Daft punk. Dr. Dre. Run the Jewels. What do they all have in common? They're all producers that know the right way to use samples in their music.
These days samples have become a crucial element in modern music production. With the advent of technology, it's now easier than ever to use samples to create unique sounds and add texture to a track. In this article, we'll explore how to use samples effectively by discussing various techniques like gain staging normalized samples, tuning samples, and adjusting the tempo of samples.
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Gain Staging Normalized Samples
The first step in using samples effectively is to ensure that they are gain staged correctly. Just about every sample in every commercial library is "normalized."
Normalizing a sample involves increasing its volume level to the maximum possible without clipping. That makes it easy to evaluate samples against each other or drop them into an MPC for live performance... but it's not great for producers at home studios.
Well it's crucial to adjust their gain level so that they fit into the mix correctly. Think about it this way: every every sample in your track is already as loud as possible, there will be no headroom to do anything. Just playing two samples simultaneously will result in clipping. If you want to do add some reverb or saturation, you're toast.
On top of that, if you put normalized samples into vintage emulating plugins, you will likely end up getting terrible results, because they will be clipping and start to apply compression/distortion/mojo.
Gain staging is the process of setting the levels of each track in a mix so that they are balanced and not clipping. This process involves using the gain control to increase or decrease the level of each sample until it sits comfortably in the mix. I recommend that you use the free plugin VU Meter from TB Audio and lower the gain on each sample until it's hitting zero on the meter. That should give you plenty of headroom for a great mix.
3 Tips for Using Samples in Your Music
Another essential aspect of using samples effectively is tuning them to the key of the track. Most samples are recorded in a specific key, and if they don't match the key of the track, they can sound out of place. Tuning samples involves adjusting their pitch to match the key of the track.
In most DAWs, tuning samples is done by using the pitch shift feature. By selecting the sample and adjusting the pitch correction setting, you can change the pitch of the sample to match the key of the track.
Once the samples are tuned correctly, they will sound more harmonious with the other elements in the track, resulting in a more cohesive sound.
Or you can experiment creatively with tuning. De-tuning a sample by four or five semitones can radically change the vibe of a sample, making it dark and edgy or vibrant and fun. Experiment!
Adjusting the Tempo of Samples
Finally, adjusting the tempo of samples is another crucial aspect of using them effectively. Most samples are recorded at a specific tempo, and if they don't match the tempo of the track, they can sound out of sync. Adjusting the tempo of samples involves stretching or compressing them to match the tempo of the track.
In most DAWs, adjusting the tempo of samples is done using time-stretching. By selecting the sample and adjusting the time-stretching or pitch-shifting setting, you can change the tempo of the sample to match the tempo of the track. Once the samples are adjusted correctly, they will sound more in sync with the other elements in the track, resulting in a more polished sound.
However, if you adjust the sample too much beyond its original tempo, you'll start to get artifacts that can sound really unpleasant. Or really good and weird!
If the sample isn't working for you in its new tempo consider looking for a new one (and don't forget that Beat Production has a sale going on).
In conclusion, using samples effectively is an essential aspect of modern music production. By gain staging normalized samples, tuning samples, and adjusting the tempo of samples, you can create unique sounds and add texture to your tracks. Remember to experiment with different techniques and find what works best for your style of music. With practice, you'll be able to use samples to enhance your tracks and take your music production to the next level.
From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!
My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.
My songs have been on Netflix, TV shows like the 90 Day Fiance, an award-winning indie film, and NPR’s “All Thing Considered.” They've also been streamed millions of times.
In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.
Thousands of musicians, like yourself, have trusted me to guide their musical journey. My YouTube videos have been watched nearly a million times. And my story has been in Forbes, Side Hustle Nation, and the Side Hustle School.