Sound Library Construction

Create your own sample library for fun and profit. Let the pros show you how.
Publish date:
Social count:
Create your own sample library for fun and profit. Let the pros show you how.

Sound libraries, such as sample CDs, are ubiquitous in the personalor commercial studio. If you have ever used them, you may have wonderedhow they’re put together. Perhaps you have amassed an archive ofrecordings or instrument-specific patches and have thought aboutcompiling your own sample collection, if you only knew where tobegin.

Armed with the items typically found in a personal studio (DATmachine, DAW, CD burner, sampler), you can create aprofessional-sounding library to meet your needs. All it takes is somevision, planning, inspiration, and a good deal of editing.

I surveyed a handful of successful professional sound designers,manufacturers, and distributors about the various aspects involved increating a sound library. Whether you’re recording breakbeats,exotic instruments, production music, sound effects, or any combinationthereof, the following information will help you maximize your time andenergy as you organize your favorite sounds for personal use orcommercial distribution.

From the Top Down

The first order of business in making a quality sound library is todo some pre-production planning. Begin by determining your goals forthe project: Is it for personal use or will you be sharing it withothers? What are the intended uses for these sounds? What format willwork best? Do you plan to license it to distributors? Setting a goalfor your project will help you answer many of the questions that willarise as you get further into it.

For example, your plan might be to create and license a library in aspecific sampler format to an established company. In this case,you’ll need to have the most recent update of the machines thatread the format you’ve chosen, with the maximum amount of RAMavailable. This will allow you to take full advantage of every nuancethat machine has to offer.

Perhaps your objective is simply to create an audio CD for your ownpost-production sound-design purposes, in which case you’ll wantto concentrate on your recording and CD-burning setup.

Remember that you can always modify any goals that you set foryourself as the project progresses. After all, you may find yourselfheading down a new path once you’ve gotten started.


Anyone who has used a sound library will tell you that awell-organized disc is worth the money it costs to create or buy it.Determining the best way to organize a collection of sounds depends onhow the library will be used, as well as the taste and style of theuser.

Sound designer Jeff Darby assembled the 25-disc sound-effectslibrary for Earwax, a production company in San Francisco. The discsare housed in a large three-ring binder with a log that breaks downeach disc into specific categories and subcategories.

“The Earwax library is made up of Sound Designer II files,primarily. Each CD-R is a data disc containing Mac files and folders,burned with Adaptec Toast,” he explains. “Ifyou’re using Pro Tools, you import the files directly into theapplication. This method eliminates a couple of steps: you don’thave to edit, normalize, or digitize sounds each time. Oncethey’re done, they’re done.

“The Earwax library is mainly a byproduct of jobs we’vedone,” he continues. “We then organize the sounds from thejobs into categories such as Whooshes, Machines and Tools, and Weaponsand Violence. In the Whooshes folder, you’ll find a folder ofswishes and perhaps one of dopplers. Weapons and Violence containssubcategories such as Hits and Thuds. The Thud folder may, in turn,contain 45 different thuds. Usually, there are a lot ofsubcategories.”

Organizing sounds into categories is a subjective art and is often amatter of personal preference. “In the Ambience folder, forexample, you might have nature, city, or bird ambiences; Iwouldn’t necessarily put a bird ambience in an animal folder.There are a lot of gray areas. We usually build the library accordingto the way we think and what our needs are.”

Earwax has considered putting together a “best of”collection for commercial release. “At the rate it’sgoing,” says Darby, “we’ll probably have another tendiscs in the library by the end of the year, which will give us plentyto choose from.” Their biggest challenge will be categorizing thematerial in such a way that it will be intuitive for a new user.

Sounds are organized in libraries in a number of ways. Here are someof the more common ones.

Instrument. If the project features a collection ofinstruments, grouping each instrument or class of instruments togethermakes good sense.

Key. Compiling sounds by key is an especially useful way toorganize a library of instrument-specific riffs and licks (see Fig.1).

