Using sample libraries in your works


Recently I’ve ben thinking about whether or not to use sample libraries or sounds recorded by other people in my works. I’m not talking about the legal aspects of using a sample, as all the sounds come from bought libraries or creative commons. I’m talking about the feeling I have by using a sound that has not been recorded by me as part of my whole work.

Now, my music is flowing into a more “musique concrete” territoire by using some synthesis from my eurorack and a lot of samples and sound manipulation. When there is no other option but to use already recorded sounds from other people like, let’s say, short wave radio stations, speeches (like the conversation between Cage and Feldman) or dedicated instrument libraries (as all musicians need tu buy instruments made by someone else) I feel fine. The problem comes when I think about using libraries like, for example, the incredible “The Sound Catcher” or creative commons files from “Freesound”. Even although the sounds are unrecognizable sometimes I still feel them there.

I would like to know your opinions and aproaches to this matter, and I you do feel that I need psychological treatment feel free to say!! :smiley:

Other people sounds have been used with the Junto’s and those are fun to do. I don’t see any problem in using other peoples sounds or sound libraries. Go for it!

I thinkt his really boils down to personal choice and artistic vision. If creating your own sounds is part of your process and affects your musical goals and intentions, then you should stick to it. If not, I don’t see the problem. I guess you just need to think a bit more deeply how the act of creating your own sample material affects your music, and if it does at all.

Personally I really like to create as much myself, but that’s mainly because it’s a part in the process I particularly like and I also like to have a certain artistic control over how it’s been done. Composition for me starts very early on, when I record things.

Also, I think that in music everything is a remix (if you pardon the slight hyperbole). Nobody creates in a vacuum and everybody ends up using bits and pieces from other musicians to create their own works. Be it fragments of melodies, harmonic structures, overall compository structures, instruments (you probably don’t make your own instruments either, at least not all of them, do you?), samples etc.

If properly embraced, using other people’s samples can be seen as a cultural and artistic dialogue.
I think the only important thing is to do it with respect and not just slam a sample into the arrangement. But I don’t think this would be the case anyway.


my opinion and practice is that using sounds i did not record myself is acceptable when:

  • the frame of the composition is explicitly that, writing with sounds made by others (ie. collabs, remixes, competitions).
  • the project requires (as in, required by a client) specific sounds there is no time or budget to record, or that have been already recorded before i get onboard.

Other than that, making your own sounds from the start is a unavoidable in acousmatic music. Recording is such an important and defining stage !
To me “making music” [^1], came to be because of listening and recording, not really the other way around. At one point i was like, i want to share the listening state i get into when recording. How do i give people access to the lovely details [^2] , the embedding textures etc. The answer was, well, by organizing sound (aka “make music”).

I am probably excessive in that regard, but to me instrument libraries, sample packs, etc are useful only to gain time/money in an industrial process. If working for an industry (or wanting to make industry-calibrated products) then fine, use them. Other than that, i’d think really hard at why i need these ready-to-use things, and if they impart too much on the main discourse of your piece (the subversion/over-use of ready-to-use may be part of the discourse!).

If you feel the extraneous sounds you use are “still there”, that’s because they are, even if only you know it, their original properties are still the basis of what’s to be heard in the end. There’s no escaping a “hidden psychological relation” with your works. (side note: I think it’s a common occurrence to secretly put things that no one will ever know of into a work of art, be it a un-hearable sound, an intimate intention, a secret memory, and so on).

Anyways, if it is a concern, you should try recording. It’s a rewarding practice imho, if only by the fact that it connects you to the world. Microphone techniques, places, displaces, will be the pigments of your subsequent music. It will add a layer of experimentation, trial/error, do←→listen, that is what musique concrète is at heart: composing in a feedback loop with listening (as opposed to writing notes on a paper or “using sounds from real life” which i always found a very reductionist (let’s be polite) definition of that music).
Also you might end with a cabinet of microphones and an obsession for the qualities of sound rather than the message it eventually carries :smiley:

[^1]: i mean, “real music” that i can stand behind and assert is “mine” without second thoughts.
Before that (and i don’t repudiate that as it was a main part of my path after all) i mainly tried to emulate genres of pop music that i liked to listen to, but finding a voice within that was way too hard, encumbered by concerns which had nothing to do with music and everything to do with how to fit codes and find a place in the world (which was not there, ahah. Growing up etc.).

