Beat Week: Where do the Samples Come From?

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Date: Wednesday, June 19th, 2002, 10:17
Category: Archive

You’ve followed our Beat `Book series, and you’ve got the hardware. You’ve got the software. And now you want some pre-built samples to aid in constructing your music. Downloadable samples would be a logical next step in a music world increasingly centered around the computer. Unfortunately, online resources haven’t quite caught up yet. A lot of the free sources are pretty mixed in quality. (Got a favorite source? Hit that feedback link and tell us about it!)

Sonomic is a fee-based service that has some excellent commercial samples from a number of the biggest sample houses. It’s not cheap: US$30/mo buys you 30 downloads, or US$99.99/mo for unlimited downloads. If you have broadband, though, it can be a bargain given that a single sample CD averages about $100. DJs might subscribe; people like me are more likely to buy an unlimited package for a month, go on a downloading blitz, and cancel! Fortunately, you can also download a la carte for as little as two bucks a sample. The quality is superior, although the service seems better for downloading rhythmic loops than multisamples and more exotic sources. My only major beef is a poorly designed interface. Searching, the major advantage of an online service, is just plain awful. You’re basically limited to finding keywords in the filename, and there’s barely any more information than what’s in a filename once you’ve searched! OS X users are out of luck, too, because audio preview is Real-only, and be sure to stick with the HTML, not the Java, interface.

How does the old approach compare? I headed to the Sam Ash near Times Square to find out. Listening stations there let me browse through hundreds of sample CDs from all the major manufacturers, listening to each track. And, of course, sample CDs are likely to be better documented than the anemic descriptions on Sonomic. Only downside? Aside from the cost of assembling collections of CDs $100 at a time, Sam Ash was out of stock of most of the CDs. My advice? Use a combination of Sonomic, your local store, and online distributors of CDs to save money, comparison shop, preview what you hear, and get exactly what you need for a project.

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