How To Find Samples In Songs

Electronic music has been showing us for years that a good sample, used in the right way, can make the difference between a good track and a great track. From the likes of Afrika Bambaata sampling Kraftwerk way back in the 80's, to Fatboy Slim's sample collages of the 90's and today's Future Garage stars pillaging the RnB canon for vocals to chop up, it's obvious that if you can find a good sample for your beats, it can evelate them above the ordinary. But how do you actually find them? And what should you be looking for when you get there? Read on, as we explore the avenues...

Good samples can really come from everywhere. That's the first thing to get out of the way - if you've got a keen ear you can make a track from the sound of your kitchen blender (and there's a youtube video of D'n'B producer Wilkinson doing exactly that). But that's not a lot of help. So let's delve deeper - where do the classic samples come from?

The traditional example is old funk tracks, and they're rich in potential. From the Amen break to artists like Bob James who supplied half of the hip hop world in the 80s and 90s, you can find some great source material in here - the only problem is, that plenty of people have already done just that! So by all means delve into the archives, but you need to dig deep – find the B-sides, the charity shop obscurities, the tracks that no-one liked at the time.

Better yet, is to go off the beaten track somewhat. Funk and soul records are great, but there were some amazing spin-offs that can be even more exciting. Nigeria in the 1970's, for instance, saw a hotbed of artists combining African rhythms with funk influences - and similar scenes existed in Rio, Puerto Rico and even in Asia. Sift through some of these and you can find some crazy sounds. You don't always need to hit the vinyl shops, either (although that's a lot more fun) - get online and hunt down some crazy blogs. There are always sites dedicated to things like Indonesian psychedelic rock. It's maybe not as 'worthy' as putting in the effort digging through the crates, but no-one's going to worry about that when they hear your track in the club!.

But hang on, once you find a source of cool untapped material, how to actually pick a sample? A two second loop out of all those hours of audio? This is a tricky one, and it's hard to define. But there are a few things you need to be looking for.

First, you need a decent length of sampleable stuff. A single hit might be useful, but it's not really enough to start off making a track with. A whole bar is better, even two or four - but much more than that and you may start to blur the lines between 'sampling' and 'copying'. Next, you need to focus in on what you actually want from the sample, and how you could use it. For instance, a beautiful string line maybe quite useless if it's all covered up with vocals or guitar - but remember that old recordings were pretty haphazard with their stereo imaging. That guitar might only be on the left channel, in which case you might be able to grab the right channel, whack it into mono and be good to go!

You'll also find that samples that are in a certain key may force your hand as to what you can build around them - in terms of pitch, harmony, and instrumentation. The things that make old vinyl samples so interesting, are also the things that can make them harder to work around. So to this end, the best option is to really build up a library of samples. Sit down and listen to some tracks fully, and just grab anything that sounds useful - a drum fill, some vinyl crackle, a few seconds of vocal acapella, a little breakdown to just the bassline. Then fire all these into a project in your DAW that you can come back to and grab things out of later. This will give you a number of options at different tempos, styles and vibes, and save you time in future when you're looking for something useful. And don't forget good old trial and error! When we hear a perfectly chosen sample in a track, it's rare that the producer just heard a 60 minute album, said "that's the one" and made a hit. They tried plenty other samples first, and they'll probably try plenty more for their next hit. So make sure you've got a good set to work with, and keep coming back to it with inspiration.

If you need practise, you can of course start with good old Sample CDs. Packed with clean samples, designed especially for the use of producers (and with no copyright issues) you can get practising with these while you get around to digging in the crates - if it works for Steve Angello and Afrojack, then you can make a hit with them too!

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