Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sample Sets: Frequently Asked Question #2

A lot of folks have asked me about the process of compiling (and completing) our sample sets, so I thought I’d break it down for you, because yes, there is a method to this madness:

Step #1: Listen to the Album!!!

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t stress it enough. Most of the info used for our sample sets can be easily found online thanks to sites like The-Breaks and even Wikipedia. But sometimes, even these behemoths of data can miss out on some stuff here and there; so it’s important to listen to the album (in full) to try to fill in the blanks. Specifically, listening to the album can help in tracing down scratched vocal samples, which are rarely listed in sample database websites. Being as complete as possible is the true goal here.

Step #2: Research, Research, Research

Now that we’ve taken our own notes, it’s time to aggregate this info with the aforementioned sample databases (there are plenty of ‘em out there). I amass all of this info in a simple Notepad file, typing up lines that appear as follows: “Song Title: Sampled Artist – Sampled Song Title” etc. Now I’ve got the list of songs I need to get down to the dirty work: e-digging.

Step #3: A Pirate’s Life for Me

I hope that title explains it all for you. I use a whole bunch of great resources to track down the MP3 files I need. With years of this kind of experience (I was f*cking with Napster back in the 20th Century), finding what I want can sometimes get a bit tricky, but I almost always come across what I’m looking for, by hook or crook. I have a personal policy to only get tracks with a bitrate of 192 kbps or above. Under only a handful of circumstances, however, I’ve ripped tracks from media sites like YouTube or iMeem. But for the most part, 192 or above is the mission statement.

Step #4: Tagging & Artwork

Naw, I’m not talking about graf-writing. I’m a freak about this kind of stuff for my personal music collection. ID3 tagging is important to me, because it keeps the tracks looking polished and organized. So once I’ve prepared the proper track titles and track numbers, it’s time to compliment ‘em with a well-matched album cover. Photoshop is what it’s about (shout out to my 10th grade computer teacher), only after I’ve found a high-res cover to work with. I like to go with something that’s 600x600 pixels, but sometimes only 500x500 will do. Anything below is unacceptable. I’ve actually put off working on sets just because I couldn’t find a large cover. It’s that important to me.

Step #5: Audio Tweaking

Oh, you thought I was done? This part might get overlooked – which is why I’d like to highlight it for those that may not have noticed this extra effort I put into my sets. Since I’m downloading all of these MP3s from various sources, album collections etc., there are two things one will notice when they are played together, back-to-back: audio levels are not equalized and blank spaces take up the back (and sometimes intro portions) of songs. Getting rid of these annoyances is an absolute must. This step is very important to me because it provides a congruence of volume, as well as smooth transitions between tracks. To me, this step is crucial – I can’t stress it enough. The process itself is relatively simple, but it’s very time-consuming. I load up all of the tracks into Adobe Audition, and I manually alter the audio levels (using the Normalize function) and blank spaces (Delete/Cut). Now play it back! Ah, much better. Finally, I convert all of the tracks to 192 kbps bitrate. To me, this is the standard for achieving high (enough) audio fidelity, combined with a compact hard drive allocation. I’m saving you time (quicker downloads) and money (less external hard drives) – but it’s still all high quality music.

Step #6: Gift-Wrap

We’re just about done here. A quick re-ID3 renaming, along with some proofreading, is in order. Also, I like to embed the artwork with the tracks; not necessary, but it looks cool on MP3 players. Now it’s time to .zip up the file and upload it. And... that’s that! Sample set #___ has just been completed. Arduous? Sure! But it’s a labor of love.

And you get it for free. F’ing A…

Read: Frequently Asked Question #1