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Cory F. MacNiven @Quarl

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Ethics Of Sampling, Programming Drums, & Life

Posted by Quarl - June 14th, 2021


Over the years, I've wanted to do a few audio tutorials. Problem log: I'm not a very popular artist, my individual voice only travels so far, and I don't feel like doing youtube videos. This post will attempt to cover a plethora of topics to appeal to as many people as possible. To keep it simple, I'm including an Index:


I. Ethics Of Sampling

II. EDM Drum signaling & cable management inside Reason (includes images and file downloads)

III. My personal life

IV. Projects and Collaborations

V. Fuck you.

VI. Newgrounds Southwest Meet Up??

VII. Conclusion


I. Ethics Of Sampling


This is a loaded topic that I will attempt to explain using approximate words and feelings. Many people have an aversion to the idea of sampling without any knowledgeable input. Some critics accuse EDM artists of being lazy or untalented despite using samples on the regular every time they turn on their Casio keyboard. A quick google search brings up this definition: A sample is a digital representation of an analog signal. Both digital video and digital audio files are created using samples ... For example, a violin sound or a bird chirp may be sampled and then played back from a digital keyboard (or synthesizer).


From Wikipedia: In signal processing, sampling is the reduction of a continuous-time signal to a discrete-time signal.


Put another way, audio samples can be many separate things. Often times they are used in keyboards, electric pianos, and DJ software. Reason's Malstrom synthesizer uses something called granular synthesis which means the sounds it makes are actually composed of thousands of small samples. Another copy/paste: Granular synthesis is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale. It is based on the same principle as sampling. However, the samples are not played back conventionally, but are instead split into small pieces of around 1 to 50 ms.


So that's probably not what you were expecting when I opened up with "the ethics of sampling." You thought I'd try to justify all those easily identifiable video game samples I use in my own tracks. For that, I cite the hiphop community circa the 1980's. Hiphop artists during that period "repurposed" existing recordings to supplement their lyrical poetry using emerging technology. The idea wasn't to take credit from other people's work. Not everyone can afford a drum kit or a bass guitar. The time required to learn these instruments and the investment to fix broken parts means that most people will never be able to enjoy the world of music from anything other than the perspective of a spectator. Sampling machines allowed those spectators to join a larger community of content creators at the cost of pissing off elitists and critics. In the long run: sampling has become a way of life for many artists.


I'll be honest, sampling isn't always cut and dry ethical. There are many pit falls to be wary of. This is when things start to get a little grey. I will again cite wikipeia for saying it better than I can:


To legally use a sample, an artist must acquire legal permission from the copyright holder, a potentially lengthy and complex process known as clearance. Sampling without permission can breach the copyright of the original sound recording, of the composition and lyrics, and of the performances, such as a rhythm or guitar riff. The moral rights of the original artist may also be breached if they are not credited or object to the sampling. In some cases, sampling is protected under American fair use laws, which grant "limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holder".


Do try to inform your work to the best of your ability. Samples such as the Amen break have a lengthy history. No one will get mad at you for sampling something like that. What about Nintendo SFX? Well, Nintendo has the money to fight anyone over anything but minor samples have been called "de minimus." Essentially, bite sized sound samples have been considered by some courts to be trifling matters not worth the time to litigate. I sample from Wikipedia again:


In 2000, jazz flautist James Newton filed a claim against the Beastie Boys' 1992 single "Pass the Mic", which samples his composition "Choir". The judge found that the sample, comprising six seconds and three notes, was de minimis and did not require clearance. Newton lost appeals in 2003 and 2004. In 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas had illegally sampled a drum sequence from the 1977 Kraftwerk track “Metal on Metal" ... The court ruled that permission was required for recognizable samples; modified, unrecognizable samples could still be used without authorisation.


