by FRANCIS PRÈVE
SAMPLING BITS FROM OTHER TRACKS IS A GREAT WAY TO GENERATE INSPIRATION.
It’s also a way to set yourself up for licensing hassles and at worst, a legal nightmare
that could seriously slow down your career. However, as hip-hop artists have discovered,
there’s a secret that can spare you these headaches and charge up your creative
batteries: Figure out how the original artist did it, then play or reconstruct it yourself—
with enough changes to avoid copyright woes.
Recently, I found myself wanting to sample the
amazing choirs from New Order’s “Blue Monday.”
Obviously, I couldn’t afford to go the licensing
route—and the sample in question was a single D
minor chord, an entity that can’t be copyrighted
in and of itself. (Nor can the sound of an instrument—
can you imagine guitarists struggling
over playing an E chord on a Les Paul through a
Fender Twin with all the knobs set just so?) So
the challenge was to recreate that vintage sound
myself. Time to start Googling!
Step 1: Research the Tune
First off , a little research about “Blue Monday”
showed that New Order actually sampled the
D minor chord—and sound—from a track on
Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity album called “Uranium,”
released in 1975. Whether they licensed it themselves was immaterial. I intended to play
it very safe here.
Step 2: Research the Sound
I then researched the making of Radio-
Activity. After bouncing through a few links, I
discovered that the choir I wanted was created
on a Vako Orchestron: an astonishing instrument
that used spinning disks and light (not
lasers, but simple flashlight bulbs!) to play back
recorded audio. Since there are only 100 or so
of these rare creatures on the planet, I then
had to figure out if any company had created a
sample library of Orchestron sounds.
Step 3: Find the Right Plug-in
A bit more research and voilà, IK Multimedia
SampleTron fit the bill. With vintage samplebased instruments like the Mellotron, Chamberlin,
and Orchestron represented, SampleTron was
an ideal addition to my largely vintage studio—
and the price is a very reasonable $229 (or less)
for a massive virtual collection of ultra-rare gear.
Step 4: Match the Sounds, Play
From there, I temporarily added the “Blue Monday”
choir to my DAW (solely for reference), then
inserted an instance of SampleTron. Then I found
an almost identical sounding Orchestron choir and
figured out the voicing of the chord. Since Sample-
Tron clearly contains a different recording of the
Orchestron than the original sample, there are very
subtle sonic differences that ensure no one can say I
just sampled Kraftwerk or New Order. Here's an A-B audio example of the original riff (first) and my reconstructed one (second).
So next time you want to sample a classic riff ,
take some time to figure out how it was done, change
enough notes to keep your butt out of court, and
recreate the original. Even if you make music mainly
with a mouse, the ability to be the sampler and
thus avoid licensing issues makes a strong case for
developing some basic keyboard chops.