KSHMR discusses his newest sample pack, how he creates his signature sounds, and more

The story of Splice can’t be told without a chapter about KSHMR.

Niles Hollowell-Dhar (KSHMR) uploaded his first project file for “Burn” to Splice Studio in 2015, which was followed by his Tiësto collaboration, “Secrets,” soon after. Since then, he has released “Sounds of KSHMR” Volumes 1 and 2, two of the most popular sample packs ever released on the platform. In addition, his Splice-exclusive “Lessons of KSHMR” production tutorials have racked up over a million views on YouTube.

To commemorate this partnership spanning years, KSHMR and Splice are teaming up again for the biggest sample pack of all time. We sat down with KSHMR to discuss his history with Splice, his newest sample pack, the plugins he uses to achieve his signature sound, and more.

Take us back to when you first started using Splice. What were your initial reactions to the platform?

Splice was originally a platform for people to collaborate, made for hosting a project between two producers and cataloging the changes each one made. I loved it even then but, in my opinion, the real revolution came with the advent of Splice Sounds, using a subscription to get the sounds you want instead of overpaying for thousands you’ll never use.

Tell us about the process of curating your very first sample pack, “Sounds of KSHMR Vol. 1.” Back then, the market for sample packs was very different. Compare that to now, with your latest volume of “Sounds of KSHMR.” Talk us through curating this new sample pack and the process by which you selected, designed, and curated this gargantuan collection of samples. How big of an undertaking was it?

“Sounds of KSHMR Vol. 1” was initially just a folder I made for myself! I wanted my favorite sounds in one place, about 350. And the genre was very clear – big room and house.

With Vol. 3, I aimed for producers working in every conceivable genre. For the last year I wrote down every sound I wanted but couldn’t find in my own packs. The process was neurotic and at times seemed like it would never end, because we’d finish a folder and I’d come up with three more.

The biggest change from Vol. 2 to Vol. 3 was being able to record live instruments from all over the world. Giving people the tools to summon a wide variety of cultures was paramount in the creation of Volume 3.

You also created “Lessons of KSHMR,” one of our most popular video series. What lessons have you learned since the beginning of your career to now? How do you feel like you’ve changed as a sound designer and creator since first creating “Sounds of KSHMR Vol 1.?” How do you feel like you’ve changed as a musician since uploading your very first project file to Splice?

The big lesson I’ve gleaned since starting KSHMR is to never stop pursuing an idea I felt was special. I’ve believed in songs but gotten stuck at some point, many times. Still, I keep returning to them, not giving up until I’ve found the missing piece. And some of my biggest songs are thanks to that.

I wouldn’t tout myself as an expert sound designer but, in regards to how I process the samples in my packs, I err less on the side of ultra-bright and squashed than I did when Volumes 1 and 2 were created. As a song maker, I think I’ve evolved towards more simplicity whenever possible.

The cinematic and orchestral one-shots in “Sounds of KSHMR Vol. 3” sound incredible – they would fit just as snug in a movie soundtrack as they would in a sample pack. Can you tell us about creating these samples? How much of it is recorded live? Are they a blend of live performances and samples (are you using any libraries like Kontakt or Omnisphere)? Since string parts are much different in terms of mixdown than other instrumentation in electronic music, do you mix these separately from your other tracks?

I’ve recorded lots of strings for the pack, which has been a learning experience because a solo violin or cello sounds much more ‘dry’ than we are used to hearing in finished productions. The orchestral samples often have layers of Kontakt, and the Ableton Rack is great for playing multiple instruments as one, while still mixing each on their own chain. Especially with the one-shots in my pack, I’m self-conscious about ‘ripping off’ the developers who worked hard to create those libraries, so I try to layer and process sufficiently to create something new.

This pack includes an array of your signature world instrument sounds. Can you walk us through what world instruments you included for this collection, and where you were drawing inspiration from as you wrote these melodies? Do you have any tips for making sure acoustic instrumentation cuts through in a mix, so that it doesn’t get muddied up by synths, vocals, or other sounds in the frequency spectrum? How do you process and mix your acoustic sounds in your tracks?

The world sounds include bouzouki, joombush, fretless guitar, sitar, saz, duduk, and flutes of all kinds – just to name a few. I made a wish list and sent it to my managers, who then did a great job finding all of the players. We recorded in several countries, but a bulk of the recording was done at a studio in Burbank, CA.

