Compose loops and remix songs with Beatlab

Whether you're an aspiring producer or just itching to drop a beat, Beatlab makes it fast, easy, and fun to forge a quick track.

Whether you're an aspiring producer or just itching to drop a beat, Beatlab makes it fast, easy, and fun to forge a quick track.

Many of us march to our own rhythm, sometimes unconsciously. We see it everywhere: commuters bobbing their heads on the way to work, students lost in their music players, or even those who beatbox under their breath when they think no one else is watching. Don't kid yourself; we know you've done it, too, at some point. Artists, musicians, and producers consciously try to tap into this rhythm when they are brainstorming or formulating ideas.

During moments of inspiration, sometimes there's a limited window of opportunity to record it before it gets lost in the mind's abyss. Unfortunately, not all of us have access to professional DAWs or expensive studio programs. Beatlab is a Flash-based audio sequencer with which you can quickly construct beats and generate downloadable loops on the Web at no cost.

Edit each track on the sequence grid, and Beatlab will preview your loop as you go. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho/CNET)

The interface is fairly intuitive and friendly: Beatlab lays out tools and workspace functions in simple words instead of knobs and tempo counters. Players control the track speed by choosing from five default tempos that range from Slow to OMG. Respectively, the slowest tempo starts at 80 beats per minute and increases incrementally by 20bpm, with "OMG" being a whopping 160bpm. Buttons to either shorten or lengthen the track by set bars reside in the upper-right corner, appropriately labeled Shorter and Longer. You can place notes by clicking on the grid and select starting points for lengthier tracks. Track segments can also be copied and pasted, though it requires selection from the interface, as opposed to the dragging, right-click gesture most Windows users are used to.

Going mellow or getting hyped? Whatever the genre, Beatlab has a set tempo to match your taste.

Instruments can be rearranged, have volumes adjusted, or just deleted entirely. You can also access Beatlab's huge library of stock and user-submitted sounds to diversify tracks or even add your own samples. Selecting a genre will create a brand-new template with preselected instruments to get you started, sometimes even including a sample vocal track for good measure.

Choose from hundreds of custom samples, courtesy of Beatlab and its community. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho/CNET)

Although Beatlab is capable of creating full-length tracks and songs, the experience is tailored more toward quickly bringing musical ideas to fruition, rather than creating a polished track. Not everything is perfect: some samples don't adjust very well to some of the preset tempos when looped, due to their lengths. Despite its shortcomings in some technical areas, keep in mind that this is still a free, fully functional sequencer in the cloud. The setup can be a great brainstorming tool for artists who enjoy composing short creative loops and sampling experiments.

Feel like sharing your beats with the world? Chat with other users and get feedback from the community. (Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho/CNET)

Then there's the social component. In addition to sequencing, Beatlab allows you to post created tracks on leaderboards and share them on Facebook. You can vote on which tracks you like best and even battle it out to see who can create the ultimate loop. A chat widget on the side allows you to instantly share tracks and receive open feedback from an active community of other Beatlab artists.

Beatlab nicely balances accessibility for veteran musicians and nonmusicians alike, something that very few music programs achieve even in this day and age. It may come off as a playful, sandboxlike experience for people who just want to play with different sounds, but Beatlab is also an adequate tool in capable hands.

Here's a sample hip-hop track we made to showcase some of Beatlab's capabilities.

Check out Beatlab and feel free to post some of your favorite tracks or even your own on the comments below!

About Eddie Cho