8 Creative Ways to Use Sample Packs & Soundbanks
(…that actually work)
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” – Mary Lou Cook
What are some creative ways to actually use sample packs and soundbanks in your day to day production workflow? Well, at some point in any producer’s creative journey, he or she will come to understand that using and selecting good sounds is one of the most important aspects of music production.
It’s the age-old saying — you can’t polish a turd. We all fundamentally understand that, but what does it look like on a functional, operational level?
Using great sounds in your productions starts with building and cultivating a sample and soundbank library.
Once you’ve spent a few months (or maybe even years) building your sample library, you’ll come to realize that there are some extremely helpful and useful ways to utilize sample packs that might not be extremely obvious upfront. That said, here are 8 of my favorite creative methods when using sample packs and sound banks.
Quick note: we are going to be using the word timbre a lot in this article.
So, if you don’t know what that means, listen up.
Timbre is a word that describes the tonal quality or texture of a sound. Timbre, by definition, is the character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity.
What that means is that timbre is what separates the F# note you hear in your piano, versus the F# note you hear in a guitar, or a percussive sample, or the F# you hear in a bongo. Timbre, in essence, is the defining difference maker between the sonic quality of every sound you use.
4 Creative Ways to Actually Use Sample Packs
One of the most classic examples of using tuned percussion is the production in Martin Garrix’s ‘Animals’. You can create amazing percussive lead melodies by simply using a tuned sample in any given sampler. For this, Logic’s EXS24 or Ableton’s Simpler will do just fine. If you’d like to use a third party sampler, Kontakt will certainly get the job done.
Make sure to key-map the sample you are using so that you’ll be able to play this sound across your entire midi keyboard and octave range.
As a bonus tip, be aware that you can do this with any sound, it doesn’t specifically have to be a percussive sound (percussive sounds are just usually a bit more atonal, so this is less obvious to most producers). This means you can use synth cuts, bass samples, one-shots, orchestral sounds — literally anything you want — these are all available to you to use in a sampler. So don’t limit yourself to only using synths or rompers for instruments.
If you are using Kontakt, you can even initiate the time machine feature so that the sample maintains it’s pitch and note length regardless of where you play it on the keyboard. This can be really helpful if you are trying to write a melody that spans across several octaves.
2. Make Sure to Utilize all the Possibilities of Layering
Great sounding, individual samples are always going to be helpful and useful in your productions. But as the sounds of electronic music have matured and developed over the past decade, producers have been utilizing more and more layering in their music. Even your synths mostly ALL have 4 oscillators, which means most presets already utilize layering to some degree before you’ve even had a chance to do anything.
But right now, however, we’re talking about samples — and the truth is, samples can be brought to a higher level when layered.
This type of strategic layering allows for more unique timbres and larger, more impactful sounds. And that is a very important distinction by the way: layering allows for your sounds to not only sound larger, fatter, warmer and bigger, but layering also allows for your sounds to come across as more unique, interesting and perhaps polished, smooth, commercial and professional.
This distinction is where a lot of producers don’t take full advantage of layering — layering isn’t all about size, it’s also about sounding different from others and professional. in the context of commercial productions.
3. Reverse Your Samples
I’ve written about reversing sounds before. In fact, I covered my favorite 5 methods here. But there are tons of ways to add interest to your music through reversing sounds. Everything from transitions to added melodies, to drum loop variations and fills. Here are 6 of my favorite techniques.
Once you incorporate reverses into your productions, the possibilities of what you can achieve with your sample collection are relatively endless.
4. Time Stretch Audio
You can use built-in warping and time-stretching in your DAW of choice or use third-party plugins to achieve similar results, but this allows you to drastically manipulate the timing and timbre of a sound. Sometimes, the distorted artifacts from time-stretching and warping can sound really good. Sometimes, it makes your samples sound like absolute crap — being able to identify the difference is important here.
Beyond time-stretching for creative needs, you will absolutely need to learn to time-stretch in order to place your loops and sync them into the project BPM. This is relatively easy to do if you don’t know how — a quick google search will bring up hundreds of examples.
Can audio-editing be sexy? We think so. Find out why as we breakdown our favorite audio editing tips and tricks in Ableton & Logic right here.
3 Creative Ways to Actually Use Soundbanks
5. Don’t Forget About Your Synth’s Macros
If you’re using Serum, most synth presets that are worth their salt, have up to 4 built-in Macros that can dramatically change the specific sound in question. That means that you can automate and develop the sounds overtime throughout the length of a song. This can create additional movement, or simply change the timbre and result in a huge array of additional interest measures in the song you are producing.
One advanced tip I’d like to point out: you can create your own additional modulations to existing macros. This would allow for complete customization of macro settings and essentially make the presets further your own.
6. Make Your Own Wavetables Using Samples
In Serum, you can make custom wavetables from actual audio samples. When you drag a sample into Serum’s wavetables, you are basically recreating the sample itself as a synth — although it is significantly more powerful than simply using a sampler (like we talked about in our first example).
When using wavetables, you now have the ability to not only play the sample like a synth, but you have the benefit of using all the additional features of the synth itself layered into the original sample — that means adjusting the cutoff, using filters, playing with effects, or even adding additional wavetables to the sound itself.
7. Create Your Own Ambience with Reverbs
One cool, creative way to utilize samples is to create your own atmospheres and textures. Adding some reverb to a sample with an extremely long decay time can add unique textures and add a completely unique flavor to your production.
Once you’ve done this, print the sample and the reverb to audio (printing is the universal term for bouncing to audio or exporting to audio) and try adding additional effects, like Soundtoys Echo Boy, Tremelator or Crystalizer, or get extra silly with Output’s Portal for some extremely unique movements and effects in the context of the stereo image.
Creative Use of Sample Packs: Final Thoughts
8. Re-Organize Your Samples & Presets
The ability to get your ideas down in your DAW as quickly as possible will lead to finishing more music, and really, lead to a more sustainable, mentally satisfying and pleasing approach to the process of making music. Having all of your favorite, go-to sounds easily available will allow for amazing productivity advancements and aid in sustainable creation in your DAW.
In order to do this, think about how you actually go about searching for sounds. Do you prefer kicks from all separate sample packs to be in one area? Or do you like to look through a specific pack and find all the drum sounds inside a given sample pack? It’s truly worth figuring out a sustainable system for yourself that works. You’re going to be spending a lot of time using samples, so you might as well optimize for it.
Personally, I do a combination of both — I like to organize some of the most common packs I use by company name (like Vengeance, Cymatics, Earth moments, etc.), while organizing other, less popular packs by their purpose since I’ll most likely forget the name of the sample pack anyway (like drums, synths, basses, vocals midi, etc.)
Make no mistake, the ability to keep your sounds organized and available to you at your fingertips will pay off at the end. Creating a sustainable system will support creativity and aid in developing a proper workflow that works for you as a producer.
What else are you doing to creatively use samples and sound banks that most producers aren’t doing? Are you organizing by key? Are you searching by BPM? What makes your style unique?