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Sampling in Pro Tools
Tips and Tricks
Creating Your Own Sample Library With Pro Tools
NOTE: Don’t forget about the FREE SAMPLE LIBRARY DOWNLOAD at the bottom of the article
No matter what music “genre” you are into, chances are you will at some point need to use Samples to augment your music production. Music producers & creators have for years depended on pre-recorded audio files (Samples) to add enhancement, reproduction, and replacement in order to fulfill their musical creativity. Sometimes this is due to the lack of that particular instrument/musician being available, or to simply replace the existing sounds with ones that are more appropriate for the song. Regardless of why Samples are utilized, there are several different way to acquire and organize your audio files in Pro Tools. Let’s take a look at some of the most common workflows utilized in music production. Also, don’t forget about the FREE DOWNLOAD at the bottom of the article. We have included a Multi-Track Drum library for your production pleasure.
What is a “Sample”? Before you try answering this paradox, just know it has multiple meanings based on context and usage. For our purposes we will defer to trusty Wikipedia and define a sample as: “In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.” We’ll focus on utilizing audio files for the purpose of constructing music. I won’t be treading into the murky waters of using a recognizable snippet of someone else’s song, too much headache for all of us, trust me. With a little forethought you’ll never have to worry about such matters and you can focus on creative output.
Let’s start with the most obvious way to get your hands on some samples: buy them. There are a multitude of companies you can legally purchase sample libraries in every style of music, instrument, voice, and sound fx. Here’s a list of some long running companies to consider:
All of these places (and more) provide fully licensed, legal, audio file samples of everything type of sound you can imagine. From individual instruments, to full loops, “construction kits” that give you all the individual tracks of a song, as well as sound fx libraries for Post-Production. Most people overlook the huge amount of sampled audio that is utilized when a movie or tv show is put together. Most, if not all, of the sounds you hear are often samples. There are times when location audio is utilized, however, what if you need to put in “footstep” sounds for a indie movie you’re working on, where the location audio did not capture any footsteps. How are you gonna make that happen? Also being as fast, efficient, and on-budget as you can be. The few dollars spent can make you look really good in front of a client. Sample libraries are also available for specific formats of DAW and Sampler, such as: .wav files, Apple Loops, Acid Files, REX Files, Akai Format, FL Studio, Kurzweil Format, NI Kontakt Player, Logic EXS24, Battery, Refill, Soundminer, Ableton Live, MIDI Files, good google-moogly my head is spinning.
Whether it’s for Post-Production or music purposes, there is another way to get your hands on samples: RECORD THEM! Yes, the tried and true method of plugging a microphone into a pre-amp and pressing Record (the big red button) on a tape machine (hard drive) never fails to make sound happen. Be part of a fad that’s sweeping the nation, record your own samples so you can use them later. Let’s suppose I have an idea for a song but am not happy with any of the drum sound from my soft-synth drum machine. I do have a friend with a snare drum, I have a microphone and a pre-amp, I think you know where I’m going with this.
DW Neil Peart “Snakes and Arrows” Snare, Sennheiser 441, Audix D6
The simple act of recording yourself striking a snare drum turns you into “Mega-Sampletron 5000”. With today’s technology, you can even use your smartphone to record audio which you can then transfer to a DAW.
Recording a Snare Drum
There are an infinite number of things you work with like this, for example hand claps. I have worked sessions where the “producer” spent hours trying to find a “clap” sound on a synth or virtual instrument, all the while complaining about how “it doesn’t sound real”. I casually gather everyone in the studio, have them stand around a microphone, stare them dead in the eye, and ask them to clap in time with the song. Problem solved, we got a great “hand clap” sound and all it took was a few minutes.
Another way you might consider “Sampling” is to hire/convince a drummer to play parts while you record. If you have a friend who is a drummer, ask them to come over to jam out for a few hours while you record them. Order some pizza, have some fun.
Sample Editing & Organization in Pro Tools
Now that you have acquired some new audio material, it’s time to start editing and organizing the information. Luckily, since you’ve recorded your audio in Pro Tools, you have the ability to process and alter the audio by adding processing such as EQ or Dynamics to make sure you’re designing the sounds to be exactly what you want. Back in the day, people wouldn’t really use too much processing since that would be reserved for the “Mix” stages of production. Regardless of any additional processing, you will no doubt have to edit and fine tune your samples.
