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How can I clean my samples? Do they need cleaning?

How can a grungy sample be cleaned up? Did it really need cleaning in the first place? Maybe a little grunge is good for you? (It wasn't for Kurt!)

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An interesting question received by Audio Masterclass enquired about how samples could be cleaned up, either by software or hardware.

The answer of course depends on how dirty, or shall we say 'grungy', you want your samples to be. There are certain areas that possibly could require cleaning...

  • Topping and tailing - if a sample has some unwanted material at the start, then this should definitely be trimmed off. It is best to aim for total accuracy here, like an athlete starting to run on the 'b' of the bang. Any slackness in trimming the start of the sample will make the sample sound sloppy and possibly rhythmically imprecise.

    Likewise, at the end of the sample there may be some noise - any decaying sound is likely to fade away into noise. This should be optimized by cutting the sample dead after the part you want ends, or by fading the sample - a quick fade of around a quarter of a second is often all that is needed.
     
  • Noise mixed in with the sample, possibly from dirty vinyl. In this case the best solution is to make sure the source is as clean as possible, whether recorded or live. The less background noise or unwanted reverberation you record, the cleaner your sample will be. Also, the cleaner it is, the more amenable it will be to further manipulation.

If the sample is noisy, then it may be possible to use EQ to filter out certain frequency bands where the noise is stronger than the sample. However, if the noise covers the same frequencies as the sample, EQ will not be much use.

However, it is easily possible to get 'over picky' about cleaning samples (although topping and tailing is always good). Unless you are creating a sample library that you intend to sell, it doesn't matter whether the sample is clean or grungy. What matters is what it sounds like in the context of the music you are creating.

Electronically created music has a terrible habit of being too clean. Throw in a few grungy samples therefore and suddenly your music will sound real and vibrant. Often, a sample that by itself sounds too grungy to use will sound great in the context of the mix.

So by all means master the skills of cleaning up samples, and recording clean samples in the first place. But don't be afraid to be adventurous and let a little dirt into your music.

By David Mellor Saturday August 20, 2005
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