Tempo. If the disc will be used in a dance or clubenvironment, having the samples arranged by tempo in bpm (beats perminute) is essential. An elegantly designed library will first give youthe entire groove (full orchestration) at a given tempo, followed byeach component of the groove, individually.

Theme or genre. This does not necessarily mean a“musical” theme. If the library is a sound-designcollection for post-production, organizing by theme (for example,sci-fi, western, and ethnic) would be a logical way of working. If youare assembling a library of music cues, you could group tracks by genre(classical, rock, jazz).

Effects type. This category involves classifying effects byhow they sound (for example, pops, applause, and gunshots) or whattheir functions are (ambiences, hits, effects).

Combinations. For a comprehensive collection of samples, youmay need to combine some of the above organizations. For example, youcould divide one portion of an orchestral disc into instrumentalsections (say, brass and woodwinds); another into orchestration (groupsor soloists); and so on, on down to individual notes and effects.Another section of the disc could be organized into tempo- orkey-related selections.


A user-friendly library relies on full documentation. Agreat-sounding disc becomes difficult to use if the liner notes arecryptic or nonexistent. If you are planning to license your library,thorough documentation is a must and begins the moment you pressRecord.

Doug Morton of Q Up Arts recommends keeping detailed notesthroughout the recording session. “Make sure you document whatyou’re doing so that everything will be clear to the person whoworks on the material later on.”

Your recording notes will be useful as you edit and loop yoursamples. Notes on mic choices, mic position, recording location, andany processing that occurred, are handy when you need to combinedifferent parts of a sample or create Velocity layers. Such details mayseem mundane at the time, but they may save you from having to rerecordelements later.

Your session notes will also be helpful when you compile your linernotes. The kind of documentation you publish with your library willdepend on the format you’re working in, as well as its intendeduse. Notes for an audio CD of loops and grooves should include the nameand number of each track, tempo, number of bars in each groove, starttimes, track length, key, and instrumentation. When the groove isbroken down into individual components, these should be noted asclearly as possible.

For a CD-ROM release, it is crucial to include format-specificinformation in your documentation. A library in the Akai format, forexample, should give the location, volume, program name, sample size,and length of bars of each sample. In addition, you might include key,tempo, crossfading, and Velocity-switching information, as well aswhether the sample is stereo or mono. Providing details about eachinstrument or voice that is sampled is also useful.

Spectrasonics’ Symphony of Voices CD-ROM is a four-discset that comes with two elegantly produced, 50-page booklets. Booklet 1is a CD-ROM directory that includes setup instructions, systemrecommendations, and a list of patches and performances. Every sampleis listed with key and tempo notation. The liner-note booklet includesbiographies of the artists, performance tips, an overview of theorganization of the sounds, descriptions of the recording and editingequipment used, the philosophy behind the project, and a list offrequently asked questions about using the company’s soundlibraries (see Fig. 2). Such a cornucopia of documentationenhances the users’ knowledge about the sounds as well as thepleasure they get from using the library.


When coming up with ideas for projects, Eric Persing, creativedirector at Spectrasonics, begins by imagining what he would like tohear in a sample library. “I might begin by thinking aboutwhat’s not in our catalog, or by considering what people areinterested in.” Product-registration cards give him a sense ofwhat customers are looking for in new products.

“Other times it’s a whim,” he continues.“Sometimes we’ve started with just the title. DistortedReality, our most popular release, began that way. We also have toconsider what we are capable doing. Thinking things through isessential because [creating a sound library] is a long process. Severalof our libraries have taken up to two years to complete.”

Morton says that at Q Up Arts, quality and uniqueness are what drivenew product development. “We try to find something that’sdifferent, or find something that hasn’t been done well and do itbetter. We also try to avoid stylistic trends. Our niche isworld/ethnic/esoteric content, such as Voices of Native America.It’s the harder-to-find kinds of things that weprefer.”


Whether or not you’re interested in going commercial with yoursounds, a brief discussion of how companies choose a format for theirsound library is useful—especially if you’re planning topurchase any gear in the near future.

