Sample libraries. We all rely on them
for sweeping strings, funky basses, and
punchy drums. And every week, someone
somewhere thinks, “My [insert unique or
vintage instrument here] is so unique and
musical, I bet that 1,000 people will each
pay $100 for a library of it. How hard
could it be?”
In a nutshell, incredibly freaking hard —
but not impossible. We’ve asked sample
library guru Dan Dean (dandeanpro.com)
and L.A. composer Jimmy Hammer, who
recently created his first library
(harpordian.com), to share their wisdom,
then distilled it into a top ten — make that
top 11 — list, to help save your time, your
money, and your marriage.
1. Buy, rent, beg, borrow, or steal the
best mics and preamps you can.Look
for mics with a low noise floor, and keep in
mind that different mics work best on different
instruments. You may need a ribbon for
some sounds, a large diaphragm condenser
for others, even a good dynamic mic for that
vintage bass amp.
2. Get the best musicians available to
play the sampling sessions. Mediocre
performance equals mediocre sample. Dan
routinely books players who command at
least $100 an hour. Jimmy did a great job
playing all 1,000 bass harmonica samples
for Harpordian — while engineering! — but
this brings us to . . .
3. Record somewhere soundproofed,
or soundproof where you record.Sounds you never hear in the course of
everyday events (Did you know there
was a fan in your Tivo box?) are even
more ruinous to sampling than to recording
bands. If you’re not working in a
commercial studio, separate yourself
from your computer. And your children.
And the world.
4. Research copy protection.Dan’s
stuff is popular in India and China, but
he’s never actually sold a disc in either
country. You don’t want to invest time and
money so some kid can buy your library
for ten euros. Jimmy Hammer paid $15
per disc to bundle Harpordian with Native
Instruments Kontakt Player — which provided
a turnkey solution, as all NI instruments
handle authorization via the NI
Service Center app.
5. Become obsessive-compulsive.In
advance, create a consistent file naming system
to handle your thousands of samples.
Names should capture all the important attributes
to ease OS-level searching for samples,
but err on the side of simplicity: A name like
“Zfff41lp119d67Y” is useless when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed. Better something
like “Loud.C2.Take3.May12.” Write
6. Make sure your computer can handle
enormous files.Your library will be
many times larger than any song you’ve ever
recorded. You don’t want to spend ten minutes
opening your session and 30 seconds
every time you save, so make sure you have
the horsepower to handle giant projects: a
separate audio drive from a reliable maker
such as Glyph, for starters. Also, break the
project down into manageable sections.
7. Defeat ear fatigue.Otherwise, it will
defeat you. Whether recording or editing,
when everything begins to sound the
same, knock off for a while. Shake out your
wrists a lot, too, because repetitive motion
injuries are real.
8. Vividly imagine your final product.How will you handle articulations: Key
switches? Mod wheel? Velocity? Study
existing sample libraries so you can
record yours in a way that’ll make it easy
to learn and play.
9. Don’t “fix it in the mix.”If you know
a performance is a little long or short or
pitchy and you want to handle it later
with editing and EQ — don’t. Hit Record
and get it right.
10. Back up like crazy.Jimmy saved to
external and internal hard drives every day.
Towards completion of the project, he
made DVDs every week. Dan used an
Exabyte 8mm tape drive and multiple hard
drives in a WeibeTech enclosure
11. Do market research before you
record one note.People buy the fantasy
of the library, so make sure your project is
desirable. Mock up a cover, an ad, and a
press release. Then, read them, have others
read them, and solicit brutal honesty
about whether the concept is compelling.
Perhaps that last tip should have been
first, but I didn’t want to rain on your
parade. Besides, someday I might be calling
you for tech support.