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Thread Loops vs. Samples vs. 'The Real Thing'

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1 Loops vs. Samples vs. 'The Real Thing'
Loops, Samples or the 'Real Thing' - Production Tools Compared

In today's electronic music production, the use of loops and sample libraries has become commonplace. There aren't many songs on the radio right now that don't use at least one of the two. The advantage of loops and samples is obvious. Both allow you to 'play' an instrument that you don't actually need to own or even have in your posession. Loops and Samples allow you to introduce hard to find Vintage Synthesizer sounds to your composition or even exotic Temple Gongs or Shakuhachi Flutes. Most producers will have a hard time to find the 'real thing' when it comes to exotic instruments like a Shakuhachi so In this comparison, we focus mainly on Synthesizer and Keyboard Sounds. Analog Synths are commonplace in today's music. The question is, when to use loops, when to use samples, and when to use the 'real thing'?

Music Loops, Acid Loops, Apple Loops and others
Obviously, using loops in your musical composition doesn't require much musical skill. You don't need to have to much knowledge about notes, keys or even paying technique to create a decent sounding musical piece. You do however still need to have a 'musical ear'. If you are totally tone deaf or have no sense of rhythm, you won't be able to create something really good even with pre-produced loops. There are quite a few good loop based production tools out there like Acid for the PC (this one is even being available as a totally free version) and Garageband for the Apple Computer having a very affordable price of $49. There are also more professional pieces of music creation software like Logic Pro and Cubase that allow you to use loops as well as record in live instruments or Virtual Instruments and Synths including virtual samplers. The nice thing about pre-recorded loops is that you have an enormous selection of loops CDs to choose from. You can find loops containing exotic instruments, you can find hot guitar licks, classic synths, even entire Symphonic Orchestras. You can get a good cross section of Loops CDs at www.acidmusicloops.com Unlike other loops producer's products, all of their loops CDs contain loops in both PC and Apple format. Of course there are many other sites that offer music loops CDs for either the PC and Acid or the Mac and Garageband. Loops CDs are a good way to widen your music horizon even if you are a good musician already. You may be an awesome keyboard player but not that good on guitar. Just get a few good Guitar Loops CDs, problem solved! Overall, we gave Music Loops a 10 for selection as you can find the largest variety of instruments and playing styles on Loops CDs. Anything from Electric Rock Guitars to Reggae Horns, Indonesian Gamelang to Classic Moog Bass sounds.

Here is the score card for Music Loops CDs:
Available Selection - 10
Ease of Use - 9
Sounds 'Real' - 9
Flexibility - 7

Sample Libraries, WAV Samples, SoundFonts and more
Once you have access to a sampler, whether it be a hardware sampling keyboard like the new Workstation keyboards from Korg, Yamaha or Roland or a virtual (software) sampler, you can expand your musical horizon by using samples. No longer are you limited to the musical notes played by somebody else on a Music Loop but you can create your own lead lines, chords, riffs and more by using a sampler. Of course, you need to be able to 'play music' to use samples. All a sample library will do for you is make a particular sound that you want to use available to play on your keyboard. You need to do the playing. Through the magic of sampling, you can play all kinds of exotic and rare (and mostly expensive) instruments without having to own them. It can take hours to create a good sounding unique patch on an analog synth but with a good sample library, the programming work has been done for you already. You just pick and choose the sound you like and you are ready to play. When it comes to classic synthesizer sounds, this is quite an advantage since none of the old synths had any way to store programs once you made them. You turn the synth off, your hard programming work is gone. You can find a good selection of Classic Synth, Vocoder and Keyboard Samples at www.samplingsounds.com They also have a handy comparison chart that shows you which sample format to use with different hardware or software samplers. Overall, we gave digital sample libraries a 6 for 'realistic sounds' as some of the nuances of the real instruments may get lost when reproducing them with a sampler. For instance, an electric lead guitar or saxophone never sounds very realistic when played on a sampler. Music Loops or the 'Real Thing' are strongly recommended when it comes to guitar and most horn sounds. Other instruments sample just about perfectly and will sound just like the real thing when played back on a sampler.

Here is the score card for Digital Samples:
Available Selection - 8
Sounds 'Real' - 6
Ease of Use - 6
Flexibility - 8

The Real Thing - Classic Synths, Keyboards etc.

Even though it may not be practical for most people, if you use the 'real thing', a classic keyboard rather than a digital 'copy' in form of a music loop or sample library, you have the most flexibility. You can play exactly what you want in your own playing style and you can program your Synth to sound exactly the way you want it to sound. On the minus side, you will a) need to know how to play b) need to know how to program c) need to get access to a vintage synth and d) watch out for tuning problems. A lot of classic synths and keyboards do not stay in tune very well so they need frequent adjusting. On the positive side, analog synths and keyboards respond very differently to your actual playing style and some of the nuances that you get by playing the 'real thing' or a music loop made with the 'real thing' may get lost when using digital samples of the same keyboard in a sampler. That's why only 'real thing' got a 10 for 'sounding real'. We had to give it a 4 for availability as Classic Keyboards are harder and harder to find at a 'realistic' price and in good playing condition.

Here is the score card for Real Classic 'Analog' Keyboards
Available Selection - 4
Sounds 'Real' - 10
Ease of Use - 4
Flexibility - 10

To sum it up: What to choose has a lot to do with your level of playing ability. Music Loops CDs come out the winner overall because of the large selection and ease of use but for a 'real musician' I guess nothing will ever beat the 'real thing' For the rest of us, Music Loops and Digital Samples are a great way to expand our musical universe.

Alan Steward
Producer and Sound Designer - www.musicleads.net
Worked with Grammy winning artists like the Temptations and the Baha Men