For those who don’t know, when I say “loops,” I’m referring to the music heard in the background, sort of like a “track” that plays along with the band on Sunday mornings. This is something that’s created ahead of time, and adds an incredible amount of texture to our songs. This “loop” also includes a click track that keeps us all playing together and synced up. You may notice that we often start songs (such as “Rise” this past Sunday) with music playing, yet no one’s actually playing. You may also see me fiddling with an iPad on stage. Those two things have a lot to do with one another.
So, this is a “nuts and bolts” post of how that process works, from creation to implementation. If you’re a worship leader or involved in a worship team and would like to implement loops into your worship set, this is going to be a basic way to do it.
I should note here that there are many more ways of doing this. The process outlined below is what works for us right now, based on our needs and capabilities. This process will likely change as we continue to grow and have greater needs.
1. Write the loop. Typically, I write a loop to go with a song. I almost always do this using Propellerhead Reason 6. I’ve been using Reason for 10 years, and it has continually gotten better over the years. The newest version is what I’m using. Here’s a screenshot:
Typically, I’ll listen to a song we’re doing and find out what we’re missing. For example, if we’re doing a Hillsong tune, I know that we don’t have 38 guitar players (slight exaggeration) so I’ll create some of the sounds that we can’t produce live. Many times, however, the things we create in loops are synths and auxiliary percussion or keyboard parts such as strings. All of that is done right here, in Reason. Using a midi keyboard will save you a TON of time here, but I’ve been known to create without one.
This is by far the most time-consuming part of the process. Note as well that there are several loop-sharing sites out there, such as sacredloops.org and others where you can download reason files for many popular songs.
2. Create the click. In order to keep everyone on the loop at the same time, we need a click track. This is basically a metronome. I used to create click tracks manually in Garageband, which was very time-intensive. Some people would recommend using Reason’s built-in metronome function. That would be great, but unfortunately you can’t pan the metronome to the left channel of the audio as of this writing. More on that in a minute.
Lately, I’ve been using Metronomer. This is a free web site where you input your tempo, the metronome sound you’d like, and the length of your song and it creates a downloadable mp3 click track. Easy as pie.
3. Combine the loop and click into one track. Once I have my loop finished in Reason, I’ll export it out as an audio file (wav) using the “Export Song as Audio File” option. Note – make sure to export the file as a mono file.
Then I use my go-to audio editor, Adobe Audition CS6. I’ve been using this program since it was called “Cool Edit Pro” over 10 years ago. In addition to being a multitrack recorder, the audio editing simplicity is awesome for me. I’ll open up my loop in the audio editor, and it will look like this:
Notice that since it’s mono, we only see one waveform. By going to File > Save As… and saving as a stereo file, Audition now creates two identical channels and gives us access to each.
You’ll notice two buttons to the right of the waveform, “L” and “R.” Clicking these toggles each one. Right now I want to work with my left channel. I can click on the R button and it is disabled. Now I can select the entire left channel by Shift-clicking it and dragging (much like selecting text), and once it’s completely selected, I can press delete. Now I’m left with a file that has the loop on the right channel, and nothing on the left. Guess what goes there? You got it – the click.
So now I open my click track as a new file in Audition (with the loop still open), select just the left channel (or right, it doesn’t matter here), and use the Cut function under the Edit menu. Now jump back over to your main loop file and paste the click into the empty, left channel of your loop file. If you did it right, now you have a single audio file, with the loop in the left channel and the click in the right channel. Like this:
The final part of this step is to save the file as a stereo mp3.
4. Add to iTunes. This is going to depend largely on what you use to play audio files. For us, I use an iPad. Here’s how I do it. First I just add the mp3 I created to my iTunes Library. Then, I create a playlist with just that song in it. That way, it doesn’t run right into another song when it’s done – it just stops. If I have 3 loops on a Sunday for 3 songs, I have 3 playlists. Then I just tell iTunes to sync just those playlists to my iPad, and just like that, I have 3 playlists on my iPad with the 3 songs.
5. Connect audio source to your sound system in your church. We use a 1/8″ stereo male to two 1/4″ mono male Y-cable to go from the iPad to a 2-channel direct box. This gives our sound engineer two separate channels that can be controlled independently. Most of our musicians use Aviom systems, so they can control their own volume level of the loop and the click independent of one another. The click is obviously muted in the house, but we hear it in our ears. The loop is in both the house and our ears.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that you absolutely need in-ear monitoring for this to work. I’ve found that crowds don’t really enjoy a cowbell at 95dB on a Sunday morning for the length of a song.
That’s it! As you can see, it’s a fairly in-depth process, but one that is relatively simple to master. If you can create a good loop in Reason (or find one somewhere), that’s 95% of the battle.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few things here, so feel free to let me know if you have any questions on this process.