Tell us a little bit about yourself and your sample libraries?
We are Soundiron: a world-class sampling company dedicated to bringing deep-sampled, flexible and intuitive sample libraries to the masses. While we at Soundiron are known for our Olympus Symphonic Choirs – Mars and Venus – we also took with us a few well-known Tonehammer libraries after the split last year, including Requiem Light and Emotional Piano. The three of us – Mike, Gregg and Chris – comprise the entirety of Soundiron. While we each have a speciality, we all have a hand in every aspect of the business, from recording and programming to marketing and distribution.
How do you prepare or should we say, how does one start making sample libraries?
For us, the preparation depends on the project. Something huge like Venus Symphonic Women’s Choir is a completely different beast from say, our recently released Rust 3. The former requires weeks of planning and lots of bureaucratic minutiae, while the latter was the product of inspiration that strikes in the moment when you’re dragging a steel plate across a floor. We believe that everything is inherently musical and can be turned into an instrument if you’re willing to look at it and listen to it the right way. Gregg’s farts for instance have a particular tonal quality that makes them well suited for playability. We’re still working on true fart legato though.
How long does it take to make a sample library? (recording, mixing, programming etc.)
This completely depends on the nature of each project. A typically-sized library might have a turnaround time of about two – three weeks. Recording and editing can be a breeze during one project and then be a real nightmare with the next. You never know until you dive in and start working. The programming and GUI design are probably the longest stage of development now, requiring at least half of the total production time that goes into a typical-sized library. Something like Venus, though, is usually around ten long days of solid recording. Once that’s done, there is at least another 1000+ man hours of editing, programming and scripting that need to be done in order to get it ready for release. Once you cross the threshold of more than 10,000 samples in a single library, audio editing and scripting probably becomes the real bulk of the labor.
Can you give us a little insight on your creative process? (microphone placement, equipment used, vst software)
We’re pretty proprietary when it comes to the exact tools and methods we use and of course it depends on the project. But I will say that for 90% of what we do, we use large diaphragm Neumann Mics and Sound Devices recorders. For specialized projects or remote location work, we often also turn to our Sanken, DPA, Fostex, Sony, Rycote, Portabrace and RØDE gear. We tend to do a lot of in-house equipment fabrication and modification to make our day-to-day lives easier. We’re definitely no strangers to power tools and soldering irons. Sound Forge and Vegas are our main workhorses when it comes to audio editing software. For special effects tools, we’re big fans of Fab Filter, Image-Line, Line6, Steinberg, Reaper and Xenakios and there are of course plenty of other specialized effects and utilities that we turn to for specific day-to-day production tasks.
How much sound design is involved in making sample libraries?
We actually create an integrated selection of sound designed pads, ambiences, soundscapes and drones to go with most of our libraries using nothing but the sample material itself, so quite a bit of sound design work goes directly into that. The idea is to create a full range of complementary textural and sustaining elements that can easily be interwoven with the source instrument. We like to try and make each library we create capable of fully complete instrumental arrangements all by themselves, with a cohesive set of related sounds to choose from. A lot of our instruments are also objects and structures that we stumble across out in the world, so in those cases we use field recording and foley recording techniques to capture them right where we find them. Convolution impulses are also a part of many of our libraries. We capture them live on location or create them from manipulating raw material to create special effects. In both cases, there’s a lot of specialized processing, editing and design to yield the best result.
And of course, actually capturing and programming the instrument itself is purely an act of design from start to finish. We don’t just record, chop and plug our samples into a generic grid and set everything to play back robotically. Everything is a deliberate process. It begins with finding the instrument, performer or artifact that we want to capture. Then it’s a step-by-step process of preparation, equipment selection, exacting microphone placement, engineering, articulation selection, the actual performance, hand-editing, variation selection, pre-mastering and tone-shaping, velocity placement and cross-fading and carefully integrating the scripting, grouping, modulators and every aspect of the programming to respond naturally and expressively to the end-user’s touch. Our focus from the very beginning of a project is to find a kernel of potential in our chosen subject and then guide and sculpt that into a finished and fully realized artistic creation that also just happens to function as a fully playable and truly adaptable professional-grade virtual instrument in the end.
What inspires you to make such amazing products?
Increasingly, we’ve started to focus on making each and every one of our libraries a complete toolbox; products that enable composers to be as creative as possible with the content we provide them. All of our products are deep-sampled and do a fantastic job of opening that particular instrument to composers, but we really want to offer more than that. We don’t want our products to be the solution to only one problem; for example, when a composer needs to fill a tuned percussive line on a track they might turn to our Struck Grand. We want our products to fulfil that “intended” need flawlessly, but also be versatile and flexible in ways that turn them into virtual tool boxes, with endless utility. Musical instruments can and should have a life well beyond their most basic preconceived function and we aim to provide that by including as many creative features as possible.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Our biggest lessons have come from when we work with people outside the company. When everything is contained within the company, more specifically the performance aspect of sampling, things tend to obviously go more smoothly. We all have very deep wells of patience and can each sit for hours in a silent environment recording an instrument. It’s when we have to bring someone in from the outiside that things can get complicated. Sometimes they aren’t comfortable with us touching their instrument, or sometimes – with the case of choirs – there are just limits to what the human body can do. These situations have taught us how to be flexible and fluidly adapt to the needs of the moment as we record, something which is invaluable even when you’re building toward a grand singular overarching concept.
How can a composer approach you to become a demo writer for your sample library? (Do you accept demo reels from composers?)
We have an open door policy for demos. We’ll listen to every demo we recieve given we find the time to do so. We do like any submitting composer to be familiar with at least some of our products. We also prefer any demos we receive to be as ‘naked’ as possible, meaning they only feature our product(s) with few FX and post processing. While we can’t have a huge demo/beta team since that would be unwieldly, if we receive a compelling, awesome naked demo from a composer we are more than happy to roll them into the process when we think a particular instrument might make an especially good fit for their particular style and approach.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got a lot of new products in the pipeline, huge and tiny, that will certainly keep us busy through the end of the year. We also plan on updating more of our older libraries to bring them up-to-date with our current feature set and design vision. We can’t be too specific just yet, but we have some big things planned for everyone this holiday season. We’ve got exciting new releases in the vocal, drum, exotic/ethnic and piano categories, some great news for Reason users, some brand new custom built instrumental inventions and more. Also stay tuned for some major updates to Granny Piano and the earlier installments in our Rust series that will unlock tons of new functionality and usability in the next month or so.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
All Glory to the Hypno-toad. Also, one of our key motivations in finding, building and capturing the instruments and sounds that we do and they way that we program and present them is to open new creative doors for our customers and provide them with tools to invent. We want people to dig in and explore our instruments to find new ways of using them and new sonic potential in them that we haven’t yet imagined. About half of all our product time goes into interface programming and functionality design, for the sole purpose of giving users that creative access and control. The old conceptual boundaries that define what makes an ‘intrument’ are dead. To us, it’s all paint for the canvas. It’s all pure musical potential waiting to be tapped.