Here at Soundfly, we love it when our favorite artists go out and create tools that are universally useful to producers of all kinds. That’s why I was ecstatic to find out that one of our own, Flypaper author and jazz composer, Mike Casey, was producing a one-of-a-kind saxophone sample pack with our friends at Splice, called “Sounds of Surprise.” (how intriguing!)
So I jumped at the opportunity to test the pack out.
To be honest, as a producer, it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to play around with a collection of well-recorded sax samples. Since they’re usually very melodic, it’s easy to let samples like this just be the hook you build your track around — which is fine — but that doesn’t do much to help you develop your identity as a beat producer. Nor does working in this way ever really get you thinking “outside the box” creatively.
So for most of these, I did my best to get past using them in a purely melodic, or looping, context, in order to show off the breadth of what you can accomplish with these source samples. Here are five ways I was able to transform Casey’s inspiring sample pack into tracks with very different emotional and practical beat backdrops.
If you’d like to give Mike Casey’s “Sounds of Surprise” pack a shot, head over to Splice and submit what you come up with to their “Firestarter” contest before December 12, for a chance to win the full pack as well as shout outs from Casey and Splice!
1. Sax Idea A (Stevie Wonder-esque Groove)
The most basic way you can use these is to look through the pack and pick something that inspires you. For this idea, I grabbed “MCASEY_AltoSax_funky bluesy_75_Eb-” because it sounded like a pretty complete phrase and I was eager to sink my teeth in.
It felt a bit slow, so I used flextime to help me kick the tempo up to 98 BPM. Then I dressed it up to sound a bit older with Goodhertz’s Vulfcomp compressor and the UAD Ampex ATR-102 tape emulation plugin. My favorite thing to do with the Ampex is to put the “machine” in sync and 3.75 IPS — instant vintage sound. From there, I added a tiny bit of Little Plate reverb from Soundtoys to complete the vibe of the sax.
The rest of the instruments were dropped in around it. I noodled around with some chords, with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” hanging in the back of my head. I leaned on flextime again, but this time, with the speed setting to make a breakbeat that felt really laid back. To cap it off, I dropped in a clavinet, thinking to give it a Stevie Wonder “Superstition” type feel, something to add a bit of depth to the looping singularity of the track.
2. Sax Idea B (Chill-Hop)
For the next track, I focused my sights on “MCASEY_AltoSax_4thsdown_60,” a descending single line with a lot of tonal information, but balanced with some nice space as well. This was another instance where I was just simply inspired by the sample itself. I like the triplet feel here, and decided to chop a loop out of it. I processed it with Goodhertz’s Lossy, one of my favorite weird-ifying plugins to give it a less-than-perfect sound. On the turnaround, I reversed the sample to mix things up a little.
From there, I penciled in some chords, that I ultimately decided sounded more interesting when they were arpeggiated, added a portamento-laden synth lead, and programmed some drums that had a little hip-hop feel to them.
3. Sax Idea C (Mid-Eastern)
This one kinda wrote itself. As the filename “MCASEY_TenorSax_Middleeast_90” suggests, it has this middle eastern modality to it, so I just embraced that. I wound up processing the raw sample with Vulfcomp and Logic’s Amp Designer. I started by chopping up the loop, and stuttering the last bar.
I also took the unedited loop, and put it on a new track, where I used flextime’s algorithm, flexpitch to get a MIDI version of the performance. I used this MIDI performance as the basis to create the string patch timings and arrangement.
Then I pulled up Damage, a Heavyocity instrument for Kontakt, and found an organic loop that I liked. I imported the same drum kit from the chill-hop track to program a beat and techy hats. The piano part works kind of like a counter theme to the mysterious eastern sax riff. It gives it an extra little bit of that Jeff Beal Rome feel to the mix.
4. Sax Idea D (Glitch Groove)
This track was actually a project I’d been tinkering with before, but it felt somewhat incomplete. I started looking through the sax samples and wanted to find something kind of melodic, and then something to turn the phrases around. I wound up using “MCASEY_AltoSax_Falling_60_Gminor” and “MCASEY_AltoSax_jagged pentatonic down_120_Ab,” and processing them each slightly differently.
For the first sample, I actually wound up pitching it up an octave with Soundtoys’ Little Alterboy, which gave it sort of an ethereal strings-like quality. Then I distorted it with Devil-loc audio level destroyer, and knocked the high end off with Goodhertz LoHi.
With the other sample, I stuttered it a little, and let it swing the phrase back around. Similarly, I used Devil-loc on this, and then the same UAD Ampex trick from earlier.
5. Sax Idea E (Drum-n-Bass)
This is the weirdest one in the bunch, but it’s also probably my favorite. I started sifting through the samples, and found this really great growl in the Tenor Sax aux files called “MCASEY_TenorSax_Growl D held.” My next thought was: how cool this would sound if I key-mapped it with a sampler and played it back to get a growly organ? So that’s the main synth you’re hearing!
After that, I’m not sure where my brain went. I began chopping up a friend’s track, some vocals from an old session I worked on, and then played with drum-n-bass style breakbeats for a minute to get this sort of “over-caffeinated Fiona Apple” vibe. In the end, I kind of embraced the weird direction it was seemingly heading in, and decided to work in one last chromatic sax rip, the brilliant “MCASEY_TenorSax_Aux19,” to turn things around and switch the aural “space” of this beat to something less predictable.
In the end, I highly enjoyed the process of working with these sounds, especially in a mostly freeform, exploratory way. They’re definitely not like a pack of drum loops where you can just hotswap things until you find something that fits what you’re going for. It feels more like sampling a record, finding something cool, and trying to build ideas around your favorite moments.
To me, that’s one of the most inspiring ways to work.
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