How does “live looping” work in these Youtube videos I see from crazy talented solo artists who play multiple instruments in the same song?


The extent of my AV experience consisted of trying to make mixed tapes back in the day, so watching someone doing live looping in a video seems like black magic and I’m intensely curious about how it works.

In: 1

From my understanding, you have specific devices which can record different audio feeds and then just replay them. The talent is being able to make the music flow together and loop well

The basic idea of looping is that popular music has repeating units. Instead of needing to play every drum beat, you can play 16 in a row, then repeat them forever. Now, you can record 4 guitar chords on top of that, one for every 4 beats, and repeat both.

The trick in timing is to tap the looper device at the right moment, but that’s easier than it sounds in that musicians are used to tapping a foot in time with the music. If you tap your foot 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, and you start and stop the loop with a foot pedal on 1, you’ll get exactly one measure of 4/4 time looped.

They have a device with an input (sometimes even multiple) and an output.
On the tap of a button that devices records the input.
On second tap of the button the device stops recording and loops what it recorded.
For multiple instruments those devices can switch between different layers to record/loop.

Back in the day, you had to do some madness with a pair of reel-to-reel tape machines. These days, you just get a pedal. You click the button where you want to start the loop and then click where it ends and then it repeats. You can get way more complicated with it (more tracks, etc.), but that’s the basics.

In a live loop, you’re doing a live performance – but you’re also recording. You play back the recordings of what you just did live within the same performance, combining them with other recordings and/or playing new live sections on top of them.

This requires special hardware and/or software to make sure your playbacks stay on beat, and you yourself will need to be pretty good to pull it off well.