Samples, and more specifically vocal samples play a big part in modern music production. Especially electronic musicians often rely on working the right vocal sample into their track to make it stand out. Being an electronic musician myself I’ve worked with vocal samples several times in my tracks. Still I have a problem with the concept of using vocal samples which is why today I’ll tell you why vocal samples are limiting creative potential, why we should overcome vocal samples and how to avoid having to use them.
Many face a big challenge when it comes to choosing the right sample and samplework is actually a more complicated and important skillset than it seems to be at first sight. There are many things to look out for when choosing and editing your sample.
So far so good. I mean anything can be a big challenge right? Yes, definitely. There is a different issue I have with vocal samples though and I’m also pretty sure that not many creators share that opinion with me. But now since we’re here, let me explain what I mean anyway.
Vocal samples are everywhere in electronic music and there are possibly countless sources to sample from. Hardcore culture for example samples pretty much everything, from movie scenes to speeches, rap songs and ethnic music. Rap/Hip-Hop even samples itself with modern tracks sampling from all-time rap classics.
Samples create outstanding songs.
Samples create opportunities.
Samples define cultures.
Samples create memories.
I feel like having to or more precisely immediately choosing to use a sample to make a song stick out is limiting lots of creative potential.
Why? Because oftentimes the vocal sample you use is exactly that one element in your song that makes it stand out. It’s the hook, the theme that makes listeners really remember your track. And while you’ve got so many options to sample from and find that exact sample you need for the track, the theme will never be 100% original material. It’s still a very distinct vocal sound that provides that uniqueness to the sample. ‘Sadly’ there’s not much you can do about that, as vocal sound is naturally unmatchable in it’s uniqueness. Every voice is different and no vocal sound is ever the same.
From this point of view vocal samples are basically massive sound design shortcuts.
So, what’s the problem now? What do I mean by ‘vocal samples are limiting creative potential’? I mean that there are so many other options to make your track stand out with that one remarkable element. Every time you’re going with a vocal sample for the sake of the tracks ability to attract attention, you’re missing out on an opportunity to create a totally new and outstanding sound!
Ditch the pre-existing vocal sample and create something from scratch! Actually if you do this more often you will most certainly create your very own signature sound pretty much casually. I mean how cool would it be if people didn’t just recognize the song by it’s sample but – beyond that – the artist by the special sound of their tracks?!
Don’t get me wrong!
Now let me get this straight. I’m not saying vocal samples are generally bad. or that we should overcome vocal samples all at once. Undoubtedly they are a big part of music. In fact sooner or later in one’s career almost every creator will have worked with one in some way.
Furthermore I’m not saying that using vocal samples is uncreative! As I said in the beginning, there is so much more to sampling and samplework in post than one might think. They can be a great musical element!
Also, should I be the one to affect the way YOU are doing YOUR thing? No, of course not. I just want to make a statement and maybe spark more inspiration in those minds genuinely interested in this topic.
What you should always consider is that there are many ways to avoid having to use vocal samples. There are ways to create your signature sound with other elements. They are just a tad more difficult to pull off in my opinion.
So let’s get to it, how to work around it? How to make your track unique? Here are some basic ideas on how to overcome vocal samples:
Accents & fills
Not every sound apart from a vocal sample has to carry on throughout the whole song! A well and interestingly designed synth sound can be just as remarkable as a good vocal sample. The trick is just to make it stand out. You’ll achieve that by not using it too often, but instead making it real present when it kicks in. Make it shout at the listener ‘Yo, here I am, I am that sound!!’
The same works with fills. An incredible fill (maybe paired with that remarkable sound) towards the end of a section or right before a drop might also be what you’re looking for. Just as any sample, if it’s thought through well enough it can create that very moment that’ll stick with the listener.
Pay more attention to your composition! In other words: Take your music to a higher level. Melody doesn’t always have to be complex. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel by making that next level, super complicated composition.
It might mean some more work and learning more composing tricks and music theory but in the end what you can do with a powerful composition lies beyond what any spoken word could reach.
There is a song (whereisalex – ‘a theme to the last days’) I deeply admire. It’s one of my all-time ABSOLUTE favourite songs and while it has a very present vocal sample in the second main part, the composition is what makes this song so perfect for me. Many intricate details, probably the best use of pauses in a piece of music I’ve ever experienced and such detailed and refined percussion work.
Design that main sound!
Presets are super useful in case you don’t want to design every sound from scratch, which is probably the case most of the time. But if you don’t want to use a vocal samples that sticks with the listener, the main sound has to be special! And to make it unique, the ‘easiest’ thing to do (if you take the time and learn sound design) is to design it from scratch. Give it a catchy pattern and you’re good to go.
I hope I didn’t offend too many of you but I’ve been thinking about this topic for a very long time now and finally I could get this off my chest.
What do you think about what I said in this blog post? Do you agree at all that we should sometimes overcome vocal samples or is there anything else you want to mention? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. Feel free to check out other blog episodes and make sure to check out my socials below. Until next time!