Techno Samples And Organizing Your Library of Sounds

Having the Right Palette of Sounds is Essential for Hassle-Free Techno Production

Let's talk techno samples.  Here are the problems I wanted to solve. Now if you don't have a reason to do this you can end up drowning in near pointless activity.

What I wanted to do was make better use of the samples I do have, pick more specific sounds which will help define the music I make, have it better organized by mood/genre. Organizing by mood/genre is important - for the same reasons you'd organize playlists for a DJ set. Different songs are more appropriate for different parts of the night. Same for samples. The problem with samples is that they aren't organized by energy or feel so you can just end up with a bunch of kicks or hats.  Different kicks are better for different kinds of tracks.  The same applies for bass, lead sounds and so on. 

I also wanted my samples key labeled which makes things sound tighter and more cohesive. And when you get things sounding great at the onset it means less time mixing.  Plus key labeling makes it easier to pick out what samples to use. (I tend to focus around the Key of A or something close to it)

Here we go.

Before I get into these tips let me give you a little back story.

The first sample pack I ever bought was a double data compact disk. This was ages ago and it was by East West which is still around today. However finding usable samples for underground music or techno was not an easy task.

Imo very little was actually good - like 5% at best.

So when modern producers started making packs I found them to be tons better however I'd still use less than half of the pack's content.

More on this in a moment.

Over the years I'd grab packs from beatport when they do really deep Holiday sales - this doesn't mean I'd gorge myself on them.

To date I have maybe 20 or so packs in total including 5 (Maschine) Native Instruments Expansions. The NI ones are quite good BTW.

Anyhow it was time for me to start getting more particular about my sounds so it was time to get them organized.

What I did was make one folder called "select samples" - this folder would Be a home for the good stuff I'd use.

So, I went through each pack and searching for kicks loops hi hats synths riffs noises and so on. I then put them in folders.

From there it was easy to find gaps in my sonic palette. To fill those gaps I signed up to Splice for $8 to get more interesting usable stuff.

The beauty of Splice is you only get the samples you hand pick - I have about 79 so far.

You want to organize your sounds so they represent the frequencies in a club track. This way when your selecting stuff you'll have the spectrum covered. Now leads and melodic content may come from synths and stuff - I'll get to that.

Anyhow once your done and trust me this can be a never ending task, but once an initial pass has been done you'll want to key label your sounds.

I have an old copy of Mixed In Key version 5 that was up to the task. All I needed it for was to key label my samples - the ones that were missing this that is.

The benefit of having your stuff labeled by key is that when you get a groove going and then reach for your keys for a melody or bass line you know what key to play in.

Synth presents are another animal to organize - honestly I have yet to go there, but that's next on the list.

In short a good first pass at this would be to:

  • Hand pick the samples you actually do lik
  • Categories them into folders - kick, hat, ride, bass, top loop etc
    • You could make sub folders as needed (Peak hour kick) but it might not make sense to go too crazy on this
  • Spot categories of sounds your weak in - for me this is lead sounds, plucks, noises, and metallic percussive sounds - use the image below to see what "space" your techno samples occupy.  Tracks that sounds "big" and "full" tend to fill out the entire spectrum.
  • Keep in mind this is an on going task that will evolve over time. Don't let this become overly time consuming.  Use a timer.  This is a way you get smarter and more precise about the sounds you do choose to use.
  • Organizing is helpful but organizing is not producing
frequency of a club track

credit Future Music

Places to Shop for Underground / Techno Samples

Beatport

Splice (Pretty solid for shopping techno samples by label (Sample Magic, Audio Tent) or by artist collection. Remember you can download them individually and combine them in your own sample packs or re-packs.

Raw Loops (A Personal Favorite)

Native Instruments Expansions - also quite especially if you're using Machine or Komplete Control

Samples from Mars - great for samples of analog gear

Personally I don't go out lookin for free stuff.  Anything worthwhile isn't typically free. 

Designing your own samples for techno is a another story soon to be covered. 

In the meantime have a look at these free samples I've put out in the past.

The Making of Doorway to the Sun

Thanks for visiting this is an overview of my latest tune "Dooryway to the Sun" out now on Jannowitz Records.

