Continuing with the main production point of interest for me right now, I wanted to dissect what different types of samples I use and what other music producers are likely to collect and encounter in sample packs. Sure, on the surface, it should be ultimately a question of “Is this a one-shot or is this a loop?” and “How am I going to organize and use these?” which are probably the broader questions someone 2 months or 10 years into production is always asking themselves when sifting through the things they’ve grabbed and maybe stuffed in a folder to be sorted later, but the more I use samples, I realize there is a wide range of sample types and depending on how your taxonomy is set up, there is also probably a lot of overlap between them. I thought I’d just establish my version of that taxonomy first, starting with the most obvious:
Fundamental types of samples
One-Shot – This is something that’s meant to be fired off rhythmically to some extent, even if it’s a quarter note out of a 4 bar loop chop, at the point that it’s stored by itself, apart from it’s loop context, it becomes a one-shot. Sometimes you can reuse certain one-shots from loops in multiple places where the beat itself isn’t so versatile. Sometimes these are multi-layered and meant to be used in more advanced samplers that will swap or crossfade samples based on velocity, but this is something I don’t do very often and I find to be a much less popular use-case these days outside of more elaborate layered sample banks like the ones in Kontakt. You won’t find a lot of bedroom producers leveraging velocity layers, but maybe that’s an area of sampling looking to be blown wide open, but I digress.
Another thing to consider, on the topic of less used, but useful techniques is the idea of recording multiple hit variations. This is not something supported in Maschine and probably not Drum Rack (I honestly don’t know) but programs like Battery can use this to great effect to randomly trigger one sample in a pool of samples to avoid repetitive hits, BUT the catch 22 is that sometimes the random hits are even more obvious than the same hit repeating. YMMV.
Loop – This is an isolated instrument or an entire mix that can be played in a seamless and/or aesthetically pleasing loop. Typically they range between 1-4 bars for simplicity, but I think anything more than 16 is really pushing it.
Stems/Bones/Multitracks – These are one lane of an entire track. Sometimes they’re a print of a buss or sometimes they’re just a single instrument and it’s effects. IMHO, they should ideally be of exactly the same length for ease of recreation of the mix in a DAW. These are also the key to a good dynamic remix because you can use as much or as little of the original track as you like, as long as the busses aren’t too greedy.
Mixdowns – Whether it’s mastered or not, this is a stereo or mono mixdown of multiple tracks, usually a complete track with all the components of the mix applied or specifically limited to certain sounds for a specific use.
Dry/Unprocessed – These samples are right off the mic, right out of the instrument, and in my opinion, in the case of synths, do not have anything more than the VCO VCF VCA and modulation. (No delay, chorus, reverb, distortion, etc.) In the case of guitars, this would be the recording right off the preamp. Especially in the case of pure sounds like acoustic instruments, vocals, electric guitars, and synths without effects, this is the most flexible starting point that is most true to the original characteristics. We can go a number of different places from here and if it’s a good recording, we will have a richer range of frequencies and dynamics with which to mix.
Wet/Processed Samples – These samples have both the characteristic of the source sound generator as well as any number of effects like distortion, beat repeat, bitcrushing, chorus, flange, delay, etc. and possibly VCA type envelope applied. Sometimes these can be just as flexible and robust as dry/unprocessed samples, but they rarely sound ideally representative of familiar sounds and instruments. There is usually less room to play when dealing with wet samples, but that becomes less true when dealing with short one-shots which do not have as much weight in setting the tone for the rest of the mix because they usually don’t demand as much listener attention. You can get hi-hat and snare substitute sounds from anywhere as long as the tails are short, because these sounds usually come from a smaller frequency range to begin with.
Short Decay – These are probably the most forgiving when it comes to collecting a particular type of sample without regard for where they come from or if you’ll ever use them, as if they were so many useless pogs (I’m that old) because these type of samples can be used to layer at any volume, to add texture and variation to an existing loop or beat, which allows you to really have a lot of nuance and not compete so much with the mix or demand more attention than necessary to add to the sense of variation. Then just EQ that one track to fit in the mix. They also use less sample memory when dealing with hardware samplers. Sometimes a subtle hi-hat type line that’s barely audible, in the right audible frequency range is good for getting more subtle mechanical industrial/textures into a beat, which has definitely become more of a multi-genre technique in the past 10 years or so as more people borrow these types of sounds from industrial music. Also, you can easily turn the right short decay sample into a long decay sample with the right reverb or delay.
Long Decay – Either these are long unbroken tones, sounds with long envelopes that ultimately control either the VCF and/or VCA, or a long ringing sound like a bell, piano or guitar string, or cymbal. Ideally because these are expensive in hardware samplers, they would be at least rich with overtone info and have some changes over time that are more complex than your standard reverb or delay, but sometimes you just can’t get THAT reverb or delay.
EQ range – I have never taken to flat-out organizing my sounds by their dominant EQ range, but I wish there was a way to do this in some kind of meta browser. Most of what makes samples play nice is how little they compete with each other. Again with the raw samples, the most naturally complementary samples will usually produce the most dynamic and rich mixes,and the key to understanding that is thinking about where the sample sits in your mix without applying any EQ.
Sampling a single instrument
One of the best sources of clean samples, legality-wise and fidelity-wise, is a single pure untainted sound source. This could be anything from an acoustic instrument like a drum or guitar or a single laboratory oscillator from the 60s, or a module or patch on your modular system of choice. These are a great place to establish an arsenal of unique samples that you can use at any time and unless you make it available as a sample pack, you will be the only person with those particular hits or loops from that instrument. Sometimes a singular hit on an analog drum machine has a special something that 999 hits in 1000 won’t have. This is why sometimes samples work for a groove where the actual sound source won’t work because it can’t reliably capture the best parts of a sound consistently. Just as every time you strike a drum it usually sounds a little different each time, the same is usually true of more charismatic electronic instruments. Obviously the infinite list of possibilities of instruments, mics, preamps, effects, and any combination of the lot is too broad for this post.
My general loafing and lollygagging PC is my studio rig. This section might require more discipline at a later date if I start binge watching on my actual TV, but because all audio is routed through my digital mixer chain, I can and often do easily back up and sample any cool phrase or sound from any YouTube TV show, or movie I’m currently consuming. These are often those “The System Is Down” type clips that Strong Bad was talking about many years ago.
Sampling from old $1 records is one of the best ways to add real lo-fi charm to your productions. Every record has a different journey, acquires different signs of aging and they all sound unique as a result. Crate digging has it’s roots in hiphop, but you can pull samples from a variety of records, musical and non-musical, for a number of uses. Sometimes it’s fun just to run them through a filter and then into long-tail effects like delays and reverbs to create a less identifiable wash of sound that still has a certain well aged organic charm which is great for soundscapes and beds.