch Challenge. In this article, he shares tips and tricks on everything loops related and guides you through the process of making his winning track.
Download the project for free here and follow along. Here are 10 things about making loop-based music QL-Sound Labs wishes he’d known when he first joined Soundation!
1. Balance the Volume
The first thing to keep in mind when using samples to create a track is making sure the volume of each sample works in unison with the other samples. This way, sounds are not competing with each other. So, always start your track with samples at a low volume. As you go along and add more samples, the entire song’s volume will increase.
2. Tie Everything In
I like to introduce new sounds as the track goes on. In “Hood Hero,” after two bars of the main melody, I introduce hi-hats on channels A and A1 to create what I’d call a “constant.”
These are sounds that run throughout the song and tie everything together. These constant sounds are important, because they keep the song moving when you drop other sounds later on in the track.
4. Do Parallel Processing
Duplicating a sample but treating each one with different effects is a great technique to get the best of both worlds. It’s called “parallel processing.” This technique helps retain the character of the original sound while adding an extra character of another effect that would otherwise ruin the original sound if it was applied directly.
Check out a couple of horn samples I introduce on bar three, for example.
5. Always Tweak
Using pre-made loops and audio samples doesn’t mean you can’t be original. Customization tools — like a scissor tool in Soundation — let you tweak any loop and create a more unique version of the sample that you can call your own.
On channels 3 and 3A, I chop up the horn sample and rearrange the chopped up pieces in a new way to make the melody sound more original. I also drop out certain hit points by decreasing the volume with automation here and there to give it a layer of suspense.
Pro tip: Tweaking is fun but don’t go overboard with the mashing. It’s good to leave some room to breathe for a more dynamic track!
6. Don’t Forget a Chorus
Chorus is the catchiest part of a song. Pick any pop song and think of the part you can sing along to. That’s a chorus.
In “Hood Hero,” I created a chorus by making it the biggest and fullest part, where all the instruments come together and form the “meat” of the track.
7. Keep It Moving
To get listeners hooked on your track ‘til the very end, remember to keep changing the variation but to avoid chaos by having one element in focus.
Here, for example, I want the entire track to breakdown and create a change in the groove. To do this, I need a second melody. This is where the main melody drops at bar 13 and the bells on channels 5 and 5A come in. I also introduce these open, spacey drums on channels 13 and 14 for the break. Now all these samples will play together, but the bells will stand out the most.
Notice that I let the hi-hats on channels 1 and 1A that start at bar 3 continue throughout the break to create constant tension and keep the track moving forward.
For the second break, I use a voice sample for an ambient touch on top of the bells for the first breakdown. This gives the track a sense of consistency, but also gives listeners a new perspective on that familiar sound.
8. Easy Does It
When it comes to transitions, you can either smooth them out or go for a sharp contrast. If you want a smooth transition, make sure things change gradually instead of changing everything all at once.
After the break, for example, I add a short horn riff right before reintroducing the main melody. This is to slowly bring the track back to where it initially began. Listen to the end of the first break above again and you’ll get what I mean.
9. Flavor Up With Fills
Fills are useful when you want to create interesting transitions. They add energy, signal a new section and prepare listeners for the next part.
Because “Hood Hero” has a full live drum sample in the middle of the track, dropping live drum fills here and there before that helps create a unique transition. In other words, if listeners constantly hear the live drum fills, the full live drum part in the middle won’t come as a drastic change.
I also add live drum fills on channels 10 and 10A, just before a hard-hitting snare so the beats pick up the pace and progress with more momentum.
10. Highlight With One-Shots
I sprinkle cymbal crashes on channel 9 throughout the track to highlight every time major samples change. It’s a trick to add impact and to accent certain parts.
Reversing one-shots, or in my case cymbal crashes, also makse a fun transitional effect that smoothes out the seams.
Hope you all find these tips and tricks useful. To have a full look at my project, download it for free here and click “File” and “Load .sng file” in your studio. Be sure to try all these tricks on your own track, and good luck on your creative journey!