I'm going to show you how to speed up your creativity by building a sampler instrument with the EXS24 in Logic...but first, some context.
This post is directly tied to my series on how to use templates to increase productivity, as it’s all to do with making your workflow more efficient - if you haven’t already read my first post on this topic, feel free to check back to find out more about one of the best ways to speed up your workflow.
One of the classic scenarios in music production, especially for electronic music, is sifting through folders and folders of samples to find the right kick sound, clap, synth stab and so on. I’m sure you’ve been there, I certainly have! It’s great to organise your favourite samples into categorised folders and I highly recommend getting into this habit.
However, rather ironically, you probably go back to the same 3-4 samples (particularly for kick drums) most of the time for your productions. This means that you are totally wasting your time every time you search through the same sample folders. Please don’t be offended - I’m fully guilty of doing this multiple times, over and over again, before I made the realisation. Even after I made the realisation I still browsed my folders, knowing that there was a more efficient way.
One of the best ways to increase the speed of your workflow is to set up your sounds ahead of time. Don’t be scared of your tracks sounding too repetitive - you’ll get different inspiration and ideas each time, but it’s important to start on a solid foundation. Using proven sounds that work is the best place to start.
Rules and limitations
Electronic music is different from all other kinds of music in that we are capable of designing and building our instrumentation from scratch. It’s extremely rare that you see this occurring in any other genre. In a traditional orchestra, for example, you know you have percussion, strings, brass, woodwind etc. to work with, so composers arrange their parts accordingly. If you’ve ever been a member in a band you know that you have your drums, bass, guitars, keys and vocals.
Having these limitations is not a bad thing, the magic happens in the variations that these instruments produce. In the same way that Nirvana don’t sound like The Beatles, your choice of instrumentation will sound entirely different to any other producer, so feel free to let these concerns go.
Select your absolute favourite sounds, and not just in their own right - they should be proven to work well in your tracks. It can be a really useful exercise to open the project files for your best tracks and note all of the samples that you have used. This goes for instruments, channel strip settings, plugins and effects too. You can save your instruments as presets to be loaded in other projects (or, preferably, your template file), save whole channel strip settings (including instruments, effects, routing etc.), plugin settings and effects processing.
Paradox of choice
I believe there are a few points of resistance that prevent us from creating our own sample sets and presets. We can be fearful of sounding repetitive and conscious of being labelled a ‘one-trick pony’. However, I would argue the opposite. Working with and developing the same sounds allows you, in turn, to define your sound, slowly changing, developing and improving over time.
Why drag in an entirely new kick sample that you could potentially spend a great deal of time sculpting and processing, only for it to sound the same as or, even worse, not as good as the kick samples in your last three tracks? It’s a waste of time. With an unlimited number of choices and decisions in music production, it’s a good idea to limit yourself and create some rules. For example, why not select your favourite 3 or 4 kick samples and work with them exclusively for the next few tracks? Although this can seem limiting at first, it’s actually quite liberating.
Building a sampler with the EXS24
The EXS24 is a dedicated sampler inside Logic and can be used to host and control all manner of sounds. The beauty of using the EXS24, and why I would recommend this as the place to start, is that Apple introduced a new way of building a sample set a few versions back that is incredibly fast and, above all, simple.
Years ago, you had to import all your audio samples, or cut up your audio file into separate samples, and then import these samples into the EXS24. This is still relatively straightforward but it does take a bit of time to organise and arrange (if you’re still interested in learning this, David Earl’s (aka SFLogicNinja’s) original tutorial is a good place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEfYauvZZaY). Now it’s even easier. Let’s stay with drums to illustrate how to build a sampler instrument from scratch in Logic.
Method 1: Building a sampler from one-shot samples
The first method I’ll explain is probably the most common. In this scenario, you’ve prepared your favourite sample folders full of one shot samples. For this example, let’s say we want to create a sampler for all of our go-to snare sounds.
Locate your snare folder in Finder. Use Cmd + A to select all of the snare sounds at once, and drag these samples onto a new audio track in the Arrange window within Logic. If you haven’t already created an audio file, drag past the lowest existing track and Logic will create a new track for you automatically. Nifty.
This bit’s pretty important - Logic will prompt you with three options for how you’d like the samples to be imported. Select ‘Place all files on one track’ to ensure that everything’s imported onto the same audio track.
You may want to do some housekeeping at this point, for example, if some of the samples have long tails, you can shorten them here and apply fade outs to neaten them out.
Make sure all of the imported regions are highlighted and right-click on one of them. Now select ‘Convert to New Sampler Track’. You’ll now be prompted with another dialogue box.
Make sure that in the ‘Create Zones From:’ option, ‘Regions’ is selected. This will generate a sampler from the one-shot regions that you’ve imported. Next, you can name the sampler here if you wish, which will make recall easier. For the ‘Trigger Note Range’, I recommend C2 as the lowest key, simply because it’s easier to draw in notes in the Piano Roll (and you won’t keep accidentally clicking the annoying scroll bar, as I found!).
Hit ‘OK’ and Logic will create an instance of the EXS24 containing all of your snare samples spread from C2 onwards. You’ll see that notes are also created in the Piano Roll that represent each of the individual samples. Go ahead and play the corresponding keys on your keyboard and you’ll hear your samples come to life!
If you’d like to save this set of samples to be accessed in all new projects (which I highly recommend), open up the EXS24 from the mixer and select the ‘options’ button on the right-hand side, then select ‘Save Instrument as…’ and click ‘Save’.
Method 2: Building a sampler from a loop/beat
This second method is pretty similar, but with a few differences. In this scenario, let’s say we have a drum loop that has multiple hits, but we’d like to split these hits up and spread them out so that we can play each individual hit on a separate note.
Locate your chosen loop or beat in Finder, then drag it into the Arrange window.
Right-click the region and, once again, select ‘Convert to New Sampler Track’ to reveal the dialogue box.
This time around, we want to split the region using transient markers, so within the ‘Create Zones From:’ option, select ‘Transient Markers’. As mentioned earlier, years ago you needed to manually cut up your beat into individual hits, but nowadays Logic automatically scans your audio for transient peaks, meaning that it can splice the region at these markers so that you don’t have to. This saves BAGS of time. Once again you can name the sampler and set the Trigger Note Range.
Initiate the process by clicking ‘OK’ and you will be presented with a MIDI region containing all of the separate hits, all mapped across your key range ready to play. Indeed, if you hit play, the MIDI notes will trigger the entire loop! You can even repurpose the original beat by rearranging notes and applying all of the usual MIDI modifications, such as quantisation and velocity variations. Neat!
Lastly and yes, again, I recommend saving your sample set for use in other projects, over and over again. Open up the EXS24, select ‘options’ and ‘Save Instrument as…'.
(This video is pretty old now, but it covers the second method very well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmJLMaWqhOQ)
Create your own instrument
The EXS24 may look pretty archaic nowadays, but don’t be fooled. It’s a really powerful tool and an excellent sampler - I highly recommend getting to grips with it in order to add some new inspiration to your productions. I hope that helped as an introduction to sampling in Logic, and if you have any questions please do hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!