– Or: If you didn’t have callouses before, COME ON DOWN!

This bit about the instrument sound library concept is probably going to be for my musician friends, and quite possibly my musician-adjacent friends.  And friends who are interested in the process of making music.  Perhaps people who read blogs.  Coffee drinkers.  Ok, this may or may not be interesting to anyone ever.

Having said all that!  For those of you who have ever created any kind of music and loaded up a sound library of some kind, have you ever wondered how that sound library came to be?  Possibly not!  Most of the time we just want to get the thing up and running, make noise, write music, an be on our effective merry.

But every once in a while …. isn’t it fun to learn about where your instruments are coming from?  It’s like figuring out whether or not your coffee is locally sourced.  Except probably not like that at all.  I need a better metaphor.

IN ANY EVENT!  Let’s dive into the subject because it’s been my life for quite a while now and I’ve wanted to share stuff and things about how the entire process works.

What exactly do I mean when I say “Instrument Sound Library”

This section is going to be quite a bit of nerd kwakkery.  You have been warned.  I’m starting with a descriptive difference between a couple of the different types of virtual instruments to establish a frame of reference.  Again, super nerdy. But I love this stuff!!

Digital Recreations

Virtual instruments can come in a variety of different formats.  Some of them are emulations of sound synthesis modules that have been staples of the music industry for decades.  If you remember me talking about the Yamaha DX7 from a previous blog entry, that would be a prime example of an instrument that has been very frequently recreated digitally to sound virtually identical to the original.  This is a form of virtual instrument that would be considered sound synthesis.

There are plenty of virtual instruments that don’t even attempt to recreate something that already exists. They are crazily innovative and build on the legacy of all kinds of history and blast it into the modern day era of sound creation.  I use …. an inordinate number of them in my creations and I probably have a problem. I’ll do another post someday outlining a whole mess of the tools that I use with examples.  That could be an entire series, come to think of it …

Sampled Instruments

Sampled instruments, on the other hand, are a completely different animal.  When we talk about “sampling” an instrument, what we’re actually saying is that we are recording “samples” of something and then replaying it.  So for example, if you want to sample a snare drum, you would record someone hitting the snare drum with a drum stick and then be able to play it back as an instrument in a digital audio workstation (or sampling keyboard, but that’s another story for another time).  If you would like that snare drum to sound a bit more accurate to its real life counterpart,  you could record several samples; quiet, medium, loud.  Want to go further than that?  How about 128 different volume levels so that when you replay it back using a keyboard or drum pad, you get a significantly more accurate representation of the instrument?

Want to go even further? How about take that same snare drum, record each of those 128 different volume levels twice – once for each drum stick in each hand – and then go on to record rim shots the same way, side stick, drum rolls, and so forth.  What you get is a comprehensive recorded representation of that snare drum for someone to use in their own musical creations.  Kinda cool, huh?

How did this start

Ironically, this all started on Facebook when an old friend put out a call for people who play fretless electric bass.  It’s one of the basses that I love to play on a whole mess of songs and recordings so I responded that I do, in fact, do that thing.  What followed was a whole lot of back and forth conversation that eventually led to finding out that they would like to produce and make available an entire library of fretless electric bass for folks to use in their music creation.

Well how do you like that!  Details were shared, arrangements made, contracts signed, and we are OFF TO THE RACES.

Every night for …. quite a while now!  But more on that in two sections from now.

The setup

Here’s how the whole things is set up at this point.  It’s a very long and convoluted recording signal chain that gets exactly what I want while also being satisfyingly over-complicated.   Here’s how the whole thing is set up:

The fretless bass is plugged into an Avalon U5 DI monster.  From that monster, one output is piped directly into Cubase for a clean raw recording of the signal.  Also from the U5 is a passthrough cable that runs out to a Tonehammer bass amplifier.  The amplifier is then plugged into a speaker cabinet that is in the quietest and least-rattly corner of my office with two microphones: A Sennheiser e902 on the lower left speaker and then a Shure SM57 (remember, doves cried into that thing) aimed right at the cone.

The result?  Three simultaneously recorded signals that they will be able to utilize as they would like for the end result of their product.  There was so much back and forth after that making sure that the levels were where they needed them to be.  There was a LOT of cable rerouting to make sure that there was as little electrical noise in the signal as possible – gotta get audio cables away from power cables – and pretty much using all the best cables I have at my disposal.

Once that was all ironed out and ready, pictures were taken of the amp setup, speaker cabinet position, mic stand position, and mic positions all marked with painter’s tape and more pictures taken.  Just in case we ever need to revisit the project down the road!

Whew!  And that’s the setup.

The actual recording process

This is the big part.  The actual recording process is … lengthy.  Very lengthy.  As one example, I hit record and play an open E string at a low volume.  Let it ring out to complete silence.  Play that note again with a different finger.  Complete silence.  Four times that.  Then four times again at a medium volume.  Then four times at a loud volume.

One note at a time all the way up the string.  Repeat for all other strings.

It seems kinda simple, right?  Play a note, record it, move on.

It got real complicated real quick.

If somehow you brush another string?  Redo.  Accidentally leave another string open and it resonates?  Redo.  Stomach gurgles?  Redo.  Knuckle shifts and makes a sound?  Redo.  Muscle twitch?  Redo.  Shift in the seat?  Redo.

I had NO CLUE what I was getting into when it came to that.  We never think about those side facts when recording something.  Usually we record a line of music, slap it into a song, mix it up, and off we go.  Actually needing to be completely silent and still for every single note recording is a VERY interesting exercise.  Especially when you have Tourettes!  I’ve actually built up some muscles I didn’t know I needed to make that possible.  And also had a great chance to practice focused concentration to tic BETWEEN takes.  And breathe between takes.  It’s a process!

What next?

As of this writing, the last few segments are almost done recording.  After that, there will be some promotional video to be done, demonstration of the instrument, the recording process, and a whole mess of that kind of stuff.  Once that’s all done, the folks on the other end of it run with the ball and at some point the product gets released!  Which I will probably link to once it’s available.  That would make sense and all.

But really, this has been a super interesting, educational, time consuming, and REALLY FUN project to be a part of!  I’m not sure how quickly I’ll jump into another one of these given the amount of time necessary to make it happen but you never know.  I wouldn’t mind having another sound library of four under my belt before my time has ended! A Chapman Stick sound library would be ….. very extensive and lengthy to pull together, but wouldn’t that be something!

Until next week!

-= george =-



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About the Author

Straddling the line between the arts - voiceover, music composition, session performer, album mixing - and the world of durable medical equipment. Probably should have spent more time playing on the balance beam as a kid instead of obsessing over Commodore 64 games.

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