Sampling is the process of taking snippets from an existing song, similar to quoting. These snippets will be re-arranged in a completely new fashion to construct a new track. Many people use the phrasing “chopping” because the method is similar. Chopping up objects into segments and rearranging them into something different.
The device with which we do this would normally be called a sampler.
A sampler would not normally come with any sounds. The sounds would need to be loaded into a sampler by the user via a source such as CD, Record, MP3 etc. Another way to sample it would be an audio capture device.
Samples, once captured are normally triggered / played using MIDI e.g. a keyboard or drum pad connection to your set up.
There are mainly two types of sampling, hardware and software sampling.
This is the method that most Hip Hop producers traditionally used back in the 80’s and 90’s, however it is still common nowadays.
Basically the sampling device, commonly the MPC has pads on top of it and each pad is assigned a sound. These sounds come from an external source which you would have prepared in the first stage. The sampled sounds are split into segments and then played by the user on the pads.
For most producers this is known to be the fastest method.
For this you will need to use music sequencing software or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The external source would need to be connected either directly to your computer or via an audio interface which is in turn is connected to your computer.
The software will sample the incoming audio and also assign segments to different keys or pads on your MIDI input device.
The good thing about software samplers is that you don’t necessary need an external source. You can also use files that may already be on your computer e.g. MP3’s, Wav, Aiff, however for quality I would not recommend sampling MP3 files as they are compressed audio with slight loss of quality. Sample using uncompressed formats but you can always compress your final product into a MP3.
Nowadays people can make 100% digital tracks without using any live instruments. This is done by a similar method of sampling using what we call plugins or VST (Virtual Studio Technology). Basically the samples are mapped to each of the keys on the keyboard. E.g. a middle C sound on a piano would be sampled and mapped to the middle C on a MIDI input keyboard (that has no onboard sounds). However other things needs to be taken into consideration such as the velocity or the strength the keyboard is struck, this will make a difference to the sample used.
Cheap VSTs tend to use just the one sample and stretch it across the octaves. This may sound great for middle C however the further you move away from middle C, the less natural the sample sounds. A good VST should have several samples for every single key or note.