Tell us a little bit about yourself and your sample libraries?
We’re just two humble composers, Alex Davis and Jonathan Churchill. We live in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. By day we write music at an Ad Agency called Centerline Digital, and by night, we take to the cities and fight crime. Oh, and on the weekends we make sample libraries…
How do you prepare or should we say, how does one start making sample libraries?
Since we both use samples all day long, we have a pretty good idea what’s out there, what we want, and where there might be weak spots and gaps. We’re both complete sample library nerds, so the idea of starting a company based around that came naturally. We love the idea that instruments can be deeply sampled, easy to play… and affordable. Also we always wished there were more “pay per instrument” opportunities out there.
If you want to start making sample libraries, the first step is to get some kind of sampler. Our sampler of choice is Kontakt, but there are others out there… MOTU’s Machfive, for example, has been on our radar lately. The scripting language under the hood there looks pretty amazing. But if you’re passionate about sampling – grab a microphone, sampler, and a computer (or some kind of hardware), and BOOM! Sample away. Once you get rolling, it’s lots of fun!
How long does it take to make a sample library? (recording, mixing, programming etc.)
It depends how large the instrument is! But between recording, editing, processing, programming, scripting and designing… there’s a lot to get through! We’re trying to streamline our process, but imagine pouring over 2500 samples with a fine-tooth comb! It’s a labour of love, but if you’re looking to do it deeply, it can’t be done quickly.
Can you give us a little insight on your creative process? (microphone placement, equipment used, vst software)
Because we are new to the sample-developing world, we’re still doing a lot of testing/experimenting. It’s great to have the chance to try out different techniques. We want our instruments to feel natural, raw, and organic – so to achieve that, we record dry samples, and keep lots of imperfection intact. We spend a lot of time tweaking our instruments inside Kontakt to bring a more realistic result. (hint: there’s a lot you can do with LFO’s!)
We usually record multiple mic positions, directly into a DAW or portable recorder. For most of our solo instruments (actually all of them so far) we record in an iso booth. Intimate Strings Lite was recorded inside a large hardwood dance studio – currently the space for film shoots and ping-pong tournaments at our workplace. The room sound is beautiful! We have some exciting new instruments coming down the pike that were recorded in a large space with multiple mic positions.
We do our batch processing through Adobe Audition (an awesome program), and try to stay super organized and backed up. So many files!!
How much sound design is involved in making sample libraries?
As little as possible. At least that’s our philosophy; we want to keep our instruments feeling natural… so that means we keep processes like normalizing, compression and pitch correction to an absolute minimum. Most of this should be up to the composer, anyways – right? Some pitch correction is good, and we do that to a certain degree. We spend a lot of time (depending on the recording) reducing unwanted noise, like that stupid annoying dog that wouldn’t shut up right in the middle of the perfect take. We think that’s pretty important, we want to offer the best in recording quality, so the samples need to be clean. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t have a dirty sounding flute!
What inspires you to make such amazing products?
Not to kiss up, but companies like 8dio, Sonokinetic, Soundiron, Tonehammer (RIP), Sonic Couture (and many others) completely inspire us. We want to help move the realism, musicality and playability of virtual instruments forward into new and exciting realms! Even more inspiring are the thousands of incredible musicians out there… trumpet players, singers, nose flutists, whatever… What people manage to do on their instruments never ceases to amaze! And to be able to immortalize someone’s tone/style by obsessively sampling them – that is awesome, and super fun.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
We’re way too new, our doors have only been open for a week or so… Though we have learned one important thing: sampling is @#$%ing hard. Just sampling a 28-note toy piano almost sent us to the loony bin! 8 hours and a flirtation with carpal tunnel for a simple, small instrument… Just imagine what an undertaking it must be to deeply sample a concert grand. Whew, we’re note there yet.
How can a composer approach you to become a demo writer for your sample library? (Do you accept demo reels from composers?)
That’s easy- our email = info[at]embertone.com. We have a list of those interested, and we’d love to hear tracks that you make with our instruments involved!
What are your plans for the future?
Right now we’re pushing forward with new projects, making plans for bigger productions in the near future, and in the ever-closer future, updating our existing products to 1.1. There are so many ideas flying around right now that it’s hard to sleep at night! We’re pouring all resources back into Embertone right now, so that means getting better equipment and finding new techniques all the time. We’re very excited about the future, but also trying to stay grounded.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Stay up late, eat tacos (with fresh ingredients), drink coffee to stay alert, and take ping pong breaks at least once an hour. Honestly, this has been our formula for success so far. We’re always happy to share our techniques if anyone has questions – again, info[at]embertone.com.