Matt Chamberlain recently called Ryan Gruss, founder of Loop Loft, to give him some news. Chamberlain was working on session with a top country star, and when he sat down to listen to the takes of the song he’d be drumming on he discovered that the scratch drum track was actually made from his own loops he’d recorded with Gruss. “This happens more and more,” Gruss says. “It’s happened with Joey [Waronker] and Matt that they get called into replace their own loops.”
Samples and loops have become crucial tools in recording during the past three decades, whether recording fully digital music, adding a quick drum or percussion track to a demo, or even practicing. And the Loop Loft has become a top source of hip loops for composers and musicians of all types. Drum loops are the number one sellers because, Gruss says, “Particularly with modern styles, it’s easier to compose on top of a drum loop. Because you aren’t restricted harmonically and you can move things up or down, back and forth as you record.”
Loop Loft’s Drumming Roots
Gruss started out as an aspiring drummer who went to Berklee on a scholarship to study music performance and percussion. After graduation in 2000 he relocated to Los Angeles, following a time-honored rite of passage in the music biz. But he failed to find his musical home on the left coast and went east again, this time to New York. While temping at Atlantic Records he landed a job as assistant for legendary producer Ahmet Ertegun, where he found himself answering the phone to calls from Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and others. That job, he says, taught him how crucial the marketing side of the music business is. From there he did a stint at Nickelodeon, where he got involved in digital asset management and began learning skills he would use at the Loop Loft.
A few years later after a stint with the band The Rinse, Gruss was married and back in Boston, working for a consulting firm. He started recording loops of himself in a home studio and giving them away to friends. When a few of his recordings were made available on createdigitalmusic.com the response convinced him there was commercial potential. He began offering subscriptions to loops he was creating. And, that led directly to the launch of the Loop Loft in 2010.
I talked with Gruss about recording the impact of drum loops and working with artists like Chamberlain.
How have loops changed music?
I think the way songs are composed has changed and evolved. Before you would write with a piano or a guitar and so you’re starting with chords or melody. Now you are opening a laptop. Instead of staring at a blank screen or playing into Garage Band you can compose starting with loops. So I think building a track up starting with drums and bass has become a way to compose. Loops make it so much more than hearing a stale metronome or click track.
It lowers the barriers to entry to write songs.
Definitely. The barrier to entry has evolved. It’s easier than ever to make music. Everyone who wants it has a studio on their phone or their laptop. It’s far easier to get something done that sounds like a professional recording. There’s more chances for people to get into music and experiment. With DJing there was a whole skill set that was involved in learning the digital studio and people follow that path. At the same time it’s too bad that musicians can’t afford to have world-class gear at their fingertips for months in the studio any more.
Which of the loops are the most popular?
There’s a wide range of styles, but as far as drum loops the more popular ones are mainstream. The backbeat-oriented stuff sells better than jazz, but there’s a market for both. Overall it’s more meat and potatoes, Matt Chamberlain, Nate Smith, Omar Hakim, that’s why those guys are the top guys.
What was it like when you started seeing famous musicians using your loops?
Well, the users are all levels of musicians and all over the world. When things were starting out I would scroll through orders and over time I would see Peter Gabriel buy something, or Butch Vig would buy something. Rivers Cuomo would buy something. So this told me that these are people who have plenty of access to great drummers but they still like to have loops in production or when composing.
Sometimes you will hear or see someone advertise “No loops or samples used in this recording.” Do you think that’s meaningful, if it ever was?
No, it’s what you do with it, it’s an instrument. Like a synth patch, it’s a means to an end. I don’t think it’s whether you played every note it’s what you do creatively with that audio. I think I got over that in college, listening to some artists and hearing how loops and live drums over it produced something new. It’s a tool that allows a drummer to embellish and layer and not necessarily always play the instrument.
How did your recordings with Matt come about?
Matt came on my radar in Berklee in 96-2000. He was on all my favorite records, The Wallflowers, Fiona Apple, Macy Gray, Tori Amos. Then fast forward to the 2010 when I started Loop Loft, I was recording myself and then I started adding my former Berklee friends and recording them. Finally, I started reaching out to bigger names.
In 2012 I sent a message to Matt and he got back to me right away. He said he was really busy, which I’m sure he was. But I stayed persistent and he politely but kindly kept saying that he couldn’t do it. Then in 2014 he reached out to me and said “I’m ready.” He’d seen the company grow and by then I had recorded Omar Hakim, and Joey Waronker had joined the roster. Matt had moved to LA so he had a home base and was ready to go. I hopped on a plane for Sound City in Van Nuys.
How did you do that session and is that the way you prep for any recording session?
Before each session I do a little pre-production thing of sitting down with pad and paper and considering “What are the grooves [this artist] is known for? If I could ask him to do 12 things what would I ask for?” That’s sort of the vibe that comes with them. I try to note specific beats per minute and specific kind of feel that I think ought to be captured. And, then all I do is tell the drummer something like “Play 90 bpm straight down the middle with slightly strong rock groove.” Or I could say “Pretend you’re playing a track and put in all the choruses, too.”
You try to capture pretty much everything?
Yes, grooves, bridges, signature techniques. Recording everything gives me about 10GB of stuff to edit down. If the artist has missed something — like if he has played everything but a cross-stick — I’ll ask him later on to add that. But it’s pretty loose parameters.
Describe a session that stands out for you
I brought together Charlie Hunter and Eric Harland. Charlie is known for guitar D’Angelo’s Voodoo album but I couldn’t have him play that style. He said “Man I didn’t even play it that way. That was all manipulated.” That shows what you could do with a loop, the way D’Angelo used Charlie’s playing. But again I had a dozen ideas or tempos so we would talk about a groove and then I let tape roll and that was amazing.
What would you like to do next?
I want to go out and record people in different sonic environments. Matt’s talked about it. We want to go camping and take drums into sonic environment in the wilderness. We can set up in a cave, in the redwoods, the field, many different locations. It could be a bunch of different things.
The Loop Loft was purchased earlier this year and is now part of Native Instruments, and Sounds.com, Native Instruments’ marketplace for all their loops. For heavy users, this offers an opportunity to subscribe and have access to anything you want, or to buy individual loop packs. Matt Chamberlain’s latest for the Loop Loft, his fifth sample pack, is the Cyclops Series.
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