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Interview with Zenhiser: Sample Pack Industry and Craft

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Have you ever wondered what goes on in the sample pack industry? Tony Rapacioli is the owner of a sample pack company and a prolific sound designer. In this interview, he shares insights on designing kick drums, the sound design industry, and how you can make sounds for Zenhiser.

Which type of sounds are your favorite to make?

For me making kick drums is my favorite by far. We’ve got quite a few kick packs coming out this year because I just can’t get enough of them. They are the starting block of any track and you can ruin a song with the wrong type of kick, so for me this is the fundamental sample that just about all producers will start off with.

Do you have any old or new technical tricks that you can share about making kick drums hit hard in the style of the Turbo Kicks packs?

We keep most of our sample creation techniques under wraps […] but I’ll let you know a few pointers on how to get those kicks slamming like in Turbo Kicks.

Once you have created some kick drum sounds through either synthesis or re-sampling and you’re happy with the result, that’s when you push it a bit further and the real fun starts. Firstly, playing around with a Transient Designer is always a good starting block; this way you can affect the attack and sustain and give the kicks a little more punch. Then EQ to fill, boost or cut the frequencies you want, followed by some nice saturation; but don't be too aggressive with that, you don’t want to totally distort the sound. Then pass them through an expander, but very gently and finish with a plugin to fatten the sound a little more.

Once you’re happy with the final result then push the kicks a little further again. With Turbo Kicks I actually compressed the audio then put it through a limiter. This may sound a bit strange but it really worked for these type of kicks. […] I use less rather than more. It’s always better to under-compensate than over-compensate, plus always listen to your ears, they’ll tell you if something is right or wrong.

How did you become interested in sound design?

I’ve always been interested in sample production ever since the first sample CDs were sold in audio stores. The idea of focusing in on one element and creating multiple variations for producers to use was really interesting to me. That’s why in 2004 after producing and remixing for just over 17 years I decided it was time for a change of musical scenery and moved from music production to sound creation.

Where did you see sample CDs being sold in stores?

I grew up in London and at that time there were quite a few pro audio equipment stores dotted around the suburbs and city center. Every couple of months I would head up to Turnkey in central London (which unfortunately is not there any more), it was the pinnacle of pro audio stores in the UK and had listening booths for sample CDs. I would spend hours listening through the new catalogue amazed by the quality of most of the recordings. I think this is where the seed for sample creation was left and sprouted later on after my years in music production.

What is your process to make a lot of sounds?

Making lots of sounds for me personally means locking the studio door and knuckling down for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s a strange process and as with all music creation sometimes a sample pack can pop out in a few days, sometimes a few weeks and every once in a while ‘writers block’ sets in and a month goes by without getting the sample pack you want. Usually I over-create the amount of samples for a pack; that way I’ll have the choice to pick the best samples I feel right and discard the mediocre samples.

Over time I have learned certain techniques that are good for me, which means the starting block has already been mapped to a template. But even so, by the time you've finished the sample pack it will sound completely different to a sample pack you made six months ago.

Which sound sets of yours are you the most proud of?

For me my favorite packs I’ve created are anything 80’s. It’s the sound I grew up with in my teenage years and I love using the old techniques that 80’s producers and engineers used. For me it’s like going back to my roots. A few years ago I made Ultra 80’s Drum Kit. It’s been a great seller for us at Zenhiser so for the past two months I've been working on a more refined 80’s drum kit, which will be released in May this year. So keep your eyes peeled for 80's Retro Drummer, it's going to be fantastic.

How did you transition from designing sounds as a hobby to doing it professionally, and then transitioning to owning a sample company?

The transition was pretty smooth. I’d already made banks of drumbeats, drum sounds and effects for my music productions so the initial learning curve was already under way. I think the big shock was realizing that to get Zenhiser how I wanted it, most of the initial sample packs needed to be done by myself; that way the foundations were the way I wanted it. The big hurdle was, to create that amount of sample catalog I would have to focus 100% on Zenhiser and stop all music productions. That was pretty scary putting all your eggs in one basket and hoping people would like the eggs!

What do you look for in sounds that freelancers send to you in hopes they will be included in a Zenhiser product?

We actually don’t get that many demo samples. We would love to hear from keen sound designers with a talent for making exciting samples. What we look for first is quality, e.g. clever programming, an overall balanced sound and consistency throughout the samples. Secondly, samples that have something slightly different to them. For example, a genre or sub genre we haven’t covered yet or a bank of sample styles that aren’t available yet. Finally, a person that has a passion for making samples; we only have a small core group of producers who like making samples and know their genre well. These producers want to make more samples on a regular basis and can develop with Zenhiser to create an ever-growing catalog. So if that sounds like you please fire away your samples to us.

Is there anything else you want to share?

For sure, I would like to thank anyone who has taken the time to read this article; it probably means they have just as much love for music as we do. And if I can give them one piece of advice, it’s never give up on music, if you want to be in the music business then try, try and try again. It’s what I did and now have one of the best jobs in the world!

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