In the video below Christian, from the renowned sample library company Spitfire Audio, supervises a tracking session for a Chinese Moon Guitar and takes you through the steps involved when they make sample libraries. Below the video you’ll find a summary of what he’s showing you.
Get a mic to make sample libraries.
If you ask someone what you need to start making beats, then you’ll hear the usual things: A computer, an audio interface, some headphones, maybe a midi controller and a DAW like Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, GarageBand, etc. Next on the list are usually VSTs, presets and sample libraries. But in the above video it’s argued that you should choose a microphone first, so you can make sounds of your own before use any others. Like that, you will able to make sample libraries of sounds that are uniquely you!
Thanks to sampling we can play any instrument via a keyboard or drum pads and make it a tool in our arsenal. Even if you feel your track needs an exotic instrument like the chinese moon guitar, you can be sure you can put down a dope melody just like you would with your go-to piano preset. No need to take costly lessons when inspiration strikes!
First of all get at least a half decent mic, and sample something in your house or studio. If theres nothing to sample , head down to your local charity store. Pick up something you can’t play and have a go at sampling it, because once you’ve done this, you will immediately own an instrument no one else on the planet does.
Tracking the instrument
Before placing a mic in front of an instrument use your ears. Kneel down (if appropriate) and place your ears where you think the microphone should go. Lsisten to your gut feeling where you need to place the mic. I know it’s easy to just Google where to place a mic for a guitar, but the person telling you how is not recording the guitar you’re recording, doesn’t know what sound you’re after, and isn’t in the same room as you and the player. Simply place a mic that gets the best sound, not the cleanest signal.
Encourage the player to try and make every note different. Advise using different fingers, parts of fingers, moving around their whole body, their seating stance, just as she or he would during a performance.
If you’re a novice and don’t want to go down the advanced round robin route (lots of the same notes to avoid machine gunning), err instead on lots of dynamic layers (we find soft, mid, loud is a good starter. If you want more? Go softer before louder!). If you can only be arsed with one, go with the quietest!
Don’t be afraid of capturing a little bit of room¦ this is what makes the instrument sound real. And concentrate on the lower dynamic layers, especially the ones on the edge of silence¦. This is where the magic happens.
A little post production goes long way
It’s good practice to to roll back a bit of the room tone from your recordings, because when you play more than one note on your sampler, you’ll not only double the number of notes (which is what you want to do) but also the amount of room tone and noise (which you don’t want to do). There’s really no excuse these days for not spending some time on this, because modern noise reduction software is inexpensive and very easy to use. For software we recommend iZotope RX Elements $150 as it will have all the features you need to get started and be happy with for a long time to come.
Once you’ve recorded the obvious articulations (ways of playing the instruments), try to come up with some alternate ways you can play the instrument for some suprising diversity in your sample pack. If you record a plucked instrument, can you use a bow to play it? If it’s a drum set, can you play it with brushes?
Once you have all the recordings in the box, keep everything super organised. If you take shortcuts here, you will pay with quadruple time in the future.
- When editing by all means cut into the first transient of a note, but then nudge back by a fixed amount for every sample (here we nudged back 500ms) This will mean you can adjust the global (and individual) trigger points within the sampler without having to go back to your multi tracks.
- Be meticulous with naming the individual samples. A poorly titled set of samples will keep you awake at night.
- When assigning regions to groups and determining velocity layers, don’t make 0-90 too detailed. We naturally play more dynamically above 90, so making this as detailed as can be.
Now comes the detailing, often this will make the difference between and average and an excellent virtual instrument.
- Adjust your sample start points and ADSR so you find a balance between playability, responsiveness and reality.
- Sometimes the tightest triggered samples will not sound realistic, but if you pull the start point of each sample back too far, it can be unplayable.
- Don’t be afraid to add reverb to your new personal sample instrument, in order to glue everything together and make it a believable entity, or indeed to show your partner or spouse why they haven’t seen you all day!
When we say get this doesn’t mean buy, or rob a bank for, or take a loan out for. The process of making music can be a linear and structured one. If you’re planning on making a set of instruments, samples, a palette of sounds for a project, set time aside to do just that. Borrow the mic, the mic-pre, the instruments. Don’t worry about building a mic cupboard just yet, we work in the box, don’t let a box of mics bankrupt you, only to sit in their box gathering dust.