Deconstructing art and profiting from your efforts now go in hand. Why sell the cake when you can sell the cake mix too? Native Instruments provides the ultimate guide to putting together your own sounds and sample pack, ready for retail.
While the sample market has traditionally been driven by a select handful of sound design studios, newer platforms like Sounds.com afford increasing opportunity for highly talented producers, musicians, engineers, artists, sound designers, and labels to create inspiring sound inventory.
Spanning beats and basslines, to vocal hooks and weird modular bleeps, the most memorable sample collections are far more than simply a “musical skeleton” for building tracks upon. Many have proven intriguing masterworks in their own right, their sonic DNA giving rise to entire genres.
Successful sample-pack production is a combination of effective workflow, process and curation, and while each sound designer has their own approach, there are some universally enduring conventions.
Interested in joining the ranks of the sample-making glitterati? Read on to find out how.
Guidelines, conventions and standards
Before you begin the process of sample-pack creation, it’s crucial to be familiar with production standards and conventions.
When a producer begins to make a sample pack, they will first be supplied with guidelines that specify exactly what the company expects to receive. These guidelines remain fairly consistent between resellers.
Here are some fundamentals you will need to know:
1. All sounds used in creation of loops and hits for sale should be 100% royalty-free. Selling a retooled James Brown breakbeat, for example, is legally dubious. If in doubt, leave it out.
2. Loops and one-shots (e.g., percussion hits, synth stabs, FX sounds) are usually supplied in 44.1kHz 24-bit WAV or AIFF format. Even if creating a deliberately lo-fi sound, the finished samples must be in these formats, so that end users have access to broadcast-standard loops.
3. Loop duration is generally two bars. On occasion, four-bar loops are acceptable, but only if warranted (e.g., a chordal progression that lasts four bars). Anything beyond four bars would rarely be acceptable for rhythmic loops. However, certain non-tempo-dependent elements (noises, textures, environmental recordings, etc) can be of any length.
4. ALL elements should be normalised to 0dB! For audio engineers, this part of the process may well be deemed a cardinal sin, as the combined output level of multiple normalised loops could exceed 0dB, creating digital overload. However, all samples in a collection should peak at 0dB, or as close as possible. This helps maintain reasonably consistent volume throughout the pack; it also allows easy integration of elements into DJ sets or mixes in which mastered (i.e., peaking at 0dB) tracks are incorporated.
5. All loop points must be checked to ensure they use zero crossings. If they don’t, undesirable digital clicks can occur, rendering the samples of limited use. Test all loops by looping them in your audio editor – if you hear clicking at the loop points, add short fades (5-10ms) or crossfades (adjust by ear) to correct this.
6. File-naming conventions must be adhered to, though they can differ between providers. Sample filenames typically include title, tempo and key information, to help producers easily slot them into their tracks. Let’s take a look at a few examples of how this works.
The Analogue Ghettotech Tools Vol.1 pack on Sounds.com contains a loop labeled “Trxgt Bass126 90s Organ Cmin”. This can be decoded thus:
- Trxgt – An abbreviation of the sample pack’s name and the company who made it: TRX Machinemusic’s “Analogue Ghettotech”
- Bass – The sound type/category.
- 126 – The tempo of the loop in beats per minute.
- 90s Organ – A given title for the sound. In this case, the title is highly descriptive, telling the user exactly what to expect, although titles can be abstract too.
- Cmin – The musical key of the sound – this one is in C minor.
“Trxgt Hat126 Raw Tekjakk” from the same collection follows the same naming convention, but without key information as it’s a non-tuned instrument loop.
7. How many loops and hits do you need to make a well-rounded sample pack? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, with quantities varying by publisher, pack genre, and purpose. Just keep in mind that quality over quantity should be of uttermost importance.
Tighter packs are popular impulse downloads – for example, “Extraordinary Kick Drums Vol 1”. At the other end of the scale, you have the more extensive, comprehensive genre-focussed collections, such as “Noisefactory Construction Time Vol. 1 – Commercial Deep House Reloaded”. These frequently contain unusual or value-added content like plugin presets, MIDI files and even preloaded performance templates for your DAW.
Reading the descriptive text of existing packs can help you get a feel for typical pack sizes and price points.
Best practice file-management tips
Publishers generally request that content is delivered in a specific, organised file structure. Before getting creative, it’s helpful to create empty template folders reflecting this structure, to be filled with the requisite number of samples as you create them.
Spreadsheets can also be an effective method of keeping track of pack content, both during the production process and for ‘stocktaking’ once you are finished.
At the most basic level, keeping written records of completed elements will help you to identify where you are in the process, and what content still needs to be created.