To sample or not to sample – Part 2
In the last post, I looked at the issue of sampling other people’s records and briefly mentioned a couple of the reasons why it can be a potential minefield. I also stated that there is at least a partial alternative in the form of sample libraries, and I am going to go into more detail about that this time around.
If you have taken a look at the sheer number of sample CDs available today, you would undoubtedly have noticed a growing number of more genre- or instrument-specific titles cropping up. In addition to the expected multitudes of “loop” CDs available, there are quite a few that focus on genres that aren’t 4/4 120-something BPM electronic/dance music. Among these are a good selection of disco/funk collections that cover everything from collections of 60s/70s sounding riffs to whole “construction kits.” If you are looking to create something like a classic disco-sample house track, then one of these might well help you out.
Of course, having a more generic groove won’t have the immediately recognizable riff in that a sample from another song would, but you can quite easily create something that has a very similar feel with careful selection of sampled elements. In fact, with the advent of Celemony’s Melodyne DNA technology, you can manipulate audio files with almost as much flexibility as MIDI files (albeit at the cost of a reduction in audio quality if the edits are extreme) so a sampled guitar riff that sounds great, has the right feel, but is major instead of minor no longer presents a problem. Before the advent of Melodyne DNA, there was nothing you could do, but now it would be a relatively simple process to load this sample in, analyze it, and then shift the offending major 3rd notes to their minor 3rd counterparts and then export the new sample to a new audio file ready for use.
This combination of sampled real instrument grooves and audio manipulation technology, along with a good ear and some creative editing, would allow you to get much closer to the sound you were hoping to get and might even go a good way toward recreating a favorite sample. But even if you aren’t trying to recreate a particular sample, just having the groove and feel of real musicians playing real instruments with a (now at least) good amount of editing possibilities will be a lot more helpful and a lot less time consuming than trying to program synth sounds to sound like live instruments. It is possible to get quite close using sampled instrument patches, but it requires a decent amount of knowledge of how the particular instrument is actually played along with a lot of time and effort to program in the subtleties of the performance. In real terms, it is almost totally impractical.
Following on from this, it is also possible to create genetically engineered genres that don’t actually exist in real life or, at least, might be very rare. You could take the majority of parts from a disco groove but add in a live accordion riff. Or take a downtempo groove, speed it up, and add in a Celtic fiddle riff! The possibilities are endless really. While there is very little that is truly “new” in music, there are still a lot of ways that what is already “out there” can be re-combined. I am sure that not everything will work as well as everything else, but there are bound to be some interesting combinations that haven’t been discovered as yet. So when you have the time, maybe dig out the sample collections that you have and start messing around combining different elements together. You never know…it might just be your next hit record!
Simon Langford, author of The Remix Manual is a professional music producer and remixer, with close to ten years of experience. He has worked on over 300 remixes, and has had tracks of his own in the UK National Top 20 Singles Chart and the US Billboard Dance Chart. Simon has remixed artists including Rihanna, Robbie Williams, Sugababes, INXS, and many more. He has written a series of articles for Sound on Sound magazine on remixing.