Monday, August 13, 2012

How to do looping music in 2012

I get asked this question all the time: What stuff do I need to do the stuff you do?

Loop-based music is what I have done now for over 10 years. If you aren't familiar with that term, it's simply music that can be created on the fly where you 1) record yourself, and then 2) play it back while recording something else on top (or not). 3) rinse, repeat…remove layers, add new ones, etc.

So what equipment do you need besides your instrument? The thing is, it changes. Ten years ago it was a Titanium G4 Powerbook, a MIDI interface, an audio interface and a bunch of control gear. Now it's a Macbook Air, and a different audio interface, and a different bunch of control gear. (Why? Faster computers allow you to do more complex stuff. And I like doing more complex stuff.)

But for example, let's take a piece like Ten Children. It's fairly simple in terms of electronic needs (because I wrote it almost 10 years ago). I can effectively play it with:

• A Macbook Air

• An audio interface like the MOTU Ultralite (I actually use this one, but it's much more expensive, because I'm a snob that way.)

• A bass clarinet microphone like the AMT WS

• A vocal mic like the Shure SM58 (I use a Røde NT3)

• A USB or MIDI foot pedal system. There are many of these, but after many years using one that I made myself, I now use the SoftStep.)

Now for music software:

• Cycling74's Max is what I use to run my show, but it's got a STEEP learning curve.

And with a software-based system like the one I describe above, I need effects plugins. Think: Reverbs, which make you sound like you're in a concert hall, or a bathroom, or a car trunk; Delays, which repeat your sound in a rhythmic (or non-rhythmic) way, way, way, way… The list of plugins I have numbers well over 100. Some are free, most aren't. They come in a few flavors, depending on your software, and your platform (Mac or PC). Most of the ones I use on Mac are of the VST variety. Chris Randall, of Audio Damage, is a GREAT developer of plugins. I own just about everything he's ever made.

Okay, but this post is about the basics. That all that crap above is what I've come to after years and years of development. Do you need it all? Nope.

First, check out this guy, Jarle Bernhoft. He uses a few microphones, and a Boss RC50 LoopStation
, and a guitar effects pedals. You'd be hard pressed to play any of my tunes with it, but if Bernhoft can make the kind of absolutely genius music he makes, it's more than adequate.

If you were to just get something simple like that (with a microphone of course, and maybe a simple little amp/speaker), you'd have a lot of fun, and you'd get a really good idea of what your next steps should be.

But most of all, have fun! This should definitely not be stressful, and you don't need to jump into the deep end right away!



Ale said...

Thanks Mike!!

Ale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan G. said...

I bought Ableton last year, and learned how to use it (in part) this year. As a French horn player, it's hard to find effects that work with the instrument, so I'm combining Ableton with a nice octave doubler, then using Ableton's onboard effects and looping. I use the SoftStep pedals. Next year, I'll be teaching a class on Ableton here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Got a lot of work to do this summer! Thanks for your great playing over the years - honored to be your colleague.