When people talk about sampling in the context of music production, they can mean different things. In general, sampling refers to taking a portion of one sound recording (the sample) and using it as an element in a new recording. The process we’re concerned with here is recording an instrument at various pitches and volumes in order to reuse it at a later date. Let’s get started.
There are a variety of reasons why you might want to invest the time into sampling your kit. One reason might be for the sake of the instrument itself. In our example, Dan Dills is sampling a 1964 Slingerland kit that originally belonged to his father, Tony. Not only is this a collectable vintage set, it’s a family heirloom, so Dan wants to protect it from the wear and tear of the road.
Some drummers add samples to their live show, either as part of a dedicated electronic kit, in the form of a trigger, or replayed via computer. Having your drums sampled can also be useful in the studio. Samples can be used to replace bad hits or to augment the studio kit you used. If you write or produce demo songs, you can program your playing in your software’s drum editor, and then have it use your kit for playback. This allows you to make demos without waking the neighbors. Instead of generic drums, your demos will be more believable since they use your personal kit. Another purpose is to generate income: Some people like to sell, trade, or rent samples among their fellow musicians. Finally, you might simply just be adventurous and want to see what this process is all about.
A sampler is an electronic device that can play back recordings (or “samples”) of different sounds. In traditional hardware-based samplers, the samples are usually stored in RAM. Since RAM was very expensive when samplers were developed, only portions of an instrument were sampled (say, one key per octave on a piano), and the files were compressed during storage. When the sample is triggered (meaning to invoke playback), the sampler outputs the audio. Consideration is given to variables such as modulation, volume, sustain, and so on. For example, if you command for a piano note to be held for ten seconds, the sampler will decompress the source sample, then loop it over and over to give the impression that the note lasts long enough. If the note requested is not one of the originally sampled notes, the sampler will perform a pitch-shifting process in order to return the proper note. In theory, the pitch-shifting algorithms are transparent. However, many accomplished musicians and audio engineers disagree, suggesting the results sound artificial.
Producers and engineers familiar with this technology tend to classify samplers as either phrase or studio samplers. Phrase samplers are more suitable to drum production. Each key (or velocity pad) is mapped to one drum sample. This allows users to play and program rhythms by hitting the pads of the sampler. The Akai MPC series is one of the most popular types of phrase sampler, being used extensively in rap, electronic, and live production (Fig. 1).