Some readers of the site asked how I got this done while holding down a lot of other responsibilities.  Another common question was mixing and sound - how do I get that clarity and punch (hint - a lot of that is in mastering - HIRE A PRO)

OK Let's Talk Techno Production

I started this tune back in the Fall of 2016.  It was just released this week so don't get tripped up thinking your material will sound dated by the time it sees the light of the day.  The only reason it would sound dated is if you're leaning too heavy on popular sounds of the day.  So shy away from fads.

This tune was completed in September 2017 when I emailed about 20 labels to get this track and a couple others signed. 

More on that here

Lars of Jannowitz Records gave it a thumbs up and said it would be released on a compilation.

Here's how I got it done.

Started with kick from a sample pack followed by a bass preset that's a go to favorite of my from Native Intruments Prism. 

From there I layered in some percussion.  This was all done in Native Instruments Maschine as I prefer sampler based production. I'm not a keyboard player. 

I like to take percussion sounds and pitch them down a lot and then use a hi pass filter to remove low end.  

I then stumbled upon a nice synth preset used for those ominous sounding chord stabs.

The chords repeat enough but don't over do it.  

Then I found a percussive synth sound that added a bit of melody.

At this point I had about 73 bars of music done in Maschine.  Now Maschine isn't like Ableton, Logic or any other kind of DAW.  Maschine forces users to use scenes and patters.  In short, it's hard to take say an 8 bar kick drum loop and draw it out for say 209 bars.  You can do that in Maschine by duplicating scenes that are 8 bars in length that contain the 1 8 bar pattern but if you change that pattern it will change it EVERYWHERE that pattern is used in the track.

To me that's the limitation of Maschine. It's great for short loops and ideas but for tracks that breath and evolve where you would want to automate parameters for 16+ bars of music it's not so hot. 

Off to Ableton we go.

In Ableton I opened my track notes from Layton Giordani's "Dragon Fly."  My track has some similarities so I thought I could leverage what Layton has done in terms of structure.  "Dragon Fly" moves along in 16 bar sections and there's a clear beginning, middle, and end.

So I began to lay out my tracks within this framework.

A Few Important Things

One I get to the point where I want to further flesh out my song, whether it's just 8 bars of music, or 65, I am at the point where I'm confident in how it sounds sonically.

It's not yet perfect (is it ever?) but it is sounding good enough so that I can move on to the arrangement stage. 

While I'm getting my ideas down I often use a hi pass filter to unclutter the low end.  I'll also add a dash of tape saturation and perhaps a little compression to keep volume levels in check on certain sounds.  

Since I exported audio from Maschine into Ableton - elements like the kick and bass were exported with a dash of tape saturation.  UAD's Studer is my go to on that.  I like simple but elegant solutions. I did spend decent coin on a Quad DSP card to run the plugins and later upgraded my audio interface to the solo core Apollo.  In total I've spent like $500 on UAD plugins and it's been ALOT less in recent years. I really don't give a fuck about plugins. I'm done looking at sales...it's such a distraction.  You'll see in the video that I barely know how to use the UAD Fairchild.  

So when I get to the arrangement stage I'm not going to get distracted by tweaking anything with the mix. That will come later. 

Once I had the basic structure down and I knew where my break downs would be and where I'd increase/decrease energy levels it was time to find some melodic parts.

I got that done and after this it was time to just add subtle effects and ear candy - then give it a final mix.

Check the video for more. 

If you want more detail on what this tune looks like in the early stage where I walk through each individual track then check out my course.  There's about 20 minutes spent on this.  

My general work flow is -

Get my ideas done in a sampler - long time user of Maschine but more recently the Pioneer Toraiz.  

Make them sound nice - this means using a hi pass to roll off low end i don't need on tracks other than the kick and bass. 

Then tweak the arrangement and enhance the mix. 

Send off for mastering. 

Regarding life....I don't produce a ton of tracks.  I do 4-6 per year and I spend 4-10 hours on each track. 

Personally I think good music is born out of struggle and experience so fill up and live your life so that you don't have free time to fuddle around tweaking stuff.

Parkinson's Law - Work will expand to fill time allotted to it.  So if you have lots of available free time, production will take long.

In the beginning this is kind of OK.  There's a fun learning curve and time needed to sort out the basics. 

If you're at the point where you can make an 8 bar loop that sounds dope, you need to discipline yourself to finish.

I don't like will power, but use some will power to complete a track.