Lots of the melodies in the pack are the result of freestyling. I’d play a demo track with a groove and simple chords, and let the players riff until somethings connects – from there we refine the melody and get the best take. Recording was fun. Comping was hell.

How you process acoustic instruments really depends on the other elements of your track – if we’re talking dance music, a substantial amount of EQ, compression, and multiband compression, and even widening is required.

Walk us through the drums in the pack – what’s your general mixdown process for drums? What sort of processing do you apply to your drum mixes (favorite compressors, EQs, etc.)? Do you typically EQ every sample beforehand, or EQ the drums as a whole? Your pack includes a handful of foley samples that can be used as organic percussive elements. Do you have a go-to way of ‘stacking’ samples to sound fuller ?

The samples in that pack have undergone a lot of processing – enhancing transients, refining the bass with plugins like MaxxBass, RBass, LoAir, the Slate Digital and UAD regimes, and so on. A new favorite of mine for transients is Transgressor – it has the most control I’ve seen in such a plugin.

But when I’m first creating a song, I like to just go – I’ll apply seesaw-style EQ, roll off unnecessary low end, and that’s all. Only later do I introduce more heavy-handed processing. I do use drum buses but they almost never include the kick for fear that other elements would hinder its presence.

I included the foley and other “drum enhancers” so that people could give their drums an unusual texture and personality if they so choose. It’s one of the folders I’m most proud of. I’m a fan of stacking drums, but usually only in the upper half of the frequency spectrum – layering kicks often leads to trouble.

Tell us how you create a sub – do you have a go-to synth, either VST or hardware, that you abide by? What kind of tricks do you employ to carve out the subs in your mix?

You can create a sub with Sylenth1, Serum, Spire – it really doesn’t matter. A sine wave, maybe with some extra flavor like a wide, detuned octave above, usually does the trick. From there you can saturate, multiband distort, etc. There’s one tip I can offer to help deal with low-end troubles: high-pass! You often need less bottom end than you think to make tracks bang. Rolling off ultra-low frequencies is especially helpful if your bass has movement (e.g. not sustained quarter notes).

Has there ever been a sample, or sound in your head, that weren’t able to nail down? Do you feel like there’s still a sound you’ve been chasing, after all this time?

I’ve always admired the lead from “Booyah” by Showtek. It’s a supersaw, but almost mono, and it sounds incredible live. I was sure they made it on Virus but I recently worked with them and they told me it was Massive – the only mainstream synth I never got acquainted with.

What do you hope people will create with your pack? Was there ever a time where you recognized a KSHMR sample in the wild?

I recognize sounds from my packs fairly often. Recently, ADIDAS had an ad campaign and asked me to submit a song for it, so I did. They didn’t use mine but showed me the one they decided to use – it was a Sounds of KSHMR Vol. 2 loop.

The ambition of Volume 3 was simple: to offer all of the relevant sounds of today, next to ones that are completely unrelated, from all cultures and corners of the world. The beauty will be in how people connect them.

Lastly, in 5 words (or more), can you share with us the things that embody your creative process and give you inspiration? Whether it’s technical, atmospheric, emotional, etc., we want to know what you need in order to create and what keeps you inspired.

Soul: For me, bringing soul to a song means embracing imperfection – you throw whatever you can into an idea and wait for your heart to wake up. And when it speaks to you, even if it’s just a whisper, you follow it to the end of the earth. Be careful not to compromise the soul by focusing on “perfection.”

Story: Good songs always take me on a journey, portraying war or triumph or love along the way. If you imagine telling a story through your music, even if your music is instrumental and electronic, that conviction will be heard and your creation will benefit as a result.

Culture: Culture comes down to sound and instrument selection. A good palette will transport your listener to the world you choose. It’s a world you design and sometimes, best of all, a world they’ve never been to before.

Impact: Creating undeniable, deliberate impact is the beauty of dance music to me (e.g. when a great drop begins). It’s the result of many layers aligning in just the right way. Most people can’t tell you how to do it, but everybody knows when it’s there.

Explore 4000+ top-notch drums, FX, melodies, and more in the long-anticipated “Sounds of KSHMR Vol. 3.”

August 20, 2018

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.