Is Using Loops Cheating?Oct 18, 2021
Since the evolution of hip hop, producers have been taking pre-recorded music & ‘sampling’ it to make their own new sounds. This can include anything from taking the original sample of the music & adding drums &/or bass, all the way to ‘flipping’ the original sample, completely repurposing it into something completely unrecognizable. But in the midst of this practice lies the question;
“Is it actually better to make your own sounds from scratch so that you can be truly original?”
In short, not necessarily! Most people truly don't care if you make your own sounds & loops, they just care about one thing: does it sound good?
Loops are a tool & you should use them when you believe it sounds right to do so. No one is looking over your shoulder to say "You didn't make this yourself, what a fraud!" because loops are, quite literally, made for YOU to use! No one expects you to be an expert in Latin percussion technique & play your own Bossa Nova rhythms, so take that groove, write a song, fill in the rest, & be proud that you made something uniquely YOU!
Now, that’s not to say that there’s still not a lot of controversy in the music production world around whether or not using loops should be considered ‘cheating.’ And I know a lot of you have asked my opinion on the matter, so let me give you my short answer first.
No, I don’t think using loops is cheating, but, on the flip side, I think you might find my long answer WAY more interesting and informative!
I guess in order to jump right into this, we first have got to talk a little further about sampling. As I stated above, sampling is the use of pre-recorded music &/or sounds that a producer then takes & repurposes for their own sonic usage! You may notice, especially where good ole 90’s hip hop records are concerned, that there are musical samples from some older records of the 60’s & 70’s being used all over the musical hook &/or in the chorus. They then took these samples & completely reinvented them by adding new drums, bass, and then of course the hip hop artist themselves. For an example of this, give the audio below a listen!
This is a prime example of using art to make different art. Would you say these iconic artists are thought of as any less for doing so?
In this case specifically, they were sampling an actual record. And yes, you DO have to get permission for that, so don’t go just sampling any old record! But here’s the deal, Everything is a sample. Everything. Even if you’re not sampling records, you’re still using samples. That is unless you’re using ONLY live instruments & capturing everything with mics, which, let’s face it, probably isn’t going to be the case for most of us.
So let’s say you’re reaching into your collection of virtual instruments to create a track, those are samples of real instruments. If you’re using EZ drummer, those are samples of real drums. See where I’m going with this? Unless you’re creating brand new sounds from scratch, you’re using samples which, by the way, is 100% ok & is definitely NOT cheating! I always laugh when I hear someone say “no samples allowed” on a brief or something of the like because they obviously don’t know the inner workings of hip hop & pop production. Both genres are based heavily around sampling.
Now, again, you can create your own sounds from scratch & your own loops if that’s what you want to do. And while there may be value in that seeing as you’re certain not going to sound like anybody else, it takes a while to get to a level where you can comfortably do that. It also has to become a part of your workflow, which takes time & it may never happen, & that is ok too. You do not have to be a sound designer to be a producer!! But, on the other hand, if you DO make your own sounds, woo hoo! Absolutely more power to you! That is a skill within itself & is a super dope skill to have!
There is a huge market nowadays for producers who create TONS of samples specifically with the intention of selling them to other producers for their own creation. These can be anything from one shots (a single hit like a kick or snare), to drum loops, or even melodic loops.
Let’s talk about all the loop purists out there.
Not all, but a LOT of people who talk shit on people who use loops can be called purists. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but please don’t be the guy who says using presets or loops is cheating. The energy you’re wasting telling other artists how to create and what tools to use is energy you could be using to create music. Not only that but in order to ‘cheat’ there has to be some set of rules you’re breaking & if somebody intentionally created loops for another producer to use, then that sounds an awful lot like permission not only being granted, but with the actual intention of creating a loop specifically for somebody else to use. Getting mad at someone for using presets & loops as a tool is like getting mad at Henry Ford for inventing the car to replace the horse and buggy; times change & modern tools are created with the intention to make life easier. That’s just life. Don’t hate on it.
I personally think that loops are wonderful tools to aid us in our production & songwriting. They can be great ways to cure blank page syndrome & get songs started. They can also add amazing, interesting layers to your songs.
