Choosing the right loops for your composition

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There are people out there that can play almost any instrument you put in front of them. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. So, when I’m recording, this shortcoming generally leaves me with the choice of using virtual instruments or music loops for my songs.

Music loops are AIFF (audio) files, also known as Apple Loops, which describes the audio file that includes the appropriate metadata and transients. You can use them in apps like Apple’s GarageBand and Logic Studio, Abelton’s Live, Steinberg’s Cubase and more.

I am very picky when it comes to which loops I use. To be honest, I’m probably overly critical, but I hate hearing a song with a great sounding guitar riff backed up with wimpy drums and bass.

Through years of trial and error I managed to narrow my choices to a few solid companies: Beta Monkey Music, Bandmateloops and Big Fish Audio. While there are plenty of companies out there selling loops, to my ears, these three companies offer loops of the highest quality.

Beta Monkey Music

Professional drummer and Beta Monkey owner Chris Donlon records his drum loops in the studio using a real drum kit. It’s either Chris playing or another professional drummer he hires; either way it’s a real person pounding on the skins.

And, you know what? You can tell the difference. When I run one of Chris’ loops through my studio setup it sounds like I have a real drummer sitting next to me: that’s what I want out of a loop, and that’s what I want for my song.

I use Beta Monkey’s drums pretty much exclusively now. They have every genre that I have ever needed, and I know the amount of care that goes into making them.

Bandmateloops and Big Fish Audio

Bandmateloops is a well known name in the Mac market for having a wide variety of Apple Loops for Mac users. The majority of their product line is also created by recording instruments in studio settings.

From Bandmateloops, I have used lots of loops, from bass guitar to electric piano and acoustic guitar and synths. They also have some hip hop and similar style beats, but when you’re used to jamming along with Ozzy, hip hop just doesn’t fit my style.

If Ozzy isn’t your style, Bandmateloops also has loops for electronic, funk, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, rock and world/ethnic music.

Big Fish Audio is also one of my favorites for loops. You can find almost anything you want on their Web site. Seriously, from Middle Eastern rhythms to Alien Guitars, I am never surprised at the instruments or sounds I will find.

That’s not to say you can’t pick up some nice bass or drum loops from them as well—they have plenty of those too. How about the LA Bass Sessions, which were recorded in the studio with Jennifer Lopez bassist Daniel Pearson.

Don’t think that just because these three companies use real instruments that their loops are priced way out of your price range. You can find loop packages on the sites from $15 to $200 or more.

I continually use packages that I picked up three years ago, almost as much as I use some that came last week. Drums, effects, sounds and instruments don’t go out of style, it all depends on how you use them.

At the beginning of this article, I spoke about using virtual instruments in addition to loops. Virtual instruments are not waveform-based, like loops, but they are much more customizable, and let you blend many aspects of the instrument being used. They are great if you have the time to work with them, and I’ll look at a few of my favorites in a future column.

[Jim Dalrymple is Macworld’s resident shredder. He lives far from the office, and we’re hoping that someone releases a “Taste” Apple Loop that we can slip on to his Mac.]

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