Synthesizing sounds in hardware or software synths is great, once you get the hang of it.

But there is another way to make sounds, one that is very personal and unique and needn’t cost any money.

I’m talking about sampling. Not the sort of sampling that involves ripping large chunks of other people’s songs like The KLF did, although I have to say I agree more and more with their philosophy that we don’t want popular culture but it is thrust upon us so we should be able to do whatever we want with it. But that’s another subject entirely.

What I’m talking about has no potential copyright issues and is a process that is best for effects, ambient or percussive type sounds and you can start very easily – you only need your phone’s voice recorder rather than needing dedicated recording equipment.

The possibilities really are endless, limited only by your imagination. Whether it’s a flowing river, rain, traffic noise, conversation, squeaky swing and so on, you can record whatever you want. There are some pretty good collections out there already like the London sound survey  This is a massive repository of sounds from across London over time, including various maps, one of which is a waterways map presented like a map of the underground.  Best of all, the sounds are all creative commons.

I have to be honest, it can be a bit tricky using your phone because the voice recorders often use proprietary formats like .amr but these can easily be converted to wav using an online service like  Bear in mind that the quality of the microphone might not always yield great results and you will be largely be limited by the quality of the original recording.  So if you do get into the technique you may well want to invest in some dedicated recording equipment if you don’t get good results from your phone.

Once you have your wav file you can edit it however you want. This could be basic editing such as fade in / out; amplify; normalise; remove noise or silence; invert; reverse; change pitch or tempo etc. I tend to use Audacity for this type of editing as I’m most familiar with it and it’s also free software.

 You now have your finished samples, or do you? In many ways the fun really starts here because you can now apply effects to your samples. This could be a subtle reverb or EQ or you could give it a proper mangling with crazy filters, distortion, bitcrusher and one or more heavy delays.  You can apply effects in Audacity but it doesn’t support VSTIs and some effects use slider settings but I find it an easier task to do visually as you can see and tweak dials and knobs etc.
There are two options I tend to use, which one depends on the sort of effects I want to apply.
Wavosaur is a wave editor which could probably also do the basic editing tasks as well but to be honest I’m not that familiar with this software yet.  It does allow you to load VSTIs and set up the desired effects and then apply them as a batch process to set of samples or to an individual sample.  It doesn’t seem able to extend the length of a sample so it’s not good for long delays or long reverbs but is very good for EQ, filtering etc.
 The other option is Smack My Batch Up.  This allows you to load up to 5 VSTIs and also allows you apply them as a batch process to a folder of samples.  Unlike Wavosaur this can extend the length of a sample and I have created some great effects from multiple delays and reverbs.  In fact I have created some long and truly weird results from processing an already processed sample a second time.
So now you have made your own unique sample(s).  What will you create with them?