Get the most out of Groove Clips in Sonar.
The October update of Sonar included five loop libraries from Big Fish Audio. Scanning the Sonar forums indicates that a lot of people don’t quite understand how to make the most out of them — so let’s take a look!
When you install from the Command Center, the default for Preferences will install the five libraries in C:\Cakewalk Content\Audio Library. If you’ve specified a different Waves Files location, the content will install there instead. To change the default location for the libraries — say, if your boot drive is an SSD with limited space — you can create a custom folder, and either specify that as the default location or move the libraries there.
Also, note that it’s not necessary to have a single location for libraries, because you can specify multiple library shortcuts from the Browser.
Sonar’s Browser is designed to be loop-friendly and allow for quick loop auditioning and selection. The Content Location drop-down menu at the top will show Audio Library as one of the options. If you installed to a folder that’s not shown, you can browse to it using the Up arrow to the left of the Content Location field, and after landing on the folder (don’t open it), click the Save button to the right of the Content Location field. Now this folder will appear in the drop-down menu.
Click on the Media drop-down menu to choose various ways to preview loops. Not selecting the right options often trips people up, so let’s solve problems before they start.
You can dedicate a separate bus for previewing loops. This is handy because not only can you set level independently of the master bus, it also makes it easy to try out signal processing with the loops. When people can’t audition loops, it’s often because the bus volume is down.
Remember that stretching technology isn’t perfect; you can’t take a 120bpm file, play it back at 90bpm, and expect it to sound perfect (although it may sound fine at 150bpm because stretching faster tends to work better than slower). Also note that, unlike REX files, Groove Clips can transpose key — but the results can be iffy for stretches beyond a few semitones. As a result, I recommend turning off the ‘Preview at Host Tempo’ option initially. This plays the file as straight, non-Acidized audio so you have a basis of comparison to when it loops.
After turning ‘Preview at Host Tempo’ back on, Auto-Preview is convenient because when you click on a Groove Clip, you’ll hear it at the project tempo and project pitch. Without Auto-Preview, you need to click on the loop and then click the Play button in the upper right. Auto-Preview works in parallel with the Play/Stop button, so you can click Stop to cut a loop short, and Play to replay.
‘Preview at Host Tempo’ will play back a Groove Clip once, at the project tempo and project pitch (see next section for more on this), as well as REX files at the project tempo. It will also play back non-Groove Clips at the host tempo. However, because these clips haven’t been optimised for Acidization, they may not sound very good. Also, because Sonar has to guess how many beats are in the loop, it may play back at half speed. If so, to hear this at the correct speed, bring it into the project, open it in the Loop Construction View, and specify the number of beats in the Beats field.
To hear the loop as a repeating piece of audio, choose Loop Preview. While a loop is playing, you can Ctrl-click on other loops and they will all play in sync (you can similarly de-select playing loops). This is extremely useful with the Big Fish Audio construction kits, because you can hear how various loops play together... consider it a multitrack loop browser.
Note that when dragging files in from the Browser, dragging them into an existing audio track retains the existing track name. However, if you drag the loop into the clips pane, this will create an audio track with the same name as the loop. Double-clicking on a loop places it at the Now time, on whichever track has the focus.
Unlike REX files, Acidized (Groove Clip) files can transpose according to pitch markers. Start by establishing the project pitch (Project / Set Default Groove Clip Pitch).
The best sonic results occur when playing back Groove Clips at their native tempo and pitch; Big Fish Audio is diligent about including these in library and/or clip names. As you audition clips, make sure that the Project Pitch is the song’s key. This will help you determine if the stretching will be acceptable. If not, you can often find other musically compatible loops in the right key.
Drum and percussion loops typically do not embed pitch information because you don’t want the timbre changing when the song transposes. If you want to change the loop pitch without transposition, open the loop in the Loop Construction View, click on the numeric pitch field, and enter the amount of pitch change. Do not click the Pitch button, or the loop will follow pitch marker instructions.
To create a pitch marker, click on the timeline where the transposition should occur, then type M. This brings up the marker dialogue box. Choose the desired pitch, then click OK. Sonar names the pitch marker with the key, but you can also give it a name (appended to the right of the key letter).
Songs often have repetitive structures, so here’s how to copy (for example) the pitch markers from one verse to another.
1. Drag across the time line in the first verse to create a region containing the markers.
2. Choose Edit / Copy Special and tick only the Markers box.
3. Place the Now time at the beginning of the equivalent region in the second verse.
4. Paste (if you want several repetitions of the markers, use Paste Special).
Groove Clips don’t follow all the rules of standard WAV files. Here’s what you can’t do:
- Although you can create a Region FX, that will turn the Groove Clip into standard audio and discards the looping properties.
- You can’t transpose them via the usual Process / Transpose method.
- You can’t show transients or open the AudioSnap palette.
- Groove Clips can’t be converted between mono and stereo.
- Groove Clips cannot be fit to time.
Here’s what you can do to Groove Clips, while retaining the looping properties:
- Insert an audio effect.
- Apply Process audio effects.
- Split a Groove Clip, including context menu Split options (each side of the split can still roll out and do multiple iterations).
- Most DSP functions are still available: Gain, Normalize, Remove DC Offset, Fade/Envelope, Reverse and Crossfade (but not Remove Silence).
- Fade in and fade out via the fade handles.
- Nudge and slide.
- Apply Clip automation.
- Clip mute/unmute.
- Clips/Fade Clips (note that if you roll out the clip, fades apply to the beginning and end of the entire clip, not every iteration).
A major misconception about loops is that you just lay them in, repeat as needed, and you’re done. But really, the process is more like collage — it’s the blend of the familiar, the unfamiliar and the unexpected that can make loop-based music shine.
With the ability of Acidized loops to stretch both pitch and time, it’s easy to mix and match among different libraries — yes, try country guitar licks mixed in with electro-style percussion! Here are some suggestions for creating more interesting loop-based music.
Slice & Dice: A continuous part, like a rhythm guitar, can get really b-o-r-i-n-g as it loops and loops and... It helps to cut a small piece from a similar or related part, and splice it in to break up the monotony and add a useful accent. For example, if there’s a funky guitar part doing most of the work, add a wah-wah flourish from a different loop at the end of the measure. Or splice a drum fill from one drum loop into the middle of a different drum loop.
Persuasive Percussion: A lively percussion loop can complement a drum part, but add variations by cutting the loop into pieces and mixing up the order. It may help to provide an ‘anchor’ for these variations — for example, try repeating the same quarter-note fragment at the beginning of every measure or two.
Break The Beat: An important element in some dance-oriented music, the breakbeat ‘thins out’ the sound dramatically just before a figure repeats. The breakbeat provides the element of tension in the tension/release equation. For example, with a two-measure, repeating drum loop, let it go for seven measures then cut the eighth measure. This throws the spotlight on whatever is playing in the background, such as a bass part.
Conversely, you could cut out the last measure of bass, and let the drums carry the piece by themselves — or cut both the bass and drums, and stick in a drum fill that’s different from the main drum loop. You can do anything you want, so be creative.