How To Record and Create Your Own Sample Library

sample library

For musicians, buying gear can become somewhat of an addiction! That’s why a sample library is a staple tool for all producers today. There’s so much out there it can be overwhelming.

From gorgeous orchestral libraries that sound as though you were right there in the audience, listening to a real orchestra, to abstract percussion sounds.

But, what if you could create your own libraries? Completely customized to your interests – for no cost at all (except maybe a microphone?)

Sound interesting? Let’s find out how.

Let Your Imagination Run Wild:

You can record audio of anything you’re interested in – get creative, because the possibilities are limitless!

There are some great examples of seriously innovative artists, creating masterpieces out of seemingly ordinary sounds.

If you’re interested to investigate this further – check out ‘Ultimate Care II’ by experimental IDM duo ‘Matmos’. These geniuses created an entire beat driven album out of a washing machine. Yes, a washing machine.

Another more obscure album, is the break-core masterpiece ‘Nymphomatriarch’, a collaboration between artists ‘Venetian Snares’ and ‘Hecate’. The entire album consists entirely of recordings and samples of their own, uh, intimate encounters!

Is this giving you any ideas yet?

The point of these examples is to demonstrate that you are certainly not limited to recording conventional musical instruments at all.

However, it does need to be said, that you can definitely get creative with musical instruments in many ways. For example, extended techniques are fairly uncommon in many standard sample libraries.

You may want a piano sample library, where rather than the actual keys being played, the strings themselves are plucked. Or perhaps, rather than bowing the strings on a violin, you’d like to create a library from bowing the bridge or the tailpiece!

You could record sounds found in nature, sounds from around the house, or maybe you’d like a vocal library – featuring your own voice!

You can even rip samples from old vinyl recordings. Using your DAW of choice and an inexpensive USB turntable, you can simply rip the vinyl recording to a digital file format and away you go.

Odesza constantly does this throughout their recording practice. You can see it in action in the video below:

Get Yourself A Suitable Mic For the Job

What microphone you use to record your samples is going to be extremely dependent on the type of material you’re recording.

For capturing field recordings – both natural and human-produced sounds, various microphones will do the job.

The Zoom H4N is a very popular microphone and has a fantastically wide range of applications.  Additionally, it is incredibly affordable.

This is a multi-purpose, portable recorder containing two unidirectional microphones, with an SD card slot and both USB and battery power!

For in-studio recording sessions, this really comes down to personal preference and your own unique goals. The two main types you’ll come across are dynamic and condenser microphones.

The main factors to take into account will be the sensitivity, self-noise, and polar pattern of the microphone. Additional features to consider include USB capability.

Generally, a dynamic microphone will be more affordable. They’re typically capable of handling extremely high sound levels and lower self-noise. So, if you’re working with highly dynamic material, this will be a fantastic choice!

What about for the more experimental sound design ventures? The perfect tool for the job will be a contact microphone.

These microphones are designed to directly capture vibrating objects themselves, rather than capturing sound waves in the air.

You’ll be able to record all kinds of surface vibrations – heartbeats, random bangs and clangs, hits and whirs – anything that has a surface which vibrates is able to be recorded with a contact microphone.

Tweak It To Perfection:

A keynote when building your sample library is organized. You can learn this the easy way or the hard way!

It’s excellent practice to sort your samples according to certain characteristics. For example, if you are working with pitched material – you’ll need to sort everything according to a scale.

If you’ve collected percussive samples, organize these according to dynamics; from softest to loudest.

If you are working with more abstract material, such as field recordings, or more noise based sounds – formulate a method of categorizing this material that works best for you.

It’s so tempting to leave your samples unsorted and hope for the best, but it’s a guarantee for frustration and leads to further poor working habits in the future.

Once you have your samples saved onto your computer, you can get even more specific and tailor them exactly how you like them.

Perhaps you want to bring out certain tonal characteristics in your samples. Applying some EQ, maybe some compression can really make your library sparkle!

Load ‘Em Up In Your Favorite Sampler:

Once you’ve recorded the samples to be included in your library, it’s time to transfer them to a computer and get them loaded up in your sampler.

Once they’re in there, that’s when the realms of possibility begin to open up!

Most hardware and software samplers have common threads between them, in terms of controls and parameters for manipulation. Volume, sample loop, pitch control – all of these will be at your disposal once you’ve loaded your sounds into a sampler.

An excellent sampler which many producers are already well familiarized with is Native Instruments’ powerful engine ‘Kontakt’.

Creating your own libraries within this unit will be incredibly rewarding, but it does take a little extra tinkering to get it functioning. You’ll need some knowledge of writing scripts (there are tutorials of this online) and using the back end of Kontakt.

The fantastic thing about samplers is their flexibility and user control. You can map certain parameters to different samples within your library. Assuming control over each and every sample, independent of each other is the beauty of using samplers!

The next step is performing synthesis on your samples. You can add filters or modulation – such as an LFO routed to your filter. You can manipulate and stretch the material; truly, there’s a whole world of potential within one sample library.

Creating your own sample library can be a very rewarding experience. To capture something completely unique and personalized to use in your own productions is admirable and worthy of respect as a composer.

There isn’t much of a learning curve and you can get started with very few resources; a recording device and a sampler are all you need!

About Glen Parry

Glen Parry is a veteran producer who's done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. Find more of his production advice at AudioMastered.com

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