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The Sample Doctor Makes a House Call

Q: I’m fairly new to creating music of any sort. I don’t really play an instrument, so I generally use loops and samples to build my compositions. But, I’ve run up against a few roadblocks and thought you might be able to help me. I’ve found some wonderful old kicks and snares with a lot of personality on some old 1970s LPs. My problem is that there is some amount of cymbal or hi-hat over most of them. Is there some way to remove the cymbals and just keep the kicks and snares? By the way, I’m not planning to release any of this music – it’s just for me, so I’m not worried about copyright issues.

A: There are a couple of ways you can minimize the sonic effects of cymbals that can be heard over kicks and snares. First, you’ll want to truncate the samples to just include the drum hits, which can be done in most sample editors. Next, you’ll want to either create an envelope for the sound or process it so that it quickly fades out to zero, giving it plenty of attack, a short decay, and then a fast fadeout to silence. In most cases, a good equalizer (graphic or parametric) can be used to remove most of the high-frequency cymbal information from the bass drum samples, and that might be enough, or you may want to try boosting low frequencies between about 75Hz to 250Hz to emphasize the booming resonance of the drum head or the snap of the beater. Snares may respond similarly, but another new approach is to use one of the new audio-restoration software packages. Treat the cymbal as if it were noise, by sampling a section of the recording in which the cymbal is playing alone. Then, use that as your “noise signature” and use the various controls to remove it from the recording of the snare, and then EQ to taste.

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