Tell us a little bit about yourself and your sample libraries?
Impact Soundworks is comprised of myself and my good friend Wilbert Roget II, who created our first sample library (Impact: Steel) back in 2007. Will is an inhouse composer at LucasArts where he also does audio implementation. He’s a musical genius with not only amazing compositions and production, but also an incredible ear for engineering and sound design. As for myself, I’m a freelance composer and producer. I’ve written for both indie and AAA video games, released original electronic albums, licensing for film & TV, and many other music/sound jobs big and small.
Our company, Impact Soundworks, is built on the motto “designed with composers in mind”. This statement means a few things. One is that when we design libraries, we think about what composers (particularly in film/TV/games) actually want or need. This usually means sampling instruments that have not been covered in depth before. If the instruments have been sampled previously, then we are only interested in sampling and programming them in a new and novel way.
Our motto also means that we care deeply about how playable and intuitive our instruments are. Wilbert and I can’t stand libraries that are encumbered by too many keyswitches or complex mapping. Composers are busy people and we all appreciate when a sample library is simply load-and-play. Of course, all of our patches are user-editable for those that want customization. Lastly, we know that most composers have limited budgets, and so we offer our products at very affordable prices.
We’ve sampled a number of world instruments, such as sitar, tabla, baya, koto, bass koto and shamisen, as well as a number of traditional and found percussive instruments, guitars and basses. We are perhaps most well-known for our “Shreddage” guitar library which offers very realistic electric rhythm guitar sounds with customizable tone.
How do you prepare or should we say, how does one start making sample libraries?
Creating a sample library involves four distinct processes. First, you must create some sort of design or plan for what you will be sampling. Are there gaps in the market for a particular sound? Do you have some sort of unusual instrument or recording setup? How will you record the instrument? What sort of space? How many dynamics, round robins, articulations? These are all important questions to consider before the next step, the recording process, begins.
I do not consider myself a recording engineer per se and prefer to work with people that love recording and do it as a primary job, so I won’t offer specific advice on mixing, signal chains, etc. What I will say is that you should prepare as much as possible for the recording process. Will you need a performer? Multiple performers? How will they get to the studio? Do you need to rent or bring instruments? Who will handle logistics? The more questions you answer in advance, the better.
After recording has finished, the next task is editing the raw material. Editing involves everything from picking takes to cleaning up noises, organizing files, cutting and trimming samples (very time-consuming), tuning (if necessary), mixing mic positions, and so on. By the end of the editing process, you should have a number of individual samples ready for use in a sampler patch. This last step is what I would call programming or patch design. At a minimum, the samples must be mapped across the keyboard. Ideally, you’ll also have scripting, multiple layers, various forms of control and even special sound design patches (sometimes called “FX” patches).
This is the bare minimum process. We have yet to produce a library that has not involved these four steps!
How long does it take to make a sample library? (recording, mixing, programming etc.)
It definitely depends on the scope of the project. For libraries involving ensemble recording in a desired space, planning alone can take months. For guitar and bass libraries, where an excellent home recording setup is all that’s necessary, planning can be very short. Recording usually takes a few days of intense work, which is fairly consistent across different types of instruments.
Editing is usually the most time-consuming step by far; while you can automate or batch-process some things, a truly great instrument requires each sample to be individually edited, and there is simply no way to do this really quickly. Recently, we’ve moved away from putting editing all on one person to having two or three people work on different stages. Even so, this usually takes months for a single library working on-and-off (or a few weeks of intense labor). Programming and sound design is comparatively fast (depending on how much scripting is needed), usually not more than a few weeks.
Can you give us a little insight on your creative process? (microphone placement, equipment used, vst software)
Both Wilbert and myself find that collaborating with talented professionals often leads to the best result. This means that while we might have our own ideas on mic placement, articulations and playing techniques, we very often will consult with our performers and engineers both prior to and during a session. After all, no matter how much one researches a particular instrument, the performer will almost always have more experience and knowledge; their opinion is most valuable!
