Sample Magic is a pro-audio jack of all trades (no pun intended).
Founded in 2006 by Sharooz Raoofi, and now with offices in the UK and Los Angeles, the company has come a long way from distributing sample packs on CDs (remember those?) to becoming a full-fledged, genre-spanning force in electronic music. We sat down with Sharooz to discuss how the sample pack industry has changed, where he sees the future of plugins headed, and his advice for young artists getting into the game. Plus, be sure to check out this free 0-credit repack of the best Sample Magic sounds here.
Take us back to 2006. You’re already an established producer, sound designer and remixer, but decided to start this company. What were the origins of Sample Magic?
I was basically in the studio every hour of every day. I practically lived there, and I was bored of just making 12” electronic music tracks. Out of that came tonnes of beats, sketches, and unfinished songs – there were hard drives full. At the time I was buying loads of sample CDs and was stunned at how poor the quality was, and how much of it was just basically stolen from commercial tracks. So I started putting custom beat CDs on Ebay and within a few days I was mailing out 50 at a time. We sent a few to a distributor and they immediately agreed to give us a deal for a box of 1000. From there, we approached distributors across Japan, Germany, and the USA and there began the cottage industry that was Sample Magic. I ran it out of my bedroom studio for at least a year or two after that, with boxes of discs piled ceiling high.
On that topic, 2006 was really a different time in electronic music, but also quite a different time for both the plugin and sample pack industries. It felt like an entirely different era for the internet as well. What were the early days of running this business like as compared to the market now? What’s changed, and what hasn’t changed, for operating within the plugin and sample space?
The biggest difference was that we were making entirely physical products – each ‘pack’ had a gatefold sleeve, booklet, and 3 discs – an audio CD, CD-ROM, and DVD. We didn’t even offer digital downloads at that point. There are also weren’t many other labels doing what we did. I think maybe only 30 – 40. The entry costs were high – you had to make over a thousand units per release and have a physical distributor that could get them in brick and mortar stores. I remember we had a UK sales manager who walked into an Apple store with a handful of our discs, and did a deal there and then to retail in all their UK stores, and then the record store HMV, positioning our discs right next to the till. That would never happen now. It was also a different time for reaching out to artists too – it was wholly acceptable to hit anyone up on Myspace and collaborate, remix, or book them.
Do you feel like the sound pack has been commodified by the internet to some extent, with essentially any sample out there freely available to purchase or pirate? There was a time so long ago that getting your hands on a sample pack wasn’t so easy…
Not really. I think having multiple choices is unanimously good. It enables creativity in a completely different way. When I first started making music in the late 90s, getting my hands on copyright-free beats was really hard and expensive. Some of the early sample packs cost over $100, which for a teenager without a day job was a crazy price point. There was no real way to audition any of it, so you’d end up with a CD where only a tenth of it was of a quality that was good enough to even consider using. Even then, I’d only sample drum hits and vocals. Now it’s hard to imagine not being able to buy individual parts of a collection.
Where do you see the sample pack industry headed? Likewise, what direction do you see independent plugin companies going in?
I think Rent-to-Own is a stroke of genius. Granted there are many publishers out there offering similar services now, but Splice is the only thing I’ve seen where the customer is actually drawing closer each month to owning the plugin, and that just feels, you know, right. Ethical to both the user and developer. I think we’ll soon see an ecosystem where the lines are blurred between commercially released track stems and samples, where artists will see releasing samples and beats as an essential component part of a release – at least in electronic music – and with better publishing rights administration, the ‘open source’ element of sharing samples will be fully embraced and not zealously guarded.
There are many producers and sound designers out there interested in starting labels, or using their technical know-how to learn coding and build software. Lastly, what is your advice for this next generation of producers trying to get into this space?
I think it’s amazing. Tools like JUCE have made it much easier, at least to start coding plugins. As artists, anyone starting out now knows they’ll need several strings to their bow, and it’s hard to find any producer who has just one angle. There exists so much knowledge and places like Github and Reddit make open source collaboration a completely different arena to what it was even a decade ago. Who better to make the creator tools of the future, than those who know better than anyone how to create. So yeah, my advice is always to experiment, mine knowledge, and just dive into it – there are endless resources and a huge web of generosity out there. There’s an argument to be said you don’t even need to go to school to learn this stuff now.
October 1, 2018