To loop or not to loop

Jerry Growl

Composing Music in the Plastic Dark Ages

I'm wondering how many of you use loop record mode more than occasionaly? How many (like me) use it almost all the time?

My workflow has been all about working in loops for >90% of my productions. (not talking EDM here)

I think there are several benefits in working this way, but also a good deal of negative points can be made.

An example:

As soon as a part of 8, sometimes 16 bars is established in tempo, harmony and maybe a motif I want to be working around, I will be building vertically upon this. And I do this in loop record mode.

A second instrument part is recorded in loop using midi stacked mode. This way all midi recorded laps can be found in a different lane but only the last one is unmuted. The pile stacked midi 'takes' easily amounts to 20 - 30 laps per track (more than 50 on a bad day, or when playing a particular delicate instrument). Sometimes only the last take is the one I go for, but occasionaly I make an edit of 2 or more takes. And only then I go in to mouse mode and start squeeking up details and timings.

When I have arranged the first part to up about 12 to 18 instrument tracks in various instrumentation (usually started from a blank project, so not a template) I start to break things up, keeping about 20% of the material I want to use to kick off the project. The rest is muted and may be used later. Sometimes a whole composed section is cast out because it doesn't fit. Usually I drag it to the far end of my timeline, sometimes to be salvaged again, but more often to be forgotten.

The disadvantages of workin this way are:

- it's time consuming (I can't really compare how much more)
- hearing the same 30 seconds a couple of 1000 times a day is tedious
- ears get used to things sounding crap and don't really respond critically after a while (you need to keep aware of this)
- in the larger view of the whole composition, its harder to keep a clue what will happen next after the loop is done
- Between 2 consecutive loop stacks on a timeline a natural transition doesn't come easy
- the first note gets cut out of your loop lane when you are just a smudge too early (but Cubase 10 is doing things to counter that, and somehow the first notes in a loop end up in the right place most of the time, they just don't have the same lag compensation, they are hard quantised)

The benefits however imo are:

- you can really get into a vibe, when you have something going on good you are motivated
- you build up really creatively and spontanious in instrumentation and arranging harmony parts or rhythmic elements
- when you break down a few things most elements remain really solid
- when you solo a few or several of the layers you get a complete new view on where you want things to go
- you really go into details as a performance, and you get better at playing many VI-instruments along the way
- often you do things by accident or stumble upon a motif or a melody that you would otherwise maybe never have thought of (when you have take no.50 coming on you can really afford to go 'heck why not')

I'm really interested to hear how you think about this!

In fear of knowing the answer already (looking at all composing vids online), and turning out to be the weird one even on this forum ;) Even though it's just another approach to the same end.


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Alex Fraser

Senior Member
You're not on your own. Loop mode here too. I simply start the DAW rolling over 4 or 8 bars and play something. If I like it, I hit "shift +R", which writes to performance to midi.

I'm quite brutal with keeping stuff though. Either it works (and gets a quick edit) or it doesn't.


I work in loop mode as well. Especially because I started off making edm Music ať First And then turned to film/epic/orchestral music.
I sometimes find it extremely hard thoughto to create a whole track based upon loop due to listening to that loop over and over for hundred times.
Jerry Growl

Jerry Growl

Composing Music in the Plastic Dark Ages
I understand completely. I used to work as a post-production engineer. Playing over the same part of a sequence and focusing only on just one aspect became a habit. It's a monks work.

For obvious reasons working in loop makes it very important to think ahead and to find out what you want next very quickly. But there is also an obvious benefit for not wanting to listen to something a 100 times when it's sounding not entirely satisfactory or not at all interesting.