by Jerry Vigil
You're producing a winner promo for your Program Director. Along with a music bed and a clip of the winner screaming to his delight, you also need the sound of a telephone being dialed, ringing and picked up. Then the sound of a cash register paying out the money and a few assorted synthesizer zaps for added effects.
You roll the tape with the music on track one, the winner on track two and on track three you lay all sound effects on one pass by hitting the appropriate keys on the keyboard that give you the sound effect you want where you want it. Production time is cut in half.
Digital sampling has found it's place in many areas of audio production. Most recently it's advantages in radio production are being found. Storage of commonly used sound effects onto disk eliminate having to go to the sound effects library every time you need a bell or a ticking clock. No more flipping pages of a catalogue to see which vinyl disk has the sound you want. No more finding the disk itself. No more finding the cut on the disk. No more cuing up the cut. Simply plug a computer disk in the sampler, hit "Load" and your sounds are there at the touch of a key and your levels are preset. And this is only the beginning.
Simply put, a sampler is just another computer. The main difference is that the software is built in. There's one program, and all it does is manipulate sound. There are many variations on this program but the basics are the same. Audio is piped into the 'computer' the same way you would send it to any recorder, but instead of rearranging magnetic particles on tape, the sampler turns the audio into a series of ones and zeros...computer language. Now we all know what computers can do, so just imagine what they can do with sound once it is just another byte of memory! The term "sample" comes from the action taken. The incoming signal is "sampled" or analyzed at a variable rate usually around 40,000 times a second and that information is stored in memory. (Yes that's a lot of samples.) Once in memory the rest is up to you and the program. New ways to play with the audio are being dreamt up every day.
Once in the sampler, the sound can be played back slower or faster than any tape recorder you'll ever see. The recording is digital so there is no quality loss. Editing to the 1/40,000th of a second is as quick as the twist of a knob and if you blow it, you haven't destroyed the original copy. And this is just scratching the surface.
Sounds can be looped to play back as many times as you want. A ten second intro to a song can be looped to create an instrumental bed of unlimited length. How many times could you have used that?
Wanna go a step further? If you can afford a sampler, you can afford a sequencer as well. Combined with your midi keyboard/synthesizer you can actually produce a simple music bed for the promo with just a little musical background. All three can be had for as little as two thousand dollars; a small price for the tools to unleash the creative power in you. But keep in mind the more you spend, the more you'll be able to do.
Are samplers difficult to use? If you're a production hound, no. Much time is needed to get used to one but the rewards are tremendous. A basic understanding of computers and digital audio is helpful. The better question is; If you aim to improve your production skills, can you afford not to acquaint yourself with samplers?
Radio And Production will more completely cover the many uses of the sampler in radio in upcoming issues. The scope of the subject is much too large to cover in a single issue. R.A.P. will also take close looks at individual samplers on the market with our "Equipment Test Drive". Samplers are destined to creep into production studios everywhere in the very near future. Those that know how to use them will be scarce and very valuable to a station looking for the production person of the 90's!