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Songwriting in Pro Tools
Illustration by John Hersey

Making a demo beat


Songwriting in Pro Tools

with David Franz

Video: Making a demo beat

When you want to put a song idea down quickly, knowing how to make So now I've got two stereo instrument tracks where we can add other instruments.

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Songwriting in Pro Tools
1h 2m Beginner Apr 25, 2014

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Everyone writes songs in their own way. Some start with a melody or a beat, some start with a lyric. Whatever your starting point, you need to get your ideas down quickly, and then polish them into demos worth presenting to partners, producers, and record labels. Pro Tools can help. It's one of the programs professional musicians and songwriters turn to for writing, recording, and mixing songs. In this short course, David Franz takes you from an initial seed-idea to a great sounding demo song, showing you how to find the best tempo, meter, and key; add in vocals, drums, and hooks; and put together a dynamic mix using effects like EQ, compression, and reverb and delay. These 10 simple steps can guide anyone with an idea and a little musical ability through the process of capturing a song idea before the inspiration fades.

Look for more courses in our Songwriting series in 2014! We'll cover Logic, GarageBand, and other popular DAWs.

Audio + Music DAWs Music Production Music Composition
Pro Tools
David Franz

Making a demo beat

When you want to put a song idea down quickly, knowing how to make a beat or find a drum loop that fits the song, is important. This movie is a crash course in getting a beat into your song. So, I already got one drum track in here with expand on it. However, I want to add a couple more virtual instruments, and show you some options that we have on Pro Tools. So I'm going to Right Click on this, choose Duplicate. And I'll take out all of this stuff here, all we need is really the sends that we're going to keep on there, so we have reverb and delay if we want it.

And I'm going to choose two duplicates. So now I've got two stereo instrument tracks where we can add other instruments. So down on this one I'm going to add structure free which is a sampler and then on this one I'll add boom, and this is like a virtual drum machine. So we have a number of options, and whatever we choose kind of depends on the style of the music that we're making. Now Boom is an instrument that's good for making Hip Hop, R&B and EDM beats, has a lot of default beats to choose from that are automatically synced to the session tempo.

So if I go down here to the start button and play the speed you'll hear it synced to 100 BPM, which is the BPM of our session. Now clearly to me, that is not kind of beat we want for this kind of a pop song. But, if this was the right thing you could come up here, and into the matrix and add some notes. Can get rid of notes by clicking on them, and change up the beat completely or choose obviously from presets that are up here. However, I am pretty sure I don't want to use boom for this beat. So let's check out structure.

Now structure free is a sampler and it has a small library for built-in loops as well as drum samples. For example, we have structure free. Studio Drums, load that up and we've got some drum sounds down here. Now these sounds usually come out pretty quiet when we're playing on the keyboard so I'm actually jack up this track. And Record Enable and we'll here a kick, a snare and some high hat. So now if I start recording the click will play, and I can play a beat in using my keyboard controller playing these notes.

When you're playing your own beat in, you may want to go up to event, event operations, and info quantize so that all of your beats that you play in will go to the grid. This will make it sound better automatically. So just click this little button here, Enable and put Quantize, and we'll keep the grid at one sixteenth note. Close that, and we'll close this. Now let's record this beat.

>> Okay. So, we've got our little drum beat in there. Let's take a quick listen. Well, got a little mess-up there, because the quantization did something funky. So, let's fix it real quick while we're at it. We'll change the track view to notes and make this ia little bigger, scroll down, and I already see the culprit so I'm going to grab the grabber tool, slide this over,. Slide this high hat over, and this high hat needs to move, as do these notes.

Now we've got our beat. Let's check it out, all it time. Perfect and if you noticed, when we played that back, you couldn't even hear the click track because the input quantise lined up the beats so well with the click and with the grid that the click just disappeared. So we know that the timing is really tight. Now that drumbeat is super basic, maybe we don't want to program our own drums, and instead we want to find a loop that we like. So I'm going to open up expand, and earlier on, I found a loop that I really liked, that I thought fit the song well, and, where is that down here? Acoustic drums, 100, fortunately, 100, that means that it was actually originally created at a BPM of 100, so we know that it's going to sound good with our track.

Let's hear what it sounds like. I'm going to record enable the drum track here. So there's one beat, it has a number of beats in there. There's one. There's a second one, and I kind of like the differences between those. The first one we could use for the verse. Which just has the high hat on it, and then the second one we could use for the chorus. When it opens up using the ride cymbal. I'm just going to record both of those beats, so I know where the notes are for those beats. And, so let me just set it back all the way to the beginning of the song.

Record, here we go. So later on, I'm going to rearrange this song so that those beats come in at the right places where I want them. But now, at least I know where those beats are. I know I like 'em and I can edit this later. Now let's take a look at one more way that we can get a drum beat into this Pro Tools session. I'm going to go ahead, and make a Stereo Audio track. And we're going to find a sampled beat from a Pro Tools loop that came with Pro Tools, that you can actually download for free, off of Avid's website.

So what I'm going to do is go to the Window menu, choose New WorkSpace, and I know that these loops exist. So I'm going to say, Pop Drums and it comes up with a whole bunch of different samples. going to scroll down here. We'll find one that is a different temp than what our session is. So I can tell you how to bring in a sample that is at a different tempo. Go on here, Pop Drums 01.wav let's play it.

Okay, so, now, we know that this is at 105 BPM which is faster than what we would want in our session. So if we actually Drag and Drop this one into the session. I'll show you, it's not a full four bars. That's because it temples faster than 100. So let's undo that and the secret is, let's turn this button on. So if we have that button on, that conforms this to the tempo over sessions, now if we play it back. That's playing it at 100 BPM and so, if we have that button on, and we drag this beat into our session, it conforms it automatically to the four bars, and now it's a tempo with our session.

So that's four different ways that you can use Protools to make beats, or bring drum loops into your session. And aside from the virtual instruments, and loops that come with Protools, there's plenty of third party drum machines, loop libraries, samplers, and other virtual instruments that you can use to build beats. Regardless of what instrument you use, a huge part of being able to realize musical ideas quickly is to know what tools are available to create the sound that you want, and how to use those tools. So, I encourage you to explore all the sounds of all of your virtual instruments, and find some go to sounds so you can get your ideas down quickly.

Heck, load them into your song writing template file. You can always go back and tweak the sounds later.

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