Instruments played by human beings captured on a recording with proper mic placement. Digital samples pre-recorded and able to be programmed in the perfect arrangement that can be re-arranged at will. Advantages persist in both approaches.

Some may not have a strong opinion on the topic of instruments v. samples. Listeners often don’t notice the difference and, frankly, do not care. Musicians often do not have a choice in the comparison. They either have access to instruments and players which is costly or they use digital samples which are far better recorded and faster to arrange.

Real instruments v. samples is a touchy subject. Here is our rundown of the key points of the conversation.

Digital Samples Are Widely Accepted & The Trendy Sound In Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, & Dance

Today’s music is endlessly embedded with digital samples. Some of the biggest and most successful music of our generation is produced exclusively through digital instruments and samples. Even a singer’s voice goes through extensive processing.

From an auditory standpoint, many listeners expect digital samples. Live instruments are a rarity in some genres.

You Can Create Your Own Samples And/Or Program Samples Available To You

We are in an age where instruments can be sampled and manipulated with ease. If you don’t have instruments to sample yourself, lots of pre-recorded samples are available. The diversity of sounds is far more expanded compared to what a single player can get from a real instrument.

Furthermore, programming samples is fast and easy. You don’t need to practice a part to get it just right.

Real Instruments Are Not Required But They Add An Energy To Certain Genres

Some genres rely on the energy that comes from real instruments. In music like folk and rock, real instruments are almost required to capture the right feel. The human touch plays such a central role in communicating personality in the music.

Compare this to hip-hop or dance where, sure, there’s lots of personality. But it originates from digital samples. You don’t get the human touch but you get human choices. In that, there is art.

It’s Cheaper To Use Digital Samples Than Hiring Musicians To Play Real Instruments

It’s cheap and easy not to have to buy and play the instruments yourself or having to hire someone to capture an instrument’s performance. In fact, many of the hip hop demo submissions, pop music demo submissions, and EDM demo submissions we at Funktasy receive contain minimal uses of real instruments.

There’s definitely no arguing that digital samples have their place, no matter what kind of music you play.

Digital Samples Are Diverse & Easy To Manipulate, Edit, Re-Arrange, And Experiment With

From a listener’s perspective, there are things that can be done with digital samples that you can’t do with real instruments. Look at real instruments vs VSTs, there are thousands of VSTs out there that can be expressed and controlled in a myriad of ways. They can provide an entire track’s worth of unique digital-ness or can be used sparingly for effect.

There are many ways to use digital sampling. Any attempt to dismiss it outright could be assumed to be rather presumptive.

It’s Easier To Incorporate Innovation Through Digital Samples & Digital Tech In Music

Much like in every category of business, tech has overtaken and expanded the realm of possibility as to what can be accomplished. Music is no different. Tech directly influences music. It would be near impossible to produce contemporary popular music today that does not heavily hinge on the digital. The digital age has arrived and even if one is a pure instrumentalist or an artist who insists on having real instruments, the digital influence is inescapable.

Even down to the sound of our voices, digital effects are layered by the dozens across the most popular tracks on the planet today – something that is worth considering for anyone creating a track

Why Both Real Instruments And Digital Samples Have Their Place In Music-Making

All this considered, there’s also definitely an argument for live instrumentation and real instruments.

Listening to tracks that contain real instruments, many listeners report a more ‘human’ sound and more energy. In the same way that digital samples have a place, real instruments can twist and turn in ways that samples cannot.

Depending on what an artist is more inclined to believe, digital samples or real instruments both have the potential to provide more freedom than the other. From a listener’s perspective, there is an audible difference between the two and so ultimately it comes down to what kind of sound an artist or producer wants to have for their track.

As long as one is servicing the track they are working on, it does not really matter whether it is real instruments or samples. Thus, it’s all in the mind as to whether one is better than the other though they both bring to the table unique characteristics.

If making money or being adored by an audience is not a primary focus and if the music you make is pure to the bone then, to these artists, we say follow honesty.

For some, yes, real instruments are the only way to make music. For others, digital samples are how they get their point across. Keep tracks honest and pure, and make music the way you want to make it. That’s the only way to carry music forward and to create the best track.

Whether the muse is digital or real, a true artist should follow it.

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