Beat Dilemna: Samples vs. Sample Kits

I’m big on sampling, just as most beatmakers and producers are as well. From guys like DJ Premier to Kanye West, sampling is a big thing when it comes to making beats because the possibilities seem endless.

What’s interesting about sampling is that some samples have been used many times over by different producers, and they still sound great. However, nowadays there are many options to choose from when you want to sample something.

Sampling Music

I tend to sample from movies and 80’s music, but that’s just because that’s my flavor. I know most Hip Hop producers look to genres like Jazz or Funk, but I actually never went that way and chose to stick with something completely different.

What I like about sampling is that I get to decide what sounds to use, but I always ask myself before sampling something, “Has this been sampled before?”. There are different reasons as to why I would ask myself that question, such as:
I don’t want to use something someone else sampled, I prefer to stand out.
I don’t want to sound like a biter.
Most of the time I don’t have to worry when sampling because like I mentioned already, the type of samples I look for are rarely used, especially in Hip Hop.

Since sampling has become a common technique for producers, companies are starting to cash in on it by offering up their own sample kits that you can use.

Sampling From Kits

I think kits are great because they essentially have everything that you need to put together a beat, and it’s going to sound really good. Many companies either give you sounds with their software, or you can buy kits of your choosing, depending on what style of music you produce.

Even though kits are a great option because of the ease of use, the big drawback is that you’re using sounds that everyone else who bought the kit is going to use!

Everyone knows that song because of the drums and even if you were to chop it up and use the kick and snare separately, people will be able to recognize them easily.

With kits, it’s somewhat the same scenario but a bit different. If a certain sample kit is sold to 1,000 people, then that’s 999 people that are going to be using the same sounds as you.

The Solution

Kits are great, but it’s all in how you use them. I use kits all of the time, as well as famous drum breaks, but I just don’t use them “as is”. I chop them, morph them, and above all else, layer them with other sounds.

I know that some sounds are hard to distinguish because you can’t possibly say “I know that snare! That’s from that song”. As I mentioned, some songs, yes, you can tell where the sounds came from, but most of the time it’s hard to. The point is though, with kits it’s too easy for producers to use them as is because they’re already ready to go. Just because the sounds are ready to be tossed into your beat, doesn’t mean you should use them like that.

Layering

Layering is probably the best way that you can cover up what a sound really is. Let’s say you have a kit that contains 20 different snares and the snare you want is actually from “Top Billin”. It’s easy – just use another one of those snares with it and then EQ it.

Normally the top part of a snare, or pretty much the transient part, is around the 2K area in the frequency band. So with that in mind, you could take the “Top Billin” snare and use it as the top part, then put another snare in the lower part, probably around the 200-250hz range. Once they’re together, just continue to shape them with a compressor until you get the desired result.

The Rest

With drum sounds, it’s easy to layer and mask the true identity of the sound, but what about other instruments? Piano, for example? I would not suggest layering, but instead you have the choice of either not using the sound at all, or chopping it.

Chopping something like a Piano is a great way to come up with something new, so just cutting it up into various chops and then rearranging them is the simplest method. This way someone might recognize the “sound” of the Piano, but it’s completely re-worked, so the odds of someone else doing it exactly like you are very slim.

Another Option

My preferred method is just sampling from music. I use kits regularly, but I prefer to dig for my samples and create something brand new from that, rather than use something that lots of other people are using.

The other option though, is to sample directly from the source. In other words, from a live instrument. If you know someone that plays the drums, horns, piano, bass, or whatever other instrument you can think of, then why not record them? This way you will have your own sample kit, so to speak.

If you play an instrument (or even if you don’t), then you can just sample yourself, as I’ve outlined in this article.

Sampling shouldn’t be just about grabbing a sound and looping it as is. It’s supposed to be a challenge, and it’s what will set you apart from the rest. Good luck!

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