Editor's Note: Rick Allen is the Production Director at New York City's number one CHR, Hot 97. He's also the producer of the Climax Production Library. He has been credited as one of the first to use digital sampling in radio production and is still using it today. He also uses sampling in the sweepers he produces for over one hundred markets here in the U.S. and around the world. We asked Rick for his thoughts on sampling and how he approaches a sampling project.
by Rick Allen
To get to my gut feelings about sampling voices, I guess I'd better give you my feelings about effects for voices in general. There's something about making the human voice do the impossible or unexpected that has always gotten my attention. For me, it was just natural curiosity. Before sampling technology entered the picture, I was always playing around with EQ, tape echo, and flanging. Reverse echo was another one of my favorites. Then, while I was a producer at TM in Dallas, I heard an effect that turned my head around. You got it by dubbing the first part of a word several times and then splicing the first fraction of a second of each piece over and over. Call it an analog sample effect. You could even change the pitch of the stutter by varying the tape speed by a slight amount during each pass of the initial dubbing. I have to tell you, I loved that sound! The only problem was it took so much time and a lot of splicing tape to create it. In fact, all the voice effects I've mentioned so far took a lot of extra time to create. Now, years later, as we sit smack in the middle of a sample and digital effects craze, that old "problem" of time turned out to have been a blessing.
Because all these "old" style effects were time consuming, radio production guys just didn't have the extra time to create and use them that often. The time factor developed into what can be described as a natural creative balance. If you were going to take the time to create any of these effects, you were going to make darn sure that you used it in the right spot to accent the right word. On top of that, it was really just impossible to use these effects too often because you simply didn't have the production time it took to overuse them.
Now look around you. Along came modern technology and removed nature's brakes. Now it's possible to phase, delay, reverb, sample, EQ, and pitch bend a signal all with a single effects box at the touch of a single button. In the blink of an eye, it became easy to create ear catching voice effects. However, when you overuse effects, you dull the listener's senses. Quite simply, what has happened is that the unusual sounds, if overused, become ordinary.
There's a real danger in that with sampling. To protect against it, my philosophy on sampling is pretty simple. Before I load any audio into my sampler, I try to remember to ask myself:
1. WHY AM I GOING TO SAMPLE THIS WORD? Am I doing it to add impact to the copy or just because I have a sampler?
2. WHY DID I CHOOSE THIS WORD? Is this the right word to call attention to? Is it a word I want the listener to remember?
3. WHAT KIND OF SAMPLE EFFECT WOULD WORK HERE? There are a lot of different sample effects. There is the straight stutter. Even that can be varied in speed and number of repeats. There is the climbing pitch and descending pitch samples. I also like to use the reverse building sample which sounds a lot like the reverse echo of "the old days." The style I'll choose is based on gut and what style I've used on other words in the copy.
4. AM I OVERDOING IT? I try to make sure I'm not ending up with too much of a good thing. This applies to this one little sample as well as the whole piece of copy. I listen to see if two or three quick triggers might not sound better than six or seven.
Bottom line is, "keep the listeners' attention." Variety is the spice of life. Vary your effects between the many that are available to you now; and, when sampling, first ask yourself if it's necessary, and if it is, then vary the sampling styles you use and make sure that particular style works to enhance your production.