The Importance of sorting your library
Music production is about making music, and to make music you need to either use or create sounds.
While creating your own sounds is something that allows you to create a signature sound, it’s also true that it’s time-consuming, and it should be something relegated to dedicated sound design sessions or the latter stages of producing a track.
That being said, using samples is the most common practice across most modern genres, and the internet offers tons of them.
Having a lot of samples, therefore, implies spending some time browsing every time we need to pick one or more, and sometimes the time spent browsing can take over the actual creative process and drain your flow state, which is precious.
So you need to make sure you’re always finding the samples you need in the shortest time possible, and to achieve that, you need a system.
How to sort samples
There are multiple things you do to make your sample browsing process faster and smoother. All of these things can coexist, making the perfect sample library.
Let’s start with a big folder containing all of our sounds that we’ll call “My Sound Library” and let’s see how we can sort stuff into it.
If you are a producer who’s into multiple genres, spanning from Hip Hop to Dubstep, from House to Hardstyle, then you definitely need to sort out all the genres among your samples because truth is that dubstep samples just won’t work for house music most of the time, and so on.
Simply create a first subdivision with each main genre, and move all the sounds to the respective folder. If you have some big sample packs with multiple genres, I suggest splitting them accordingly.
Creating subfolders about subgenres is all up to you and up to how strict those subgenres’ requirements are.
If you’re making Atlanta Trap beats and XXXTENTACTION-style Trap beats, then it might be better to separate them as they require significantly different samples.
Do you have some artist-related sample packs? Then create an “Artists” subfolder in the related genre and drop all the packs there.
You generally don’t want to open up these packs if you want to use all the samples within the same pack.
By Sample Pack
If you’re not the kind of person who wants to sort all of their samples, you can stick to the pack creator’s method and simply drop each pack in their related genre subfolder as is.
If you enjoy how the Ignis pack is structured, then there’s no need to pick it apart and merge it with other sample packs.
This is generally the most common method among producers, and while some are ok with it, it’s kinda arguable that you won’t always find the kick, snare, hats, etc you need all within the same pack, especially if you’re picky about sound selection and you like to shake things up.
So now we move to the most detailed way to sort samples, and that’s something we always have in front of us every time we open a sample pack: sorting sounds by category.
By category I mean: kick, snare, hi-hat (closed and open), crash, clap, and so on.
Doing this requires picking all your sample packs apart and dropping all the samples of the same category into one folder, creating your own mega sample pack.
It takes some time and effort, but your future self will thank you for all the work done.
Lastly, if you’re obsessed with having all things in order, you can sort all your samples by arbitrarily chosen nuances.
To make an example, I’ll just describe how I sort my samples. I have a Kick folder that contains some subfolders like Round, Hard, Live, Short, etc.
All these adjectives are up to how you want to sort your samples based on your needs; I identified the main factors that make me easier to distinguish one sample from another and stuck to that scheme.
This way, you’re not scrolling through random samples hoping for the right one to pop out, you’re actually going for the exact type of kick you want, and scrolling through a restricted selection of samples meeting your requirements.
How to sort loops
Are you familiar with working with loops? Then you might want to make sure you’re having them sorted in the most efficient way.
Loops require more time than samples to go through while browsing because they’re longer and they’re more complex.
First things first, determine the style of each loop; you want to make sure you’re going for either a House melody, an Hip Hop one, or an Orchestral one.
Then you might use a House loop on a Hip Hop beat, but that’s another story.
Once you’ve determined the genre, determining the instrument is the main characteristic that you want to know before you listen to all the loops in a given subfolder.
If you’re looking for brass loops, you don’t want to bother with plucks, strings, piano, or else.
Opening packs up
If you managed to read to this point, you have seen that I’m an advocate of opening packs up regardless of where samples come from.
If you don’t want to commit to this practice, there’s a way to keep one foot in both shoes, which is the way I’ve set up my sample library.
Open a project in your DAW and create as many tracks as you need, with each track being a category (like Kick_Round, Kick_Hard, Snare_Short, Snare_Soft, etc.)
Then go through your DAW browser and start dragging and dropping all your samples in the channel that meets the requirements.
Note: make sure you can later drag and drop from the arrangement view back into the browser, otherwise you’re only wasting your time and energies.
Once you’ve done, you’ll have a library that’s twice the size, but you now have your samples sorted in both ways and have time to find out which system appeals to you the most.
In case you’re deleting the original copy, make sure it doesn’t compromise the project files where the deleted samples are being used (often DAWs allow saving a copy of the imported files in the project folder).
Make your own folder
Going through all this work will make you question whether you want some samples or not.
Often, when downloading a new pack, we’re really happy with just a portion of the content, and that’s totally ok.
What matters the most is not having a lot of samples, but having the right ones, and possibly being able to find them quickly so the creative juice doesn’t drain out.
With time, you’ll come up with a curated library full of samples that will get picked most of the time.
From there, you can start layering samples together and come up with more stuff that’s perfect for you because you made them!