Written by Daniel Dixon, content writer for Outro.io

We’ve all been there before—you’re writing a track, the separate elements are falling into place, and a steady groove has emerged. But when it comes time to arrange the loop into a full track, things start to fall apart. You’ve become too entrenched in the loop to take it somewhere new, and you’re left feeling stuck.

Not knowing where to take your track is a common crux for many producers, leaving us with folders full of incomplete projects. There are, however, many ways to avoid this from happening—check out these seven tricks to help you escape the 8 bar loop and finish more tracks.

1. Use a reference track

Listen to a great track within the style you’re trying to create—how did the producer structure it? Drag and drop the track into your DAW, and use locators to make note of where it changes (intro, drop, breakdown etc.), using them as guidelines for your own music. After doing this a few times, you’ll stop needing the reference, and start adding in unique twists and developing a signature style.

Create a reference track, change it’s output to ext. out 1/2 (your master output) so the reference track doesn’t run through the mastering chain. Then mute the track—you don’t want it to play while yours does.

Add Locator:


Adding a Reference Track:


2. Make Loop Variations

Even though drums and percussion are usually looped in electronic music, this doesn’t mean you have to use the same short loop throughout an entire track. Allow it to repeat until you’re tired of it, then mix it up with different versions, by changing dynamics, timing, and samples. These changes will keep your listeners interested and work wonders on a dance floor. You can apply the same technique to riffs and chord changes—there’s nothing wrong with being bold.

3. Move Quickly

The longer you listen to a loop, the more used to it you become. The mistakes you notice at first turn normal and you no longer hear them. Get a solid loop together and move on. Don’t get stuck on details, but focus on expanding your loop into a full track. Once you have a 3 to 4 minute skeleton, go back and add the extra tweaks to make it pop. If a part isn’t working, don’t spend too much time fussing over it, or trying to make it work. Keep only the elements that are crucial.

Hold Option while dragging a clip to duplicate it. Create the basis for a track and remove clips where necessary!

4. Randomize

Get weird. A little bit of randomness can go a long way. Use a randomizer, whacky swing setting or glitch effect to produce some off-kilter sounds. Used with precaution, they will give your loops just enough difference from bar to bar to keep them sounding alive. Ableton tools like beat repeat are great for this—use them at low dry/wet settings and you’ll introduce the perfect amount of randomness into your tracks.

For external VSTs, try out these free randomizer tools: Hysteris by GlitchMachines and Danaides by InEarDisplay

5. Use Chord Progressions

Generally speaking, most music is based around chords. The same chord progressions are used over and over again because they work. I’m not saying you should make generic music, but follow the rules about chords—you can still make very creative tracks, and they will sound as if they’re moving toward something.

Start your track with a chord progression and build on it from there. Use this creative tool that will come up with chord progressions for you based on the key. If you’ve already drawn out some chords that you like but are not sure where to take them, use this chord verifier to find out which chords you’re using and build a progression around them.

6. Go Lean

It’s easy to stack tons of instrument racks in a DAW, but just because you have a lot of things going on in your track doesn’t mean it will sound better. Focus on a few elements and make them amazing—tons of hit songs and albums were made using just a handful of instruments and effects.

You want your drums, percussion, and melodies to interact, but often the more complicated you make your loops, the more co-dependant the individual sounds become, meaning that when you remove one, the loop looses its effectiveness. Focus on simple but exciting sounds that work together rhythmically and tonally to create a tension and release effect—these are the major elements of great dance and electronic music. With fewer sounds, you reduce the amount of mixing and mastering needed too.

7. Set Time-Based Goals

The most productive people get things done because they set goals. If you don’t have a goal to make a track or EP, you probably won’t. Write down what you want to accomplish and do exactly that! If you want to produce a track a week, make sure you set aside enough time and use it wisely.

Apply these tips to your music and you’ll start seeing more completed tracks. For inspiration, download this free pack of rhythmic loops and chord progressions from Outro to add some extra oompf to your tracks when you need it most!

Daniel writes audio production tutorials and creates content for Outro.io, a marketplace for samples, loops, and instrumentals. Follow his writing on the Outro blog. Sign up free to Outro.