Production Tip Tuesday: Sample Manipulation

This is the first ever post in a new series I'm starting called "Production Tip Tuesday". The first Tuesday of every month I will be posting new tips and tricks to help motivate you and take your music production to a new level. This first post will focus on sample manipulation.

Sample manipulation is one of my favorite ways to get out of a creative rut. We all have those moments where our creativity seems to have disappeared and we're stuck staring at a blank session just waiting for the creative light bulb to flicker.  Or maybe you've got a nice start to a drum groove but hit a wall when it comes to expanding on your track. This can be an extremely defeating feeling, but you can't let it stop you from doing what you love.

First off, you need to realize this happens to everybody. Your temporary lack of creativity is not a reflection of you or the music you make. Realize there are many ways to get back to that creative flow we all strive for. When it comes to sample manipulation the possibilities are limitless.  

I like to start off by taking out an old record. Something classic with tons of analog character, a Frank Sinatra album or an old movie soundtrack. Skip around and play through a few parts of each song until you find something that just resonates with you. Maybe it's a jazzy sax, an emotional vocal, or a smooth string section. Take a small bit of whatever you find interesting and loop it. This is where things start to take off.

The first thing I like to do at this point is get my pitch and tempo dialed in. I try to have at least a quarter note worth of the sample. Set the pitch and tempo how you like it until it begins to almost pulse and take on other characteristics. Next, try automating a filter, maybe a low pass that opens, to give the sample a sense of growth and movement. Another cool thing to add is a saturator. This will distort your audio and give you tons of harmonic content.  Last, but not least, I love adding big reverb to just about everything (as you may have noticed from listening to my tracks). There's so much atmosphere that you can get from this. It really helps to fill out the sound and give the listener a space to be in with the music. Once you feel good about the sound you've got, start to build a melody or rhythm with it. The sample you've just messed with should start to trigger other ideas and thoughts in your mind of what else you can add or subtract. At this point it's time to start building a song around your sample. Make a drum groove and a bass line and start to add other instruments and elements to build a melody and harmony. Experiment with it and just have fun as the song starts to write itself.

The most important thing to note when working on sample manipulation is that this is a full blown experiment. The processes I've laid out in this post are simply steps to get you started. You can use any form of audio processing you desire for this. The possibilities are truly endless. And even if your attempts at sample manipulation don't work themselves into a full song you can still learn from your experience. You can use any form of signal processing you desire. Have fun with it! That's what making music is all about.

Fun Fact: "Prophetic Visions" and "Mind Control" were both brought to life using sample manipulation. I was stuck in a rut and just started experimenting with sound.