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Are Loops Cheating? How to Be Creative With Pre-Made Sounds

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There’s been a heated debate going on ever since the dawn of sampling in music—is using pre-made sounds cheating?

Skeptics claim you can only go so far before your work is no longer your own. But is it really a creative shortcut to use loops?

In 2021, the issue should be settled. Sampled sounds have driven explosions in creativity in almost every genre in modern music. Anyone holding out on the negative side doesn’t see the potential in loop-based workflows.

But don’t take my word for it—in this article I’ll break down the top reasons why sampled loops are just as creative as any other tool you have as a producer.

On top of that, I’ll explain the most innovative ways to work with them to create new, exciting music.

Let’s get started.

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We all build on others’ work

First off, let’s bust the myth that any artist creates their work entirely on their own.

Every creator has influences and learned techniques—even the mavericks who changed the game with their innovations.

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In fact, plenty of the raw materials used in ground-breaking music can be traced back generations.

I’m talking about fundamentals like common chord progressions or drum patterns.

Some of these are rooted so deep that it’s impossible to say who “invented” them. Each artist that comes along uses them in their own way to create something unique.

You can say the same about loops. Just because you didn’t create a sample from scratch doesn’t mean there’s no creative potential in using it. Imagine if people took this same attitude to scales and chords!

Put simply, If you created the end result yourself, it’s your composition. No matter what tools you used.

Put simply, If you created the end result yourself, it’s your composition. No matter what tools you used.

Technology boosts innovation

Every time new music technology comes out, detractors are quick to claim it’s making modern music worse.

I’m not here to take a side on that argument, but you have to admit the refrain is familiar.

The reasoning goes that new tools make it too easy and artists don’t need to develop the skills they used to need for quality work.

Instead, gatekeepers insist artists should have to pay dues to older ways of making music before they get a chance to be creative.

It’s a pretty negative attitude—but it’s never bothered anyone who’s driven enough to realize their vision despite limited access to professional tools.

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In fact, the flipside to this argument is that new technology actually removes the barriers that keep creators from expressing their ideas.

Looking back, the same is true for plenty of earlier technologies. By comparison, the 60s-era claim that synthesizers aren’t real instruments looks pretty silly.

The best approach is to simply embrace change and use the tools that inspire you. Don’t worry what anyone else has to say!

How to be creative with pre-made sounds

The best approach is to embrace change and use the tools that inspire you. Don’t worry what anyone else has to say!

With the big ideas out of the way, let’s talk practical techniques to use loops creatively.

Here are four workflow ideas for making loops your own.

1. Use a loop-based instrument

Pasting sampled loops onto your timeline is a perfectly fine way to work with pre-made sounds.

But you can unlock lots of creativity by interacting more directly with the sounds you use in a session.

I’m talking about using a loop-based instrument like LANDR Chromatic.

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It’s a MIDI-controllable loop plugin that puts inspiring sounds right at your fingertips. Each Chromatic patch is a curated selection of loops called a set. Sets are browsable by Mood to get you thinking outside the box.

The best part is how fun it is to play Chromatic like an instrument and use the effects and modifiers to create new sounds.

You’ll be surprised how easy and fun it feels to play and perform with loops.

2. Go wild with effects

Audio effects are one of the best ways to transform a loop into your own musical creation.

Audio effects are one of the best ways to transform a loop into your own musical creation.

If you’re not concerned about keeping the original characteristics of your sound intact, there’s no limit on how far you can go.

Using loops this way is much more about sound design and experimentation.

Instead of using a sound for its musical features, you can take its texture and run wild.

With all the creative plugins out there, you can make a simple sample completely unrecognizable with just a few insert effects.

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Hot tip: LANDR Chromatic comes with powerful onboard effects for sculpting the sounds you’ll find in its sets and moods. Between, filter, delay, reverb and lo-fi effects you’ll find tons of fun ways to process your loops. And along the way, you’ll learn a bit about signal chains and how different effects interact. It’s a win-win!

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Unlimited mastering & distribution, 1200 royalty-free samples, 30+ plugins and more! Get everything LANDR has to offer with LANDR Studio.

3. Experiment with pitch and tempo

You can easily change a familiar loop into something new by manipulating pitch and tempo.

If you work in Ableton Live, the Warp feature lets you fit any loop into context with your song. But it’s much more than that when used creatively.

Try transposing loops up or down, or change their pitch to see where else they might fit into a track.

You may find your loops have a completely different feel transposed to a different key.

Hot tip: LANDR Chromatic lets you manipulate pitch and tempo on the fly using the black keys on the keyboard. Try it out to see how loops sound at double-speed, half-time or pitched up and down by octaves. The results might surprise you!

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4. Take it out of context

Lastly, it’s pretty common to see samples organized strictly by genre.

It’s a useful way to discover sounds, but it’s not the final word on where you can use them.

In fact, left-field sampling is one of the most exciting ways to challenge expectations in music production.

Left-field sampling is one of the most exciting ways to challenge expectations in music production.

The most innovative artists have always defied convention, so look for opportunities to use loops in unexpected ways.

Loops, moods and endless colors

Loops in music production aren’t going away anytime soon.

If you’ve ever worried about questions of authenticity while using them, you shouldn’t let it keep you from making music.

In fact, it’s not likely that this kind of outdated criticism will be around much longer as artists keep developing new and exciting music with loops.

Now that you have some food for thought, get back to your DAW and keep creating.

LANDR

Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.

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