Five Ways to Make Samples Unique

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Samples are an integral part of modern music production whether they are used as the basis for a track, or as layering tools mixed in with live performances. For a producer to stand out, it is important that their samples are used in interesting ways, and that they have a unique sound associated with their samples.

Saturation/Distortion

A common criticism of stock samples would be that they can sound cold, and are not lively enough. One way of combatting this is the application of saturation and/or distortion to these sounds. For example, if the sample in question is a snare drum, the additional saturation will intensify the transient and ring of the sound, making it seem livelier in the way that an acoustic snare does. Similarly, if a keyboard/Rhodes sample is used, saturation can simulate the amplification of the instrument that would happen in live performance.

Layering

Rather than using isolated samples in a mix, an important tool for producers is layering multiple samples together. If when mixing you like the attack of one kick sample, but also like the low end of a different one, layering both samples together can be very effective. Not only will this create a blend of the characteristics of the two samples, it will lead to a unique sound due to the innovative approach towards samples.

Using Samples Alongside Live Sounds

It is a common misconception for music producers to think that samples can only exist alongside other samples. Samples can seem their most lively when integrated with live instrumentation. A common example of this would be to use an electronic kick drum sample mixed in with an acoustic drum kit. This technique can really make samples unique as they become re-contextualised in an environment not commonly associated with sampled sounds. It is worth mentioning that samples do not have to be isolated in this context. The addition of samples mixed in with acoustic sounds is another great form of layering.

Time-Based Effects

Time-based effects like delays are a great way of adding to samples. Short slapback delays provide samples with a sense of character that they otherwise lack. The short delay time and low number of repeats really help to liven up samples, whether it be drums, keyboards or other instruments. Longer delays can also help create unique sounds using samples. These can be used as rhythmic tools where the delay time and number of repeats sync up to the tempo of the song, or purely for character and ambience by setting the delay time based on personal taste.

Modulation

Phase and flange effects provide interesting ways to give samples unique textures. Applying phase on a hi-hat sample is a creative way of achieving a distinctive sense of movement and interest on an otherwise repetitive and stale sound. Another example of modulation adding texture to samples would be the use of uni-vibe or a rotary effect. These effects work particularly well with keyboard samples, mimicking the sound of a rotary speaker cabinet that provides the instruments with a sense of colour and an idiosyncratic quality.