Tips For Mixing Loops and Samples
Loops and samples are the backbone of many of today’s top songs. Whether you’re working with a pro-level sample pack full of radio-ready sounds or your own guerrilla recordings, it can be surprisingly difficult to fit loops into your mix without making them sound odd or out of place.
In this blog, we’ll teach you how to seamlessly blend samples and loops into your tracks with professional-sounding results. Check out our favorite tips for mixing loops and samples below.
Match the Tempo and Pitch
The first thing you need to do when working with loops and samples is make sure they’re in the same tempo and key as your song.
If you’re still early in the creative process, you may be able to tweak the other instruments to match the tempo and of the loop. Otherwise, you’ll have to stretch and tune the loops manually.
Adjusting the tempo may be quite simple, depending on where the loop is coming from. Some DAWs, like Logic and Ableton, come with pre-installed loops that automatically adjust to the tempo of your session.
If the loop comes from a sampled audio track, like a vinyl record or live recording, you’ll have to adjust the tempo manually. Most DAWs offer built-in tools for adjusting the speed of an audio track—some more advanced than others.
With more advanced tools, you can seamlessly alter the tempo without affecting pitch. But in some cases, it can sound cool to alter the pitch of a track. Just make sure that your loop ends up in the right key after adjusting the tempo.
Again, depending on the type of loop you’re working with, you may be able to change the key of the loop directly from the DAW. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your DAW’s built-in pitch adjusting tools to manually tune your loop.
Remove Unwanted Information
Now that your loop lines up with the rest of your song, it’s time to start cleaning things up. Start by removing any unwanted noise in your loop.
This is most common when working with sampled loops from vinyl records and other analog sources. To fix this, roll-off the highs to eliminate any unwanted hiss or fizz. Rolling-off the low-end can help clean up the hum caused by electronics, too.
Even if you’re not working with sampled loops, you may still want to use filters to remove additional frequency information. Using a high-pass filter is a great way to cut out a kick drum or bass guitar and make room for your own instruments. Rolling-off the highs can remove cymbal sounds, making more room for additional percussion.
Use Subtractive EQ to Carve Out Space
Next, use subtractive EQ to shape the sound of your loops and make room for other instruments. This will vary from song to song, depending on what the loop is adding to the track and what other instruments are playing.
Start by identifying the most important frequency ranges of our loop. Listen carefully to the song and determine what role the loop is playing. If it’s percussive, does it play downbeat or something more rhythmic? If it’s melodic, what range does the instrument sit in?
Avoiding the most important frequency ranges, use subtractive EQ to make cuts in areas where other instruments are playing. Whenever I need to make room for a bass guitar in a drum loop or a kick drum in a bass riff, I use BASSROOM. The super-transparent filters make it the ideal solution for cleanly carving out space in the low-frequencies. Control + Click on any frequency band to solo that frequency band to cut the right area and set the Q bandwidth to get the perfect tone for your cut.
EQ can also be used to split your loops into stems for more surgical mixing. With some clever filtering, you can isolate the kick and bass, drums and more, making it easier to treat each instrument separately.
Use Additive EQ to Sweeten the Loop
The loop is generally an integral part of the song, so pay special attention to making sure you emphasize the role it plays in the song.
Use additive EQ to enhance the fundamental frequencies of your loop and make them stand out. A subtle boost with a colorful bell EQ can be a great way to help a loop cut through the mix.
Depending on where the sample came from, you may want to use a shelf EQ to add lows and highs. This can give vintage recordings a more modern sound, with richer bass and sparkling highs.
Use Dynamics Processing for Control
Now that you’ve dialed in the tone of your loop, it’s time to work on the dynamics. Compressors can be a great way to add snap and attack to percussive loops, or add glue to loops with multiple instruments.
However, it can be tricky to make precise adjustments when working with busy loops. For instance, it can be difficult to enhance the attack of a snare drum in a loop with a loud kick drum, except with Mastering The Mix’s plugin ANIMATE, which I'll touch on later. However, with most compressors, the transient of the kick will always affect the compressor over the snare, making it impossible to gain control.
That’s where multi-band compression comes in. Multi-band compression makes it easy to control the dynamics of each frequency range independently. I like to use aggressive compression with slower attack times and faster release times on the lows to help control the bass.
I use a little less compression on the midrange—not in terms of gain reduction, but in terms of how often the compressor kicks in. With the low-end, the compressor should be pumping with every hit. But in the mids, I only want to see gain reduction when the mix starts to sound muddy—almost like a dynamic EQ.
On the highs, I use fast attack and release times with minimal gain reduction to help prevent transient peaks without affecting intelligibility. Just be sure to use the make-up gain to compensate for gain reduction if things start sounding thin.
Enhancing One Element Within A Loop
Expand mode in ANIMATE can help you bring out a specific element embedded within an audio loop. For example, if you had a drum loop and you wanted to accentuate the snare, hi-hat or kick, you could isolate the specific frequencies using the filter (1) then increase the ratio and amount to bring them out in the mix.
Click the solo (2) button in the Expand control panel to monitor what effect Expand is having. Whilst listening in solo, adjust the attack and release (3) to get a clean sound that works with the sonic timing of your audio. For example, if you have a tight hi-hat sound you might go for a fast attack and fast release so the expander returns to a non-expanding state quickly after the short audio tail of the hi-hat.
The global bypass (4) button in ANIMATE will help you ensure you’ve made a positive impact on your sound.
Put Your Tracks In the Same Space
Our ears are incredibly perceptive to the space around us. Which means listeners will be able to spot your loop like a sore thumb if it sounds like it was recorded in a different space.
You have two options here: either put the loop in the same space as the rest of the mix, or vice versa. Option one is typically the easiest, but when working with samples with printed effects you may have to recreate the space using your own tools.
Reverb is one of the best options for adding space. Choose between rooms, halls, plates and more. Add a little bit of reverb to each track to give the illusion that all of the instruments were recorded in the same room.
You also have to pay special attention to width. Many modern loops and sample packs use stereo enhancement effects to make them sound more impressive.
GROW is great for adding width to loops because you can focus on a specific frequency range. For instance, say you want to widen the drum kit without muddying up your mix. Use GROW to focus on frequencies above 5kHz (the hi-hats) - this will leave the kick and snare in mono and spread the hi-hats around the stereo spectrum.
Glue It All Together With Mix Bus Processing
Last but not least, route all of your tracks to the mix bus and use your favorite compressor to glue them all together. Typically, a low ratio (2:1) with moderate attack times and fast release times works best. This should help make all of the tracks sound more cohesive.