Composing Digitally, part three

Samples and how they work

When people talk about samples in these circles they usually refer to a multi-sampled instrument. Not the old way of cutting music into bits and adding to it to create something new. Lets take a harp as an example. Here’s how you would go about making a MIDI playable sampled harp in a simple way. You’d set up a microphone and record one note, let’s say C. Now you might think that just recording that C and mapping it to the corresponding C on the keyboard would be enough. However, if you only have one sampled note and you play it multiple times, it will sound unnatural. A common practice is recording that C in a certain velocity 4 times. Then record a slightly softer version of that C 4 times and then again and again. If you do that enough times, you’ll have a very expressive and natural sounding C. In my example here, the C is sampled a total of 16 times. Then this has to be repeated for every note. Lets say that an octave consists of 192 individually sampled notes. That sounds like a lot of work to be cutting these individually and it sure is.

The truly scary part comes when there are more than one microphone. Let’s say that there’s three. A close mic, a stage mic and an ambient mic. If you have all those three you have a lot more control of the instrument rather than having to fake it by adding reverb since you already have the natural resonance of the room it was originally recorded in. So that’s 576 sampled notes per octave. A concert harp usually has 6 octaves, that’s 3456 samples.

As if that wasn’t it. It then has to be mapped and programmed to work. I moan a lot about the prices of VST instruments but the sheer amount of work just to make something basic is pretty staggering.

Your first library

There are a lot of sampled instruments on the market, you can find almost anything. From simple claps to a chamber orchestra. If you’re just starting out I would suggest getting a library. As the name suggests these are multiple instruments put in the same package and usually have a much lower cost. Of course the quality of these vary a lot. If you want to do what I do I would suggest starting with Best Service Forest Kingdom II. Unlike most sample packs or libraries this pack does not use Kontakt 5. Instead it uses it’s own sampler called Best Service ENGINE 2 that works in pretty much exactly the same way. The good part is that it comes with it and you don’t have to buy it separately. It contains among other things, harps, flutes, percussion and even soundscapes.

In conclusion

To start composing digitally, the way I do it. You’ll first need a capable computer, DAW, Kontakt 5, Keyboard and then your arsenal of sampled instruments. These are the basic necessities. Moving on from there you can do anything you want. The internet is wonderful for this kind of thing. There are thousands of tutorials for setting up and getting started all the way to the most obscure music theory.

I might add more to this little series in the future. I’ve been thinking of talking a bit about mixing and mastering but I don’t feel I’m good enough at that yet to give any tips. Hopefully in the future! Thanks for reading this, if you have any suggestions or questions, shoot me an email!

Have a fantastic day!

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