There’s a wide range of formats to consider, the most commonof which are Akai, E-mu, Ensoniq, Kurzweil, Roland, SampleCell, audio,WAV, and AIFF. For the publisher, each format has its strengths andweaknesses that extend beyond the capabilities of the machinesthemselves. For example, publishers must gauge how popular the formatsare in the marketplace, where the majority of their sales will be, whatkind of library they’re creating, and who will be using it. Anumber of manufacturers I spoke with agreed that the audio format wasthe best seller but had the worst profit margin.

“In times past, we did audio discs first and worked toward MacAIFF,” notes Paul Korntheuer of Rarefaction. “Even thoughCD-ROMs are superior, people are used to sampling from audiodiscs.”

Melissa Reuther of Time + Space agrees. “For us, everythingcomes out in audio first. The CD-ROMs mostly come out in Akai formatfirst, because that format is the leader in the U.K. market. However,the mainstream buyer is buying audio discs.”

Q Up Arts’ Morton says that “certain kinds of sounds aregood for certain markets. Generally, we sell big in Japan, and Akai isthe king there. We also do CD-ROMs for SampleCell, because we developin SampleCell. And then, of course, there’s Roland, Kurzweil, andaudio.”

“If you’re going to make a business out of it, you haveto support all formats,” says Spectrasonics’ Persing. Hesays that releasing multiple formats simultaneously is one of thecompany’s recipes for success. “The market is different foreach format, so we do different quantities of each. At the moment, Akaiis the most popular format on the market. Roland is a good format inthe United States because Roland is the only company that has made aserious library of its own. Just because lots of units of a keyboardare sold, it doesn’t mean there will be a CD-ROM market forit.”

It’s no surprise that Persing, as chief sound designer forRoland since 1984, prefers to work in the Roland format. “We willbegin a new release in the Roland format, then we’ll do an Akaiversion. We make our audio CDs from the Roland format, which is theopposite of what other companies do. And because of size limitations,the audio CDs have about half the material that the CD-ROMshave,” he explains.


There are a number of things to consider when making recordings thatare destined for use in a sound library. First, you must determine therecording chain, from the microphone to the storage format. Thesevariables are often determined by economics. Perhaps you’ll beable to borrow equipment. If not, what kind of gear can you afford tobuy? If purchasing it isn’t possible, how much can you spend onrenting it?

Despite the current trend toward higher bit and sampling rates, manyof the sound designers I interviewed still record to DAT and work in16-bit resolution. The common explanation was that samplers and compactdisc players are still primarily 16-bit machines.

Of course, you want your master tapes to be in the best-sounding,most robust format possible. If you’re recording in a studioenvironment, you have higher resolution options, such as the 20-bitADAT XT20 and LX20 from Alesis, Tascam’s DA-45 HR 24-bit DATmachine, hard-disk recording, or high-quality analog tape. Out in thefield, however, the most affordable format is still the portable 16-bitDAT recorder.

For location recording, sound designer Jim Miller uses a portablesetup that includes AKG C 414 and Earthworks TC30K mics, and an OramMWS preamp going directly to a DAT recorder.

Darby’s field rig includes a portable DAT with a Lunatec V2portable preamp by Grace Design and a Sennheiser MKH 816 shotgun mic.Because much of his work is for film and television post-production,this setup is portable enough to allow him to get into tight placeswhen necessary.

“The recording format depends on the application,” saysIlio’s Mark Hiskey. “Sometimes we go to 20-bit ADAT or24-bit. Sometimes we go straight to DAT at 44.1 to avoid sample-rateconversion. We’re considering 96 kHz and anticipating DVD as aviable delivery system. The only question is when.”

Daniel Fisher, veteran Kurzweil programmer and director of soundwareengineering at Sweetwater Sound, records simple instruments straight toDAT. “For things requiring lots of mics, I’ll use one ofthe 20-bit ADATs and four different stereo mic combinations.”

Morton does everything on the Mac. “We record directly intoPro Tools/24. Before that we were working in 20-bit for about ayear.”