Informal personal opinion, not legal advice: most the time if a sample breaches some kind of legal barrier, you will face zero monetary consequences. A company hosting your work (Youtube or Newgrounds) will become the lightning rod of a ceast and desist. These hosts can avoid problems simply by removing your content from their website. If for some reason you are instead served a cease and desist, I would advise you to comply and modify your work. If you have the money to lawyer up, have fun with that shit.


Newgrounds has a long history with how it enforces sampling. I used to mod audio here in 2008-2009. We each had different styles of going about the work, none of us were paid for it. We volunteered our time to go through thousands of audio files which were flagged for being the first submission a user was uploading. We would interview these people to get an idea of how they created their music. If the work was "stolen" we'd ban that account from uploading audio. Our individual understanding of sampling, legal ethics, and so on was entirely self educated. I burned myself out very quickly with personalized questionnaires for every artist I was interviewing. Some got pissed, others didn't speak English. It was an imperfect system but it was what we were given and it took some responsibility off of Newgrounds. I'm sure everything is different now, modding audio was not easy but that specific practice was going to be spotty and grey based on the nature of sampling itself. Forgive us.


Hopefully, you've learned something from all of this and you are now even more confused about sampling than you were in the first place.


II. EDM Drum Signaling & Cable Management (Reason)


Drum programming can be hella simple or hella complicated. I'm about to get hella complicated because you deserve to know everything you can about how to set up a mixer, drum machine, and fidelity units. Since I use Reason, my entire work flow revolves around two 14:2 Mixers, two ReDrum, and many fidelity units. I'll explain how to hook everything up in detail but do try to emulate my synth stack via these two images: (Front, Back). Wiring it up is explained later but here is that specific rack image too.


You can also download my template RSN drum file via google drive. I'll post this link again towards the bottom of this section for anyone that wants my RSN drum template. I've reproduced this template hundreds of times for myself, I recommend doing or reviewing the dirty work below so you understand everything in the file.


I will now try to explain this stack set up as if we are working from an empty file. Again, it's good to know what everything does. I skip some steps such as minimizing/maximizing specific windows and fidelity units, sorry if that confuses you.


I will start by selecting "new" (or Ctrl+N) from the Reason DDL menu. From here I make the workflow more comfortable to look at by "detaching" the rack window from the sequencer. This DDL option is under "window." Then I stretch the 2 windows out until I have something that fits my laptop monitor. I stagger the rack window and the sequencer so that I can quickly click and switch from one to the other. Everything happens in these two windows, no reason to play with things like on-screen piano keys or spectrum EQ just yet. You can access those windows easily (F4 & F2), memorize your quick keys!


I'm going to start by creating a Mixer 14:2 from the DDL menu. You can also click ADD DEVICE from the bottom of the rack. Ignore the other whatnot already in the rack, we are now composing entirely off of the 14:2 Mixer. If a device such as the mixer is selected in the rack, any instrument you create will automatically wire itself to the selected device. You can also hold down the shift key when you create devices if you prefer wiring things up for yourself. Flip your rack with the Tab key, I want you to hold the shift key down for the next few minutes.


Create the following devices while holding down the shift key:


  • Another 14:2 Mixer
  • ReDrum drum computers [x2]
  • Spider Audio Merger & Spliters [x2]
  • MClass Mastering Suits [x2]


The default mastering suit is hidden in the Reason Factory Sound Bank and most the devices in the combinator will be initially set to "bypass." The two combinators will give you fidelity control over your bass drums and snare drums after we wire drum samples into them via the Spider devices. Before wiring anything, minimize Mixer 1 and both ReDrums in the rack and make sure the rack looks like something like this: Front, Back.


I only minimized the drum machines so they'd fit in those images, you can maximize/minimize things as you need to.


Don't forget to right click the two separate ReDrums and select "reset device" so that the machines are empty. Previous versions instead said "initialize patch" as empty is the default redrum patch. You'll notice mine are initialized in the previous images. I also named each unit in the rack to identify things easier.


The next image shows how the stack is getting wired up: cable clutter.


