When I first started looping on the RC-20 I was limited to only one loop. With the upgrade to the RC-50 and three controllable loops, so much more became possible. I and most others I’ve seen use the RC-50 in loop sync mode- which keeps all three loops aligned to the first loop pass. This seems to be the best way to perform using live looping although it is certainly not the only option for using the RC-50 in performance.
To create the ebb and flow needed to trick people’s ears into thinking they’re listening to a dynamic performance, one must listen to and understand how music styles such as EDM and Hip-Hop work. This may be a turn off to those that don’t like electronic or sample based music, but if this is your bias then live looping probably isn’t for you.
All music is based on creating tension and release and electronic music is heavily dependent on obvious forms of building tension- the terminology used by DJ’s and producers is called “builds and breaks” or “dropping the beat”. Anyone who’s heard even one EDM tune will recognize the methods used to do this- usually a sound that builds in pitch and drums that build to a climax. The climax usually ends in dropping the beat for a measure before bringing the song back in. Jam bands like Phish also use the buildup of tension and release to achieve this same effect on the audience- though they have fancier harmonic tricks at their disposal.
To achieve this using live looping it’s best to assign certain loops to specific instruments. I often put guitar on loop 1, bass on loop 2, and drums on loop 3. This individual control allows you to make builds and breaks of your own. This formula has to be tweaked and varied in order to be interesting and sometimes I’ll put high-hat and snare on loop 2 and kick drum on loop 3 in order to create the bass drop effect. There are a seemingly infinite variety of ways to arrange these loops and with the addition of more loop tracks in future models these possibilities will only grow.
Without having to go into too much more detail it should be apparent that the live looper must think like a dance music producer. While producers have access to an unlimited amount of tracks to mute and drop- we only have around 3. With the RC-50 the Undo/Redo pedal can serve as your fourth loop if you time it correctly. Even with these limitations it’s still possible to make your audience get off on builds and breaks just as a DJ would.
Remember that the best loopers limit their loops to no more than 8 bars of music. The longer your loop the less likely you will be able to get that metronomic feel necessary for dance music. Conversely, the shorter the loop the more repetitive it will be and the less room you’ll have to make a more evolved track. Start with 2 bar loops until you can get them perfect. Move up to four bar loops, then to the eight bar loop. After that you can move up to 12 bars which I often do with blues progressions. However the longer the loop, the longer it will take to layer- and you risk losing the audience’s attention. Your potential for screw-ups increase with each extra bar. And as we will discuss later- even if you are Keller Williams you WILL screw up.