Don’t think that you should put off recording just because youdon’t have state-of-the-art gear: ingenuity and recording skillcan overcome many deficiencies in your setup. Besides, there are otherconsiderations that will raise the quality and usefulness of yoursamples.

The majority of the sound designers that I asked record theirmaterial flat, preferring to get the best sound possible by using theshortest route between mic and recorder. Mic placement and roomacoustics, therefore, play a major role during the initialsessions.

“I prefer a nice, quiet studio with no reflections. Manybudget restraints, however, require that you get your recordings whereyou can,” says Miller. “I wouldn’t add EQ whilerecording unless there was something extremely wrong with the sound. Iprefer to do that later.”

I asked a number of sound designers whether tuning was an issue whenrecording and whether they used tuners during their sessions. Mortonsays that Q Up Arts always stresses tuning. “This is the sort ofdetail that should happen during the original session.”

Others took a more laissez-faire approach to tuning.“It’s never been a problem,” says Miller.“Usually the players will bring a tuner themselves. However,it’s simple to correct tuning in the Kurzweil. You just save thetuning as part of the sample itself.”

“But,” adds Fisher, “the samples must have exactlythe same tuning. Otherwise, when you add reverb and switch Velocitylevels, you will hear chorusing in the reverb.”

Fisher says that, if there’s a problem, he prefers to“EQ the noise out on the Kurzweil. With the K2500, you can workon a sample and then resample it digitally using V.A.S.T.” Hecautions that you have to listen carefully during the recordingsession. “You have to be insane about noise levels. Pay closeattention to ambient room and electrical noises. Remember that when youplay multiple notes of these samples, you’re adding the roomsound and RFI each time you add a note.”

A final consideration during the recording stage is gettingpermission to use these performances. Unless you play every instrumentyourself, you will need to get written permission from the players touse their sounds in a commercial project (whether on a CD-ROM or in aproduction). If you intend to license or sell the collection, havingcopyright-clean samples is a must. Think about this before you contactmusicians for the recording session. Be sure to have anattorney-approved contract stating your intentions, and make sure themusicians understand and sign the contract before the session isbooked.


It’s easy to spend hours setting up mics and getting the rightsound. However, it’s important to conserve your mental andphysical stamina for the recording session itself.

For Fisher, preserving attention span is important. “Peoplewill spend all day on the miking and sound. But after an hour ofrecording, you’ll find them reading a magazine rather than payingattention. It’s very easy to have entire ranges of an instrumentget wrecked because you lost your concentration for a period of therecording session.”

Attention span is a two-way street. “Be willing to pay yourperformers,” Fisher adds. “Tell them that this’ll bethe hardest and most boring—but most exacting—performanceof their life. Let them know that this is a major deal.”

And be thorough in your search for the most useful sounds. The moreprepared you are before a session, the smoother it will run and themore you will accomplish.

Before doing a sampling session with the ROVA Saxophone Quartet,sound designer Thomas Dimuzio made a wish list of things that hethought would be useful in a sax-quartet library. “I broughtalong a list of ambiences, concepts, and feels that I wanted to get ontape. It turns out that ROVA brought an almost identical list. Becauseof this, we recorded more than enough material for a soundlibrary.”


“Get lots of Velocities,” suggests Fisher, “sothat you have lots of choices later. But don’t get too literalabout things when programming: if an E sounds better as a D, put itthere. Also, remember that the stereo position of two or more sampleshas to be perfect, because the ear can hear stereo locationshifts.”

Fisher is also an advocate of keeping the sampler set up nearby tosee how the samples work side by side on the keyboard. “Havingthe sampler nearby is useful for getting the sounds to blend all theway up the scale.”

“One of the most important things you can do during theoriginal recording is pop the sounds into a keymap and see if they workon the instrument and in scales. Many times, you won’t know thatthe sounds don’t work until you put them all side by side. Veryfew people do this. However, this keeps you from getting gaps where thesound isn’t right. Sometimes you’ll find that you need toget a better recording of a single note to even out the scale.

