Music Production The Art of Sampling

Remember These 6 Tips When Sample Layering

Being resourceful and creative with your Samples is sure to yield good results. If you aren't experimenting with Sample Layering, then you should give it a try.

As modern music producers, we have access to a completely mind boggling amount of Samples.

It is reasonable to conclude that, out there somewhere, is the perfect snare and kick for every song you create.

Searching tirelessly and ensuring you have a bottomless stash of sounds is one approach to getting the perfect sound. In this article we will explore another technique: Sample Layering.

Being resourceful and creative with your Samples is sure to yield good results. If you aren’t experimenting with Sample Layering, then you should give it a try.

In music production, Sample layering is the technique of combining two or more audio samples to create a new unique sample.

This is used to tailor the sonic characteristics of an element of a track for a specific purpose within the mix, such as increasing a snares brightness and clarity.

Read on to discover our 6 top tips on Sample Layering.

Contents

  1. Know When To Use Sample Layering
  2. Avoid Unpleasant and Destructive Phasing
  3. Consider The Stereo Field When Making Decisions
  4. Use EQ to separate and Shape Sounds by Frequency
  5. Understand The Anatomy Of What You Are Creating And Blend Distinct Parts To Create Something Unique
  6. Use High Quality Samples


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Know When To Use Sample Layering

It is important to be aware of when Sample Layering is needed and when it is unlikely to produce good results.

One way of finding out is to analyse the frequency spectrum of the sound being considered.

The two images below display the frequency spectrum of two different Snares on Logic’s Channel EQ, the snare pictured first displays a strong and broad range of frequencies resulting in a rich and full bodied sound.

EQ Frequency Spectrum Analyser for a full bodied Snare.
Frequency Spectrum of a ‘Full bodied’ Snare.

The snare pictured second (below) lacks frequency content below 750Hz and dips at 2kHz.

Sample Layering could be used to improve the presence of the snare in these frequency bands by selecting and layering drum samples that are well defined within these regions.

EQ Frequency Spectrum Analyser for a light and crispy Snare.
Frequency Spectrum of a ‘light and crispy’ snare.

This method can be useful and insightful.

However, do not stick to analysing frequency content as a golden rule.

The best tool to use is your own ears and experience, which can be trained up by experimentation and practice.

Remember not to engineer sound by listening in isolation to instruments and parts, the broader context of the mix is extremely important and should be referenced constantly (if not all the time!).

Graph showing approximate frequency profiles of different instruments.
Remember that each subject/instrument has its own characteristic frequency profile, learning these profiles will help when making decisions in Layering Samples.

Download a free copy of this PDF frequency chart at Sweetwater


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Avoid Unpleasant and Destructive Phasing

When Sample Layering, Phasing is your arch enemy and must be understood in order to be combated effectively.

Phase cancellation occurs when the layered samples waveforms are out of phase with one another.

Two signals become out of phase when their waveforms are mirrored (as one traces positive displacement the other is negative during the same time frame).

A graph displaying two Sine waves perfectly 180 degrees out of phase with one another.
Two Sine waves 180 degrees out of phase with one another.

This is known as negative polarity and can result in silence if the displacement is equal in both directions as in the image above.

In order for silence to occur however, the two samples waveforms would have to be identical and opposite.

This does not happen in the real world, instead the sounds amplitude will be affected adversely, giving a far weaker resultant sound.

This phenomenon can completely destroy your efforts of improving your drums.

One way to see if two samples will cause phase cancellation is to use an Oscilloscope, which will display the waveform of a channel and clearly highlight any cancellation happening – check out Blue Cat’s Oscilloscope.

Blue Cat's Oscilloscope
Having a close and detailed look at the waveform you are engineering is an important tool every Producer should be using when working.

You can also zoom in on the waveform of the sounds in question.

If the waveforms begin going in the same positive or negative direction, you are safe.

If they do not, you can use polarity inversion (a tool available in all DAW’s that is usually a button marked by the Ø symbol) to flip the signal, making all positive displacement negative and vice versa.

In Logic Pro, Polarity Inversion can be found on the Gain plugin labelled as ‘Phase Invert’.

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 3.17.15 pm.png

Consider The Stereo Field When Making Decisions

When Layering Samples, it’s important to consider the stereo characteristics of the subject and if they need enhancing or controlling.

Ask questions like “how wide is this snare?”, “should it be wider in the mix?”.

There is no rule to apply to all scenarios, instead, as with many things in Music Production, it’s about learning and developing your own approach to creating your art your own way.

Adding width to snares and claps can be beneficial, but be careful not to suck power form these important rhythmic elements.

Avoid adding width to any frequencies below 120Hz, this is a no-go zone for stereo effects and should be kept mono.


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Use EQ to separate and Shape Sounds by Frequency

Manipulating the stereo field is one tool you have at your disposal, the next most important is using the Frequency Spectrum.

We saw earlier how we can use a Frequency Analyser to help identify what is giving a sound its specific character, which we can use as a hint to show us where in the spectrum we can focus on to achieve the sound we want.

By using EQ, we can shape a sample or isolate a specific character of a sample and layer it into the sound we are making.

For example, if you have a dull and lifeless clap, consider finding a clap with the high end shine you are looking for. Then, apply a High-Shelf EQ to the sound to capture just that high frequency content that you want and layer it into the clap.


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Understand The Anatomy Of What You Are Creating And Blend Distinct Parts To Create Something Unique

This tip is most applicable to one shot sounds, especially Drums like Snares, Claps, Kicks and Percussion.

Drum hits can be described as having an initial Attack, followed by the ‘Body’ and then the longer proceeding ‘Tail’.

These different sections of a Drum hit collectively give it it’s distinct character and should always be in mind when working with them.

When Sample Layering, remember that these different sections of a Drum hit collectively create its distinct flavour.

Samples can be cut and merged together in any combination you can dream up, so don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment.


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Use High Quality Samples

What use is any of this information if you are not using High Quality Sample Libraries in the first place?

If you are looking to upgrade your production skills, its seriously worth investing in some top quality Sample Packs to help give you the edge.

At KAN Samples, we know how far a good collection of Samples can go, which is why we engineer top quality Sample Packs designed by professionals to be a staple go-to catalogue of Quality Sounds.

Head to the store and see our range of Sample Packs and Plugin Presets.

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