Making Music with Samples - Your preferred DAW, and Tips for beginners?


Which one, in your opinion comes with the most proficient sampler and provides a more intuitive and comprehensive environment when it comes to working with Samples? (subjective question, but I’m interested in your opinion nonetheless) - I’m picking a DAW for the first time :stuck_out_tongue: so any insights on the subject matter are greatly appreciated.

Also, aside from making your own samples, what is your approach when it comes to collecting samples and building up a collection? On the other hand, has this become a burden in any way ? A gear acquisition syndrome of different kind? I’m deathly afraid of falling into this trap, which I think is one of the reasons why I got interested in SuperCollider and found the whole idea of generating your own synthesizer sounds so appealing (still a work in progress at the moment though, but I figured I might as well start getting more familiar with a DAW in the meantime).

Anyways, would love to hear your thoughts on some of the DAWs you’ve experimented with. What you liked, what you didn’t like, and most importantly, what you found to be most crucial for your workflow in regards to making music with samples.

Thanks in advance. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


there is so much room for variation and such a wide topic. i love ableton live as daw/sampler. been a user since ver 3 or 4. i don’t think it has the best native samples or available from maker sample packs but you can easily drag and drop files and i love the superduper ease of simpler and impulse itb machines. i find it very intuitive as a total program. far expanded with max4live. i think it is great and sounds as good as you can make it. i like to make my own samples, often via microsampling myself sometimes discarded tracks yield helpful stuff to bring into tracks im feeling more.

as for comprehensive, i’ve not ever found anything in music to be comprehensive. no instrument will cover all bases, especially if it is a strong instrument unto itself. it will have a ton of limitations and those will likely be the things that make it so useful.

ive never quite liked working with others daws but i have been digging into ableton live for so long that i just don’t care to even worry about other fundamental starting block softwares. i believe most daws should be quite suitable to the purposes sought, so whatever seems to tick your box, go for that and just dig dig dig dig dig!


For sample based workflow you might take a look at a Tracker. The current standard is Renoise (, and it’s pretty great.

If you aren’t familiar with the Tracker paradigm there will be a bit of learning curve, but for working mainly with samples I haven’t found a method that I prefer…


not an answer for DAWs, but TidalCycles is really great and fully-featured for working with samples, and uses SuperCollider ^-^


I’m one of the rare creatures that doesn’t like Ableton, though that’s probably simply a matter of habit. I use Maschine, which works really well with samples IMHO… and even though I don’t actually work with samples that much anymore, and tend not to loop or even sequence most of the time… routing of I/O and effects channels is pretty good for my needs. Its main weakness now I think is you can’t use plugins to generate MIDI.

Maschine was originally meant as a sample-based drum machine, and then gained plugin hosting and slowly grew into more of a full fledged DAW. I like the workflow, having come from FL Studio before that. (I find FL a little bloated and inconsistent by comparison.)

I’m an Ableton user with no real experience from any other Daw, so I can’t compare. With Simpler/Sampler, Impulse, DrumRacks, Session View and Max4Live-devices there are really too much possibilities.

In my opinion, hoarding samples is pretty useless. Yes, it’s easy to get carried away, especially when there’s so much free stuff. Yet, why fill your own hard drive when you can access it all online when you need it.

I’d rather be creative with what I have, tweak samples, make them my own, do field recordings, lift stuff off vinyl/youtube. There’s the site SampleRadar where you can download Gigabytes of everything, and then there’s where you can buy sounds as you need them. (and of course there are countless sites selling packs to suit different genres).

Ableton (Suite at least) comes with so many different packs that you are overwhelmed and dizzy from the start, and then new free packs keep dropping.

I’ve find this to be the best tip when it comes to sample libraries:

“Often in life you are confronted by many possibilities. The best thing you can do is just go for one with a quick decision, then make that choice work for you. It takes you to interesting places with surprising results.” - Brian Eno

I meant to say I love Ableton. Deeply. Really, I wish they had more merch to sell :wink:

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I think Live is the most fun DAW, personally. I would recommend starting with Live Lite - dozens of pieces of gear come with it, and it’s very likely a friend has a spare serial number for it lying around. That way you can see if you like the workflow, and get a discount on the upgrade to the full version.

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I’ll second a vote for Renoise. One of it’s best features is it’s affordability, and it’s super powerful. Entirely sample based.

I used Ableton for a long time, and honestly it’s excellent. It’s 8 times the cost of Renoise.

As far as collecting samples, I usually get things from vinyl, and record them into my computer with a usb turntable. I’ve also used CDs and my own recordings.

I definitely do not keep a collection. Just like vegetables they lose their freshness after they’ve been sitting around. I use things when I find them, and if I can’t make them work usually I just let them go.

Samples definitely a definitely a way to avoid g.a.s. … however I do now have record acquisition syndrome. It’s not so bad as I do listen to them. I think if you can stick with software and samples you would certainly be helping yourself in a lot of ways. When you really need a piece of gear you will know why: it has a certain sound you can’t get otherwise.

I’ve loved samples since the beginning of my electronic music days, they are always unique and have so much subtly, and I mean if you’re sampling Gary Burton or Chick Corea it’s going to sound amazing almost no matter what you do to it.

