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The History and Future Of Sampling

Producer Tools

In 2019, many music producers are reaching for their favorite VST synth engine In order to create practically any sound under the sun. That said, sampling music has been prevalent since the 1980's and has not gone anywhere since. And it's not just producers making lo-fi type beats going for a retro sound who use sampling. Chances are, if your a modern music producer there is no doubt that you use samples, have thought about it, or been inspired by a producer who has. In this article I wanna talk about sampling. Where did it come from and where is it going?.


The sampler itself has it's roots in the Mellotron, an instrument which manipulated tape heads to trigger sounds. The Mellotron was incredibly popular in its's time, despite it's limitations, such as only having a 3 octave span and consistent component failure. The first digital sampling synthesizer was the Fairlight CMI, released in 1979. The Fairlight was ahead of it's time, especially on the hardware front, sporting a touch screen and stylus over a decade before it's normalization in tech. It's prominence in music in the 1980's was what actually gave us the term sampling.


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Like any great musical innovation, it all started with a bored teenager. Kim Ryrie was developing the idea of building an instrument which combined his love of computers with music for his family's magazine Electronics Today International. A clear forward thinker, Kim later said this: "We had long been interested in computers - I built my first computer when I was about 12 - and it was obvious to me that combining digital technology with music synthesis was the way to go." It was Ryrie's vision that led to the commercial development of a successor to the Mellotron, the Fairlight CMI


Fast forward to the late 80's, and sampling has taken the music world by storm. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel and Joni Mitchell innovated the field by making the Fairlight a mainstay of their studios. That being said, it was exactly that: a studio instrument. The Fairlight was bulky and expensive, and although more versatile and reliable than the Mellotron, it was still not very accessible. Enter the Akai MPC.


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The Akai MPC is a landmark piece of music technology. It was Roger Linn, creator of the popular drum The Lynn Drum groovebox, who designed the MPC. His vision was to rid music tech of the switches and buttons that made instruments look like they are more fit for NASA than a musicians bedroom. The first model in 1988 revolutionized music, especially because of it's widespread use in early hip hop. The sampler democratized music making, making it easy for a beginner to use the 4x4 pad grid and create something a crowd could dance to. And this is not to say sampling isn't an art. Exceptional use of the MPC required a new kind of skill, not to mention good music taste for selecting great samples.


Since the 1990's, music producers have taken sampling far beyond what the vision of early pioneers like Ryrie and Linn could have ever imagined. Today, samples are distributed through the internet and are flipped in a wide array of contexts. Whether it's EDM, Pop, Hip-Hop or even Rock and Metal, sampling is used constantly for many different things. Samples can be downloaded and loaded into a diverse array of instruments, such as MID Keyboards and drum pads, electronic drum kits, or even onto a cell phone or tablet.


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In the context of a modern DAW (digital audio workstation) software, software samplers can be used as plug-ins and are often more capable than their hardware counterparts. VST samplers such as the popular Kontakt 5 allow for vast libraries of samples to be stored, loaded and manipulated. Producers have found ways to capitalize too, by selling their loops and drum kit samples to be used by other producers, resulting in the distribution of "meta music" in a way no musician in the past could have envisioned. At the same time, tech innovators such as those behind the Koala sampler are bring sampling tech tour pockets in the form of an amazing, capable and easy to use app. Some notable software synths include the UVI Falcon, Togu Audio TAL-Sampler, or the Ableton Sampler


So what comes next? Well, since the art of sampling is alive and well, and the tech is more capable than ever, we can be sure of one thing: sampling is not going anywhere. In fact it's being used in ways which are a fresh spin on the style, such as what you might hear in the production of New York producer Sporting Life. His production is often sample-dense, glitchy and futuristic, yet soulful at the same time. Other producers such as Kenny Segal are capable of creating the strongest of vibes with beats that rally together a wide array of samples and drum sounds, showing what the hip hop underground's finest is capable of.


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In the mainstream, sampling still reigns supreme as well. Many chart topping songs show off the diversity of what sampling can be. Songs such as "Pissy Pamper" by Young Nudy, which samples rare japanese 80's synth ballad "Twilight" proves exactly this. Other chart toppers such as "Follow God" by Kanye West uses a soul sample combined with some banging trap drums to pprovide a combo of and new. A similar vibe is achieved on "Middle Child" by J Cole. Meanwhile, hits like "Panini" by Lil Nas X completely re-write the sampling rule book, by sampling grunge rock hit "In Bloom" by Nirvana while providing a thoroughly futuristic vibe


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With 2020 on the horizon as of this writing, I'm excited to see what new young producers are going to come up with in the coming decade. Music is all about re-inventing what already exists, on it's deepest level. Just like generations past, young producers will continue to meld genres and break down musical barriers by sharing their music and tastes, and innovating with their own twist on the frameworks that have been built before them.


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