Sampling - 5 Things I've Learned So Far

As I’ve been more and more focused on building up my own library of samples over the past several months, I’ve learned a lot about how to make good, usable samples. Here’s the five most important things I’ve learned:

One Shots Are Invaluable

Good one shots are invaluable samples because they can be used over and over again and played back to create countless tracks. A brief definition of what I’m calling a one shot - a single sustained note.

Loading them up in a sampler like Ableton Simpler or ESX24 means you can just play them on the keyboard and have a whole new instrument to play with.

I also try to get one shots whenever possible - I’ve sampled all of my instruments and gotten plenty of one shots, but I also look for them in random objects that might resonate, like pots and pans, etc.

Clean Isn’t Always Best

Sometimes, a super clean sample is boring. Part of what makes a sample so cool and unique is the random sounds that are a part of the ambiance where the sound was recorded. For example, I recently recorded the sound of a pressure cooker releasing pressure, it was a really cool white noise type sound. And when I recorded it, the nightly news was chattering away on the TV in the background. I recorded it with my iPhone - no mic attachment, just straight into a Voice Memo.

You might think “wow that’s going to be a bad sample, it’s going to be noisy and unusable.” But all of that random noise made for an insanely cool sound when I eventually used a sweeping filter with a high resonance in order to create a downlifter out of the sound of the pressure cooker. The added noise makes the sample something extraordinarily unique and gives it a special quality that would be super hard to manufacture any other way.

I have plenty of examples of this, but the point is that sometimes, you want the sound of the environment because it makes the sample that much more special.

Musical Instruments Only Scratch the Surface

Some of my favorite samples that I’ve created to date have not been from musical instruments. Of course, I’ve created a ton that I love that are from instruments. But as an example, one of my favorite samples to date is the sound of the alarm beep of a laundry machine. What makes it special is that I was in the other room, and there is some inherent noise that leaked in to the sample. But when it was all edited and the sample was created, it has the coolest flute-like sound to it. It’s a special one for sure.

Which leads me to my next point…

Music Is Everywhere

Almost everything on this planet makes a sound. Which means there are virtually endless possibilities for creating samples out of your surroundings. This is something I’m continually excited by. The funny thing is, I only started to notice this once I started recording samples. But now, I can’t imagine not seeing it. Even the crickets chirping outside my window as I write this article are musical, and I can imagine starting a track with that sound pitched way down.

Pay attention to the rhythms and melodies that are naturally occurring all around you, you’ll be amazed and how beautiful it is.

Don’t Waste Any Material - It’s All Valuable

The process of actually turning the 8 - 10 minute recording of playing a ton of notes, melodies, and ideas into usable samples is an incredible important step that can’t be rushed. The first instrument I fully sampled, I was amazed at how many great usable and unique samples I was able to get.

I always try to squeeze as many great samples out of a recording as possible. A single instrument should be able to create somewhere between 25-30 one shots, plus endless melodies and loops (I usually shoot for 8-10 per session).

That’s just some of what I’ve learned so far in my process of creating my own sample library. It’s a lot of work but it is incredibly inspiring and fun, especially when it comes to making music with them.