Pro One-Shot Sample Editing
Rap and Hip Hop music is full of chopping and sampling. Many Hip Hop producers - like Chuck D, J Dilla, and DJ Premier just to name a few - construct mixes by slicing out one-shot samples from existing third-party loops and songs, extracting brief sections of audio, and re-combining them into a remixed collage of sound. Audio editing software like Audacity, perhaps the best free audio editing program, makes chopping samples extremely easy. Because chopping samples within any software is so easy, it’s also easy to make a messy job of it. One distinct hazard of chopping one-shot samples is the audible tick. Not the little gray insect that gives you lyme disease, but the clicking or popping sound that occurs when a sample’s audio signal cuts off abruptly without decaying to 0dB. The tick, click, or pop remains audible because a producer hasn’t faded the chopped sample properly. To be fair, especially when discussing hip hop production, producers often keep sloppy sample edits that sometimes add a raw vibe to a beat’s sound, but let’s be honest: most of the time leaving in those audible artifacts is just plain laziness. Below we show you essential editing practices that will refine all your prized samples.
Step 1 - Highlight and Chop
The sample we used, taken from ModernBeats Urban Anthemz 2, is called “B01H197.” Here we’re beginning to construct a new beat by slicing out the first brass hit of the sample. At left, we’ve highlighted the brass hit by left-clicking the mouse and dragging the cursor across it, taking care to include the whole sustain and attack. Now, we simply hit “Ctrl+C” or click “copy” in the “edit” menu at the top of Audacity’s GUI. This copies the desired slice of audio. Since we’re not using the rest of the loop, we’ll get rid of it by pressing the “X” button in the top left of the track. Pressing “Ctrl+V,” or clicking “paste” in Audacity’s “edit” menu places the brass hit at the beginning of a new channel, ready to be implemented in a sublime new beat.
Step 2 - Locate the Digital Artifact
We’ve cut the sample at a spot where the wave amplitude is relatively high, hence there’s a good chance the sample doesn’t start at 0 dB. The result is the characteristic “tick” we discussed in the intro of this tip. Audacity is an extremely flexible software, and gives you numerous options for correcting problems like these. The “envelope” tool (the blue and white button next to the pencil icon at the top of Audacity’s GUI), allows easy creation of fades and mutes, the “draw” tool allows you to re-draw waveforms, but perhaps the best tool for microfading a one-shot sample is the “fade in” tool.
To use fade in, you’ll first have to zoom in on the sample. If you own a Mac, you can zoom in on the sample by holding “Cmd+1,” or “Cmd+3″ to zoom out, or you can press the magnifying glass icons at the top of the screen. At left, we’ve zoomed in to the very beginning of the sample, where, as you can see, the waveform does not begin at 0dB. This will cause an ugly interruption in the smoothness of this channel’s signal if it remains uncorrected.
Step 3 - Correct the Problem Using Fade In
All you need to do now is highlight a very small piece of the sample’s introduction, go to the effect menu up the top and select “fade in.” Now your sample will look something like what you see at left. The end of the sample will need the same treatment; but be sure to apply “fade out,” rather than “fade in” to the end of the sample. In addition to editing the edges of your chopped samples, zooming in on your sample using Audacity will provide you with even more opportunities to clean up your sample. For instance, the waves in Audacity can be tidied up using the “draw” tool (represented by the pencil icon). If, for example, your sample contains unwanted transient clicks, you can edit those out simply by re-drawing the waveform while zoomed in. These, plus many more of Audacity’s free audio editing tools, make
this software an impressive freebie, and a perfect beginner DAW. Any DAW is capable of the same technique of micro-fading is usually quite easy. Mackie Tracktion, for example, places an button on either side of every single clip in the Tracktion sequencer allowing for quick microfades. Armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to produce pristine, glossed mixes. Whatever DAW you use, always remain disciplined and comprehensive when it comes to editing your audio files. Strive for uncluttered mixes, free of artifacts, polishing your productions so they shine.
*Many thanks to John Rutter of Essex, UK for supplying screen captures, and for writing the rough draft on which this article was based.