But there is another side to all of this, because, let’s face it, there is always another side isn’t there? Let’s talk about how loops should NOT be used & WHY!
There is a fine line between using a loop to enhance your production & becoming a master of the copy/paste. Simply throwing a bunch of loops together isn’t necessarily producing; you still want to create an arrangement. This can include, but isn’t limited to, transitions, stops, unique little bits of ear candy, automation, etc.. You really can’t do all of that by just stringing a bunch of loops together. But could you pull a dope ass drum beat from splice and build your track on top of it? Absolutely. Would I suggest also programming some of your own drums to layer with it? Absolutely.
Again, you are a producer, a creative, not a copy/paste artist.
By the way, slight little plug here, but if you want to learn more about how to produce & arrange a song using samples, swing by www.beatmakingforsongwriters.com & check out my masterclass on how to produce your own beats!
Melodic loops are a danger zone. If you grab a melodic loop & you don’t change it at all & then you use it just as it is you’re setting yourself up for problems. Here’s why.
Say you release your song with the unaltered melodic loop included. Another artist who used that same melodic loop can come along, hear it, & come after you saying that you stole their song. Now whether they’re right or wrong, or whether they’ll win in court is not the point. It’s just a pain in the ass. What happened was that you both essentially dipped into the same sample pack used the same loop that was legally SOLD by the producer who created it. Not only that but you can get flagged on Youtube because you & another producer used the exact same loop. This happens all the time when people use melodic loops & don’t repurpose them.
Not only can this get you flagged & removed, but this doesn’t allow you to monetize your video! Or even worse, say somebody else used the same melodic loop as you, THEY could then monetize YOUR video! I’m not sure how Youtube is able to do this, but it has something to do with content ID & if somebody distributes a song with the same loop, know that you will get flagged for trying to do the same. This is why you need to repurpose melodic loops. It’s worth mentioning that drums are the exception to this! I think boom boom ka is a little hard to copyright BUT if there’s something super MEMORABLE in that drum loop, like a sample or melody, be aware! Seriously, check out my video on that though, I’ll drop the link below!
So in a nutshell, loops are one of the many amazing tools that artists have at their hands to help them create music & I am ALL ABOUT anything that helps you create music & gets you out of thinking about creating music.
They are a great way to cure blank page syndrome, a great way to get started, & a great layer to add to your already existing productions. But no, don’t just go throwing a bunch of loops together & then call it a day.
Say it with me folks; “I am a producer, not a copy/paste artist!”
Once more for the people in the back.
I am a producer, not a copy/paste artist!
And I know, while it’s really ‘cool’ to be able to say I created these sounds, & produced this song & mixed & mastered & this & that & the other, please recognize when that’s just your ego talking versus it actually necessary. Remember hard work doesn’t always equate to success, but value does. If I make a track & play the drums myself, but it sounds like trash, & then you make a track with programmed drums that sound great, who wins that game?
I myself am a full-time producer, I work with anybody from music production libraries, to publishers, from artists to music supervisors & hey, guess what?! No one gives a shit if you made your own sounds, once again, the only rule is “DOES IT SOUND GOOD??” So don’t go creating extra work for yourself if the only one giving you that ‘atta boy/girl’ is you & your purist friends. I’d say a marker of success in this industry is if you can make a living doing this! Oh, & guess what?! The pros use samples, they use loops, they use the tools that make their jobs easier. Remember, don’t fight for the horse and buggy. At the end of the day-use what tools work for you & inspire you. If you create sounds, great, but don’t talk shit on people who don’t. Both sides of the coin are totally & equally valid.
I’m going to go ahead & drop some more links below including Arcade and Loopmasters which are two platforms that allow you to repurpose your sample on the player, meaning that you don’t have to be a chip chop audio wizard or have a bunch of fancy plugins to repurpose the sound!
Anyway, that’s my two cents on loops, I hope you found some value in this!
As always I’ll take us out with a song I produced, and one I used LOOPS in, this one called “Hammer”
YOU ARE A PRODUCER, NOT A COPY/PASTE ARTIST!