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Basic Beatmaking: Sampling for Beginners


Basic Beatmaking: Sampling for Beginners  · 

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Novation

We’re looking at sampling for beginners and discussing ways to use samples in your music production workflow with your current setup.

Sampling for Beginners

From the Beatles to the Beastie Boys, sampling has been an intrinsic part of recorded music history. While many of us love to explore the history of old samplers and the artists who use them, others seek more practical know-how to use sampling in their creative process.

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Whether you’re looking to make Hip-Hop, House, or Industrial music, sampling is a way of bringing unique sounds into your songs. Furthermore, it can help you stand out as an artist, from the endless sea of music released on streaming platforms each week.

How to start Sampling from Records

Decades after albums like Paul’s Boutique were created, we are still fascinated with the concept of recontextualizing old recordings and putting our own spin on them. The only question is, how does one get started?

Brian Eno Turntable II
Brian Eno Turntable II · Source: Paul Stolper

In the past, our favourite producers have always been record collectors and DJs in many cases too. However, putting together a vinyl sampling setup and crate digging on Discogs can become an endless spending trap.

As a complete beginner, you can start by simply creating playlists of your favourite songs. Then by listening actively, you can start training your ears to recognize drum breaks, solo string parts, or vocal acapella sections within song arrangements.

Furthermore, an increasing number of DAWs have stem separation features built in. This allows you to analyze a section of a song, isolate the drums, vocals, or instruments, and use these sounds in your music.

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Working with Digital Audio

There are many songs available, even chart hits, that contain samples cut directly off YouTube. While this may be the most spontaneous and convenient way to grab samples, you certainly aren’t getting the best audio quality.

Togu Audio Line TAL-DAC
The TAL-DAC plug-in emulates classic digital converters. · Source: Togu Audio Line

If you’re sampling from any digital audio file, you want to ensure you’re working with an uncompressed audio format. This includes ALAC, FLAC, WAV, and AIFF. Moreover, remember to only work with files with CD quality (44.1 kHz 16-bit) sample rate and bit depth or greater.

Unless you rip your music from physical mediums such as vinyl, cassette, or CD, the only way to acquire it is by purchasing it online. Although this might not have the same level of nostalgia, purchased downloads are cheaper and save you from having to rip them into your DAW.

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Matching Sample Loops to your Project tempo

So you’ve found and isolated a sample or loop, but you don’t want to use it at its original tempo? Well, many DAW systems like Ableton Live, for example, have high-quality integrated time and pitch engines.

AKAI MPC Stems
AKAI MPC Stems · Source: YouTube / AkaiProVideo

This allows you to drop any sample into your DAW and it will immediately playback at the project’s master tempo. However, there are limits to the BPM range that you can pitch a sample up or down from its original tempo.

Moreover, it’s often DJ software that has more natural-sounding pitch engines than most music production DAWs. With Traktor Pro 3, you have a wide pitch range and you can use the Keylock (Master Tempo) function to preserve the track’s original key.

What’s more, if you’re looking for more specialized pitch tools, Serato’s Pitch ‘N Time is a powerful plug-in for Pro Tools and Logic Pro.

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Working with One-shot Samples

Working chromatically is easily one of the most effective ways of working with samples, and it has been around since the Synclavier (1977). One of the key aspects of digital samplers is the ability to load any sound and play it across the keyboard.

E-mu SP-1200
E-mu SP 1200 · Source: Oscidance

When samplers like the E-mu SP 1200 and the AKAI MPC60 (and S-series) rose to prominence, they became renowned for the level of degradation they imparted onto a sound. Today, we have access to a range of plug-ins that emulate the sound of the converter chips in these fabled samplers and their pitch engines.

Whether you record your own drum hits or use commercial sample libraries, chromatic sampling remains an incredibly precise and intuitive way of making music. Furthermore, there is no limit to where you can source sounds from.

With this method, you can make beats as a crate-digging vinyl purist, from field and foley recordings, or you can even repurpose film sound effects and layer them with your instruments.

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Which Sampler do I use?

Everyone should start with the sampler included with their DAW. Luckily for me, this was the EXS24 that came with Logic Pro until version 10.2.4. However, most DAWs have powerful samplers that will allow you to get going immediately.

Digitakt 2
Elektron Digitakt II · Source: Thomann

If you’re slightly more experienced, there are two reasons to try other hardware and software samplers. The first is the aforementioned Lo-Fi sound character associated with early digital samplers.

This classic sound has become a hallmark in so many styles of music. Therefore, by using plug-ins modelled on legendary samplers we can give our music a more authentic sound.

The other unique aspect of samplers is the workflow. Even a simple sampling groovebox like the Novation Circuit Rhythm offers a mode of creativity that is a welcome alternative to your DAW.

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Basic Beatmaking: Sampling for Beginners

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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