Presets are a great way to get ideas flowing, learn how sounds are constructed and delve into some of the elements of sound design. Beyond presets, there’s a whole world of possibilities. Recording and processing your own samples can be an incredibly rewarding experience. The real fun is when you drop these sounds into powerful samplers and synthesizers.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere has become a household name among producers and composers when it comes to music production. It’s powerful multi oscillator engine gives you vast possibilities to explore sound design worlds. It also features a sample and granular engine which is where you can get really crazy with your sound design. Arturia also recently updated its Wavetable synthesizer, Pigments. With the addition of a sample & granular synthesizer engine, pigments is a great alternative to Omnisphere if you’re wanting to save on the dollar bills. So, let’s take a look at how we can create our own sounds using samplers and field recordings.
Find and record sound sources
Recording your sounds in a quiet room will reduce the amount of audio repair needed later on. Think of objects in relation to actual musical instruments. Would this make a good kick, does this have any tonal qualities that could be used for a melodic instrument - and so on. Playing a sound source with different tools can also offer different timbral qualities.
- Mallets (soft timbral tone, good for low & mid frequencies)
- Metal tools (metal will generate resonance and often sustain)
- Horse-hair bow (great for long drawn out notes)
Ensure that you’re not distorting the microphone input. A good ballpark figure is anywhere between -6 to - 10dBFS as it's much easier to increase gain later on, as opposed to restoring a clipped signal. If you’re doing field recordings don’t worry too much about the noise in nature, you can treat most of these later on but if possible, use a dead cat wind
Edit your audio
Tone shaping can be fairly straightforward if they’ve been recorded well. Some basic gain staging, EQ, and compression can be all you need. Most samples will require a high-pass filter to roll off any unwanted rumble, as well as filtering out any high frequencies and resonant peaks that might be unpleasing to the ear. Make sure your samples don’t peak too close to -18dB, as this will allow for very little headroom during processing. Clicks, hum, crackles, and pops are all very common but can be repaired thanks to audio repair software. Izotope RX7 offers the most versatile audio repair assistant for treating and restoring damaged audio. If that's out of your budget and expander is a great way to suppress unwanted noise by simply adjusting the threshold to your liking.
It’s time to have fun
Now load up your sampler of choice and drop your bespoke samples into the engine. The learning process of synthesis is often overlooked as everything has become so simple and pre-defined. Shaping and manipulating your own samples Is a great way to learn about different types of synthesis, envelopes, LFO’s, Wavetables and so much more. Granular synthesis will take you down an even deeper wormhole creating sounds you might not have known to be possible. By adjusting the grain density, direction, and depth you can get a lot of different sounds from one recording. Pigments and Omnisphere also have an FX section, using modulation such as chorus, delay, and pitch shifters will take the process one step further on your sound design journey.
Once you’re happy with your custom patch you can save it and store it in a custom folder. The beauty of this is, these are your one of a kind samples that nobody else in the world has.