Vinyl has quickly become our (and your) favorite medium to process sounds with. In our first endeavor, we explored how our acoustic kit could be transformed by pressing it to a record, and with this pack, we dive in with our bread and butter: drum machines!
We took 40 of our favorite machines, from classics to rarities, vintage to modern, and everything in between, and pressed the results to vinyl, degrading the record and sampling the heck out of it along the way, to give you a massive pack of royalty-free, dirty, dusty, punchy and warm vinyl drum machine one-hits, ready for your favorite DAWs and samplers 🥂
When pressing our own vinyl, we asked ourselves 3 questions -
We then set out to answer these questions at every stage of the process that follows.
Our journey began by selecting 40 of our favorite machines. As opposed to 50 or 100, 40 allowed us to incorporate a wide variety of sounds, while still being able to include many hits from our favorites without going overboard on the sample count. Read the full list here.
We didn't use any samplers (MPCs, SP, etc), intentionally focusing only on machines with onboard, factory sounds, so we could start at the highest quality source possible, and then manipulate it like crazy from there.
When sampling a commercial record, it's rare to find clean, isolated drum machine sounds (and it can be especially hard to find things like cymbals and hi hat pairs). With this in mind, we began by methodically sampling each machine as cleanly as possible, through a DI into our API console to the computer, with no processing.
But to emulate our favorite records would require something entirely different. We asked ourselves: how can a 12" with a slamming 808 beat sound so different than our TR-808? There are a myriad of factors at play, but during the recording process we need to consider that:
So, we got crazy with hardware processing, mimicking the chaos of our favorite commercial records by intentionally leaving various un-related channels on the console up, to get artifacts and noise from various synths and gear around the studio! We also added our favorite saturation, compression, EQ, tubes, tape machines and amps - check out this Ampeg vinyl 808 kick:
Once we'd finished sampling, we created a single, two track audio file consisting of the clean and processed hits. Making a record intentionally for sampling offers a lot of benefits - we pressed hits at different volumes (for varying levels of vinyl noise), making sure not to exceed around 11 minutes total per side, for the highest possible sound quality. We used our favorite mastering engineer, from the last project, Carl at Truetone Sound.
We cut 4 acetates in total, at 45 RPM for the best sound quality, (also giving us the ability to pitch down later). An acetate, also known as a test pressing, is a single reference record that the artist listens to, to approve the sound. It's basically a temporary version of the record before it goes into production at the plant.
Designed for temporary use, acetates wear out with each play - so for the cleanest samples, it's best to record it immediately, which we did in the the mastering studio, utilizing carl's fantastic transcription turntable, cartridge, preamp and conversion. This round of samples provided a clean reference for our entire project and is designed to emulate the hi-fi sound of a brand new record.
The first play adds a nice analog layer to all of the samples, but truthfully, it was so clean it really didn't sound like vinyl. So we took the acetate back to Brooklyn and played it over and over (35+ times!) to let it wear out and accumulate the degraded, phasey, non-linear distortion that we know and love from our favorite records. We tracked various levels of degradation with dirtier cartridges like the Shure M447, Ortofon Concord and Shure White Label, for a more ‘classic’ vinyl DJ sound.
But still, we wanted more dirt - that dollar-store-record dirt! So we physically damaged the acetate. Last time, we learned that random degradation is the best, and a few simple tosses on the floor resulted in the lovely unpredictability of dust, scratches, and pops that we all associate with the vinyl sound. For good measure, we also recorded the noise on its own, to be used as a layering tool like in this demo:
Did you know that you can't change the tuning on an 808 or 909 kick? Sure, you can digitally tune the sample, but vinyl allows us to tune these kicks (and all hits, even from digital drum machines) in the analog domain, by playing the record back at various speeds, and manipulating the record by hand to create pitch dives.
This is perhaps the biggest benefit over our traditional sample packs (where we try to accurately represent the experience of the original machine). De-tuning voices allows these drum machines to live in completely different frequency zones than they do in real life. Pitching breathes new life into these machines - we can modernize a 909 kick, for instance, by dropping the pitch lower than the machine allows.
When sampling a record, it's always handy to have an EQ, saturator, compressor or even tape machine around, to further tweak the sound. Post vinyl processing is very different than processing the drum machines pre-vinyl (described above) as we can now color and accentuate the hiss and artifacts of the vinyl, marrying the vinyl noise to the machine further.
Vinyl is very analog sounding, but not always warm (there is a distinction!). An 808 kick has a low-passed sustain, meaning there aren't high frequencies present during the body of the sound, making it seem "warm". But when you press that to vinyl, you add high frequency noise on top of it (vinyl hiss). So, to warm it up again, we turn down this high frequency noise, via a dynamic lowpass filter, or an EQ.
Sometimes noise and crackles can also cause samples to be quieter, since the crackles have such high peaks. By adding drive, we can saturate these peaks, and add additional harmonics to the vinyl noise, giving it more presence.
It may seem obvious, but noise isn't only added on top of the drum machine hit, but also before and after it. By including these moments in the sample, we breathe new life into drum machine samples that is otherwise impossible in our normal packs.
What happens before the biggest transient of a sample (the head), really defines the sound of the attack. Vinyl will add noise here, at a range of different frequencies, the lowest of which can almost mimic like the pre-attack of an acoustic drum sample created when the drummer moves air directly before striking the snare. This sound is present on many of our favorite rap records and can make snares sound late, adding to the groove of a beat. This is a vibe that is impossible without the help of an analog medium like vinyl.
This same concept applies to the end of samples (the tail). High frequency noise can create an “air” after a drum sound's decay that can really connect the drums when sequencing, similar to the air created by the room in an acoustic drum sample. Just remember, these tails can always be dialed back to taste for a tighter sound.
Many months and 6000+ samples later, we faced the immense (and highly rewarding) task of sorting everything into musical kits that not only showcase the original machines, but demonstrate how we used vinyl, effects, degradation, and pitch manipulation to obscure these machines into uncharted territory.
Ultimately, we curated 25 kits during this process to form the core sound and then added back anything we were missing, landing on a total of 1333 samples. Above all else, these kits are super fun to play with !
Everything was then formatted for your favorite samplers and DAWs.
By having control over the entire process, we were able to meet (and exceed) our goals of:
One of the special things about this pack is that it combines two classic elements of electronic music, vinyl and drum machines, in ways that they often don’t interact - and when they do, it's normally copyright-protected and the sounds are limited. Our hope is that with this pack, we can make the beautiful sounds of vinyl-sampled drum machines more accessible than ever before.
By focusing only on machines with onboard sounds, we began with the highest possible quality source for electronic drums. And as opposed to acoustic vinyl samples, we played with some very iconic sounds here, and transformed them into completely original, organic, inspiring and just plain FUN drum samples. The only question left is - what's next on our vinyl journey ? 🤠