Inspiration isn’t always there when you need it.

Sometimes you sit in front of a piano and stare at a blank piece of paper for hours.  Other times you might try to make a beat from scratch and struggle to come up with a concrete idea.

Hip-hop producers have been making sample-based beats for decades.

But if you’re a songwriter first and a producer second, you might have your doubts about incorporating samples into your music.

How can you make samples sound authentic? Can you become a great songwriter if all your songs are not created out of thin air?

Until recently, I had the same doubts too.

Sure, I used the occasional shaker loop I found in sample packs every now and then.

But deep down I always had this fear of using a sample that is easily recognizable in my productions.

Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to understand the benefits of sample-based songwriting.

Why should you use samples to write songs?

For those of us who are bedroom producers, without samples, our sound choices are usually limited to MIDI instruments.

Samples and loops open up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to instrumentation and sound design.

Samples and loops open up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to instrumentation and sound design.

Sampling a record might be tricky. But if you work with royalty-free samples, you don’t have to worry about copyright issues.

And here’s another angle you might’ve not considered yet: the samples you record can add an extra touch of authenticity to your music.

Here are a few ways you can compose your songs with samples.

1. Bring your loops to life.

Challenge yourself to create an entire song based on a loop that inspires you.

One of the most common ways songwriters go about this approach is to find a drum loop to help them flesh out a song.  But you can go beyond that.

A loop of horn instruments or strings can carry your signature if you manipulate them enough.  If you’re working with a melodic loop, you can change a pitch here and there to recreate the melody.

Besides, there are so many audio effects you can use to process loops and create unique textures.

The key here is to think outside the box when it comes to melting a professionally recorded and mastered loop into your mix.
You might have to make it more lo-fi. You might even have to put tons of reverb and delay on it.

With a bit of work you’ll get the loop where you want it to be and that’s when you’ll see the song structure already forming in your mind.

Perhaps the loop can be in the drop or post chorus. Once you know where you’ll place it, you can build the rest of the sections around it.

Another great way to work with loops is to load them up in a sampler, drum machine or a sample-based synthesizer like Output’s Arcade.

Arcade comes with a massive sample and loop library and you can always add your own loops and samples.  It’s a user-friendly soft synth that allows you to play loops like an instrument.

But you can load up just about any loop to the sample-based synth or drum machine you have available to you.  Ableton’s Sampler and Logic’s EXS24 are good choices for example.


Still, if this strategy is a brand new addition to your workflow, it might take you a minute to get used to it.  Trial and error is the best way to learn, but watching others create can be stimulating, too.

Check out this video where Ed Talenti uses a melodic sample to make a trap beat.

2. Use short samples with lots of character.

Another way to draw inspiration from pre-recorded material is to use short samples with lots of character in your productions.

Short samples might not immediately generate melodic and lyrical ideas, but they can help liven up your beat.

Short samples might not immediately generate melodic and lyrical ideas, but they can help liven up your beat.

And if you’re a top liner, you probably already know how big of a difference an exciting beat can make in your writing process!

Sometimes even the shortest samples can make up the most essential parts of a production.

Remember orchestra hits from almost every mainstream pop song in the 90s?  They might be one of the most recognizable sample cliches in music history. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. In fact, that’s exactly why they’ve become such a cliche!

3. Record your own samples.

You might be thinking: “Why should I make my own sample library? I can find all the sounds I need online!”

It’s true! There is a sample pack for pretty much every sound you can think of. But that doesn’t change the fact that once you record your own, it’ll be yours and yours only.

Sure, you might find a sample of someone else lighting a match in front of a microphone.  But recording it yourself will add colorful memories to your creative process.

Billie Eilish and FINNEAS are known for incorporating the samples they’ve both recorded into their songs.

A song that contains snippets from your life experiences will stand out among the many demos you’ve created solely at your computer.

Recently, they broke down their hit “bad guy” for Rolling Stone. In the video, they describe how they sampled the sound of a crosswalk sign in Australia and used it as a hi hat pattern in the beat.

Not only does the sample make the track more authentic, but it also clearly deepens Billie’s and FINNEAS’s connection to it.

Mix it up!

A song that contains snippets from your life experiences will stand out among the many demos you’ve created solely at your computer.

It’s not a bad idea to get up and collect sounds not just virtually but also physically.

Still, the best part of opening yourself up to working with samples is to experiment in multiple ways.

There’s no right or wrong way to go about it. It’s all about mangling what you have until you tap into a sound that surprises and inspires you.