Samples are a key ingredient in electronic music but, as in cooking, it’s sometimes tempting to reach for the ready-made stuff. Listen to aspiring connoisseurs on the other hand, and they will say it’s all about working from scratch, preferably using the best analogue produce. Then there’s the diehards who say the only way to get results is to go out and forage in the wild.
Found sounds are samples taken not of recorded drums or retro synths but of, well, anything else. The found sound community can be niche with forums on the web devoted to explorers who methodically record trains, echoes under bridges, folk singing, chanting, breathing, birds and trips to the dry cleaners. But this kind of creative sampling, particularly when treated with effects, can add an element of originality to your tunes.
Mistabishi’s hit ‘Printer Jam’ – made almost entirely of samples from an old printer
Now, a true found sound pioneer will tell you the whole point is going out and grabbing samples on your own – lo-fi recordings on phones and background hiss only add to the authenticity. But, as a starting point on your journey, we’ve compiled a list of found sound sites and forums below. Best of all? The very nature of found sounds means these are all free.
Our favourite site and the most truly leftfield. If you’ve ever thought of it, it’s probably here. Indian construction workers doing a railroad song? Check. Lebanese music in a Berlin restaurant with German conversations over the top? Check. The nature of these free sites means the interfaces often feel old fashioned but FreeSound’s waveform displays and easy-to-navigate categories make it relatively painless to get digging.
Possibly the original free sample site with as much emphasis on conventional samples and royalty free tracks as found sounds. A bit more convoluted than the above but definitely worthy of a bookmark.
We get it. You’re intrigued, but you’re impatient and don’t want to spend your precious evening production time listening to endless two-second clips. Well, you’re in luck – Music Radar‘s Sample Radar has a massive collection of completely free samples, available to download in bundle form, many of which are found sounds including old cinema rips and weird FX. The whole lot is here and a more streamlined found sounds list is here.
General Sites – Our Favourites
The above bundles and forums are great launchpads, but if you’re really keen to dig deep there’s plenty out there to keep you occupied. These are the ones we keep returning to:
Interestingly, only some of NASA’s collection of audio recordings are available for download, but those that are include the Voyager Golden Record. This was the series of music, images and messages NASA recorded onto disc in the ’70s, intended to educate alien races about culture and life on earth. Eat your heart out Damian Lazarus, you don’t get much more cosmic disco than that.
Sample Set Graphic Score, Matt Rogers, 2015
Composer Matt Rogers was commissioned by TFL to explore the various environments of the Victoria line, from the platforms to operation rooms. Breaking his recordings down into a collection of discreet noises, percussive passages and ambient sound, Victoria Line Sample Set offers an intriguing sonic portrait of something many Londoners don’t think twice about. Even better, the entire collection is free for anyone to download and use in their own compositions.
Rhodes University recently published their extensive collection of sub-Saharan African chanting, monologues and tribal songs which have been making their way into a string of producers’ arsenals – not least Rudimental…
Actually, Googling anything weird and audio related – supposedly ‘ghostly’ echoes, voices in empty castles, examples of so-called electronic voice phenomena – will likely take you to a Wikipedia page and a downloadable audio file. There’s some pant-ruiningly odd ghost recordings, but our favourites are the collections of Cold War Russian military broadcast stations. They play strange coded audio loops, and to this day many are still running. File under ‘gloomy apocalyptic techno’. The black t-shirt crowd will love it.
Many producers we’ve spoken to have admitted to ripping samples off YouTube routinely. That obscure funk record, a lesser-known 1930s jazz solo. Why not? On the found sounds front the platform gets even better. Pretty much every famous film quote, kooky 1980s documentary, machine test and animal noise is on there. Change those DAW recording settings to ‘internal’ and crack on!
Found sounds can add an edge unbeatable originality to your tracks. They’re free, and figuring out how to chop them, adapt them, add the right effects and fit them to your track will also bring you on leaps and bounds as a producer. Appropriately seduced? Go out and record some yourself! If you want to learn more sound design, production, mixing, mastering and composition tips, our Online Master Diploma course is perfect for you. Taken from anywhere in the world for up to 64 weeks, it’s one of our most comprehensive courses and has been taken by the likes of Claude Von Stroke, Plastician and Jon Rundell. Find out more here.
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