From a technical perspective, Pro Tools is universally employed during the recording process. After this, we use REAPER for preliminary editing and Wavelab for precise trimming and some batch processing. We occasionally employ noise-removal plugins (eg. iZotope) and EQ to clean up sounds, after which Kontakt is our sampler of choice.
How much sound design is involved in making sample libraries?
It varies depending on what we’re sampling. For example, our Shreddage libraries do not have much sound design, since they are intended for realistic guitar/bass parts. On the other hand, our Resonance mallet percussion suite is full of sound design. We were doing sound design during the recording sessions, in fact, using bows, screws, unusual micing/playing techniques and other fun stuff. Then, after the editing phase was over, we did a great deal more sound design both within Kontakt and using a host of external tools to transform the recordings into haunting ambiences, big impacts and much more.
What inspires you to make such amazing products?
Very often we create a sample library when we perceive a need for it ourselves. For example, our Sitar and Koto Nation libraries were created because we saw that both Indian and Japanese instruments had not been adequately sampled before. We write plenty of music using world instruments ourselves, so we decided that creating these sample libraries would be beneficial to other composers as well as us. Shreddage came from my frustration at my inability to play the guitar well, and the lack of guitar libraries capable of doing convincing rhythm parts. Given its success, I’m glad I stuck to piano!
Sometimes, an instrument itself will inspire us. For example, my idea for Resonance came from a search for unusual hand-made instruments. When I saw and heard the instruments we ended up sampling (created by Jim Doble of Elemental Design Percussion) I was immediately inspired to obtain them for myself and record them in great depth. They really made an impression on me.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
We’ve found that it is very helpful if you try to estimate how long recording sessions will actually take by doing some math on your articulations and sampling plan. For example, say you are recording an instrument with 25 pitches and you want to sample each one. If it’s a sustained instrument, you might decide you need 10 seconds of recording for each pitch. Now, you also want three round robins and four dynamics.
Calculate the time needed by multiplying 3*4*25*10 = 3000 seconds, or about 50 minutes. This is a good baseline, but doesn’t account for bad takes, breaks between each sample for decay/release, etc, so to be safe you might double that. Now you’re looking at 100 minutes for a single articulation + instrument. Good information to know when considering how much studio time you need!
How can a composer approach you to become a demo writer for your sample library? (Do you accept demo reels from composers?)
I’ll always listen to demos from composers via email or private message on forums like VI-Control or KVRAudio. I like to hear a pretty high level of compositional and production skill so they can best showcase our instruments. However, you don’t need to have lots of big credits to be considered! I should also point out that we prefer our demo writers to be beta testers as well so they can actually help us polish the library before we release it.
What are your plans for the future?
As you might expect, we have a number of libraries in varying stages of completion as well as immediate plans for more. We’re currently editing a set of harps (celtic harp, lap harp, lyre) and a Kazakh dombrya, among other things, and are hoping to release both Shreddage 2 and Acoustic Revolutions 2 by the end of the year. We also have some vocal material planned and recorded but I can’t say much more about that right now. Some other things we’d like to do are more “Nation” instruments, more entries into our highly-detailed Plectra Series, and a sequel to Impact: Steel.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
If you’re going to do something, be passionate about it! Not only is life too short to do things that you’re not passionate about, but the result will always be better if you really care. Before I was involved with Impact Soundworks, I loved using virtual instruments. Back then and today, I visit virtual instrument and production forums multiple times a day and keep up on all the news. Our first collaborative project in a recording studio was Sitar Nation, which I paid for out of pocket. I was a college student at the time and spent a good chunk of my savings. I never would have thought Impact Soundworks would grow like it has today.
If you’re passionate, then even doing the more mundane things related to a project will be a lot more bearable. For example, I love doing not just the planning and design of sample libraries, but recording, editing, programming, marketing and even tech support. It makes me very happy to see people using instruments that Will and I have designed!