In essence, we are giving the drums their own mixer which is daisy chained to the main mixer. The first mixer will contain all of our synths and instruments but the second mixer is only for drums. I'm only focusing on the drum mixer today but don't forget to connect the two mixers via the rear rack's chaining master. The aux drums are also minimized. I usually put hi hats, rides, cowbells, and various other samples in the Aux ReDrum but today we are only playing with the bass drums (kick) and the snare drums. I wired some of the ReDrum channels into the fidelity units and labeled whether it's a bass drum or snare drum. This will let us fine tune the fidelity of our two drum signals. I'm not including drum samples in the template, that's on you.


At this point, I'm satisfied with my attempt to explain the work flow. Download my RSN drum template and let me know if anything doesn't make sense. The following ittalics are file changes not shown in previous images:


(I added a filter between mixer one and mixer two. This unit can be bypassed but it's what lets me phase drum loops to create that "under water" effect. Play with the freq and res knobs after you make a few drum loops if your confused. Create automation lanes by right clicking knobs, they will appear afterwards in the sequencer. Automation lanes are powerful. Sorry I forgot this step before taking the previous screen shots.)


(Added a spider merger/splitter and routed both the bass drum and snare drum signals into it for a side chain signal. Any instrument you create I would recommend slapping a compressor on it. The drum signals from this Spider unit can be fed into those compressors via the sidechain inputs which will let your drums punch through the mix. You'll need to play with the threshold and ratio knobs to get a desirable sound. Drums are the most important aspect of any EDM genre, side chaining them to the front ensures they are crisp.)


(Added a malstrom to the main mixer as a reminder that mixer is for non percussive instruments.)


Hopefully this section was incredibly confusing. Study my drum template file, become Aphex Twin.


III. My Personal Life


Tom (boyfriend) and I continue to move our lives off grid. Tom over engineered a beastly solar array for about $15,000 by using refurbished solar panels and cutting edge battery cells from china. The array is currently sitting on the grass, we still haven't welded the brackets that they will sit on but they've been charging the batteries to full every morning faithfully for the last month. Our electricity use has not changed since our move. We guzzle electricity but can do so for three full days using only stored battery power. When it snows, that three day battery window will give us some time to wipe snow off of the array.


We rented an excavator to bury cisterns for water. We calculated our water usage in Georgia and bought enough water storage to live off of for six months. Since our winters get harsh, they had to be dug a certain distance to protect from frost. Our water usage has definitely changed since moving out here. On average, a person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day. We take fewer showers and recycle used water from the laundry machine for things like flushing the toilet or cleaning the bird feeders.


We bought four chicks for producing eggs this winter. Picking up the coop tomorrow. They got big fast :'|


We've built forms for pouring concrete foundations. We need 6-7 forms for a car port. Originally we were going to have additional cisterns above ground in the car port but to save money decided to bury all the cisterns. The car port should help us in the winter if we need to do maintenance on our side by side, or snow mobile. Keeps our vehicles from getting covered in snow :p


We're currently networking on cell signals. Tom works remote cyber security gigs so he does a good job at keeping our home network at buisness speeds. As soon as Space X opens Star Link in our current cell, we're switching to that. Our star link dish is currently with our realtor at the rental property we used as an intermediary between Georgia and Colorado. Since we couldn't move into our house until we built the solar array and plumbling, we rented for a short time in Cortez, CO. The Star Link dish was phenomenal in Cortez, it's a little odd that we don't get service for it an hour north of that cell. It's only a matter of time though.


IV. Projects and collaborations


I'm way over loaded with the day to day non sense of getting our property up to snuff before winter. Was tight but found the time to do the soundtrack for Bleak-Creep's animation Us - Chapter 2. I had the opportunity to compose the soundtrack for Chapter 1 last year and it's an ongoing project that I love to get involved with. Please, go give her work some attention. She has an adorable style of story telling and paid me both times for my part in the project. The cartoons are LGBT themed, hello pride month.


