One of the best and worst things about a live performance is the unpredictable nature of the event. You can go ahead and plan a rain sound effect for 3 minutes, but what happens when the scene, because of audience laughter, goes 5 minutes. Wouldn’t it be great then if you could just plan that rain sound to keep going until you’re ready to fade it out? Well that’s the purpose of looping in QLab.
Here for example is a rain sound effect. If I go to the Time & Loops tab, I can either tell this cue to loop a certain number of times, or play infinitely. Once the cue has elapsed to the end of the audio file, it will start over at the beginning.
The danger with looping is that we as an audience member don’t want to discern the loop, so content selection and preparation is imperative.
So first, selection. Avoid sound effects that contain very memorable or distinct moments. Rain is very repetitious, not memorable or discernable. Cars starting in the city street sound effect, that’s memorable. This sound effect for example is very clearly looping. As an audience member I would curl up on the ground and cry listening to this. If you must use a sound effect that has this distinct style, then be sure that it’s long enough where I don’t notice the repeats. How long is that? Well, personally I like to say that I should never hear a moment more than three times in a scene.
Second, the point of looping. Because the last nano-second in the sound effect is immediately followed by the first nano-second, it’s imperative that those moments are identical in both content and volume.
A sound effect like rain might have an existing fade in and fade outs. Here I can simply alter the start and end time. And if I’m lucky, you won’t notice the transition from one moment to the next.
A sound effect like this dog barking in the background is a bit different. But because there is no sound in between each bark, I can make sure that the start and end times both land on pure silence.
A sound effect like this city street will probably never work. But that’s okay. I can simply take the sound into my favorite audio editor. If I split the sound in the middle, swap the beginning and ending pieces, and fade them together, then I know … because the beginning and end used to be one moment … that this sound will loop perfectly.
Now I just need to use fade cues to cleanly fade in or out any of these loops (because if I just start the cue at the beginning it’ll be very abrupt). So I’ll start the audio at -INF and fade the cue to the desired volume. And when I’m finished I’ll create another cue to fade it back out.
From this chapter’s sound effects, add the rain loop into a group. Then create a fade in cue and a fade out cue. Want an extra bonus? Take the unlooped cityscape and create a loopable sound effect in your favorite DAW.
Were You Listening?
What should you avoid when deciding where to loop a sound effect?
Memorable or distinct moments.