Hi Guys, I was recently asked a question regarding loops for game-music:
“Why is there a slight pause in the loop when it repeats?”
The most common reason I have found for slight pauses or a glitchy sound when the loop repeats isn’t from your software trying to sabotage you, it is largely to do with the effects we have on our instruments within the track. The main culprit is reverb, although delay can be just as diabolical when it comes to seamless loops.
Imagine you hear an instrument without reverb, just a dry signal. The dry signal doesn’t take long to disappear completely and you are left with silence. Imagine now, hearing the same instrument with your favourite reverb, maybe a large hall with a big tail. The instrument sounds great but the loop sounds horrible! This is because of the reverb-tail taking the time to fade away, if that reverb-tail isn’t recorded, the loop will sound as if there were a slight gap, making a “seam”.
To win the battle of the seamless loop, one quick technique can transform a disjointed, glitchy sounding loop into a seamless one that the player cannot hear.
LOOP-RECORD YOUR LOOP AND USE THE SECOND TAKE
Sounds like a walk in the park and the process of doing this is really quite simple, so long as you route your instruments into a MIX and PRINT track and record the loop inside the DAW, then export the resulting audio, instead of just bouncing it out.
The reason I record the loop twice through and then use the second take is because the reverb-tail you hear when you are looping inside the DAW is only present the second run through. When the track starts, there is no reverb-tail, so you need to capture the reverb-tail as it happens, ie. the second take.
SETTING UP YOUR DAW
I will always set up a STEREO AUX track and a STEREO AUDIO track when using this method. The AUX is labeled MIX and the Audio track is labelled PRINT. All of the instruments are sent to the MIX track and then sent from MIX track to the PRINT track. Doing this will ensure any additional effects on the MIX track are recorded onto the PRINT track.
I have a limiter (Maxim) on my MIX (AUX) track, if it were on the PRINT track then it wouldn’t be processed when the track was exported (this is the same for any plug in on the print track), this is why you need a MIX track. When you BOUNCE, the effects are processed, when you EXPORT, your DAW simply exports the audio that is on the track, ignoring any plug-ins.
Once your tracks are routed correctly, you are ready to loop. Just highlight the section you wish to record, making sure the record-arm is set to loop-record.
In Pro Tools, to set the record-arm on loop-record, hold CONTROL and click on the record-arm. You will then see an arrow wrapping around the record-arm.
Record your loop and make sure it plays through twice, stopping the recording just after it loops for a third time. The second take should come up automatically and you are ready to EXPORT. If the second take doesn’t appear automatically, find it in the CLIPS list. To EXPORT the track, highlight the clip and press SHIFT + COMMAND + K, export the clip at your desired sample-rate and bit-depth and you should have a seamless loop.
TESTING THE LOOP
It is a good practice to always test the loop before you send it to the programmer or Dev-Team. Once the audio is exported, check it in a program like iTunes, making sure the track is set to loop. The track should loop seamlessly and there should not be any glitches or pauses. One more quick note is that if you are using Unity, never have your loop as an mp3. For some reason Unity will cause a slight delay when looping mp3s. Once you are satisfied with the result, ship it!
Having seamless loops is essential to immerse the player in the game and make them forget about the repetition of the music. Sure, they may know it is looping, but they should never be able to tell WHERE it loops. If the player can tell where the loop is then we have essentially failed at our job. There are other techniques that can be used for making loops feel seamless that were not in the scope of this Blog post, however if you use the technique I have outlined, you will find your loops working within the game as they should. Nothing is worse than playing a game and hearing that dreaded millisecond-gap in the music, even if you as the composer is the only person to notice it, it degrades the final product and the level of the game’s finesse suffers as a result.
I hope this has helped with any looping concerns you may have had and until next time, stay creative!