“After you’ve built your keymap, don’t be afraidto throw out a note that doesn’t work and stretch the others tocover it.” Fisher adds.

Miller agrees that having an instrument nearby is a good practice.When he is creating a project destined for the Kurzweil format, heloads the recordings into his K2500 and tries a little programming toget a feel for how the samples will sound in performance. “I likeeach sample to have a slightly different sound across the keyboard map.When done well, this will give the instrument more of a real playingfeel.”

Fisher believes that the more you know about how an instrumentsounds, the easier it will be to create a reproduction for the sampler.“When the session’s over, have the musician just play, soyou can hear what a real performance sounds like. It’ll give youideas on how to structure your sample programming. Try to reproducethat performance with the samples.”

Through experience, the professionals also know that how thesounds are used in a library often determines the best way to recordand program them.

“Sometimes you need to predict what the sample’s goingto sound like in the end; it may not sound the way it sounds in reallife.” Fisher points to the acoustic guitar as an example.“Recording the guitar’s open strings and puttingopen-string samples on each key, rather than getting the individualquirks of each fret, gives the sample a more natural sound. Sometimes avanilla recording of an instrument is better than one with lots ofdifferent clicks and buzzes.”


Now the real work begins. Making many detailed samples from acollection of source recordings is a major task. Whether you are usinga looping program, such as Antares’s Infinity, or workingin a more generalized digital audio editor, the biggest challenge tothe sound designer is seamless editing and looping.

Hiskey says Ilio Entertainment’s first priority is to achievehigh-quality sound. “We can’t afford to put out a productthat has clicks in the loops.”

Like many Kurzweil programmers, Miller says that he does his workprimarily in the K2500 itself. “The way I work now, I go from DATto Mac, using BIAS Peak to slice it up, and then send it whereit’s going to go, which, for many projects, is theK2500.”

Earwax’s Darby tries to keep as many of the samples intact ashe can. “Often, they’re from previous jobs, sothey’ve been trimmed. Because we use Pro Tools, it’s not aproblem to adjust the sound to fit the moment.”

“There are compromises no matter what you do,” explainsDimuzio. “It all depends on the source material.” OnRarefaction’s Etymology, a sample library of guitar and cellosounds played by Fred Frith and Tom Cora, Dimuzio often used crossfadeloops. “But some folks may not like crossfades, so I alsoincluded chronological loops, where I went in and cut loops from thebeginning of the sample to its end. When you place them side by side,you get the entire sample. Otherwise you have its componentparts.”

Many elements come into play when you begin creating individualsamples. Sound quality, tuning integrity, and level are all things youmust consider when choosing the best take. Normalization is an aspectof sample design that Morton thinks important. “Make sure all thelevels are hot so that sampler output is optimized. Also, watch thatstuff doesn’t get truncated too short. Give the instruments theirfull decay before chopping them off.”

Fisher suggests that if note attacks don’t match, you shouldcopy and paste the attack transient you like to the one sample that hasthe weak attack transient. “And make sure your loops don’tchange pitch,” he warns. “Your ear is most sensitive topitch, especially with shorter loops. Moving the end of the loop pointwill make the difference. Don’t just listen to the sample dry:listen to it in reverb, because, again, you will hear chorusing whenboth pitches appear together in the reverb.”

Fisher also knows that the ear is good at perceiving when a shortloop begins. “If you have a RAM limitation, you’re betteroff having fewer samples with longer loops than the other way around.Especially with something as complex as a multistring instrument likethe piano: you need loops of two to three seconds or more. They shouldbe as long as you can get away with.”


Many sound-library publishers don’t have in-house recordingand editing facilities. That fact means that much of the work on aproject is performed by outside contractors working in their ownstudios (see Fig. 3).

Most of the companies I spoke to expressed interest in hearing aboutnew ideas for sound libraries and collections, especially ones that mayalready be completely implemented into one of the popular samplerformats. As the market continues to grow, there is also a need forskilled freelance editors and programmers. Because of the amount oftime it takes to program a set of samples, you can imagine that manycompanies have a difficult time keeping up with the demand for newsounds.

