After my talk with John Dahlback, I took some time off from my Producer’s Corner to work on interviews and other content. But now I'm back, and taking the reigns for this article’s subject is His Majesty Andre. The Italian producer has always exhibited superb sampling skills, so I figured it would be a good idea to focus on some of his strengths in this area.
Can you talk a bit about what “sampling” means to you, and how you use it in your productions?
“Sampling” means taking something from another record. It could be a whole part of a track, tiny snippets, or just drum parts. Some of them might be more recognizable, some might not.
You can find a nice, clean sample of a guitar, maybe from the extended version of your favorite track, and process it in order to get a more interesting and personal sound.
Sampling is considered an art and to me it can be a work of a genius. The same track given to different producers might led to very different results. Everything is determined by creativity, musical knowledge and culture.
Is it easier to sample first, and build a track around that, or the opposite? Why?
Usually, the main idea will decide that.
The sample needs attention though, and a lots of care ,as it’s already full of sounds. For me, it’s easier to build around it with the rest of my track than trying to fit the sample into the work I’ve already done. Melodies and basslines can be tricky to handle and balance.
How do you go about combining your samples with original music? Are there parts of your track that you often find yourself playing yourself, like a bassline or pad sound?
Most of the time I sample with the final result in mind. I take into consideration every small snippet I’m grabbing, in order to have the exact melody and bassline I have in my mind. As there are multiple sounds in one sample, sometimes I layer two of them from the same record and work with the EQ and filters.
Despite that, if I’m interested in just few of the sounds of the sample, EQing is essential. Basslines are one of those things you want to play by yourself instead of ruining your life by getting it out of the original sample exactly as it was. Playing something, even just on top of the sample, is important to get more impact and enrich the sound.
What are your thoughts on sampling drums? Do you find that sampling kicks, snares and even entire drum parts is effective?
Sampling drums, and possibly layering them with other bits, thanks to your new best-friend, aka EQ, can be very helpful to get a nice rich and punchy result.
Kicks, snares, and hi-hats that are ripped from an old vinyl record can be really ear-pleasing, giving you that groove and “analog” feeling we’re missing most of the time in these digital days.
Once you have your desired parts, what kind of processing do you apply to them to make them fit into your own track, in terms of EQ, compression, FX, etc?
Depending on the original track you’re sampling from, EQ and compression can be the first thing to do. You might have to adjust them while working, but most of the old records need that, especially if sampled from vinyl, where the physical limitations of the format imposed the artist to record the music in a specific way. Music has changed in so many different ways, especially in the techniques of recording and listening, so you might have to spend some time to get the right sound out of your sample.
EQing can help you emphasize frequencies you need, or cut the bass you don’t need, while compression will take out the impact and possibly give you even more “character” from the sound. But don’t abuse compression, or you could mess up a good sample — and I know what I mean.
How have you found that pitching samples up or down affects your ability to use them in a track?
Pitching stuff is a cool trick for different reasons. When applied to a simple loop it can dramatically affect the mood from a happy feeling to a darker one. Creative pitching on tiny parts lets you play the sample like a synth. It’s almost like replaying entire parts, and can definitely be more creative.
Do you ever run into problems when combining samples from different tracks, or do you tend to avoid that?
I usually sample from the same track for each production. A few times I found myself combining samples from different tracks but it’s mostly the first “main” sample that drives your choices into grabbing other snippets from other tracks. You’re probably looking for something specific already when you take a second record and start sampling for the same production.
Can you tell us how your DAW, Ableton, factors into all of this? Would you be able to do what you do in another DAW?
Once you had to take your record, sample those specific snippets you thought were cool, and get back to the sampler if you needed more from the same original record.
Nowadays everything run smoothly and fast. Ableton Live is very handy when it comes to handling samples as you can import the whole track, cut out your samples and put them aside until you need them. Easy peasy.
In the past I used a few other DAWs, but managing samples was not as friendly as it was with Ableton. I’ll let you know if I’ll find something better!
How important is it to have a good studio setup to achieve this kind of production? Do the type of monitors, headphones interface or room acoustics play an important part? If so, what do you think is most important?
Getting a good studio setup is easier and cheaper than ever.
My basic studio setup is an Apogee Duet 2, a pair of Adam A7, an Akai MPKmini and my MacBook. It might sound expensive, but you can find a nice setup that suits your current budget, and think about upgrading it in the near future. You need to start from somewhere, and affordable audio interfaces, monitors and keyboards are getting more and more available to everyone.
I think the most important thing, however, is not something you can actually buy. Experience and your ears – those things come for free with your head. A bit of studying and experimenting are priceless too. Having expensive equipment might help you through the process of making music, giving you less headaches and wasting less time, but you can have great results even with just relatively modest gear and learning how to read your audio analysis plug-ins.
Some people might be tempted to turn to sampling a track as an attempt to avoid playing the music themselves, hoping that the sample will do the work for them. Do you think this is a good or bad idea?
I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad idea. Avoiding things don’t help in any aspect of life, so why should that be the case here?
But in the end it’s the idea and the emotions behind a track that makes the difference.
When your track is done, how does sample clearance and music rights come into play when you want to release it? Can you avoid clearing the sample if you release the track for free? Is it sometimes unprofitable to sample a track, if you have to pay to have it released?
The fact is that whenever you sample anything, you should have permission by the authors and label upfront. Do you remember that “All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying, reproduction, (…) of the record prohibited” on vinyls and CDs? Most of the time, an artist will ask to listen to your track to hear if it’s good enough to get the sample included. So yes, that’s one of those weird legal loops that drive this world.
The legal way to do things is to clear the sample to avoid any complaints. There are agencies that can do it for you, but the price can be very high.
Releasing a track for free doesn’t mean you’re not sampling. Some artists can get upset anyway as they ask to be paid for the use of their work.
My final advice is: do your track, test it out, understand if it really works —and I mean REALLY— as you, or your potential label of release are going to spend few quid on it. In the event that artists go nuts about it, go ahead with the legal stuff.
Any last piece of advice for a producer who wants to try his hands at making a track which uses a sample from another track?
Focus on producing something personal, and try to forget how the original sample actually sounded. Don’t be lazy; work on it. Not just in terms of sound impact but also in terms of creativity. The right cut