Make sure to edit your samples before exporting
In the case of working with drums, it’s ideal to edit the audio file to make sure you don’t have any unwanted silence at the beginning or end of the sample. In the example above, I’ve selected from the beginning of the snare transient and selected long enough to make sure any ringing of decay is still present. Once you have your selection, you want to choose “Separate Clip At Selection” (Command + E / CNTRL + E) from the Edit Menu. This will separate your selection from the rest of the audio file as well as create a new sub-clip in the Clip List as seen in the pic below. Before you do anything else, make sure to “Rename” the audio clip. Naming and organization of your samples is the only way to keep track of everything you have going on, especially after several years of doing this type of thing. Right-Click on the audio clip and choose “Rename”
Rename Clip by Right-Clicking
Rename Clip dialogue window
The “Name Clip” dialogue window will appear allowing you to rename the audio clip something that make sense to you. In the example above, I’ve chosen to identify type (Ludwig), Instrument (SNR), Impact Velocity (Med), FX Status (Dry). This is just one example that works for me, there are no hard and fast rules regarding how you name your files as long as you are comfortable with file management & organization.
The newly named audio clip, easy to identify & locate
There are no limitations when it comes to designing your own sounds, however, there is a reason every sampler, going back to the hardware of the 80’s & 90’s gives you the ability to add fade in/out to the samples. A simple reason for this is to allow clean-up of the beginning or end of the audio file so there are no unnecessary clicks or pops in the audio.
Fade-out applied to end of audio files before export
Now that you have done all the necessary editing, it’s a good idea to export, or bounce, this new sample as it’s own audio file. Remember, any edits or processing you do in a Pro Tools session only applies to that particular session. If you wish to use the “sound” in any other context, or application, you’ll need to create a new audio file. This does bring us to a decision, whether to “Bounce” the audio file, or to simply “Export”? The answer depends on whether or not you are applying any type of processing (plug-ins such as eq, dynamics) or not. If you apply any plug-in inserts on the audio track to “process” the audio, it is best to utilized the “Bounce To Disk” feature, just as if you were bouncing a 2-track mix. This will ensure that any changes made to tone or dynamics are printed to a new audio file created on your hard drive. If you are not applying any kind of plug-in processing, you can more effectively use the “Export Clip As File” feature from the Clip Menu.
Make sure to select the file, or files, you want to Export
An example of whether to use “Bounce To Disk” instead of “Export Clips as Files” is when you’re mixing drum loops. Remember your friend the drummer you had pizza with? Once you have edited his performances into loops, you’ll have to “Bounce” in order to print all those audio tracks into a stereo loop.
Once we move beyond the act of creating new samples, it is a very good idea to stay as organized as possible. It is very likely you will have hundreds or thousands of different files, making sure you can easily access them becomes critical. You can’t use what you can’t find.
Pro Tools has built-in functionality via the Workspace window that allows you to organize your files, create catalogs, and access information from multiple hard drives at once, all in one place. Some of the capabilities of the Workspace include: navigate and access all of your current hard drives attached to your computer, audition & preview audio files, import media into a session, as well as allow you to create your own unique “Catalog” of information.
Window Menu → New Workspace
Workspace Window - Right-Click on “Catalogs” to create your own catalog. Repeat as necessary
Once you have a new Workspace window open, you can create your own Catalog by right-clicking on “Catalogs” in the left-hand column. Make sure to give it a name.
The purpose of these catalogs is to allow you to organize files necessary to your workflow regardless of where they might live on a hard drive.
Drag & drop files into their respective catalog location
Create catalogs, add sounds over time, build your library
The true advantage to using Catalogs is that it is independent of you hard drive file management. Like many people, I have a particular hard drive that I use to store samples of any kind. More than likely, the file and folder arrangement on the drive is not exactly what I want in terms of organization. Furthermore, I might not have a need to reference every single file that is part of a bigger library. Often times you’ll find yourself requiring sample from several different sources, which is why Catalogs make so much sense for production. They give you access to your files without having to constantly dig around your computer to find them.
Although there are many different ways to look at “Sampling”, I hope you can see there is a lot you can do to create your own sample library that is just as unique as you are. The wonderful thing about music is that it has no boundaries, and thus there are no boundaries in the creative process of making music. Your audience might never understand why you’re in the backyard at 1am pounding on a trash can while your hippie friend holds a microphone. It’s ok, they understand music, and will understand it’s a kick-drum once they hear it coming out of their speakers. Remember, you can apply any of these techniques to sampling all things, whether it’s drums/percussion, synth sounds, nature, etc… I’ve known quite a few people that sampled every single note of a Grand Piano to create their own library.
Mihai BoloniCreative Director & Avid Expert Pro Tools instructor
Mihai has made it his life's work to help others in the audio industry. Mihai gained experience as an audio engineering Full Sail Instructor in early 2000's and joined ProMedia in 2002. Since then, he has become one of Avid's Top Leading and most experienced, in-demand Instructor and Pro Tools technical consultant. Corporate clients include MTV, PBS, NBC, Telemundo, The Voice's Chief Engineer Mike Bernard, Atlanta Public School System, countless professors from leading Universities, CNN, Turner Broadcasting, and the top producers, artists, and engineers in leading studios and record labels. For over 20 years, Mihai has continued to work as an Audio Engineer, Record Producer, Songwriter (ASCAP), Dog Lover, and Expert Level AVID Certified Pro Tools Instructor.
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