Ocean waves, a forest coming alive at sunset, the hum of highway traffic. Our world is an incredibly musical place, filled with unique sounds no matter where you are. Even your home is a treasure trove of sounds. In this article, let’s record some ordinary household sounds and turn them into inspiring, unique, and customizable musical instruments that you can add to your next song.
1. Set up your equipment
To start off, get your recording equipment set up. You can use a full microphone, interface, and computer setup, but that may be expensive, time-consuming, and less than portable. That's where Spire Studio comes in.
Spire Studio is small, portable, and lightweight with a built-in hi-fi microphone to capture the magic wherever it happens. No heavy equipment, cables, or computer means no headaches. Super easy and professional.
I love using Spire Studio for recording samples because I don’t have to waste time setting up clunky microphone stands or running audio cables. And I don’t have to worry about having to find an outlet because Spire Studio is also battery operated. Plus, it has an awesome Soundcheck feature that auto-configures the microphone gain for me.
2. Find your sounds
Open your mind and ears as you search for interesting sounds around your home. Look in every room and use your hands to tap, ding, knock, flick, rub, or slap any object. What do you hear? Is the sound short and dull? Does it ring with a slow decay? How about a squeak or a swoosh? How does it sound if you use a fork, or a metal spoon, or even sandpaper? There are no limits!
Spire Studio lets you move quickly between rooms and objects without all the hassle of setting up, configurations, finding outlets, or teardown, which means you can focus on being creative. You will be up and ready to record in seconds by following three simple steps:
- Turn Spire Studio on
- Create or open a session
- Use the built-in Soundcheck tool
Once you find the sound you want to record, run the built-in Soundcheck tool. During this time, “create/play” your unique sound at the normal volume you want to perform it at. Spire Studio will automatically adjust the microphone's gain to create a balanced recording.
4. Do it again!
Repeat this process for each new sound you want to capture. Create a new track and perform a new Soundcheck for each new sound and you are ready to record. Spire Studio allows you to record up to eight tracks/sounds in one session. Want to record more than eight? Just create a new session.
5. Export the samples
Now that you're done recording, we're going to be turning these samples into playable instruments in your DAW, so let’s export all the recorded samples from Spire Studio to your computer.
Using the Spire Studio app, tap the share button in the top right corner and when prompted leave the “Enhance” feature off. (It's a great function, but you are going to be editing and cleaning up these samples in your DAW so no need to use it now.)
On the next screen, you will be given different options to share your recording. Select “Individual Tracks” and this will export all of the different tracks as separate high quality .WAV files and then zip them up to be uploaded to the destination of your choice.
You can use Airdrop, or upload to iCloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or any other cloud service to then get them to your computer.
Once the sounds are there, import them into the DAW of your choice (Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Studio One, Cubase, etc.).
6. The cleanup
Once you have recordings in your DAW, listen to each individual track to determine what kind of clean up it may require. Since you recorded at home and not in a sound-controlled environment, many unwanted noises will creep into your samples. AC, outside traffic, neighbors, the dog sneezing, etc. No worries, though. We can easily fix it.
Listen to the following recording of a sample I recorded in my hallway. I found a glass container and hit it with a wooden spoon. However, what you can also hear is the hum from my washing machine. This is where iZotope RX saves the day.
The Spectral De-noise plugin is fantastic at cleaning up unwanted sound. Spectral De-noise learns the noise profile from your recording and then removes the unwanted sounds leaving you with a clean recording of the sound you want. Take a listen to the comparison. RX was able to remove the unwanted noise from my load of laundry without altering the sample’s shape or sound.
Now that we have a clean recording, it’s time to choose your favorite take. I really like the second to last take. So I am going to use that one as a basis for my new instrument.
Let's isolate that take by trimming the beginning of the sample to exactly where the sound begins. Most DAWs offer tools to allow you to trim an audio region to transient markers. Logic Pro X (Flex Time Editing), Ableton (Warping) and ProTools (Elastic Audio) have this which makes the editing part super easy. To keep things clean, trim the ending past the point when the sound ends. I recommend a short fade out to make sure there is no unwanted hard cut to the decay of your sound.
