Tips for Organising your Sample Library

Posted by James Cullen on

How many times have you been in the flow of making a tune, only to have your creativity and inspiration come grinding to a halt as you scroll through a folder containg 150 different Kick samples? 

This is something I have persistently struggled with through my music making career, not least because the upgrade to a new computer inevitably leads to me putting of organising my samples on a new machine for months.

Many people who aren't versed in music production probably fail to appreciate how daunting it can be to have practically limitless possibilities for your sounds.

I've spoken about this phenomenon before; in the past, producers weren't faced with this problem because of analog gear and the storage limitations of the technology they used. Remember 8 track recorders?

But now we seem to live in the age of unlimited everything. Unlimited data on your phone, unlimited cloud storage space, and...unlimited sample possibilities.

So, in this guide today we will be taking a look at some tips behind how you can better organise your sample library, and a few novel approaches to sound selection which should help you eradicate the creativity sap that is trawling through a huge sample library.

So let's jump in.

A Folder System is your best friend.

A Sample can make or break your tune. So organise them!

You're likely going to be in a position when making music where choosing the right sample is crucial to the overall sound you're going for. So how can you ensure you don't get bogged down in endless lists of samples?

You'll notice that most sample packs come organised into subfolders, and when compiling your own collections of samples, this is a great concept to carry over. 

Ensuring that your samples are grouped in similar categories is key, but developing your own system can look any way you want it to.

You may not want to have all of your like samples grouped together, instead, you want to have them organised into mini groups of complementary samples; ones that fit together and you'd like to use in a tune.

Whatever way you do it, just make sure there's a system of clearly labelled folders which will allow you to navigate to the desired sample quickly and efficiently.

The importance of Curating

In Ableton Live, a cool update in one of the most recent versions was the ability to tag and favourite things into collections on the top left of your browser. This allows you to go even further with your sample organisation and have a selection of your favourites labelled into different colour coded tags accessible within Live.

Having your samples organised and labelled into folders is good, but going that step further with having your favourites ready to go is even better.

It's likely that you'll gravitate towards a certain group of signature samples. I know I do in my music; I have a few individual samples that I include in most of my tracks, which serve as a little signature or tag in the music.

Having them all ready to go in my favourites bar in Ableton makes things seamless.

Another important thing to mention about this is that curating your sample library should be a dedicated part of your music making process. We mentioend at the beginning that it can be a huge creativity killer having to pause beat making to find a sample, so you should ensure you spend separate time curating your sample catalog.

This applies also to finding new samples, you should set aside time for finding new samples and organising them into your collection, which is separate from your music making.


It's all about Taste.

Whether it's music, art or cuisine, a lot of what separates the best from the rest is the taste level.

Knowing your own taste preferences is key if you're going to be developing a curated sound in your sample collection. A good way to do this is to actively listen to the sounds and samples used in music that inspires you.

Listen to some of your favourite producers within your genre and really actively listen to the techniques they're using. Dissect the music to find out what sounds they're using and how these relate to the structure or feel of the track.

But what's often overlooked is that it's important to listen to artists that you're not into as well. Even if you don't like the music, you could find some cool ideas for samples. And if not, you can get a more solid base for your taste on your own inspirations and ideas.

But it doesn't just have to be your own taste you rely on.

Sample curating is a now a full time job, and a side gig for many producers out there. I know tonnes of music professionals who make sample packs alongisde their music output and other jobs within the industry.

And usually, these folks are professionals for a reason. So don't be afraid to grab hold of top level sample packs from established producers. They know what they're doing, they've taken the time to curate a specific pack and using it in your music is the whole reason it exists.

There's often a debate about whether using loops and samples is 'cheating' or not, but I 100% disagree with anyone who thinks it is.

Samples and loops are made for the purpose of being used in music, and as long as they're royalty free, you can use them and process them in whatever ways you want to!

Many sample packs out there contain really beautiful samples, and not to mention the ones recorded from super expensive pieces of gear that could be way out of your budget.

What's good about this too is that you will often find curators who you like, and then you'll have another source for good samples in the future.


Taking out the Trash.

Now, it's important to point out that just because you've downloaded a 4GB sample pack from a professional curator, doesn't mean you have to use all of the samples within that pack.

If you know there are samples you won't use, then don't be afraid of getting rid of them.

This doesn't just go for sample packs you've downloaded. Make a habit of regularly going through your  sample library and getting rid of samples you know you'll never use. 

While it can be tempting to hold onto folders of sample because you might one day use them, it's not worth taking up the space on your hard drive. What's more, is that it also translates as time wasted when you're in the zone looking for samples if you're just scrolling through folders of ones you've never even used.

If you follow this discipline you will eventually have a really well curated collection of samples which you know you like and you know you'll use. Instead of being bogged down by menu diving, you'll know where to go for your samples and this will speed up your whole process.


So hopefully you found these tips inspiring, and you can now go away and purge your sample folders of the excesses and spend some time curating a collection of samples you are going to be excited to use.

If you follow these tips, you'll be good to go with your music making and shouldn't be spending too long locked in your menus when you should be making tunes!



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