As composers we are compelled to obsess about sample libraries. It’s like an illness. We hover around forums, when we should be writing music, seeing what our favourite developers are up to, when they’re going to release their latest mega-library and how we can possibly scrape a few pounds off the recommended retail price via discount codes and promo sales.
Soon it will be Black Friday and we are all sat, hitting refresh, waiting for our favourite sound manglers to reveal how big their sale is, hoping the expensive stuff we can’t really justify buying may be in an utterly implausible 99% off sale.
But, there is another way. A way that doesn’t involve crying, praying and gnawing our finger nails down to the elbow. And that way is buying less expensive libraries from smaller developers.
We are all familiar with the big-hitters such as Cinesamples, 8dio, and Spitfire Audio. We are all fairly familiar with slightly smaller companies like SonicCouture, Sonokinetic and Impact Soundworks. But there are many new companies out there making little specialised libraries that are amazingly cost effective and not lacking in competitive quality.
I’m starting with Embertone as they are steadily moving into the realms of the well-known, through their combination of amazing legato scripting and cheap pricing policy. Their Chapman Trumpet, Jubal Flute and now Shire Whistle are slowly finding a place in everybody’s studio. And the promise of an upcoming solo violin library is hugely exciting news. If you haven’t already visited their website, make sure you go there credit card in hand!
If ‘eclectic’ is what you’re after, this outfit are well worth a visit. Their unique collection ranges from obscure European string instruments (such as the Bowed Psaltery or German Monochord), through to electronic percussion of their Cement and Experimental Box series, via mallets, harmonicas and pianos. When you’re looking for a unique sound to add a little nuance to your work, you’ll find something here.
Cinematique Instruments’ German Monochord
A brand new developer that has just arrived on the scene quite bravely with that obsession of all composers, solo strings. Their Sweet Cello and Sweet Violin aim to provide an affordable alternative to some of the bigger libraries, without any compromise on quality. If the demos are anything to go by, they appear to have done just that. And for those of us who want to put together string quartets, it’s always good to have another solo cello or violin.
These Swedish developers offer a little bit of everything. Accordions, music toys, flutes, pianos, zithers, organs, synth textures and trailer tools await the happy shopper. My particular favourites are their European folk instruments. They have the finest kantele and cimbalom I know of. If you have a taste for non-orchestral instruments, you are bound to find something.
This curiously titled UK-based composer has only a few instruments, but they are unique to his site. Dulcitones are hard to come by, but here you will find two! They are exquisitely sampled, as is his Autoharp and Ship’s Piano. The true extraordinary gem in this collection is the Pendleonium, an original instrument put together by Pendle Poucher from a balalaika, a viola, a baritone guitar, a Roland chorus echo, Roger Linn amp and Vermona sing reverb. Madness, pure madness.
More singular instruments from Europe. Italian sample developers AudioThing have an obsession with providing sounds you just won’t find anywhere else. I first became aware of them from their Pong Glockenspiel library, the definitive ‘glockenspiel being played by dropping ping pong balls on it’ library. On their site you will find instruments made from spray cans, toy harps and, most recently, a place called the Temple of Mercury in Naples – which really does need to be read about in more depth to be understood, but is a thing of strange beauty.
AudioThing’s Temple of Mercury
Synth Magic and Hollow Sun
Finally, last but by no means least, not all Kontakt libraries are devoted to instruments – be they orchestral, ethnic or just plain mad. Synthesizers also get a look-in and both Synth Magic and Hollow Sun are the finest purveyors of such rare synth classics as you can imagine.
Synth Magic’s roster includes the Jen SX3000, the Korg Delta, the ARP Quadra and the rather sublime but rare Farfisa Polychrome. Hollow Sun provide a beautifully detailed Crumar Performer, Moog Taurus and a Hammond Novachord. Plus they also make some strange synth instruments of their own that hark back to the days of valve relics and dusty oscillators in their Music Laboratory Machines catalogue.
So, there you go. You’ve no excuse to whine about not being able to afford new libraries any more. There’s a world of Kontakt (other sample players are available) joy to be had for a handful of shiny pennies, and it’s a world that will result in your music being that little bit different from your compadres and competitors. And don’t forget the heart-warming glow of knowing you’ve helped one of the little guys out.
If you have any favourite little developers out there, why not share them in the comments below? We all like a bargain.