“There’s quite a bit of work to be had convertinglibraries for companies,” explains Spectrasonics’ Persing.“The best part of the project is recording themusicians—making the raw recordings. The next part that’sfun is when it’s done. All the other parts are technical andtedious because of the amount of organization and documentationthat’s required. Just coming up with names, it’s hard notto repeat yourself. A lot of thought goes into thesedetails.”

Persing says that to be a good programmer, you need to have fullknowledge of what he calls the “arcane archives” of eachmachine. “If you’re going to make something for the AkaiS1000-series filters, you need to know that they respond differentlyfrom other Akai versions. Filters are standardized in Roland andKurzweil machines, but not in the Akai instruments. So, for a certainproject it might be necessary to leave the filters alone in thatformat. You have to be aware of details like how the envelope timeswork on different models. The more musical you want to make it, themore risky it is. But the rewards are that much greater.”

To Persing, the creativity that goes into the details matters.“Controller mapping makes a big difference,” he says.“If you want to have a filter sweep, a mod wheel or data slidercan add in more or less of the effect. That way, folks can tailor asample in real time.”

Fisher points out the “paradox in creatingmulti-Velocity-strike samples. You want two different Velocities, butwhen you switch between samples, the timbre is different. Peoplecomplain about that. What you have to do is make the crossover pointsseem invisible. You have to have a separate programming layer for eachVelocity range: as you get to the end of one sample range, itsbrightness should match the darkness of the new layer.”

Fisher also notes that there are reasons to do cross-switchingrather than crossfading. “Crossfading rarely works on naturalinstruments when you’re doing multistrikes. While they’recrossfading, you’re hearing twice as many strings in thatcrossfade window. With switching, when the Velocity is 0 to 60you’re hearing the low sample; 61 to 127 you’re hearing theother. Also, when you crossfade, you’re eating twice as muchpolyphony during the fade.”

But achieving utter realism is not the only measure of success witha sample, says Fisher. “Many instruments that decay do so farfaster than your brain thinks they do. So you have to exaggerate thedecay time on certain instruments—such as piano, guitar, andbass—so users won’t complain about the sounds being‘stubby.’ They want a far more linear curve thathyperexagerrates the decay time of those instruments, which is whycompression is used so often on those instruments in the recordingstudio.”


Shopping your sound library to a manufacturer or distributor isworth serious consideration. Many of the companies I spoke with areinterested in hearing new ideas for libraries. “A constructionkit really works for us,” says Doug Rogers of East WestCommunications. “We like to get one- to four-bar loops of all theinstruments, then a breakdown of those loops individually, as well asof the individual instrumental notes.”

Korntheuer of Rarefaction says, “I look for collections thatare twisted! Something that’s not out there already. Somethingthat spurs the imagination and creativity. If we’re getting asubmission, we like to see most of the programming work already done,such as zero-crossovers, normalization, and so on. We also like to havea multilayered sample broken down into its components, so end users canreassemble it themselves” (see Fig. 4).

The process of getting your library heard begins with contacting thecompany you hope will publish your work. Most of the companies surveyedfor this article said that they prefer to get a proposal first beforehearing the actual project. If they’re interested in yourproposal, they will then request that you send material for them tolisten to.

Rather than blanketing companies with CD-Rs of your project, do somethorough market research into which companies are supporting yourformat and what kinds of products they carry. Look at eachcompany’s Web page to become familiar with its vision. Also,consider what each company doesn’t have in its catalog. Ifyour project is an Eastern European bagpipe collection in the Akaiformat, target companies that emphasize instrumental collections, worldmusic, and Akai CD-ROMs, but that don’t already have a release ofthis sort.


The market for sound libraries continues to grow each year, as thedemand for sound content escalates in the world of audio and video. Theresult is an expanding market for unique sound libraries and talentedsound designers and programmers. With the right sounds and a goodpresentation, you can carve out your place among the pros.

