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Treating Your Samples Before the Mix Stage

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Prior to the Mix, Amplification is Key

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

When it comes to treating your sampled sounds prior to the mix phase of recording, there are a number of different methods beatmakers employ. Still, all methods are commonly used to achieve—fundamentally—any one of four things: (1) a thicker sound; (2) a warmer sound; (3) a thinner sound; or (4) a louder sound. Each of these four goals usually corresponds to a method and recording tool. In this article, I want to discuss the results that amplification (the most common sound-treatment method used in sampling prior to the mix stage) produces, when it’s applied to samples.

Having been inside of the recording studios of various beatmakers (from the biggest commercial studios to the smallest bedroom production rooms), I have seen quite a few sound-treatment methods and techniques. But if I had to narrow down the common thread that most beatmakers share in this regard, it would be our focus on the amplification of the sounds that we sample.

In some shape or form, we are all usually concerned—and for good reason—with how we can amplify the samples we use. Although a lot of the source material that we tend to sample has a lot of warmth and richness (most of it comes from a time span between the late 1960s through the late 1970s), it’s often just not loud enough to translate well to today’s recording palate. Therefore, in order to amplify the sounds that we sample, we have to come up with ways to “boost” the sound source before we sample it.

Boosting the sound—or more accurately speaking, the overall audible signal—of the source material that we sample is most often achieved by the signal chains that we like to use. For instance, some beatmakers like to route the signal of their source material through another piece of gear, for instance a DJ mixer (the method I use) or even a mic pre-amp. Still, others prefer to go directly from source to capture medium; that is to say, for instance, from turntable output directly to sampler input.

By routing source material first through some type of amplifier (especially one with multiple EQ bands), then on into your sampler, you’re able to both amplify and further “color” the texture of the sound(s) that you’re sampling. In contrast, the signal chain in which there is no additional amplification applied prior to the actual sampling of a source offers no such advantage or opportunity for unique sound treatment. (As with any sound, you can always tweak the color and amplification of your sample(s) in the mix stage, but keep in mind, the sound may be less “fat” than with pre-amplfication.)

Should You Compress Samples Before the Mix Stage?

In all of beatmaking, one of the most misunderstood uses of compression takes place with sampled material. To be clear, although compression may be able to raise the volume level of the source material that you want to sample, it’s important to remember that when you compress a sound before you sample it, you are in fact subtracting frequencies from that sound. In other words, you are actually making the sound thinner, not fatter. Thus, in order to “beef” up or warm up a sound prior to sampling it, I recommend using some form of a multi-band equalizer. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I’ve always used a stereo DJ mixer with a 4-band EQ on both the right and left channels. But if you’re looking for even more control along these lines, you could also use a standard stereo graphic equalizer that has even more bands.

Finally, I should point out that no matter what you decide, always keep in mind that however you treat the source material that you sample—at the input level—that will be the sound result that you’ll be stuck with going forward. This is why some beatmakers opt to sample certain sounds “dry” (without any treatment). Also, it’s important to remember that the ways in which samples are treated in the mix stage are typically different than the ways one might treat them prior to the mix. But in either case, personal preference for sound design will ultimately dictate which route you take. Thus, how you determine to treat your samples before the mix stage also depends on your overall sound design goals and your own beatmaking style and sound.

*Editor’s Note: In TBC (The BeatTips Community), there’s a great discussion about the use of compression with samples:
Compressing Samples


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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual