Attack Magazine caught up with Sample Magic founder Sharooz Raoofi and general manager Barry McManus as they reflect on the first decade of the company’s life.
In May 2006, Sharooz Raoofi and David Felton launched Sample Magic. Since then, the company has moved with the times and evolved to become an entirely different prospect: an all-round provider of everything from samples and soundware to books, training courses and plugins.
We caught up with Sharooz and SM general manager Barry McManus to discuss the progression of the sample industry over the last decade and what they have planned for the years to come.
Attack: A lot has changed over the last ten years. When you launched the company back in 2006, most people were buying sample DVDs rather than downloading sample packs. What are the other big changes you’ve seen in the industry?
Sharooz Raoofi: There have been huge changes, mostly in line with the wider music and pro audio industry: bespoke digital delivery, subscription-based services, and so on. Ten years ago, packs were much more expensive and less curated. There wasn’t really a focus on niche. A generic house or techno pack usually sounded nothing like the records in that genre and was just a bunch of generic 909 loops. When digital really started to dominate, there was this whole ‘race to the bottom’ model where you might be able to get 2 GB of sounds for $10. We’ve been very careful to avoid that – it’s impossible to expect proper quality control and guarantee copyright-free sounds if one goes down that route. The other biggest change of course is that are just so many more developers out there, and many of them peddle wares that just aren’t fit for purpose. I pay so little attention to the competition. Nothing in the space excites or inspires me as much as what my own team are doing.
Barry McManus: Whilst the delivery mechanism might have changed, the core of what we do remains the same. It’s still just about providing inspiring sounds and tools to enhance producers’ creativity. Electronic music has and always will constantly evolve – new sounds, new technology – but our passion and ethos remains the same so it’s easy to roll with those changes in the industry no matter how big or small. I suppose the emergence of iOS as viable alternative to traditional DAW setups is an interesting one that will only continue to grow in influence and I’m pretty excited about that.
How much do you think people’s attitudes to using samples have changed over the last decade? Is there more of a focus on stamping your own identity on samples rather than just using sounds straight out of a pack?
Barry McManus: People have always used samples. Royalty-free or not, sampling has been one of the backbones of electronic music for decades. So in that sense I don’t think attitudes have shifted that much. With sample packs specifically I just think as the quality and variety of products in the industry has increased it’s become seen as a more accepted form of inspiration rather than a shortcut.
Sharooz Raoofi: I would imagine it’s a fairly standard part of almost every serious producer’s armoury to have a large collection of samples. We’ve heard our sounds in dozens of chart records and Beatport hits over the years – virtually every week – and many of my favourite producers talk publicly about using our sounds. It’s hugely flattering to me every time I discover a track I like uses one of our sounds. It’s not a guilty secret for producers to admit using samples and I’m firm believer that it has significantly improved the overall quality of electronic music records over the last decade.
Barry McManus: I think in general sample providers have responded to what people want, which is sounds that aren’t cookie-cutter drag-and-drop fodder but instead high-quality, versatile elements that are raw enough in terms of processing to reward experimentation.
The sample market is more crowded than ever. How conscious are you of setting Sample Magic apart from the rest?
Barry McManus: Obviously we keep an eye on what our competitors are doing, but the best way we can set ourselves apart from others is by focusing on ourselves – our standards and our passions, as that’s what has got us to this point. We’re always looking to innovate – whether it’s optimising sounds for specific DAWs or workstations or developing instruments and plugins – but whatever we do we just try and make sure it’s engrained with the SM ethos that has set us apart since day one.
Sharooz Raoofi: For me it’s quality, quality and quality. We have the best producers around in my opinion and we’re very careful about who we choose to take on. We have a team that cares so much about quality control that it’s almost impossible to have a product meeting without someone shouting or swearing at someone else haha. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If our team weren’t passionate it would be a huge problem. We are copied and imitated frequently so passion for what we do is paramount. At first it hugely bothered me, now I just laugh and feel flattered at many of the paler imitations.
Have you had any successes or failures that have particularly surprised you?
Barry McManus: We thought Magic AB solved a problem and filled a gap in the market but I don’t think any of us thought it would still be our number one product over two years later.
Sharooz Raoofi: That we’re still here after ten years is the biggest success as far as I’m concerned. It’s a huge challenge to have any digital retail store or service stick around for that long and it’s a massive testament to our customers and their loyalty that we are still here.
Barry McManus: We’ve had some misses as well, especially with the more faddy EDM trends. Melbourne Bounce didn’t exactly resonate with our audience.
It’s probably easier to highlight the positives, but what do you think are the worst trends in soundware in recent years?
Sharooz Raoofi: I mentioned it earlier I think but there are digital retailers that have cheapened soundware by offering up ridiculously large bundles for next to nothing. No one can expect a quality product from that. And the producers are getting a terrible deal. Producing soundware takes significant time and careful skill, therefore proper content costs money to produce.
DAW-based sample library searches and breaking packs down into individual samples are both ideas that have been floated to us in the past. I’ve frowned upon both as I feel the purchase and transaction process for shopping individual samples is unconducive to workflow. I’d stick to carefully curated full pack content over individual sample purchases all day long.
What have you got planned for the near future? Big changes or a continuation of what you’ve been doing?
Sharooz Raoofi: We have some fairly sizeable changes coming up. We’re in the middle of finalising a number of incredible products that have been in careful development for many months. Our next plugin, Stacker, drops at the end of this month. I am beyond excited to show the world what we have. Our storefront is about to get a significant overhaul and we have some amazing new books coming soon. We’re expanding our courses and developing a sequel to Bloq, all by the end of this year.
Musically, what inspires you at the moment? How do you decide which musical trends are just short-lived fads and which ones are important new genres to focus on?
Barry McManus: There’s no hard and fast rule on that – we just create sounds we believe in, whether they’re short-lived or not. If it excites us musically then we’ll go for it.
Sharooz Raoofi: I’m still firmly into proper techno and electro. The Ultramajic label is still a huge inspiration to me, musically and with Pilar Zeta’s incredible sleeves, Jimmy Edgar, Matrixxman, Droid Behaviour out of LA, Lor (who I’ve just done a couple of collabs with), Madame, Danny Daze, 50 Weapons, VSOL and of course my biggest all-time inspiration Juan Atkins.
How far can you look into the next decade and predict what’s going to happen for the business? Are you planning a long way ahead?
Sharooz Raoofi: It’s always impossible to do so and, contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t often plan too far ahead. I feel it’s very easy to get distracted from your core business if you’re trying to be too future. Our R&D begins and ends with the fact we’re all actively involved in one strand or another of the electronic music industry, constantly playing with new gear and making music whenever and however we can. For me Sample Magic is a part of my greater identity that is, simply put, an appreciation of electronic music, keeping it exciting and relevant, and making tools that inspire those making the music to inspire those who listen to and dance to the music. As long as we can continue to make those tools, regardless of their format, that is the only vision for the future I can steadfastly adhere to.
Looking forward another ten years, 2026 sounds like the future. What’s the future for sample companies?
Sharooz Raoofi: Music-making technology has evolved almost too quickly for the human imagination, in terms of recycled feature sets with layers of added complexity. I find many plugins gimmicky and unconducive to workflow because the learning curve is so steep. It’s overwhelming. I’d much rather focus on the simple business of getting the sound in one’s head into the computer or monitors quicker and more efficiently rather than throw more and more tools in or on the mix.