Umek’s Sampling (& Music Making) Secrets (interview)
“I buy at least ten sample packs every month. Or to be even more precise: I buy everything that I might find useful for my production.”
Chatting to Skrufff this week about his first ever sample pack for Loopmasters (Loops from Behind the Iron Curtain ) Slovenian superstar techno/ tech-house DJ Umek admits he’s a heavy user of pre-cleared sample selections, irrespective of their genre or the artist behind each release.
“I regularly comb tech-house/techno sections but I also check out what’s happening in other genres. I can find good kicks or a single shots in other genres and incorporating that into my own sound helps keep it fresh and expanding it,” he explains.
“I’m a big fan of K-Size loops, Bedroom samples, Sounds to Sample who push minor artists, Waveform Recordings, Loopmasters offers lots of interesting stuff.”
So given that thousands of producers will now start using these sounds, does he have any concerns that by giving away his sounds will lead to thousands more tracks out there that sound exactly like ‘Umek’?
“No, I’m not afraid of that at all. Good producers don’t use artist sample packs to copy what that artist already did but to integrate that loops and samples into their own sound,” he says.
“So I doubt many producers will use the sounds from this pack in the same sequences, in the way that I’d do it. The demo tracks that I did as a showcase of this pack for Loopmasters are not proper tracks, rather just parts of tracks,” he continues.
“Samples are tools just like various instruments, sounds, vocals and it’s about producers’ creativity and what he or she will do with them. I imagine most of them will just use one or two building blocks in their tracks combining them with sounds from other sources, not building the whole productions on the sounds from this pack only. That would be rather boring, I think.
When I use samples from other sources, I try to combine them with my signature Umek sound. I edit them and filter them, I use and abuse them in a way that sometimes even a creator of a pack can’t recognize I’ve used his sample.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with the timing; why now? What’s stopped you from releasing a sample pack before?
Umek; “What’s to say . . . I probably didn’t do it before nobody ever asked me to do it before. And I guess that’s probably connected with the rise of my popularity. I became more wellknown, especially outside the techno community only in the last couple of years, before I wasn’t so widely recognized and it was not that common or at least not that widespread to release artist sample packs before either.
Maybe it’s a bit of a shame I didn’t do one 10 or 15 years ago when sample packs were still sold on CDs. It would be nice to have something like that in my archive now. I still remember Best Service’s XXL Loops, which I loved to work with and I bought regularly.
To answer your question specifically: Loopmasters approached me some time ago with a serious proposal. I was up for it immediately, as I knew they would be the right partner because they know what to do with a product like that. It took me quite a while to process the whole thing, mostly because I was busy with finishing my own music productions and constantly touring around the globe, but the sole fact this pack is a best-seller from the day of the release proves I’ve made a very good product and that Loopmasters know how to market and sell it.”
Skrufff: Is it fair to assume you’ll no longer be using these particular samples for your own new music?
Umek; “I created most of these samples exclusively for this pack, I’ve only used a couple of drum one shots in my tracks so far. Everything else is totally new. It might happen that I will use something from this package in my next projects. But I’ll try to refrain from that as much as possible because I’d like to give the opportunity to other producers to show what they can create from this material.”
Skrufff: Where do you usually start when you’re making a fresh track; what typically are the first sounds you start with (kick, bass, melodic idea, arrangement)?
Umek: “In over 20 years of my career I’ve probably tried just every approach possible but in the last couple of years I usually start building my productions around a baseline and a kick. But I didn’t always do that. I still remember the times when I started by turning on a hard synth, pressing keys and fiddling with knobs until I’ve found an interesting sound, after which I built the melody and then started working on drums and stuff.
Sometimes I started working in the studio, on other occasions on my laptop or on a MPC, Q Base and a bunch of other equipment. Occasionally I start working on a track and in the middle of the production process I get a new brilliant idea, so I introduce new melody and create a completely new track and throw away the original. There’s no rule, but if I had to pick one approach I’d say that most of the time I start by producing drum and baseline or drum, drum loops & baseline and then upgrading that base with the melody and arrangements.”
Skrufff: This is one of the biggest sample sets Loopmasters have yet released; where you advise a producer to start?
Umek: “Wherever they find the most inspiration. People have different tastes for everything, including music. Some will find lots of interest in chords, drums or loops. Other will prefer to use multi-samples. It’s a really generous pack with lots of material, so I hope many producers will find something interesting that they can use in as creative way as possible.”
Skrufff: In the accompanying press release you say ‘I wanted to prove to the world that you only need skills and not a big, expensive studio to come up with a great sample pack’ – Do you no longer work in big studios at all?
Umek: “I have a really good studio back home and another one that I share with my friends in the center of my hometown Ljubljana, but last year I’ve spent so much time touring I really didn’t have much time to work properly in the studio, except for a couple of sessions. That doesn’t mean I will never work in the studio again. On the contrary, I’ve just rebuilt a studio in the basement of my house, which is not that big at all, but it is excellent in acoustic terms. I’ve spent quite a lot of money on it and I can’t wait to use it. But I have to find time.
By producing this sample pack on my laptop I wanted to prove that this could be done. I worked on a laptop, on a plane, 12.000 meters high, sitting next to loud turbines, using just my headphones. Nowadays you can do almost everything if you are dedicated to do it. I didn’t do that to be cool. I wanted to show what is possible to create with the current state of technology.
There’s no excuse. You can produce music or samples wherever you want, you just have to find a comfortable environment and tools that suit you and start working. My friend Beltek is a good proof of that. It’s amazing what he produced just by using a regular desktop computer with regular headphones and basic sound card. Where there’s a will there’s a way. So, just do it!”
Skrufff: There are thousands of tracks released each week, many sounding very similar: how can people stand out? And surely providing people with the same samples, poses the risk of producers sounding even more similar?
Umek: “I agree that’s an obvious risk but only those producers that will use this material in a creative way and incorporate it into their own sound, will stand out. It’s just the same as with all other tools: Roland 909 and Moog synth have a very limited number of sounds but even after all this years good, capable music producers still find the way to create something special using them.
You have to combine that tool with your own production process, your own sound, other tools, music arrangements . . . to create something outstanding. You can’t just pick the sounds out of a single sample pack to create a complete track. Well, you can, but it won’t be any good. And you have to process the sounds I’ve included in the pack. I’ve produced a tool. I intentionally didn’t over-process the sounds to give producers an opportunity to do that in whatever way they want. If they seize the opportunity and process the sounds in their own style they may create something special.”
Skrufff: What advice can you offer someone wanting to achieve your level of success: what are the key factors they need to consider?
Umek: “I always emphasize that you have to work hard and be persistent. If you do that you’ll achieve your goal at some point. You can’t succeed without any basic talent at all but you can substitute lots of the talent by working hard. I’ve seen loads of talented artists that have not succeeded because they didn’t push themselves hard enough and I’m a really good example of how you can substitute a lack of talent by working hard because I don’t consider myself a particularly talented producer, but I do have strong working ethics.”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Umek: “I’d like to point out once more that you have to use Umek’s Samples Behind the Iron Curtain in a creative way, you have to incorporate elements from that pack into your own sound, you have to edit them in your own manner and you have to combine this tool with other tools if you want to produce something outstanding. Be creative, let this sample pack be an inspiration to your work and have a lot of fun using it.”