Developing a piece of music vs developing a loop

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  • #39322 Reply

    Recently a music library I am with sent a blanket email feeding back to composers to “remember to develop a piece of music, don’t just build on a loop!”.

    I was wondering if anyone wanted to share any strategies on how they develop a piece of background library music, as I would say I am often guilty of “building on a loop”, especially with styles such as science & tech, backstory & cinematic. Perhaps it is as I am a guitarist at heart and work best in ‘riffs’ & verse/chorus structures that developing a cinematic, electronic or backstory track is a little more alien to me.

    Also – what is the difference between building on a loop and developing a piece of music – and is one necessarily better than the other?

    Sorry for the fairly obscure topic, but it’s always interesting to hear how other composers build/develop a library track, especially when very common advice is to “not to take too many right turns” or change mood in a library track.

    #39326 Reply
    Michael Nickolas

    If a library asked me to “develop a piece of music, don’t just build on a loop!” I would definitely listen to a few examples that they feel meets this criteria, in the style you will be providing. No better way to learn what it is they mean.

    #39330 Reply

    I think I roughly know what they mean, but was more interested in how other composers here might interpret it, and how they develop their pieces, as I imagine most library composers start out as a ‘solo’ operation, so it is would be really easy to get stuck in your own ways in terms of how you build a piece of music.

    #39331 Reply
    Art Munson

    @PAMMusic. I don’t remember ever building track on a loop (not sure what your definition of a loop is). I usually start with a typical 8 bar A section. Maybe a B section depending if it enhances the A and build from there. If I need inspiration I go out and listen to some music. In terms of production ideas there is a lot to be learned in today’s music. Lately I have been listening to the hits of 2021.

    #39332 Reply
    Gus Caveda

    I think what they might be referring to are beats which basically are just 8 bar loops streatched out for 3 minutes with certain sections muted to create “verse”, “chorus”, “bridge” etc… You see this a lot in Hip Hop beats that are put up for sale on the web. It doesn’t create much interest and gets boring really fast.
    But like someone already said above, ask for examples of what they mean.

    #39333 Reply

    In the very early days I made a lot of tracks that I think are very much guilty of what they are referring to –
    Just starting with a melodic loop and adding layers basically.

    #39334 Reply

    Since then I have made much more effort to ensure that developing a piece doesn’t just sound like a lot of copying and pasting melodies with different software instruments!

    #39461 Reply

    @PAMMusic, Those guidelines may have come from me, or at least they sound like something we at ScoreKeepers send out to composers from time to time. Your last comment sounds right on as far as approach goes. Of course there are always exceptions to every “rule”, but even a drone would be best served by sounding interesting and having some sort of development.

    To answer your question, unless it’s a cue that needs to be based on a beat or groove, I usually compose it from start to finish on a piano track (even if piano will not be an instrument that is in the final piece). If compositional development is the goal, at that initial stage I try not to think in terms of orchestration, or instrumentation. I’m creating a piece of music that demonstrates compositional interest with just a piano sound. That becomes the foundation. Then when I go back and put all of the orchestration pieces of the puzzle together (often removing the piano or changing its role), there is less risk of falling into the copy, paste, loop, layer syndrome. Of course starting on piano is not the right approach for every cue, but it is one that helps me avoid the problem we have been discussing here.

    #39462 Reply

    @wvjohnson Thanks for the detailed reply – I think it was a Scorekeepers email. I like the idea of your approach and I think it is definitely one I will attempt to use in the future. I have certainly thought a lot more about structure since that email!

    I like the idea of building a foundation with one instrument. I have always thought you can tell a great song by if you strip it down to just piano and vocals and it’s still interesting. So it seems a good place to start!

    #39488 Reply

    As was mentioned, 4 or 8 bar repetitive “loop” compositions that add and subtract elements are more akin to “loops” than to traditional compositions.

    They work sometimes. I’ve been guilty of doing it. It’s easy and fast and gets the job done if you don’t mind disposable. But it almost certainly won’t have the staying power of real melody and compositional progression and depth. Still, there’s a market for it in reality TV no doubt.

    Ways around falling into that trap? As mentioned earlier – don’t “compose” with loops as the groundwork. They will often lead you into the trap of 4 or 8 bar compositions. Do what film composers do to hit cuts : Mix up tempo’s, mix in odd bar phrases. Add a bar or two at the end of a phrase. Odd meters will pull you out of loopage too. Drop the tempo completely out – the bridge for Royal Deluxe’s “I’m A Wanted Man” comes to mind. Make sure you write a bridge that stays in the general vicinity of your groove, but pulls you out into a slightly different mood. Texturally mix things up. Write with piano or acoustic guitar only. Or better yet – learn to do it old school – write with a pencil, paper and away from any instrument. Write away from your DAW. All these things will pull you away from the hundreds of thousands of 4/8 bar additive / subtractive compositions and push you closer to a unique voice.

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