[^2]: i’m still wondering when the ASMR crowd will find out about experimental electronics and will flow en-masse towards a field that could use refreshed audiences ^^

ps. do footnotes don’t work? i could swear i saw a post using them recently.


I usually record my own samples already for my personal work … I have several microphones with different properties. I even created several electroacoustic “instruments” to play with them using DPA’s and contact mics. Only I could say that a 10% of the samples are borrowed. The thing is that, let’s say, I want to play a prepare piano or even a “destroyed” piano. Or if I need the sound of an airplane jet to mangle it. If I don’t have the oportunity to record my own samples all those wonderful sound libraries seem like a good option. But then, it always comes the final question … Are those sounds mine? Are the playing, or hitting mine? And another point … is it possible to hear those sounds in other peoples work? Well, although the sound I use tend to end up unrecognizable, they are there, and I feel like a 10% of my work is not totally mine.

I guess I posted this although I just knew the answers before starting to write. Picking other sounds from others for me is over. Only when the work requires certain text or speeches will be fine. But no more libraries, sample packs, loops, … etc.

Just like an example, I recorded this video several years ago. The sounds just came from a contact mic in my violin, and me whistling to the MacbooK Pro internal mic and processing the sounds in the modular system.

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I’d rephrase the question on whether the process or the end result is of more importance to you. If incorporating sounds that you don’t consider your own (as if anyone owns a sound anyway :thinking:) “ruins” either the process or the end result for you, I don’t see why you’d do it.

Well, actually is not so “dramatic” as thinking about “ruin” the work by using someone else’s sounds. But somehow there’s always that kind of “strange” feeling. I just wanted to ask other people how they feel about this …

Yes, of course, that’s why I put ruin in quotation. Maybe “bother” or “irk” would have been better words? In any case, if it makes you stop and reconsider, I’d say you can do without it.

This might sound naive but my honest suggestion would be to try to see how your body reacts when such a sound gets introduced in a piece you’ve considered finalized. Is your body anticipating these “foreign” sound? How does it respond when it’s there of it isn’t there? What if it was replaced by another sound?

I’d go with my instinct (although it seems you’ve already made up your mind which is super nice!)

aha my first answer earlier would have been “from your post it seems like you know the answer” ^^ but then i had to pontificate about a discovery process you went through already.

Needing a sound: that’s an interesting thing. I work very much from what i have, as in, the sound and its transformations guide what comes next. Despite this, sometimes i find myself wanting to have a certain source at my disposal. I resolve it either by organizing a way to having access to it (ask fellow instrumentists, music schools with large instruments, go/travel to a location etc), or by scrutinizing what exactly in this sound i want and trying to emulate this subset of attributes. (although, i have to admit the lid of a frying pan is not really a crotale…).
(This can lead to periods of “i’m gonna pick up this instrument and learn it good enough to have it as a sound source without feeling like an impostor”.)
Nowadays (when the sound lab can be in a corner of the house), this might be the only real interest of artists residencies (apart from dedicated time and human connections): having access to sources of sound otherwise difficult to get to.

"Owning" a sound: it’s fair to say that owning a sound is a bit like owning a cat(?), it is not about intellectual property; it is more about having the sound inhabitate yourself, though the relationship that is established via listening, transforming, finding a place in the piece amongst the other sounds.
Using an “external” sound is certainly valid, but to be accepted it has to be there for a reason other than practicality (imho). I’m always ambivalent towards the affective relationship with sounds. One might be deeply significant for the composer, while for the audience it’s barely a functional asset. Saying all this i often post-rationalize these things, so it probably says more about my unconscious worldview than about how to make music!

As I forgot to mention, I mainly use live improvisation in all my works and performances, so there’s no option to try a work with or without those “foreign” sounds …

True, but it’s always interesting to see how others think about these things. Even more so when it seems that there are people who deeply care, or think about aspects such as these when I myself haven’t spent a second considering them.

