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Initially made popular in the late 1970s and ’80s, sampling has changed the face of modern music. By chopping and changing old music, instrumental recordings and ambient sounds, musical masterpieces can be produced with just a laptop and a creative mind.
While the method has been around for several decades, music sampling has changed through time, from the days when it was predominantly reserved for the soul and blues genres, to the contemporary electronic and dance sounds of today.
A sampler is a piece of music technology that stores a multitude of recordings – or ‘samples’ – allowing producers to splice, overlap and blend them into brand new music. It’s possible to buy pre-made sample instrumental packs, though the recordings are usually quite generic for each instrument and lack the unique sounds that can be achieved by creating custom samples. When creating your own sampler instruments, you can manipulate and edit single recordings of instruments or sounds to produce a whole suite of new samples.
If you’re experimenting with sampling and are after some tips on how to create some fantastic custom samples, here are a few techniques to try:
Using a sampler, you can take a single audio sample and alter its speed to change the pitch and create a whole new range of notes. Speed it up to achieve a higher note; slow it down to get a deeper note.
You can do this by loading the sample onto what is known as a ‘zone’ – a location on the sampler where the sample can be mapped across a keyboard for editing. On this keyboard you will find a ‘root key’ that will play the sample exactly as it was recorded, as well as other trigger keys that play it at altered speeds to change the pitch.
While this is a great technique for creating new notes, when you edit tempo it also changes the length of a sample – the higher the pitch the shorter it will be and the deeper the note the more drawn out it will become. In this case, a process called ‘granulation’ can be used that decouple the pitch and playback speed, to avoid the duration of a note being affected.
Multi-sampling is really valuable technique for achieving a more authentic sound – the higher number of variations of an instrument or sound you have, the more natural it will sound.
Multi-sampling involves uploading numerous audio samples of an instrument being played at varying articulations and velocities. This can be done by recording all possible musical combinations of note, articulation and velocity, though this is incredibly time consuming. Instead, many choose to select a just a few of these combinations to edit with pitch-shifting and volume to mimic the remaining combinations.
There are two different types of audio samples: ‘one-shots’ that play just once, regardless of the time you sustain the key trigger, and ‘loops’, which play on repeat to emulate the sound of a sustained note – such as the prolonged sound of a wind instrument.
Looping can be done in a couple of different ways, either by using the entire sample or just a section of it. The method is to repeat of the audio samples from the beginning over and over again until the key trigger is released. Another involves playing the sample forwards and backwards in a back-and-forth motion.
A cross-fade function can be implemented to avoid any disjointed sounds or breaks that could occur during looping.
For truly unique results, you can try stacking audio samples on top of one another to create a blend of sounds. This is known as layering.
Combining bold percussion beats with the airy notes of a wind instrument, for example, could result in an entirely foreign-sounding sample.
Rather than using samples of different instruments, try layering duplicate versions of a single sample played at different pitches. This technique adds fantastic depth to a sound.
So now you know a bit more about the basic techniques of creating custom samples, it’s time to let your creatives juices flow and get experimenting. The real secret behind sampling is taking advantage of all the new sound possibilities at your fingertips, so get looping, layering and mixing until you find the sounds you’re after.