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Sounding Off: Sample Library Makers

Hilgrove Kenrick By Hilgrove Kenrick
Published September 2005

Have sample-library makers completely lost the plot?

I remember, way back in the mists of time, being horrified to find I'd filled the 2MB hard drive on my Amstrad 1640. That was it — I had to upgrade, and my new beige doorstop had a whole 10MB of hard disk space! Now I find myself surrounded by black boxes (black is the new beige, you know), each with two 500GB RAID arrays. All well and good, but now, instead of feeding in a stack of 5.25-inch floppies, I'm stuffing the things with DVDs.Hilgrove Kenrick.

Welcome to the wonderful world of software sampling! Friends who survive on their mundane nine-to-five jobs and go home via the pub every night can't understand the attraction of slaving away into the early hours, endlessly inserting these infernal discs without at least taking out shares in a hard drive manufacturer — after all, I seem to be buying them like they're going out of fashion. The prize for the lengthiest cyclical injection is the Vienna Symphonic Library's Pro Edition — 360 Gigabytes of data, all compressed onto no less than 16 DVDs! And don't forget that once you've copied the data on to the hard drive, it then has to chunter along forever as it uncompresses the individual files from their archives. The final straw is when you go all the way through an installation only to find the library doesn't quite meet your expectations. Cue profanity and much gnashing of teeth.

But even assuming you like the library, what happens when you want to use it on more than one machine? You have to go through the palaver of installation all over again: eject, insert DVD, close, wait for PC to notice anything has happened, walk away, and maybe, just for kicks, paint something so you can watch it dry.

Some libraries, Native Instruments' for example, allow you to just re-install the front end, not the sounds — a brilliant solution when, if you're paranoid like me, you have the entire library backed up elsewhere. All you have to do is fly it across a network, and then point the plug-in to the relevant folder. Others won't let you, and worse, don't even come on a DVD, so you're stuffing in CDs until kingdom come. Vienna Symphonic Library seem to have come up with a good solution with their Symphonic Cube — the whole lot is shipped pre-installed on hard drives. Hooray! At least until one of the hard drives falls over...

But all of this is just the tip of the iceberg if you're a user of modern sample libraries. The real problem is licensing. Once you've bought the library, decided you like it, and installed it, you may not be able to use it. At least, not for what you had in mind...

Even back in the days when you could only sample a couple of seconds, you had to watch out for copyright — as dear old Vanilla Ice discovered when he blatantly sampled one of the biggest bands on the planet and hoped no one would notice! With sample libraries, you have to go through the licence, an impenetrable document informing you what you can and can't do with the sounds, and where. This is especially critical when your intended use is music for picture. One of my favourite libraries states (somewhere amongst all the licensing Wafflespeak) that I may not use it for 'Motion Picture Advertising in the USA', or library music for the same purpose — unless I happen to use it for scoring the whole film, and my music is then used in the trailers. Apparently, that's different, although helpfully, it neglects to explain exactly how.

To summarise: firstly we have to wait until our (remaining) hair goes grey while feeding our beige (or black) boxes with these libraries, then we may or may not find that they're not quite what we thought. Finally, after wading through the rainforest's worth of legal mumbo-jumbo that accompanies the discs, you may discover that you have to be very careful when and where you use them, unless you had them down as shiny (but curiously expensive) coffee coasters. It would seem that when I'm deep in the middle of a commission, I'm supposed to stop and think, 'now, am I allowed to use this sound or not?' It's not exactly conducive to a swift and uninterrupted workflow.

So, come on, library-makers — sort it out, will you? We can't live without you, and you can't live without us — surely there has to be an easier way?

About The Author

At various times of day, Hilgrove Kenrick is a media composer, pro-audio writer, fast-car thrill-seeker, wife's dogsbody and bon vivante. The rest of the time he just changes nappiesdiapers.