You need to go through the whole process so you get a feel for each stage.  

Again it's like cooking.  A track in it's basic form is like eating dinner.  Appetizer, entree, desert. Beginning, middle, and concluding section.

If you're a chef, you have to make an entire meal.  Beginning producers get stuck making new ideas but never a while meal.

This would be like a chef who keeps making new appetizers and instead of developing a meal based on the first appetizer she stops, get's frustrated and learns to make a new appetizer.

Maybe this makes sense.

Anyhow, my course exists to help those of you struggling to turn your short ideas into complete polished songs.  If that's you check it out.

Hope you enjoyed this post. 

6am Premiers "Doorway to the Sun" by Eric Louis

Thanks so much to the 6am fam for the extra coverage of one of my 2 new singles.

Click Here for more.

The tune was inspired from staying at the club when you can start to see daylight creeping in from under the doors.  In my early days going out it would often feel a little devastating walking out into sunlight after a nice night out because that was the nail in the coffin.

"Sun is out time to go home kid, show's over"

That's the doorway to the sun, but I'm just not ready to go.

This is the kinda tune and vibe that would keep me from going home for another hour or so.

Enjoy.

Almost Free Ableton Session and Audio Files

Rather than piece meal tips and tricks I go over all the ingredients of production and how the different things came together for this track.The music, drums and what not were done in Maschine.

I brought everything in to Ableton to finesse the arrangement and mix. Think about how Ableton is advertised and sold - it's nearly always shown in a small studio set up w like guitars, synths, drum machines and what not. Ableton is great for capturing ideas, but I"m not a "Live Geek" doing fancy things.

Tip 1 (2 minutes). Bus or group your bass and kick drum to process them together. (EQ, Side Chain Compression etc)

Tip 2 (4:30) I bounced my hi hat and snare to 1 stereo track as the mix on them was OK in Maschine. Typically it's better to keep them separate but I was going for speed and simplicity. I use some heavy NYC compression on this track. Watch and Listen to hear my EQ and compression settings.

Tip 3 (7 min) All drums flow into a "Drum Bus" track or group so that all the drums are process.(8 min )Mixing the keys and pad sounds - only required a dash of compression and EQ

Tip 4 (8:30) Gain staging and freeing up headroom on your master fader. Here's a refresher on this concept in a post I did last year. https://itsthedj.com/if-youve-ever-us...Basically you don't want tracks coming in too hot and then going too hot into your plugins. Yes this matters in a DAW, despite "32bit floating point headroom" In the link above a professional mastering engineer debunks this.

Tip 5 10 Minutes - Track Structure/Arrangement. A lot of new producers cram too much into a track so elements become repetitive and boring. The most basic way to think of track structure is like going to dinner. Appetizer/Main Course/Dessert. What this means in the real world is that you want your main elements to make their appearance at about 2 minutes into the track. They can be teased and hinted at prior to this, and this is certainly not a hard and fast rule but it is a good frame work for approaching track structure. For example the keys in this tune start at Bar 65. Watch out for overusing elements in your track. Look at and study what other people have done for where to place things in your arrangement.

Tip 6 (13:30) . Use delay to spice things up. See how I automated the send button on the vocal to the delay return track. I also automated the level of feedback on the delay track to 100% to push the sound into a near constant feedback loop. Delay is a nice way to add some ear candy to your music.

Tip 7. (14:40) See where the vocal part fits into the mix sonically. It fill s a gap where I didn't have sonic content. The vocal part was helpful in the 300-800Hz area.

Tip 8. Don't Master Your Own Tracks. don't burden myself with anything to do w/ Mastering. I use Landr for rough masters so I can check my stuff in the car, and Landr has been fine for sending demos and getting tracks signed. For final masters that will be sold in stores like Beatport, I do hire professional, human engineers. I do have a couple things on my master channel which you can watch and listen to. Typically I use the UAD Fatso Sr. Plugin on very gentle settings for mix bus compression. Quick shoot out of the UAD Fatso versus Ableton's Glue Compressor.

Want access to this Ableton Project?

You can get it for almost free. Only $2 or Pay What You Like using the Green Button Below.  

Or I added this to my flagship course "Underground Elite" in the "bonus" section so that students can experiment, dissect, and learn from it.

Sign up for my course here.