This week, we need to have a look at the world of multi-sampling. And we don’t mean using two different acapellas in the same track. No, this is a much more useful technique, and one that can help you get the best out of your old analogue gear – or a synth that you’ve just borrowed off a friend. Interested? Then read on…
So what is multi-sampling? In essence, it’s like taking a single sample – where you record some audio into your computer and throw it into a sampler – but doing this several times over. Typically, you’d do this with a synth; record several notes into the computer, then split up the audio and map the separate hits properly across the keyboard.
Why would you want to do this, though? Well, there are plenty of reasons why it can help you out. For a start, old analogue synths generally have no polyphony – which means no chords, no harmonies, and no notes tailing off delicately while you play another. But if you’re working with samples, you can play as many notes as your computer’s RAM will handle. You’ve just upgraded that classic synth in one fell swoop! On top of that, most old analogue synths have no presets – if you find a great sound, you would normally have no way of saving it for future use. Multi-sampling the sound can solve that problem, however. It also means you can avoid the vagaries of unreliable analogue equipment losing tuning. And if you’ve ever wanted to be able to get those synth sounds going at a friend’s studio setup without having to lug a big expensive piece of kit across town on the bus, this is the way forward. Or on the flipside, if you know someone with a great synth, you can head round their place with a laptop and a soundcard, and capture some of that sonic goodness for your own use later.
When you’re multi-sampling, the first thing to do is make sure you’re getting a decent level into the computer. This multi-sample is something that will hopefully stand you in good stead for many tunes to come, so it needs to be versatile. As such, you want a good clean sound, strong signal to noise ratio, and as little hiss as possible. If you want hiss in a particular track, it’s always easy to add in later, but it’s hard to remove! Be careful not to clip the sound though – a little overdriving can sound good if you’ve got some decent kit, but again, that’s something you can do at a later stage. Better to get a solid level and then normalise it up to 0dB for now.
Think, too, about the sound you’re recording in and how to make it most useful. As far as volume envelopes go, it’s often useful to have almost zero attack – so that the sound comes straight in at full volume. This might sound odd, especially if it’s for a smooth string sound, but when you’re programming your sampler later on, you’ll find it’s much easier to add a slow attack on the envelope if you need one, than making the sample start halfway through without a click. Similarly, it’s easier to filter out high frequencies with your sampler, than try to add them into a sound that you recorded with the filter already down.
Now, you need to hit each note in turn. Play each note on the keyboard in order (this will save lots of time later) and leave plenty of time for one note to tail off before you hit the next one. Again, think about how long you need the notes to be – if it’s for a pad sound, obviously you’ll need to hold the key down for a good two or three seconds each time. The next stage is chopping up the audio. This is the boring bit because, while you can use an automated tool like Recycle, or Logic’s ‘Strip Silence’ function, they frequently don’t get close enough to the start of the sample if there is no defined transient. Or worse, they start too late and miss off the start of the sample! So although it will save you time to start off with one of these programs, you should then go in and tailor each one – yep, we said it was the boring part – to make sure everything sounds consistent for when you’re playing it back later.
Once you’ve got everything in place, it’s a case of mapping things on your sampler. This is staightforward enough, but make sure it doesn’t set the samples to ‘one shot’, as you need to be able to play long or short notes if necessary. Then, using the sampler’s filters, envelopes and pitch control, you’ll have a patch that keeps all the sonic warmth of your original synth sound, but with polyphony, portamento, filters and the ability to stack several ‘synths’ up at once.
It should be pretty clear by now why multi-sampling can be so useful. And although it can be fiddly, it’s worth a go – for those times when you’re producing on the move, or are just feeling lazy, it’s great to have more to draw on than just the patches that came with your DAW. So, plug in that soundcard, and get sampling!