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TBC Thread of the Day: “Proper Signal Chain for mixing samples?”

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Finding the Right Signal Chain for Your Style and Sound, When Your Mixing Samples in Your DAW

By DARRELL KELLOWAY (DK) and AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

DK: “Is there a proper signal chain for mixing samples (pre-recorded material off records) such as drums, basslines, and non-drum sound instruments?”


Sa’id: dk, First thing. When you say “*signal chain* for mixing samples,” do you mean to ask about what signal chain to use to when tracking (recording) into your DAW? The reason I ask is because, if you’re at the *mixing* point, you’re already past the signal chain point…

Second thing:
I don’t think that the use of the word “proper” is the best way to phrase your question or kick off this thread. Perhaps the word “effective” is better. “Proper” sounds dogmatic, as in there’s only one way. In regards to signal chains, there are multiple effective ways that different people like to choose, for various reasons

Third:
If you are asking about what signal chain to use before the mixing point, well, then consider the fact that an *effective* signal chain completely depends on the beatmaker (and mixer) and the style and sound he or she (or they) is/are going for. Different sounds produce different signals, but the degree of difference changes with the sample. For example, a stand-alone bass sample will generate one kind of signal; while a sample that contains basslines, drums, and non-drum instruments will generate yet another kind of signal.


DK: First of all, thanks the reply.

Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly that “effective” would have been a much better word for what I’m asking. The best thing about TBC is that we have no “know it all’s” here that claim to know everything and therefore bring down the integrity of the boards. Amen to that.

Back to my original question though, I meant once the samples are tracked into the DAW, is there a certain signal chain on the inserts that would help me mix my samples more efficiently? For example, say that I have a high-pass filter applied on my primary sample track (the sample contains a guitar, strings, piano chords, organ etc) and I planned on “bumping” the sample like you described in the BeatTips Manual. Say, I wanted also wanted to compress the sample and add some reverb as well. Would the proper plugin sequence on the inserts be 1) high pass filter 2) compression 3) reverb, or should I compress the sound last? If so, is there a reason behind doing so?

I remember you posting here a few months ago that it helps to know your sounds, and to have that sound available if possible before entering the mix phase (eg. using a kick drum with lots of low end in your beat before tracking it into your DAW).

Before sampling, I also use your trick of playing around with the DJ mixer so I can get the sound that I’m looking for before sampling. What I mean in this case is that for this particular I noticed that the bassline didn’t really stand out, but I wanted the strings and the organ sounds (the mids and the highs) to stand out so they would be easier to chop. Doing so, I turned down the low end on the dj mixer so the bass was less audible when I sampled it. This did help me get the sound I was looking for, but if I was looking to tweak it even further in my DAW, which plugin effects chain would be the most beneficial for what I’m trying to do with the sample?

Thanks


Sa’id: Dk,

OK, now I get what you’re asking…
Generally speaking, compression would be last on the chain you described. As for the high pass filter and the reverb, that depends on what you’re trying to achieve. I usually work my levels (EQ/Filters) before I apply reverb. But then there are other times (for instance, sometimes when I re-sample my own snare sounds) where I apply the reverb (for the elongated sound and roominess) before the EQ. In cases like these, I’m interested in the “shape” of the sound before the “color” (feel, EQ) of the sound. So once I get the shape of the sound (the duration, spacing), I can then go about modifying how it knocks (or doesn’t), shuffles, or tucks through the mix, etc.

It’s often a good thing to compress last because compression actually “squashes”/restrains the fullness of a sound. In fact, with my style and sound I tend to avoid compression as much as possible. This is why I’ve spent a great deal of time knowing my sound before I track into my DAW… The idea is to have the sound as close to complete as possible before I mix. This way, when I mix it or turn it over to someone else to mix, there’s no guess work—The sound scope is already there, like a map… Check out my interview with mix engineer Steve Sola in The BeatTips Manual where he discusses receiving a near-finished mix, before he even touched it.

As for the DJ mixer amplification/EQ, please note: I pretty much have the left and right EQ bands (channels) set to a default! In other words, I don’t adjust my mixer for every record (or other source material) that I sample. Instead, my DJ mixer’s EQs stay the same… But remember, I route my DJ mixer through my analog Mackie board. And it is there where I may modify the Hi’s and Lo’s of the source material, before I sample it. Keeping my DJ mixer with my custom default EQ setting helps keep my own style and sound.

Finally, remember, once you get any bass part into your DAW, you can just duplicate the tracked bass part (as needed) and boost the low end (I like to use the multiple band EQ) on the duplicates or turn their volume up.


Participate in this TBC thread here: “Proper Signal Chain for mixing 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 the albums 'Soul Review' and 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual