Sing it back: Why a vocal loop pedal might just be a smart investment

CALLING ALL SINGERS: I hate to break it to you, but there’s too many of you. 

At least, there’s too many of you for you all to be memorable. Sorry about that, you shouldn’t blame yourself too much. The guitar is a wonderfully crafted instrument, but, like everything, its appeal wanes when oversaturated.

However, there could be a (relatively) cheap, temporary solution. For the moment, put your guitar down, and try out a vocal loop pedal. You may have seen Ed Sheeran or KT Tunstall rocking these things a few years ago, but they still haven’t taken off the way you’d imagine – and yet they’re absolutely fantastic.

For all the headscratchers, I’ll give a brief, simple description: a vocal loop pedal is a small piece of equipment which, when connected to a microphone, allows you to sing things and have them repeated back to you continuously. Once you get the hang of it, you can create chords and percussive elements, making a soundworld far bigger than a simple acoustic guitar can achieve.

As a singer/average guitarist, I struggled for a few years to stand out to crowds at gigs. Having seen a couple of artists perform with loop pedals, I wanted one – badly. Like many, I initially assumed that such technology would be far too expensive unless I sold all my possessions and lived in a skip.However, the model I eventually plumped for – the Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer – cost just under £200. Granted, that’s not small money, but its price pales in comparison to that of guitars that sound good enough to use professionally.

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Upon receiving the Vocal Performer, I set to work immediately. Despite its intimidating appearance, it’s nothing like as complex to operate as it looks, and eventually changed the way I approach gigs completely. Not only are my songs different, but it’s given me a new-found confidence, which in turn helps me draw in a much larger audience. As a head-turner, the vocal loop pedal does a great job in providing a little bit of intrigue; the crowd want to know how it works, and after that, what you’ll do with it next.

“Not only do loop pedals help you improve your timing, they help you improve tuning too.”

So far, most performers using a vocal loop pedal treat it as a kind of accessory, rather than an instrument. Instead of replacing the guitar, they create rhythms and harmonies over the top. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of practice, and it often has a great effect.  With a guitar, however, there’s still a nagging sense of over-familiarity. The voice, as an instrument, has arguably more variety than any other, so why not take advantage of that?

Not only do loop pedals help you improve your timing, they help you improve tuning too. Starting each loop by pressing a pedal with your foot takes time to adapt to, but with practice and a little bit of curiosity, it’s not hard to master. They also help you build up your stamina, as most songs require a great deal more singing than if the guitar provided the backdrop.Loop pedals often present you with a limitation: once you’ve started looping, it’s tricky to change the direction of the song. Whilst this is admittedly avoidable with a more expensive, kitted out pedal, it’s actually quite useful for you to learn to create something intriguing to an audience on one repeating loop, and is certainly rewarding once you’ve managed it.

I’m not suggesting that people give up on learning the guitar, or other forms of accompaniment like the piano. Neither am I suggesting that a loop pedal can provide more variety than said instruments. However, when you’ve run out of ideas, looking for a new direction, or simply want to have a bit of fun singing to yourself, the loop pedal might just surprise you.

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Laurence Morgan

Music Editor, third year music student with no other discernible features. Sometimes wears a hat. Favourites in music include Dry The River, Adult Jazz, Alt-J, James Blake and prepared to listen to anything. Try me.

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