Tips on making samples from the Soul Surplus team

The Soul Surplus team at Splice recently conducted a studio takeover with the Music Industry students at the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University.

Below, we share some tips about sample pack creation from this session.

What is Soul Surplus?

Soul Surplus has become an industry standard in providing royalty-free samples for music producers, filmmakers, content creators, and brands. The team consists of award-winning producers and musicians John McNeill, Joel McNeill, John Smythe, Pudge Tribbett, Elvin “Wit” Shahbazian, Eleazar Peña-Baez, and Wes Pendleton. John Smythe was nominated at this year’s GRAMMY Awards for Best R&B Album, Pudge Tribbett was nominated for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, and Joel McNeill secured the win for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.

Turning a voice note to a fully-fleshed loop

The Soul Surplus team took over Drexel’s Studio 1 for a full-day interactive experience designed to provide students with an exclusive glimpse into the creative process behind crafting some of Splice’s most iconic samples.

The takeover began with guitarist John Smythe playing a voice note on his phone, first announcing the key and then playing a chord progression on acoustic guitar. A melody followed on the voice note, and the rest of the band listened intently to the idea.

The team moved into the studio and immediately started fleshing out the idea into a comprehensive arrangement. Pudge Tribbett laid down the foundation with drums, and John McNeill solidified the groove with a bassline. John Smythe replayed his original melody idea on electric guitar and Joel McNeill complimented it with some keys. Soul Surplus engineer Elvin “Wit” Shahbazian and Drexel faculty Cyrille Taillandier pressed record as the newly-created loop started to take shape.

The band kept playing and iterating until they felt like they had nailed the feel of the new loop: warm, distinctive, accessible, and unmistakably Soul Soul Surplus.

There’s so much more to a loop than just the recording—so the team gathered in the control room to share some of their favorite techniques for time stretching, mixing, and adding effects to loops and samples. Students immersed themselves in every step of this process, asking questions throughout, and the team shared insights spanning entrepreneurship, life as a full-time sample creator, overcoming creative blocks, advanced recording techniques, and more.

Tips on making samples from GRAMMY-nominated producer John Smythe

John Smythe shared some of his best tips for sample pack creation:

  1. Finish every idea. Even if you’re not crazy about it, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Some ideas that I finished quickly and didn’t love immediately went on to be sampled by prominent producers in huge songs.
  2. Use a template for inputs and your master chain. If you’re using mics, keep them in the same general spots so you can move fast. Any other kind of template or preset (instrument settings, effects, etc.) can limit your creativity, so be mindful if you choose to use them. You don’t want to be stuck doing the same thing over and over in such a way that yields uninspiring and undesirable results.
  3. Have a system. Name each session with the same naming system so exporting stems will be easier. Exporting files is the most tedious and least fun aspect of creating samples. Make this as quick, easy, and painless as possible from the start by having an established system and method for organizing and naming files.
  4. Create each sample pack with a theme. Perhaps it’s soul, a drum pack, or UK drill—pick one theme and go with it. The end user will appreciate this because it creates trust and clarity in the product you’re offering. Producers (your end users) value consistency, the same way you value consistency when it comes to your favorite restaurant.
  5. Make your samples as easy to use as possible. Does it loop perfectly? Is the idea overly complicated? Is it so niche only a small specific portion of producers would understand how to use it? Samples are not created to be art; sample packs are a product. Samples can be artistic, but they are first and foremost there to solve the problems of productivity and inspiration. If you can solve these problems for producers, they will come back.

Going beyond education

Music Industry Professor James McKinney reflects, “The Splice studio takeover with Soul Surplus was a perfect day of practical experience creating sample packs, from ideation to execution. We covered everything from musicianship to musical expression to recording techniques. Even further, the intellectual exchange of our students with Soul Surplus is something I wish I could have experienced as a student.”

“The day’s event went beyond mere education; it was a transformative experience that profoundly impacted our students. Many have shared that it was among their most memorable and valuable experiences at Drexel University. This event is a highlight for our students and a shining example of the rich, practical learning experiences we aim to offer at the Music Industry Faculty of Westphal College.”

Splice for Students

Splice is meeting creators like the students at Drexel at the very beginning of their musical journeys, giving them the creative tools and resources to make music for a lifetime. We embrace events like this with a strong sense of responsibility for our part in enabling a new generation of creators to realize the lifelong power of making music.

College students, educators, and other Splice users who register using a valid .edu or .ac email address are now eligible for a discounted monthly price on our Sounds+ plan.

Get the student discount:

April 11, 2024

Chrissy Tignor Chrissy Tignor (a.k.a. Data Child) is an audio engineer, music producer, musician, educator, and creative leader with a passion for audio education. She is the Education Director at Splice.