10 found sound production tips

Advice for working with homegrown sounds

The sheer wealth of sounds available to us today in the shape of soft synth presets, ROMplers, sample packs and the like is just incredible. So why on earth would anybody bother recording their own samples?

Well, apart from the fact that it's enormous fun, it guarantees that your projects will feature sounds that are unique to you and you alone.

Not only that, but you don't have to go very far to find these sounds - hunting around your house for things to hit and turn into musical instruments is a great way to unleash your inventiveness and kick-start your creativity.

Below are ten tips and tricks to help budding sample hunters along their way - for more in-depth tutorials on recording and working with found sound samples check out the autumn issue of Computer Music (CM183).

Like the idea of working with household sounds but not sure you want to record your own? Then check out SampleRadar for 285 real world drum samples.

Strip silence

When you've recorded a long pass of audio full of single hits of your latest cupboard treasure, slicing the hits into separate regions can be a chore.

Many DAWs have a strip silence function that can be a boon, especially if your samples have sharp attacks and short decays. Simply set the threshold level for what the software determines as silence, and your samples are all separated out in one go.

Dynamic stuff

When recording sounds of your own, even if you obtain a good signal-to-noise ratio, it's unlikely the replayed samples will be able to hold their own when used in a mix without some kind of compression or EQ.

To end up with a sampler instrument that plays at a volume on a par with all the others in your library, it's often easiest to apply this kind of processing before you slice up the audio and assign it across the keys.

Phenomenal handclaps

Good handclaps are notoriously difficult to capture. One of the best techniques we've found for getting a great stereo clap is to record a pass of about 16 handclaps, two per bar, played on beats 2 and 4. Snip the claps into separate regions and stack them vertically.

Apply a compressor to each of the 16 tracks and spread their pan positions evenly, then bounce to stereo. The retention of each clap's natural timing within the bar should yield a nice, wide stereo effect.

Transform your beatboxing

If you're any good at beatboxing, make as many recordings and grooves as you can muster, then slice the beats up into loops or single hits and import them all into one sampler instrument.

It's a great technique if you know how to make the sounds but struggle with the timing and execution of the beats - with a little judicious arrangement, EQ and compression, you can easily sound like the world's best beatboxer!

Kitchen cupboard percussion

Plastic boxes of cocktail sticks, salt cellars and pepper grinders are all good candidates for shaker-type sounds. A coffee tin can make a great shaker with its contents intact, and matchboxes are always a good bet for this.

Bottles

Glass bottles are usually the first recourse of the kitchen percussionist. Like wine glasses, you can tune them by filling them with varying amounts of water, but you can also blow across the top of them to produce notes.

Similarly, six-pint plastic milk bottles can sound remarkably tabla-like when struck, while opening a fresh bottle of lemonade can provide a snare-like burst of sizzling white noise - so long as you get it on the first try! Try adjusting the pitch after recording.

Tins & tea towels

Those metal tins of chocolates you get at Christmas make great drums when empty, but they're a bit ringy. To dampen the sound, remove the lid, lay a tea towel over it, tuck in the edges and replace it.

If you can stand it, you can even leave a few chocolates in the bottom to emulate the rattle of the snare wires. Depending on whether you hit it with your hand or a drumstick, you can get a reasonable approximation of the sound of a snare drum with this approach.

Pringle-tube balloon drums

Get creative in those lazy days between Christmas and New Year by making balloon drums! Cut the neck off a balloon and stretch the remnant piece of rubber over an empty Pringles tube with the lid removed. Secure it around the tube with a length of gaffer tape.

Toys 'r' useful

Kids' keyboards and other toy instruments are always good fun to sample and use, and also a great way to get the young 'uns interested in making music.

Don't write them off as 'just' toys, either - one of the most useful shakers we've ever come across was a child's toy costing 75p. It sounded much softer and recorded better than any of the 'pro' shakers we'd tried before or since!

Get your kicks

Taking a tour of your house, hitting and punching things, can yield some surprisingly good sources of kick drum sounds, not to mention a few strange looks from relatives and pets.

Thumping leather beanbags or sofa cushions seems to work particularly well for this, as does banging large plastic laundry tubs with a beater consisting of a rolled-up sock secured to the end of a wooden spoon with elastic bands.

Slamming a large book or smacking a big cardboard box can also give similarly kicktastic results. You can always layer these sounds with more conventional kick drum samples.

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