Jul 30, 2009
So most musicians are familiar with, or at least have heard of “looping” – but it’s a rarity when a casual listener understands the concept or has heard the term. I am an avid “live looper” and really enjoy demonstrating the technique to listeners, however sometimes I am accused of “playing along with tracks” or “using backing tracks”. I just want to explain a little bit about “live looping” and debunk the myths that have surfaced.
“Live Looping” is the process of playing sections of music while simultaneously recording it and then having them repeat over and over (loop). It is then possible to play a second part along with the loop, that overlays on top of the first loop (known as “overdubbing”). Multiple tracks can be overdubbed to form a huge band sound from a single performer. It is possible to loop multiple instruments as well, such as rhythm guitar, bass, rhythms, lead guitar and vocals. There are numerous “looping pedals” available, however I use the BOSS RC-2 (with external footswitch).
[EDIT: Since I wrote this article I have updated my looper to the BOSS RC-30. This pedal has considerably more functionality, and is well made. I’m very happy with this upgrade!]
Most, if not all, of the looping pedals allow the user to save the loops that are created. They can then be “recalled” at any given time and replayed. Some players save the loops and reuse them, or create loops of “full songs” then perform along with them. This is where “LIVE” looping stops, and “PRE-RECORDED” looping begins. These are called “backing tracks”. There is nothing “live” about them.
I enjoy creating ALL of my loops live, in the moment, and on the spot. There is a risk involved that something can go wrong at any time – and I’ve seen it – from loss of power (and loop) to broken buttons that wouldn’t stop, accidentally hitting the stop (or start) button, or accidentally starting the loop from the previous song. But that’s what’s fun about it. Pre-recorded loops require you to play the song the same way every time. That’s how it’s recorded, so that’s how it has to be played. True “live looping” doesn’t have an arrangement. It’s up to the performer to take it wherever they want. It’s a little bit of life on the edge, plus a unique performance every time.
There are guys out there using pre-recorded tracks – and some of them are pretty good. They just aren’t “live looping”. In my eyes, that’s the difference.