How to Escape the 8 Bar Loop

Edit: I’ve posted a follow up to this article including a video demonstration of my Same Instruments, Different Flavor technique as well as reader and friend responses on getting out of the loop.


We’ve all been there.

You have a sick riff, a killer beat driving it forward, and a sweet bass groove.

And it’s looping. Looping… and looping… 8 bars of looping. It keeps playing and playing like a broken record.

You’re lost and frustrated. Not sure where to take it, you keep listening and attempt to flesh out the story — but it’s simply not happening.

Why do we get stuck in the 8 bar limbo? A few things come to mind.

1). Scarcity Mentality

In my Electronic Music Arrangement eBook that’s out now, I have a section dedicated to the concept of an Abundance Mentality.

From the eBook:

An abundance mentality is a perspective where you believe — simply put — that things are in abundance. There’s no shortage or drought.

You have to have this perspective towards your art. You need to understand that creativity is infinite. Your creativity is infinite. You will never, ever, run out of the ability to create.

Yes, you reading this right now. You have infinite creative potential. Until the day you die, you’ll be able to put forth creativity into this world. Don’t doubt that for a second.

And yes, I’m aware some days it’ll feel otherwise — but that’s a result of a creative block, not a creative absence.

This is important, because you need to be able to let go of your work.

An abundance mentality allows you to do this with ease. It frees you from creative chains.

There’s been countless times where I’ve written a section and had to scrap it completely because it was either bad or unnecessary. Mind you, these sections range from things that took ten minutes to five days to write. You have to be un-attached enough, uninvested enough, to be brutal with editing.

Furthermore, there’s an ugly and opposite cousin of the abundance mentality — namely, the Scarcity Mentality.

A scarcity mentality is one in which — simply put — things are scarce. You believe in a shortage, a drought, or an inability.

I could literally re-write that excerpt, but instead of all the positivity I’d switch it all to negatives. That’s what a scarcity mentality is. It’s a belief that you’re not able to create — that your creativity is finite and limited, and I call bullshit on that.

2). “Not Good Enough”

The bittersweetness of the 8 bar curse is that, while it’s frustrating because we’re stuck, the 8 bars are usually really really good. If they weren’t, we would easily toss it aside and move on. That’s not the case, though and this is an incredibly aggravating position to be in — you get this sinking feeling that no one will hear your bangin masterpiece. It’s dreadful.

The only point here to make is that your whole song does not need to be as good as your wonderful 8 bars.

I understand, when you’re sitting on 8 bars of gorgeous material, that it’s very hard to make other sections that live up.

Come to terms with the fact that if your 8 bars are so awesome then it can carry the song. The rest of the track will provide the framework and the plot — that magical 8 bars will provide the fuck yea.

And now, without further adieu, the method.

3) Same Instruments, Different Flavor

Exactly as the title says, this technique is to write a new section with the same instruments/sounds as the initial 8 bars.

Let’s say you have a sick Massive patch, a killer drumkit in Battery, and a flying lead from Zeta+. Simply build another 8 bars using those exact same tools. Write another bass line, another drum beat, and another melody.

I tend to write harmony-up, meaning I write my chord progressions before anything else. So, for me, I’ll take whatever instrument is playing my chords (usually Thor in Reason) and write another progression. From there, I build an entire second section.

There’s two important keys to doing this successfully.

The first key is keys — musical keys. If you know what key you’re in, then you can continue writing in that key (and, if you know what key you’re in, you can then go to a different one intentionally). I’m not going to give you a lesson on music theory right now, but my eBook will have an explanation of this.

The other important point is to not restrict yourself based on your initial 8 bars. Let this new section breathe and be its own beast. When it’s finished, you can adjust it to fit better with the initial 8 bars.

I use this technique every day. Off the top of my head, I know I did this in almost every song on Ceremony of Leaves, including Microfracture, where you can clearly hear it — most of the same sounds are used in every section.

And no, this isn’t lazy by any means. It’s a creative limitation, which allows you to actually be more creative. Think about a typical live rock band — their instruments include two guitars, a bass guitar, a drumset, and a singer. Every single thing they write has these instruments (although piano likes to make an appearance often). This limitation allows them to not worry about sound choices and write some damn music.

An unfortunate side-effect of production software, VST’s, and the like is that we’re inundated with countless options. There’s a gazillion choices to be made. This is harmful to the creative process. This is why I produce in Reason, actually, because my choices are made for me.

“But, what about that instrument?” “Shit, that one sounds better.” “Oh wait, I know the right one…” Shut up. Pick one and kill with it. Don’t let tools become excuses.

Note that, for someone using pre-made loops, this is wildly more difficult. My advice is to not allow loops to be more than roughly 30% of the songs material — otherwise, you won’t have enough control to make different progressions and rhythms.

Furthermore, this technique is best used in something based on Pop Form which entails a verse/chorus structure or an A/B structure. If you’re making something like Deadmau5’s HR 8938 Cephei then this sort of falls apart because the arrangement in that song is Long Form, a form that subsists primarily on energy evolution rather than distinct sectional differences. I discuss Long Form and Pop Form in my upcoming eBook.

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