Having completed the prep, you are now ready to take this short audio clip and turn it into a real playable sample.
Creating a sampled instrument
As the name suggests, you will want to use a sampler, a type of musical instrument plugin that is capable of playing back audio samples. For this, you can use any sampler of your choice. It can be either one that’s built into your DAW like EXS24 (Logic Pro X), Simpler (Ableton) or Sample One XT (Studio One). Alternately, you can go with a 3rd-party one like Kontakt.
For this first example, I will use EXS24 in Logic Pro X. You’ll want to reference your sampler’s user manual for details on how to operate it. Check out this article for a quick primer on the basics of samplers and using Simpler and Kontakt.
I want to turn the sample into a melodic instrument by automatically pitching it up and down the Midi keyboard to make it fully playable at any pitch. To do this, I went into my sampler under sample mapping extended the playable key range to span all octaves. I also made sure that "Pitch" (sometimes called "Tracking") was enabled, which made sure that the sampler automatically pitched the sound up and down to match every key.
Make sure that the sample's root pitch is adjusted to the pitch your original sound created. Play your raw sample against a piano and find which note the sample is closest to. In my case, the pitch was D#3. So I adjusted the "Root Note," so everything around it is pitched up or down in relation. Most DAWs have a built-in tuner to help you get the pitch just right.
This is the best time to start shaping the sound. Listen to the following recording which showcases the process. In order of appearance, this is what you will hear:
Original untouched sample
Sample converted into a single note sampled instrument and played using my MIDI keyboard
Sample stretched and pitched across the keyboard so it could be played using multiple pitches in rhythm
Added EQ to get rid of some lows and highs and boost the middle frequencies
Added a stereo delay to give the instrument a little motion
The final instrument in the context of my song
Creating non-pitched percussive instruments from your samples
You will want some to remain non-pitched percussive samples. Particularly if you are using them to enhance your groove. The steps to creating such sampled instruments are similar to the steps of my last example.
Always start out by cleaning out the excess noise of your recordings. The recording I created has unwanted background noise in-between the “hits.” I used RX's Spectral De-noise plugin to clean up the recording.
Since I'm working with 3 recordings, I need to create three different samples mapped to three individual keys in my sampler. This will allow me to trigger them individually. Since the sounds are percussive rather than melodic, make sure the sampler is not pitching the sounds across the keyboard, as you will only need to hear each of the sounds at one pitch.
Have a listen to the following audio example. What you'll hear is:
Groove created using the 3 samples (ever so slightly tuned down to make it sound deeper)
Shaped the EQ curves on the track to give it more punch
In context with bass and my previous sampled instrument
This pumping "kick" started out as a foam roller hitting a chair. Would you have ever guessed that? Awesome, right? It's a unique sound that I created from scratch, that I know no one else has. Plus, I love that it begins with a swish.
Be creative and repeat, repeat, repeat!
Try taking a new sound and really go deeper into how you process it. Let’s look at this odd sound as an example. I dropped some rocks into a metal bowl. I loved the sound, but it needed more work. This is where your creativity gets to shine.
After cleaning up the recording, I realized it didn’t fit the tempo of my song. So I imported it into Kontakt and used the built-in Sync and Slice functions to time stretch it to better match my BPM. Once I was happy with the timing of my sample, I pitched it across the keyboard and turned it into a playable instrument. Reminder: Don't forget to tune and adjust the root note pitch of your sample so that it plays well with your other instruments.
Check out the progression of the above steps in the audio sample below. Finally, you'll get to hear it in context with the whole grooving track.
Creating your own sampled instruments fuels creativity and will let you produce unique music that you can truly be proud of. Having sounds that no one has heard before makes you stand out. Your audience will love your sonic impact and your peers will be dying to know the secret of how you created your awesome sounds. Just like chefs are celebrated for their made-from-scratch cakes and cookies, you can be celebrated from your made-from-scratch samples and music. I can't wait to hear what you create!