Is Selling Samples a Viable Career?

Growing up in Belfast, Ireland, Sharooz Raoofi (better known just as Sharooz) began playing and singing in bands before eventually moving to London. Falling in love with electronic music in college, he spent all of his money on samplers and sequencers, including an Atari ST running Cubase, and performed live with an MPC60 and Roland MC-303.

As he built his hardware collection over time, Raoofi began digging into sampling by cutting up records and using them in his own production work, venturing further and further down the early world of digital audio workstations.

After making his own music for some time, he got into making beats for other producers, and around 2005, "We took some of the loops I'd made and compiled them into a series of CDs and DVDs. That was the early birth of Sample Magic. We produced about 1,000 double CDs, one with the data and the other with audio, and put together a really involved gatefold sleeve—and spent weeks on the artwork."

Sample Magic quickly grew into one of the leading companies selling samples, loops, soft synth patches, and other virtual instruments and musical components. But these days, Sharooz and other sample creators are far less likely to create elaborate CD packaging, with their wares now more easily available as digital downloads.

With the continuing rise of producers, songwriters, and composers using readymade sounds and rhythms to create their songs and scores, companies like Sharooz's have sprung up to meet the demand. And, to a growing number of them, it's big business.

While small project studios devoted to creating samples have blossomed on their own, there are also huge marketplaces catering to this field. Splice—perhaps the breakout giant of a group that includes Native Instruments' Sounds, Noiiz, Loopcloud, Tracklib, Beatport, and others—curates and sells nearly countless samples from a huge network of creators. In March, it was reported that Splice had raised $60 million in new funding from venture capital firms, putting their total funding at more than $105 million to date.

At Splice's first Creators Summit, held this January in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see and hear from many of the artists using Splice to sell their packs, and to learn about the business straight from CEO Steve Martocci. Since 2013, the company has paid out $15 million to sample creators. They hope to double that number in the coming year.

This is real money, I thought. This is a full-time job.

I wanted to talk to more people in the field, both from within and outside Splice's sphere of influence. Who exactly are the people making the sounds others are using in their songs, soundtracks, and musical scores? I reached out to three different outlets, each with their own origin story and unique trajectory in the sample pack business.

Looking back to Sample Magic's initial run of CDs in 2005, Sharooz explains his early success.

"We were aware of the quality of what we were doing back then," he tells Reverb. "[It] was significantly better than anything else around. We hired so many musicians, percussionists, vocalists, string and brass players. The level of musicianship and the recording techniques we used were above par with almost every sample pack that was being done at that point."

That first run sold out. He immediately made the next few sample collections—then the fifth, then sixth—in the series and began approaching a few distributors like Time & Space, Crypton in Japan, Ueberschall in Germany, and a few in the US. "We couldn't ship them fast enough," he says. "In that first year, we probably got rid of 10,000 discs, which was unheard of."

His pet project had turned into something far larger than anticipated.

"Around 2009, when we started producing plugins, books, course tutorials, and even launched a magazine, we realized that Sample Magic had started to attract worldwide attention. It all got much bigger than we'd intended. We had almost 20 people [working full-time], over 250 sound designers," he says. "We had sounds licensed into a variety of hardware and software providers, such as Korg, Steinberg, Bitwig, Ableton, Arturia, Elektron, Teenage Engineering, Akai, and many more. The list was lengthy."

Sharooz was surprised to discover another kind of interest. "Our own independent distribution entity was in such demand we'd inadvertently cornered a large enough market share to attract major backers," he says.

That entity, Sounds to Sample, was acquired by Beatport. By 2018, when Sample Magic itself was acquired by Splice, it had amassed about 600 collections. Now, having sold his initial sample creation business, Sharooz is looking forward to new horizons, while still overseeing his brand.

Under Splice, Sample Magic's offerings continue to grow, "with the same quality control and attention to detail we did over 13 years ago," Sharooz says. But, he's also establishing a new startup, Audiaire, which he says will will make "virtual instruments—synths and sequencers—with some hardware products coming very soon."

The fast-growing sample pack brand of Pelham & Junior—a partnership between North Carolina natives Justin Pelham and Pat Junior—has only been around for a few years, but it's quickly becoming a go-to source for creative samples for hip-hop and R&B artists. I talked to the duo about how they first got into making music, then, how they started making their own samples.

Pelham and Junior both come from artistic families, with Pelham being raised via the spiritual culture of gospel music. As a child, he says he learned to play, "Drums, piano, trumpet, and anything I could get my hands on."

"I wasn't exposed to much music outside of gospel as a kid, so as I got older my curiosity for music led me to listen to all kinds and types of music from other genres, a curiosity I maintain to this day," Pelham says.

Junior grew up listening to hip-hop alongside his mother. "She would always tell me that hip-hop music at a stripped-down form is poetry," he says.

While Pelham first started recording at the age of 10, using the DAW n-Track Studio, Junior recorded his first full-length effort in high-school using Apple's Logic Pro 9, though he wasn't yet producing music himself. After meeting Pelham and beginning to work together in college, Junior too jumped into the deep end of the production world.

