The A-Z Of Music-Making: The S’s – From Samples To Synthesis

It’s another bumper edition of the A-Z series, where this time Marc JB delves into the world of samples, sidechain and synthesis…



(Click the titles for the best of each definition)

1. Samples

Refers to a sound used as a musical source for a sampler, drum machine or synthesiser. Can also be a loop. Samples are a great source of inspiration; make sure you have a licence for all musical samples you’ve used before you release a composition.

2. Saturation

A subtle distortion effect, rather like the harmonic overdrive from a valve amplifier (tube) or a tape machine.

3. Sample Rate

When an analogue signal is converted to a digital signal, the amplitude of the signal is sampled a certain number of times per second – this is the sample rate. Common rates are 44.1kHz and 48kHz.

4. Send


An output from a mixer channel or device via which the audio can be routed to another device. This doesn’t affect the amount of original signal going through the channel. For example, if a reverb is added as a ‘send effect’ in a DAW or on a hardware mixer, a signal can be sent to that reverb from each channel as needed.

So instead of creating multiple instances of a single plug-in – one for each channel – the channels can all be routed, via sends, to one instance of a plug-in, cutting down on CPU processing.

5. Sidechain

An input on a device where an additional external sound source can be used to affect the main sound coming through the device. One popular method is sidechain compression, using the kick to ‘pump’ the mix, as used commercially in many forms of dance music and even by bands such as Portishead.

Sidechain compression is often employed by using the kick to compress out the bass, resulting in the bass end preserving maximum energy after mastering.

6. Stems

The individual tracks or mixed-down sections of audio which, when combined, make up a whole song. Stems are often taken and creatively recombined for remixing purposes.

7. Studio


The place where music creation and production happens. From Abbey Road Studio Two to DJ Phatbaz5 sitting in Starbucks with a computer – music making environments are varied and often personalised places.

8. Synthesis

Combining sound elements to make something new. There are several varieties of synthesis, including additive, subtractive, wavetable and FM.