Friday, February 17, 2017

Finding Royalty-Free Samples for Music Production

Are you looking for sounds to put into music that you're producing?  If so, I have a video that I think will help you out a bit.

This video is about a service called Splice Sounds, from  It's a great place to find samples and loops and sounds for your own productions.

If you're creating a song or producing a track, and let's assume that you're working on electronic-based production rather than traditional instrumental music, then you're probably looking for sounds for your track.  One source of these sounds is any instruments that might be within your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, or audio editing/production software).  Most DAW's come with various built-in instruments, which are sometimes called VSTi's.  This stands for Virtual Studio Technology Instrument.  Examples of DAW's that come with built-in VSTi's include Ableton, Pro Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Reason, FL Studio, Logic, and several others.  The VSTi's in these various programs can produce sounds ranging from the various pieces of a drum kit (kick, snare, hi-hats, tom, crash, ride) to miscellaneous percussion instruments (shakers, sticks, tambourines, etc.) to traditional instruments like basses, guitars, pianos, and synths.

I should point out that a VSTi is a bit different than a VST (virtual studio technology plug-in).  VST's are more likely to be apps or plug-ins that affect that sound, rather than create a sounds.  For example, VST's might add things like reverb or delay or chorus or equalization or filtering to your sounds.

The only drawback with these VSTi's is that they're limited in what they can produce.  Some are pretty versatile and can produce thousands of different sounds, but more frequently, you're limited to only a few dozen sounds from a single VSTi.  Some VSTi's can only produce a single sound!  Eventually, you're going to start getting bored with the sounds from your existing VSTi's, and you'll start looking externally for additional sounds.

When you get to this point, the common practice is to go online and to start looking for things called Sample Packs.  A sample pack can contain several sounds or several dozen sounds.  These are called samples.  They're short audio clips that contain things like a note or a drum hit or a spoken word, or several of any of those things.  I've seen samples that were as simple as a single hit of a stick on a block of wood, or as complex as three or four lines of a singer's vocals.

Some samples are designed as one-shot samples.  These are intended to be played once, without repeating.  Even though it's called a one-shot, there may be more than one sound in the sample.  For example, I've seen one-shots that were a single hit on a hi-hat, and I've seen other one-shots that were sixteen consecutive hits on a hi-hat.  The main defining characteristic of a one-shot is that it's made to be played one time, rather than repeated constantly.

The other common type of a sample is designed as a loop.  Again, a loop sample can be as simple as a single sounds, but more frequently, it's a series of related sounds, such as four hits on a kick drum.  But the key thing with a loop is that it is designed to be played over and over and over again, constantly, in a repetitive motion.  And the way that it's designed, quite often, the intent is that it sounds "continuous" so that you can't really tell where the loop is starting or stopping.

Traditionally, there have been a lot of websites designed to supply loops to producers.  Some well-known examples are:

and dozens more

These sites all offer sample packs that producers can buy and use in their own music.

An important definition here is "royalty free."  You're probably going to want to make sure that all the samples you buy are designated as royalty-free.  This means that you can use them in your own music that you re-distribute, either for free or for sale, without having to pay further expenses based upon the frequency of use of the samples.  In other words, a royalty-free sample is a one-time purchase that legally lets you share the sample in your song forever, with no extra expenses owed in the future if your song becomes popular.

If you buy a sample pack, you may be paying anywhere between perhaps ten and thirty dollars.  Or less, or more.  That sample pack will contain a handful or maybe a few dozen samples, which are sometimes all fairly related, and intended to work together in the same key.  But your sample pack may also contain some diversity, such as some bass notes, some drum hits, some keyboard notes, etc.  The problem though is that you may not end up using all of those sounds.  You may end up buying a sample pack just because you like two or three specific sounds in the pack, and you ignore the rest.  In that case, those samples that you liked will be pretty expensive for you, several dollars apiece.  That doesn't sound like much, but if you do a lot of production work, you can easily go through hundreds or even thousands of samples in a busy month.

That's where Splice comes in.  Splice has several different sections.  Although we're going to focus on Splice Sounds, here's what else it includes:

Splice Studio - Collaborate remotely with other producers, using the Cloud.  Sort of like a real-time collaboration over Dropbox or Google Drive, if you can envision that.

Splice Community - Share your productions with the Splice community, which has hundreds of thousands of other producers.  Sort of like a SoundCloud meets a PHPbb message board concept.

Splice Sounds - Your source for Samples, as we'll discuss shortly.

Splice Plug-Ins - Buy or rent professional VST's and VSTi's, or download a number of free plug-ins too.

Splice Blog - Information about various topics associated with audio, music, production, etc.

If you want a full run-down of each of those sections, you can find info in the video.  But let's talk specifically about some features of the Splice Sounds section:

- Cost effective:  A subscription is either $8 or $13 USD per month, but allows you to download either 100 or 300 samples per month.  If you don't use up all your credits, they roll over into the future, so you don't lose them.  This works out to pennies per sample.
- Wide selection:  They have literally millions of samples to chose from, royalty-free.
- Easy filtering:  Sort samples by key, tempo, type, instrument, and other criteria, before you start browsing, to be able to find what you're looking for very quickly.
- Audio previews:  High quality audio preview to see if you like the sample.
- And lots more, as the video will show.

The best thing is that you can get a free test account that lets you download about a hundred samples, which lets you go through the service and realize exactly how useful it is.  And you will DEFINITELY realize that if you produce music even on a very casual basis, Splice is well worth the subscription.

If you want to skip the preamble in the video (all the stuff that I just described here), skip ahead to the 9minute 12second mark of the video, and begin playing it there.  From that point on, you'll see the screen shots as I'm describing everything.

Good luck with your music productions!

- Jonathan Clark (DJ Bolivia)

PS:  Here's an example of a track that was produced predominantly with samples from Splice, plus a few stock Ableton Live sounds included:

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