Soon, the duo was starting to add their own unique sounds to their tracks. Pelham says he'd "add percussion sounds to add fullness to my beats, if I couldn't find that sound in a synth or preset." Or, he'd Auto-Tune his voice into a different kind of instrument entirely. Junior, meanwhile, would use earrings, cardboard pieces from boxes, pencils, or other random objects, hitting or scraping them on different surfaces to create different hits.

From those early days, they knew they might be on to something. Junior remembers telling Pelham, "I really think we could make our own samples. It'd be another dope source of income and I really think we could make some really good stuff."

In 2017, their first sample pack, The Evening Sun, was released through an online store they made quickly through Sellfy. Unlike Sample Magic' early packs, The Evening Sun wasn't an initial success. They pushed it to their producer friends on Facebook, and say they only sold about three copies. But the tides began to turn in 2018, after they started working with Soul Surplus, a larger production company that sells compositions, samples, and more from a network of creators.

"We started working with Soul Surplus and released our first two official packs: Neo Gotham 1 & Neo Gotham 2. After that, Soul Surplus blessed us with the exposure and opportunity to step out on our own as a brand. Thus, Pelham & Junior was born."

When asked about their company's ethos, they state, "It's a company created by producers who want to empower other producers to make dope music. Using quality samples in your production can mean the difference between making only a few dollars and getting a major placement."

One half of this dynamic duo, Junior, is now working full-time on the brand, while Pelham plans to come on full-time this year.

Some of their recent successes have been landing a sample placement from theirCurfew Hours Vol. 1 pack on Kehlani's "Nunya,", produced by Hit-Boy, and having their music featured in the web series Hype. With new packs including Dreamy Soul and Mamma's Era, look out to keep hearing more from Pelham & Junior.

Joining the school band in the fifth grade, Ryan Gruss always had an affinity for rhythmic transients, even stretching back to just banging on the pots and pans in his earliest days.

After taking formal percussion lessons throughout his junior and high-school years, while playing in the school's jazz band and rock groups outside of school, Ryan knew he wanted to do music for a living. He auditioned for Berklee College of Music and received a scholarship for drums.

As a freshman in performance, he was the drummer in Berklee's Studio Ensemble. Every week, they would sight-read charts from other composition and songwriting majors.

"This was an incredible experience, not only as a musician learning how things work in the real world but also as a young engineer learning about mic techniques, signal flow, preamps, etc."

Recording his rock ensembles as far back as seventh grade, Gruss didn't get into the world of production sample usage until 2004, when he was playing in a band in New York called The Rinse.

"We were using a lot of synth loops and samples in the production of our songs and I needed a way to accurately replicate the music in a live setting. Before the Ableton era, working with samples and loops was still a pretty manual process of recording audio into the computer and chopping everything by hand."

Relocating back to Boston in 2009—after walking away from music entirely for a bit—he says he started "recording myself for fun on lunch breaks from my day job and then mixing, editing, and posting a new beat every day on the—now defunct—blog I started: After a few months of doing this every day, both Sonic State and Create Digital Music mentioned what I was doing and I started to see a big increase in traffic to the blog, which was originally just intended as a personal hobby/musical experiment."

After these media outlets shed some light on what Ryan was up to, especially after the Create Digital Music story came out, he states, "I could sense some sort of demand for more 'live' sounding loops and samples, and I received a lot of emails with requests for organic drum sounds."

In March 2009, armed with only a few dozen loops, Ryan created a subscription section of his blog. For $10 a month, customers would receive 100 loops and samples each and every month.

"This allowed me to cover a bunch of different styles and sounds, while also learning more about what the customers really wanted. Every month, I would have more and more feedback around what I was creating, and this allowed me to really dial in both workflow and identity for myself and my brand as a producer of beats and loops."

It was "a very crucial time for The Loop Loft", Gruss says. He launched an e-commerce store, organizing the content into more specific genres and collections—a more traditional pack model approach—which lead to the launch of the first proper Loop Loft website in January 2010. By July 2012, he was working full-time on it.

Gruss still reflects back on that decision.

"As scary and stressful as it was, taking the risk and focusing full-time on The Loop Loft allowed me to build it into the world's top loop and sample company, leading to the sale to Native Instruments in 2018."

The acquisition by Native Instruments led to Gruss and his family moving to Los Angeles. Now, he's currently working alongside Butch Vig, producing an entirely new drum instrument for Native Instruments.

"To be totally honest, working with a legend like Butch is something that's beyond my wildest dreams, and to be pushing the boundaries of technology and music with him makes me feel like the luckiest drummer alive."

At the beginning of an artistic journey, musicians often feel that the only way they can define their success is by making original music, selling it, and moving listeners through their own albums, EPs, or singles. Creating music for other musicians to use, however, can be a viable secondary—or even primary—source of accomplishment, and, importantly, income. If you have an original sound, why not chop it up and share it with the masses one unique hit or loop at a time?

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