My favorite techniques for a long time: layering octaves and fifths, and reversing things. I’d say that covers about 70-80% of the music I’ve done in the last 5 years.

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Just my two cents: I started with Ableton like 8 years ago. I love it. About two years ago, I tried switching to Studio One given that I really think of my compositions in a very linear manner.

I ended up switching back. Ableton basically locked me in with some of its effects and instruments. There are things that you can’t get good clone of elsewhere. Also, it’s great at capturing dozens of takes/sample variations and storing them for potential deployment at a later time.

I really wanted to switch to Studio One, and I tried hard.

So what I’m saying is: I think I wasted a lot of time going between DAWs. Be careful not to fall for that trap.

Nice plug, a very fun option for those who like learning to program and/or who like free stuff

To add use audacity to get familiar with editing the sample and applying some rudamentary fx (also free open source software)

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Ableton Live is expensive, but you can actually do a lot with the ‘Lite’ version that comes bundled with a lot of MIDI controllers, or the $100 ‘Intro’ version.


An alternative to TidalCycles is: Also equipped to handle samples and sounds based on SuperCollider but with a different approach.

I started with a free pack called LMMS that I tried because it was free. I had no idea at the time what a DAW was, but learned after that it included some DAW functions, along with some great plugins – primarily ZynAddSubFX, which I also learned later, was a pretty powerful toolset (I believe it’s developed by the same person behind Paulstretch). It’s still around, but I can’t attest to its functionality now; it looks really different from what I remember.

Once I was ready to invest in a DAW, on the advice of a friend who had some experience I tried Tracktion. I liked its GUI, which seemed pretty intuitive (and which, I later discovered, was not dramatically unlike Live), but found it to be buggy as hell.

Around that time (2010), I had switched to Mac and so, exasperated w/Tracktion, decided to experiment with GarageBand, which I did just enough to decide that abandoning Tracktion for Logic made sense. I used Logic 9 for several years and found it to be visually pretty :confused: and had some features I liked (e.g., the ability to produce sheet music from MIDI and vice versa). Concurrent with Logic, I discovered Max and started patching quite a bit. Over time, I found that I was more interested in the exploration and control that Max allowed, but getting Max’s output into Logic was a serious PITA and I began looking for alternatives.

That’s when I was introduced to Live and M4L. I invested in Live 9 Suite and have never looked back (although I would agree with comments above that Lite is a good place to start). Live’s GUI is straightforward but rich and is clearly designed to have a low CPU load (in strong contrast to Logic); in fact, I find that it emphasizes function and power and efficiency across the board. I love the fact that I can have a DPS idea and build it in M4L and implement it in Live seamlessly (even as I often discover later that someone has already built something similar and better :laughing:). I’m now running Live 10 and Max 8 on my nine-year-old iMac and it doesn’t bat an eyelash in terms of CPU load.

In terms of samples, I’ll second Freesound (linked above) as a good starting place, but I’m also very attached to my Zoom H4n Pro field recorder. It has a painfully slow boot, which means it’s not really good for capturing surprising audio phenomena, but beyond that, it’s been rugged and ready and produced very satisfactory samples with either its native XY mics for more ambient stuff or externals (Shure cardioids or piezo contacts) for focused work. As for my collection, my initial enthusiasm upon purchasing the Zoom resulted in GBs of noises and various random and/or cliche sounds which I now occasionally go back to, but I’ve tapered off and learned more about what I’m really interested in, so my library lately has been expanding much more slowly and purposefully.

It’s a process, you know?


Regarding field recordings and sample collection: I can definitely relate to capturing many gigabytes of noise with my old H2 and iphone voicememo app. Great, but suddenly you have to be a librarian as well as a music creator. I’m a hopeless hoarder. I must have hours of rain and thunder recorded :thinking:

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I will say Logic’s GUI has gotten better (mostly) since X, and some sample based stuff has gotten at least a little easier, but it’s definitely not leading the pack in either of those regards.

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I have done sample-based production with Cubase, Pro Tools, Reason, FL Studio, Logic and Ableton, and I find Ableton to be the best and easiest by a wide margin. It’s expensive and has a learning curve up front, but once you get the hang of it, everything else is like wearing oven mitts.

I acquire commercial sample packs and freebies off the web, but for artistic satisfaction, my favorite source for samples is my iTunes library. I’ve done so much sampling of my music library that I’ve trained myself to “spot” good samples effortlessly. Over time, I’ve evolved a complex folder hierarchy, set of file naming conventions and color-coding of frequently used breaks. I’d happily describe them to you, but it wouldn’t be very helpful, because your own system will have to reflect your particular needs. (For example, “Michael Jackson” and “James Brown” are top-level categories for me, on the same hierarchy level as “rock” and “jazz”, because I sample those two so much.) The library management aspect of sample-based music is as important to the creative process as any other musical or technical skill. You can think of it as an art medium unto itself rather than just a chore, but you have to do it.

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If I was starting with daws and plugins today, I would go ipad route, because of how interactive everything is there.

True, if you want ambient/granular feel, then apps like Samplr, Borderlands, Spacecraft etc are sensational.

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I wish Samplr and Borderlands would get an update though. I do love them so.

Not just ambient, take Patterning 2 for example, how easy going and interactive it is.

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