“…is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.” – wiki
Most people think of sampling as heard in “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve or “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio.
It’s certainly true that there has been unimaginable number of songs that have done this. In fact, if you check the credits for “Scooby Snacks” by Fun Lovin’ Criminals, you’ll see Quentin Tarantino gets composer credit since they sampled lines from his movie, “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs.” How many songs have you heard that use snippets from film or television?
There’s more to sampling than this, however. A lot more. When designing unique sounds, often samples are used, or parts of samples, then synthesized, modulated, and tweaked, if you will, in any way needed to create the final sound. As an example, Batman’s motorcycle, “Batpod,” engine sound in “Dark Night” was a combination of several sounds including, race cars, a Tesla car, and many other electric motors synthesized as a shepard tone to give the sonic illusion that the motor never shifts.
For a medieval, dragon scream that I designed last year, I used a creaky, screen door that went through pitch and tone shaping, modulation, and certain parts were time stretched, reversed and compressed that eventually sounded like something I’ve never heard. The idea was that if we were ever really lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to see a real dragon, chances are that we would have no idea what it actually sounded like. Therefore, the sound of it’s scream needed to be something we’ve never heard before. Once my design was finished, it sounded nothing like a screen door. (Therefore, it must have been a dragon.)
Sampling is an incredibly useful and fun way of working in audio design. However, there’s other ways samples make it into my workflow. The rest of this article introduces you to the way a sample can enhance or even save a mix.
Send in Reinforcements!
Another way to use a sample is to either reinforce or completely replace a part of your recording using another recording. Let’s take a snare for example. Sometimes the snare that arrives to be mixed is either poorly tuned, poorly recorded, isn’t the right snare for the concept, or maybe we just want a different snare sound in a bridge or chorus section. Samples to the rescue! Most working engineers have a database of samples to draw from. If not, they have colleagues to reach out to. If not, there are many quality sample libraries out there, Toontrack, BFD2, EpiK Drums, or Ocean Way Drums for example. If you can’t afford any of the libraries, then start rifling through your old vinyl and other music to find some of your own. Start your library, now. (However, familiarize yourself with when you need to pay for using them. Start here.) Also, there are some places online with free samples for download but I have yet to find any that are useful.
Of course you can go and physically replace each snare hit with a sample manually. You can create another track and add the snare hit to be mixed in as needed. There is an easier way, however. Using a program like Slate Trigger, or others I mentioned already, you can simply analyze the audio with the program, and choose to mix in some of the snare or all of the snare. But since there’s more to Trigger than that so here’s quick video about Trigger:
Sometimes a snare needs more beef, more top, or more snares, and simply adding in the element of the sample that you need is enough. Or like I mentioned above, maybe you want a different snare sound in the chorus or bridge. There are several reasons why you’d be reaching for a snare sample. In a perfect world, we’d have the budget and snare closet like Eric Valentine and simply grab whatever we wanted and tune it however we wanted. In reality, when the tracking is done and the mix is sent already, there’s no going back.
Using a Sample to Trigger Effects
Let’s use that snare example again. Say that you’re snare is perfect, whether you used samples or not, and now you’re working on reverbs and delays. What if your snare was thick and dark but you wanted the reverb to cut through the mix and the snare you have won’t do the trick? Here you can take a clap or snap sample, something that’s obviously not as dark as that thick, heavy snare you have, and send that to the reverb. You then return the bright reverb tail back to the mix. Here you’ll have a much brighter reverb than what your snare sample would have produced. You can get creative with gating the reverb as well, giving you that 80’s, Phil Collins sound. (If that’s something you’re going for…)
Another quick method would be to duplicate the track and, using Slate Trigger, grab a sample that has the reverb tail you desire, and adjust the attack to only play back the tail. That’s assuming you have a snare sample, processed, the way you want. I typically don’t reach for preprocessed samples. I like to create the sounds uniquely on each project. That’s why, although I use Slate Trigger, I don’t use the sample library. There are no dry, unprocessed, samples included with that program. All of those samples are processed with compression, reverb, and whatever else they felt made the sample “great.” Personally, I don’t see how I can process an individual element in advance of knowing what the whole sonic landscape looks like. (That’s a whole other discussion to be saved for a later time.)
Since you’re already building your library of samples anyway, why not take a few of those snare reverbs and pitch shift them up and down, creating new tones and textures to reach for? This is how you get the good stuff no one else is using. Therefore, if you’re working on a top 40, country song, chances are you won’t be reaching for any of these. But if you’re working on the next big sound, this is a good start.
Sample all you want and need to but be unique. With the mainstream avenues already ripping each other off and force feeding us the same stuff over and over again, consider making something new and exciting. Be innovative. Be independent. Be yourself.
*None of the videos are the property of N40° and are represented here for editorial purposes only. They are the property of their respective owners.