#1 So you have 800+ drum samples you downloaded from some site and your ready to make a track. Here is a few questions to ask yourself when using samples of any type.
Do you know how they were recorded? Did the producer use signal processors to get more oomph/clarity from the samples or were they recorded without effects (dry). If they are already processed and then you add more eq, compression, etc. you could be (and I am betting you are) taking the life out of the original sound you liked in the beginning. What bit rate are the samples? Are the samples recorded in mono or stereo?
Are they legal to use? It may sound silly but the laws on sample use are still very confusing and people are under the assumption that using a “one hit” sample is ok to use. Well, it’s not and if your caught you could be in some legal trouble. It’s doubtful you will get sued, but cease and desist orders means you have to take down the song(s) on all internet sites they are on. All this time you promoted a song(s) that are now gone and your back to square one.
Where did they come from? Sure the website said the files are all 44.1/16 bit .wav files, but are they really? You have no idea how many people have uploaded and downloaded the file to one another and how many times it has been .zip/.rar or even converted/changed in some way without you knowing.
The best alternative? It sounds cliche but you have to buy your samples so you get the 1st generation of samples, you will know how they are produced, and you will know if they are legal to use or if you need to submit material to the production co. (some production companies do not allow for commercial use) or if the samples are royalty free (free to use in any way except to sell as a sample).
#2 Now ask yourself, “Do I really need 500+ kicks/snares/hi/hats/etc.”? Although it may be tempting to have every sample imaginable your doing yourself more injustice then anything. You will be spending days trying to find the right kick or snare for a song going through all of those samples. Your best bet is to do these 2 things to help save you time and energy in the future, as well as help your productions a lot.
(1) Learn how to sculpt drum sounds so you understand more on how each sound works (thump of the kick, snap of the snare, hiss of the hi hats, etc.). This way you can start making your own sounds that are in your head instead of searching for one that sounds right.
(2) Narrow your drum samples to around 25 or less of each type of sample (i.e. 25 kick samples, 25 snare samples, 25 open hi hat samples, 25 crash samples, etc.). Make sure that each one is very different then the other so you have a full rounded amount. From here you can sculpt those samples to sound more like what you want or keep them as is.
Doing those 2 acts will help your production time and quality in numerous ways as well as helping you use newly acquired programs/synths/vsti’s that deal with sculpting drums & percussion.
#3 Using samples is a basic foundation for an EDM producer but there is a problem with using them as an instrument that plays over an octave range or more. A sample will stay “in tune” with what note they are in for only so many semi-tones. Then the higher/lower you go the more the pitch of the sample slips away from the note played.
I.E. You are playing a guitar sampled in C5 (C note 5th octave). When you play C5 it is perfectly on that pitch, now go up to F5 or down to F4 and the sound/sample is no longer in that pitch (F5 or F4).
With that problem if you played the sample with other instruments you will hear the sample go off pitch the higher or lower it plays form the root note making your song sound odd in certain areas. One way to fix this is to record the sample in each individual note that is used and then *pitch correcting each sample to fit that note. It may be a long process but it is a great way to hone your skills.
*When I say pitch correcting I do -not- mean melodyne, auto tune, pitcher, etc.. Although those programs have their strengths it is better to just use the DAW’s sample players pitch/fine pitch so you do not get any “artifacts” from the pitch correcting programs.
BTW: You may decide that you like the off pitch sound in your song due to this effect. If you do and enough people agree then use it! Keeping or making samples slightly off pitch has helped shape many genres like Jungle, Trip Hop, Dub, and more.
#4 When recording analog sound (vocal, guitar, drums, percussion, etc.). This process ranges with the knowledge of the engineer/producer (the 2 are interweaving now). Your best bet is to stay within your range of knowledge when making a recording your using in a project but experiment whenever you can and have the time so you can expand your horizons with your vst’s and outboard gear. The less you know about recording the less you should do when recording. Just make sure the loudest parts of the recorded audio signal does not exceed 0 dB but the sound recorded comes as close as possible to 0dB, it is fine if there is some spacing in dB with the lowest and loudest parts of the sound. If you go over 0dB in digital recording you get “artifact’s” that make the sound abnormal and usually not useable. The great thing with analog recording is you can push the sound past 0dB to get warmth and distortion out of it.. but thats another thing all together. The more you now about recording the more gear you will add like pre amps (vocal, guitar, etc.) and have presets on your daw/vst’s (Eq, Compression, Filters) so you can get as much out of the audio signal recorded as possible so you have less to do later.
#5 Once you have recorded the audio or you already have the sample(s) you may then need to tweak the sound to fit in the mix by using equalisation. This is also a process that ranges with knowledge. In a quick nutshell you are making each sound fit together with one another via frequencies and spatiality (reverb and stereo/mono panning). For bass Sounds you will cut out unneeded very low freq’s (0-30 to 40 hz) and higher freq’s (8 Khz +) that aren’t needed. With Mid/Higher sounds you will cut out low freq’s (150 hz + ) and maybe enhance mid/high qualities of each sound. Each sound has it’s own freq’s to enhance -if- needed. Compression, reverb, stereo spacing, mono spacing, exciters, and other signal processors also play a hand in sculpting sounds. I will get into those individually later.
#6 If the sample you are using has “artifacts” (extra sound like background noise, crackle, etc. you do not want in the sound file) at the -end- of the sample and it is a 1 shot sample like a Kick drum, snare, perc, etc. you can use your DAW’s sample player’s editor to take out the artifact quickly. Use the ADSR controls (Attack, Sustain, Decay, Release) and turn the release and sustain all the way to 0 and then move the decay around until your sample player is just playing the part of the sample you want and editing out the artifact at the end of the sample. This is also a good way to tighten up open hi hats so they close on time when the closed hi hat’s are playing.
#7 If you are not sure your sample(s) are in mono, drag the audio file in your DAW to an empty track so you can see the audio file. If you see 2 files then your sample is in stereo. If you see only 1 audio file then your sample is in mono.
#8 Now that you know your sample is in stereo but you want it in mono what can you do? There is various ways to do this. Some DAWS have an option to convert a stereo file to mono in their sample players. Look into your DAWs online info/manual to see how to do this, all DAWs have different ways of doing this. Some vst plug ins also have a stereo to mono converter. Fl studio has “Fruity Stereo Shaper” and Ableton Live 8 has “Utility” to name a few. Some 3rd party sample editors also convert stereo samples to mono, Audacity is a free program that works well for this. Now you have no reason to use stereo samples when you should be using mono for more clarity.
#9 I know that stereo samples/synths can sound very cool with their spacial feel but try these tricks.
(1) When using a mono one-shot sample of drums or percs you get more accurate placement when panning the sound. Add a mono delay and or a mono reverb to keep the sound in its own space. This gives more room for other mono sounds to be added and panned around to keep the overall song balanced. This works great for panning a sound around for movement.
(2) Try using 3 versions of the same mono sample/synth and pan 2 of them differently Left and Right. Try small amounts and then full panning to see how much space you can really get from the sample/synth. Make sure they are panned equally left to right (if one mono sample/synth is panned 50%-100% to the right then the other mono sample/synth should be panned 50%-100% to the left of the stereo field) now take either side and speed it up or slow it down by 1-25 ms, whatever fits your mix the best and keep the 3rd version dead center. This will make the overall sound HUGE and wide.