Secrets For Mixing Samples

Mixing Samples

Like many others in hip-hop, I am mostly a sample-based producer.  Because of the very nature of sampling, this can make mixing difficult.  You are literally taking a finished, mixed and mastered sound and fitting it within a song that will again be mixed and mastered.  It’s not simply a matter of turning it down, it needs to fit and support your song.

Another Notch…

Secrets for mixing samples: Notch EQBy the time you’re ready to mix, the sample in question will undoubtedly be layered with basses (synth or filtered), keys, and of course drums.  How do you get all these different elements to fit cohesively? Notching certain frequencies out of the sample will allow it to fit better with the other instruments.  In the same way we’ve discussed making room in your kick drum frequencies for your bass, you may need to do this in the sample as well.  If that incredible synth line you added isn’t working, you may need to make some space for it to sit in the track, but don’t forget, the reverse may also be true.  You might need to tone down some of your new sounds to let the sample shine through.

Where You At?

It’s not just a matter of frequencies.  Use your whole stereo field, and be creative where you place your sounds.

You’ll be somewhat limited in what you can do with the stereo placement of elements in the sample, but you have all the flexibility in the world with your own sounds.  Is there a piano in that soul sample that’s panned left?  Then pan those organ stabs you added to the right to balance it out.  Is that classic rock guitar sample panned too far and becoming distracting?  Narrow the width of your sample and rein it in.

You can also experiment with stereo wideners, but be careful.  A little goes a long way, and too much can cause phase issues and make your sample start to sound thin and weird.

Separate But Equal

What if, for example, you are sampling a dub song and the bass is just out of control, but you love where the high end is sitting?  Before you reach for that EQ, you have a couple of options that won’t change the tone:

A) Reach for a multiband compressor.  We’ve discussed these before but to refresh, a multiband compressor is a compressor that you can set to only affect certain frequencies.

If you don’t have a multiband comp, you can try:

B) Duplicate the audio track, and using shelving EQs take all the low out of the first copy, and all the highs out of the second. (make these cuts at the same frequency on each track)  You can now adjust and compress the low end of your sample, and treat the highs how ever you choose.

Bottom To The Top

Secrets for mixing samples: Bottom To The TopDepending on your sample source (vinyl, TV/Video, CD) you may or may not have noise issues to factor in.  If you’re sampling from a TV source, listen carefully.  Some older TVs have a slight high frequency ring that can show up in your audio, particularly if you are layering your samples.  A quick notch on the EQ will handle this.

The most obvious and common is record noise.  Some people, including myself, love the crackles in vinyl samples and leave it in.  However, if it is too overbearing, or you just don’t like that sound, look into noise reduction and restoration software.  Many have presets for taking record noise, although with varying degrees of success.

Also, do not forget there is noise you may not even hear.  Turntables have an inherent rumble to them.  Start layering samples and this extra low end energy can start eating up room in your mix, and cause your compressors to not react accurately. (Remember, they compress the entire signal, not just the part you can hear). Get in there with your filters and clean that mess out.  You may be surprised, what you can’t hear can hurt you.

Category: Pro-Logic

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