I keep producing junk music files. I got one with some promise but I'm having trouble with the derection. If anyone has the time I'd like to know which version is sounding better: Version 1 with no lead synth, or Version 2 with lead synth? It's a messy work in progress at the moment, ending isn't even there yet. Just curious if anyone had any input :(


I worked with CyberDevil back in December. Time moves so quick, I wanted to shout out this collab sooner but have been super busy/wanted to take the time to include it in a post like this. I almost never work with vocalists or collaborators so this was awesome to hit off. Just wish I was a little more comfortable mixing vocals. He sent a bunch of material I didn't use. I'm not sure what the ethics of collaborating with a lyricist are, felt bad I didn't use every recording he sent me. Cyberdevil is a cool cat regardless, hope he didn't mind the creative editing.


A while back I started searching for collaborators but since no one uses Reason I've had to make due with sample sharing. I'm not as open to collaborating on music at this point but if you feel like you'll be a good match for me: PLEASE SEND ME A PM. Drum and bass is my funk, piano is my forte, and Reason is my canvas.


V. Fuck You


This one is pretty self explanatory. Take the necessary levels of reflexive emotional distraught and contemplate those feelings until you feel appropriately fucked.


VI. Newgrounds Southwest Meet Up??


Covid is almost behind us, a mere memory of a time of hardship. We can start to consider meeting each other in person again. I've been to a few prior newgrounds meet ups, would love to host something similar in the South West. This is only a rallying call for anyone interested in co-organizing something. I'm in the four corners region, would probably try to locate and rent a convention space in an area central to the most people. Major cities I'd consider include Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, etc. Cost of renting out a convention center might prohibit the end location to a smaller town but most hotels have a conference room that can be rented out for a few hundred bucks. I'm an audio peep, would love to find a space that allows the set up of computers, instruments, and a PA system for short jam sessions and idea sharing. A major city would attract a larger crowd, would love to curate an organized creative experience for artists of all mediums. One of my favorite mementos is a sketch pad featuring drawings from various artists that attended the 2017 Pico Day office party. I guess I just want to be surrounded by creative people again, this whole lock down thing has been hugely detrimental to my social life.


Again, if anyone is interested in organizing something with me let's make a forum thread or discord channel to get an idea for possible locations, events, hotels, bars, or anything relevant.


VII. Conclusion


Holy shit, you made it this far! Give yourself a pat on the back. If you skipped everything because tldr, I recommend going back and reading Section V. It's a very short section and it conveys a certain feeling that I think will remain relevant to you despite skipping all the other sections. Thank you my babies and have a wonderful day.


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Comments (2)

congrats on your new power grid. what time frame were you thinking of on a meetup?

also, unrelated, but you should have gone with the original cover art on almost orgasmic.

I have nothing thought out for a meet up time frame. Figured it would be sometime in the future. It kind of depends on the audience that can make it to the event I suppose. A bigger city could potentially attract more people but an area easier to drive to and park at might encourage people to bring instruments. An idea rolling through my mind is to find a hotel with a conference center than can be rented and used like a small studio space. Setting up musical instruments could be a challenge but I'd look for a place that allows that kind of thing for anyone interested in sharing collaborative music ideas. Would need tables and chairs to set up computers for recording things or socializing. I'd personally bring a small PA system, some mics, an electric piano, a keyboard, a loop station, (might leave the drum kit at home)... would encourage anyone bringing stuff to clearly mark and label things. I suppose I'm getting way ahead of myself since it all revolves around the venue, the people, and the time frame.

I'd encourage artists of all kinds to show up, bring sketch pads, and share drawings. I enjoyed that about the last Pico Day event I attended. There were some very talented illustrators that drew in my sketch pad. Making the event inclusive is important. I love trying to check in on everyone at these kinds of things to make sure they are having fun or not having a bad trip. It's always fun to hit it off with interesting people.

Also, that Lion album cover is blursed.

cool