As an avid lover of the hip-hop records produced throughout the 1980s and 90s, I have always been fascinated by the simple yet effective stutter technique.
Naturally, I sought to recreate it in my music production and explored different ways of achieving this. I wanted to find Ableton Beat Repeat alternatives and create this effect without using the native plugin.
Carry on reading to find out how you can also achieve this.
Manually Chopping Audio
Manually chopping audio is the most accessible method and can be used in any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
It provides you with complete control over what portions of the audio file you’d like to repeat and to what rate they will be performed in a sequence.
It is a very visual method that demystified the technique for me rather quickly because I could see different sections of the waveform clearly (e.g., What the transient of a snare drum both looked and sounded like as opposed to a piano chord or vocal phrase).
Once I had found sweet spots (sonically pleasing or parts that I wanted to repurpose) in the rhythm or melody of the audio clip I was working with, arranging and sequencing them in unique and exciting ways became a simple process of trial and error.
Working closely to the grid within your project is very important during this stage because it is up to you to manually quantize the sections (eliminate the rhythmic imprecisions in your sequence) so they articulate well following the predetermined tempo of your song.
When you have established how many beats per bar (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc.) each individual chop will last for and have arranged them on the project’s grid, it becomes much easier for you to get fancy (who doesn’t want to be a little fancy sometimes).
You can look for interesting swings or grooves (offbeat articulations of the melody or rhythm) within the bar/sequence.
This can take the Beat Repeat effect to the next level and make the listener believe that you are DJ Premier jamming out on an Akai MPC60 circa 1990!
Using Your DAW’s Sampler Plugin
Using the native sampler plugin within your DAW is another great way to achieve a stuttering rhythmic effect.
Much like the manual chopping method, it visualizes the waveform as you are playing it back.
Every DAW comes equipped with a sampler VST plugin, so this method can also be implemented without the need for additional software.
There are two main ways you can use a sampler to do this.
Method One – Creating Automation Clips
The first is creating automation clips to control specific parameters of your sampler.
To start, you will want to ensure that the playback of audio within your sampler is in loop mode (it will cycle through a visually represented portion of the clip and jump back to the predetermined starting point after that cycle has been completed).
You will also need to create a midi clip in the channel that contains your sampler vst (in most cases, samplers are considered software instruments and can only be used on channels that have been armed for MIDI).
Once the clip has been created, all you have to do is draw in single MIDI notes that follow the rhythm you want to create with your chops.
If you don’t have a rhythm in mind right away, you could draw in quarter notes just to get the juices flowing.
Once you have determined the length of the loop and your MIDI is set up, you will need to map an automation clip to the sample start point parameter. The exact name for this parameter can vary depending on what DAW and sampler you are using, but its function is universal.
The sampler will intuitively assign values to the automation clip to quick snapshots throughout the source material’s duration. This allows you to control where the sample will begin playback by simply adjusting the values within your newly created automation clip.
As with the earlier method, paying attention to quantization is often necessary to achieve a coherent result in the beginning. In this case, quantization is dependent on how you have arranged your midi notes.
You can always get fancy and experiment with offbeat iterations after.
Although somewhat tedious to set up, this method is advantageous because the precise values within the automation clip can be adjusted quickly – something that can both improve your workflow and generate exciting results as you tweak them while listening back through your loop.
Method Two – MIDI Mapping
The second way to use a sampler for this effect is by mapping your MIDI keyboard to the sample start point parameter.
This is essentially the same idea as before. Still, it assigns those “quick snapshots” of the sample to individual notes on a piano roll rather than values within an automation clip.
You now have the unique ability to perform your beat chops in real-time by playing the corresponding notes on your midi keyboard or tapping on the drum pads of your midi controller.
You will need to create a separate audio track and arm it to record the signal coming from your MIDI channel to capture your sequence’s performance.
Additionally, you can create slices within the source material contained in your sampler (you can do this manually or have your DAW automatically create these slices for you). These slices can be mapped to individual keys or pads on your MIDI keyboard or controller and performed in whatever sequence you desire.
This can be a great way to go.
You get to play out your sequence physically, and the flexibility of working with your newly consolidated audio clip can open up more creative doors for you.
If you don’t have any external hardware, you can still manually draw midi notes into your DAW’s piano roll and create your sequences that way.
Izotope Stutter Edit 2
Now that I have explained a few resourceful alternatives to Beat Repeat, I will mention a more luxurious and comprehensive option.
For those of you who don’t wish to “MacGyver” around within your DAW to replicate this technique, look no further than Izotope’s Stutter Edit 2.
It is a paid plugin created by Izotope, Inc., an industry leader in third-party audio software.
It is essentially Ableton’s Beat Repeat on steroids, and probably the most complete plugin I have come across that serves such a purpose.
Stutter Edit 2 has a great-looking user interface that promotes a quick and seamless workflow. It gives you complete control over your ability to create perfectly articulated stutter effects using both audio and midi as source material.
It comes equipped with an extensive rack of effects that allows you to warp and process your chops and stutters until your heart’s content.
Stutter Edit 2 features:
- Distortion Unit
- Comb Filter
- Low and High Pass Filters
- Classic Tapestop Emulation Effect
The main claim to fame with Stutter Edit 2 is the ability to trigger what they call “Gestures” (professionally created preset banks for all of the effects I just listed) with just the touch of a key or click of a mouse.
If you’re having trouble staying inspired throughout a session, the randomness of this function can spark fresh creative ideas very quickly.
On the other hand, if you know exactly what kind of sound you want to achieve, this beast of a plugin provides plenty of tools at your disposal to get it just right!
What Glitch plugins do you use?
I use Ableton’s Beat Repeat in some cases, but I usually keep it very simple and manually chop my audio clips to create the desired glitch effects. Ableton has excellent Warp Modes designed to aid you when working in audio, and I love using these creatively to generate unique and exciting results.
Any thoughts on Stutter Edit 2?
As I mentioned in the article, it is one of the most complete plugins I have come across for creating glitch/stutter effects. Izotope is a top-notch software company in general, and the onboard effects within Stutter Edit 2 are as good as any other third-party standalone ones you will find on the market, in my opinion.
How do you mix your beats in Ableton?
I make mixing part of the creative process when I am producing a song. I generally do some basic EQing on a new sound right away (e.g., if I add a hi-hat, I will automatically cut the low frequencies that could potentially create phasing problems with the low-frequency dominant sounds already present in my mix).
Once the basic EQing/filtering is out of the way, I can get more creative to shape sounds in interesting ways. Doing all of this as you write and arrange a song is advantageous because nothing is finalized yet, and there is room for experimentation. This can yield remarkable results you would have otherwise not achieved.
Who do you turn to for final mastering?
I do all the “mastering” myself, but I work in a way that doesn’t typically involve much of a “mastering process.” I do all of my compression and gain staging throughout my mixing process and prefer it that way because I clearly indicate what the finished product will sound like as I am creating it.
My master channel is usually just a limiter or soft clipper of choice (depending on the genre or loudness level I am trying to pump out) and a mid/side EQ that removes a few particularly egregious low/mid frequencies from the sides of my mix.
I hold Izotope in high regard and believe that they make some of the highest quality plugins on the market. If I had an abundance of Izotope plugins at my disposal, I would reach for them as often as possible.
That being said, as a basic concept, I think it is a good idea to try and master a few specific plugins before doing excessive amounts of experimentation with a bunch of other ones. This will get you working more efficiently and go a long way in helping you develop that coveted “signature sound” that every artist wants to find.
Looking to learn more techniques? Check out this guide on pitch shifting in Ableton