I’ve blogged before several times about sample manipulation and clean up (i.e. EQ, compression, gating, etc…). I use a lot of live-sampled sounds in my tracks, often as main/key elements in the overall composition. So in these cases, properly cleaning up and compressing samples is really important, if I want these elements to stand out well and sound clean in the mix.
For the track I’m working on at the moment, I’m in the middle of doing all the incidentals, and part of that is incidental percussion. I usually first sequence all of these sounds in the track’s Reaper project, and afterwards go through and automate EQ and compression to get them sitting in the mix properly (usually with a single EQ and compressor instance and using automation to adjust the parameters for each incidental). That process can be pretty tedious, so I decided this time I’d do all the sample EQ and compression up front (i.e. before sequencing) in audio editing software. This also was pretty daunting at first, because I had about 20 samples to treat, and I usually spend a good 5-10 minutes per sample finding the right EQ and compression settings, and auditioning on monitors and close listening through headphones. But as I started working through them, I realised I didn’t need to spend so long on each one…
For samples which are used as key elements in the track, overly careful EQ and compression is really important… your key elements will either comprise the main ‘themes’ of a track, or at a minimum occur many times during the track’s progression… hence you need to spend time making fine and careful adjustments to get them sounding as good as possible. On the other hand, the incidental samples I was working on might play in total a couple of times at most during the entire progression… plus they often occur at sonically ‘busy’ parts of the track (builds, peak points, etc…), where slight quality issues (like a tiny bit of distortion, or slightly wrong EQ) will likely be masked by all the other sounds occurring at the same time.
It made me realise I could afford to be (what I would usually consider) a bit ‘sloppy’ with my approach to this sample editing… only audition on monitors, and sometimes running mild effects like a slight limiting or compression with minimal or no auditioning (I use Waves L1 and C1 a lot for this purpose, and have used them so much I can usually apply mild adjustments without needing to audibly auditioning). And more generally it made me think about using your time appropriately. Time is a precious commodity for a producer… particularly if it’s not your profession and you have limited time to start with. So you need to really think about the areas where it’s necessary to spend time, and the areas where you can afford to take a more ‘quick fix’ approach.