Gino Robairis an Associate Editor atEM.Thanks to Daniel Fisher, Thomas Dimuzio, Eric Persing, PaulKorntheuer, Jim Miller, Jeff Darby, Melissa Reuther, Doug Rogers, MarkHiskey, Doug Morton, Jeff Obee, Karen Stackpole, Headless Buddha Labs,Mary Cosola, and Steve Oppenheimer.


When you purchase a sound library, you’re not buying thesounds any more than you’re buying Peter Gabriel’s songswhen you buy his record. The sounds on a sample disc are licensed toyou for use in your sound productions only. Each manufacturer handleslicensing differently, so it’s important that you read theenclosed “licensing agreement” for every collection youpurchase.

Typically, the license allows you to use the sounds for your ownproductions exclusively. Unauthorized use of the collection includeslending, renting, reselling, copying, dubbing, and reconfiguring thesamples for resale.

Companies often approach each kind of use of the sounds separately.Record production, film and television, and multimedia projects areeach treated in a unique way. Some uses may require a separateagreement with the publisher or may be forbidden entirely. Sometimesyou’re asked to credit the sound library, depending on theusage.

Why are sound-library publishers so particular about licensingissues? Consider that each company has spent a lot of money hiringmusicians for the recordings and invested countless hours in editing,looping, and programming each sound. The people who do this expect toget paid for their work, just as you and I do. In addition, manycompanies guarantee that the sounds they’ve licensed to you arecopyright clean, so you won’t have legal problems down the line.That aspect of a sound library is an important one that’s oftenoverlooked: for a relatively small fee, these companies are providingyou with the tools to continue creating music (and making money) inperpetuity. All they ask in return is that you abide by their licensingagreement.


Every company that I spoke with said that piracy of samples is amajor issue worldwide. One company said that the sample-CD industrywould be at least ten times bigger than it is now if it weren’tfor piracy. That means that the development process of new and uniquesample collections has been seriously hampered because of theunauthorized sale and distribution of samples.

It’s certainly fair for musicians to upload their own custompatches or samples to a Web site. It’s another thing to uploadsomething you’ve purchased from a publisher, whether in itsoriginal form or modified. We’re talking basic intellectualproperty rights.

Make sure that you’re not supporting unscrupulous activitywhen you download sounds from users’ groups or other Internetsources. Any unauthorized reproduction of the sounds, whether posted ona Web site for distribution or copied to DAT for use by persons otherthan the original user, is harmful to the company that produced theproject.

It’s important that you’re aware of piracy issues andrespect the work of the manufacturers just as you would like people torespect your own musical creations. If it weren’t for thesecompanies taking financial risks, we wouldn’t have so manyfantastic releases in the first place.


Despite the apparent glamour of the sample-CD biz, the companiesthat publish libraries are not the huge megacorporations that you maythink they are. They’re usually small businesses, started bysound designers who thought that others might be interested in theirwork. While some publishers do much of the work in-house, otherscommission and license projects from sound designers like you andme.

Before you begin seeing big dollar signs, however, let’s beginwith a reality check. Compared with the number of units thattraditional music labels sell, sample-CD sales (whether they’reaudio discs or CD-ROMs) are extremely modest. Depending on the title,format, style, and price, a sample CD might be considered a success ifit sells from 750 to 1,000 units, but the average release sells belowthat figure.

Selling 600 copies of a CD-ROM priced at $199 may not sound thatbad, considering how cheap it is to mass-produce CDs these days.However, when you consider that creating a high-quality library cantake up to two years, you begin to see that there are a few challengesin making back your initial investment.

Style-oriented releases (for example, current dance flavor)generally have a shorter marketing life span than their more esotericcounterparts (such as a harpsichord collection). Some sample librariescontinue to sell well for manufacturers, sometimes into the thousands,and this kind of success helps the manufacturer invest in new releasesto meet market demands.


East West Communications

Eye & I Productions

Ilio Entertainments

Q Up Arts



Sweetwater Sound

Time + Space