The Backpacker’s Guide To Sampling #1 – The Basics

The MPC 60 - the sampling king of the early 90s

In this series, we look at the ways of sampling and how you can get involved. The first article is all about the basics.

While looking through my Documents folder, I came across an article I had written about the art of sampling. It was inspired by someone who had asked me how you sample and while I’m by no means an expert, I thought I’d at least give it a stab.

A technical definition could be “to record or extract (a small piece of music or sound) digitally for reuse as part of a composition or song” (there are more technical forms of “sampling” within the realms of electronics but I’ll spare you the music tech lesson). But sampling is a lot more than just taking a small piece of music and reusing it. Here are what some musicians had to say:

Sampling is a culture within itself and without it, there’d be no Sampleface. Plain and simple. So, now we’ve got the definition and context out of the way, we can return to the original question – “How do you sample?”. If you remember anything from this article, remember this: there is no right or wrong way to sample. All you really need are the basic tools:

  • A good ear for the music that moves you
  • An imagination (cliché but true, and I’ll come back to that)

Okay, let’s address these individually.

A good ear for the music that moves you

In the words of Reverend X – your thoughts ain’t my thoughts. Whatever you think about a certain type of music isn’t the same as what other people think about that music. The brilliance of sampling is there is no discrimination in what you sample (we’ll skip the legalities of sampling for the time being), how you sample, when you sample (unless you’re late to work/a date/court/a wedding/etc.) or where you sample (same rules apply). If you have a hankering for folk music and you deem it worthy of sampling, go for it. If a country song makes your ears prick up, go for it. There are no restrictions to your creativity. Some of the best sample-based songs contain samples that give you the gasface due to what song was used. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found out what Dilla sampled for a beat and thought “how the hell did he find that?!” One thing to also note is the sound quality of whatever medium you choose (I’ll go into more detail about this in a later post). With vinyl, you have a lot more leeway depending on your preference of quality. Some people (myself included) love the crackle of vinyl but you might not want it too crackly. If you’re using a digital form of music, make sure you use sound quality of between 220-360kbps. Anything below 180 will contain artifacts.

The gasface
The gasface.

An imagination

You’ve established you have a good ear. But hearing good music is only half the battle. You’ve got to have a creative and imaginative mind to get the best out of your sampling. Due to the subjectivity of music, this is a crucial part of the process, as it will separate you from the primarily technically advanced samplers out there. If you look at a composition like a painting or any kind of art (which it is really), you’ll be able to expand your musical mind a lot more. There are a number of books that can help you if you ever feel stifled in this department:

Another lesson to keep a note of: never tie yourself down to an idea. You could leave it and come back to it the next day and hate it. That’s okay (unless you have a deadline). Don’t put anything out you don’t like. I get the feeling that’s what a lot of commercial musicians do nowadays, whether that’s due to record label pressure or chasing fame and money. Don’t follow that trend. Having a rough idea in your head can be an optional tool at your disposal but you might just want to mess around with the sample and see what sticks – nothing wrong with that.

With a good ear and an imagination, you’re on your way to becoming one with the Sampleface way of life. In the next post, I’ll be looking at one of the oldest and best methods of finding samples: crate digging.

Think there’s something missing or have any opinions? Let us know in the comments section below.

About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.