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I’ve been thinking somewhat along these lines recently myself. The project I’m a part of heavily utilises field recordings (either pre-recorded or captured live outside as core tracks are being tracked).

As we gear up for our next record, I’m accutely aware that we have very few suitable field recordings to hand. Our recording locations now don’t offer the same potentital for interesting sounds and/or are susceptible to noise polition (planes etc).

I had considered diving into Freesound to gather some but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’d have no issue using a drum hit sample in a track, but for the field recordings I feel like they need to be something of a more personal nature and take us back to a time and place, not just the final listener.

I guess it depends on the context of the sound you are thinking of using and how you utilise it in your track? I’ve never cared too much for drums (in my ignorance) or had much emphasis on them in my music. I tend to focus in on the ambience of a track, how it makes me feel etc., so that probably explains my somewhat conflicting approach to using 3rd party samples.

Sorry for rambling :joy:

When I first started making computer-based music, I used a lot of samples…I’ve phased it out a lot now and use my own recordings where possible, but there are times when I still use other people’s samples.

I think of places like Freesound as a big soundswapping community - you scratch my back, I scratch yours. I’ve downloaded lots of samples from Freesound, and I’ve also put some samples up too for others to use. Sharing is how we all come across new sounds and techniques :slight_smile:

I also make sure to credit people if I’m using a sample as a courtesy.

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I really like running sampled instruments through a bunch of effects (FFT processing, pitch shifting, granular delays, filter banks, ring mod, etc). If you do that, you can think of the original sample as, say, an oscillator that’s running through various effects which you’ve sound-designed yourself, rather than an off-the-shelf sound. This avoids the issue – which I think we all worry about! - where if you use samples, it doesn’t feel original enough.

There are sounds you can get this way that you can’t get any other way. For example, you can pick up 8Dio orchestral libraries for cheap (shoutout to the CAGE bundles, which are wild!), and if you run those through eg FFT smearing/shifting processes, the result is in an uncanny valley between synthesis and sampled instruments.

This is a large question that I think can be boiled down quite a bit. I explore making music because it makes me happy, I have fun and I express myself. If the samples take you there ride that train! (Hell, look no further than JDilla for examples of this kind of work). If you feel a lack of ownership and general displeasure hearing samples in your music, that’s a no go.

Long story short; go where it’s warm. Don’t overthink it.


I have a perspective from both sides of the divide ie as a sound designer & musician who is making things (my own and/or as part of others projects) and as someone who also sells (ie licenses as HISSandaROAR) lots of my recordings…

For me, whether it is in my own work or as part of a larger project, my ethos has been the same since day 1: make it your own. Even if you didnt record it yourself, make it your own ie own it by treating it in ways to make it unique to your project.

With film sound design it is almost impossible to not rely on libraries to some degree (limits of budget, schedule, access, availability) but there is a big difference to me, between (a) obviously using a library sound and (b) manipulating, processing, editing etc a library sound so it fits the project and is no longer identifiable as being a library effect.

I appreciate most here are musicians but from a post prod perspective there are a number of sound FX that were released back in the days of CD libraries, which have become easily identifiable cliches (eg HE whistly wind, SI dog next door etc) and most sound effects editors can ID those sounds instantly. Just like using the wilhelm, it pulls some people out of their sense of suspended disbelief, which is really one of the worst things you can do. But it also reeks of the issues of data delivery back in the day eg another cliche is a doppler truck horn, but due to being part of a CD release only one take was provided, so every time someone needs that sound they end up using the exact same take, as there was only one. Contrast with now where most people have access to reliable fast internet and are happy to download a 10Gb or 20GB library. Providing a lot of takes means that the situation of recurring use of a single sound is far less common.

But to generalise my thoughts as a sound designer & musician, my only real answer is that it depends on the project. For example I never would have thought I ever needed to hear a Bob Marley sample in a song again in my life ever, but then Ishi Vu did this great version of ‘is this love’ which sounds like its on helium…

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To each their own. Sampling is an artform and should be respected as such.


Plunderphonics, makes some use of samples… I love it.