I composed a small number of Amiga tracker modules at around the turn of the 1990s, one of which even enjoyed some popularity. These songs were made, first and foremost, for my personal amusement — for exploring music creation and sequencing on a personal computer — but they also ended up being used in some demoscene productions.
My tools of choice were, at first, Oktalyzer (see here as well), and later ProTracker (see here as well).
For the very first experiments, I used whatever sounds were available to me. The instrument samples were borrowed from tracker modules made by other people or originated from the famous
ST-## instrument sample disks, originally meant to be used with Karsten Obarski’s Soundtracker, the forefather of ProTracker.
I then spotted this ad in a computer magazine for an Amiga-compatible sound digitizer device. It was a black, nondescript plastic box — a bit larger than a pack of cigarettes — which plugged into the printer (parallel) port on the back of the Amiga. It had a single mono RCA input and a trimmer knob for adjusting the input level. There was also a DE-9 cable for a connection to the joystick port which it used for powering itself. That’s about it.
It was quite similar to this device (more information):
The audio editor I mostly used with it was Aegis AudioMaster:
See this video showing the AudioMaster in action. I never utilized this tool’s built-in sequencing capability, though, but only used it for acquisition and for cleaning up the instrument samples. The actual songs were composed in the tracker programs.
I also used the internal samplers and audio editors built into some trackers, but I tended to use AudioMaster (an external tool) the most.
The audio digitizer device was 8-bit, and only supported monophonic sound, but it was a perfect match for the Amiga capabilities since the Amiga sound hardware had four 8-bit sound channels. (Of course, I would later learn that oversampling and better-than-8-bit dynamics during acquisition would yield better results when downsampled to the target format. But at the time, the Amiga hardware was all that I had for working with sound.)
You would not normally have used stereo samples due to the limited disk and memory resources and the limited number of sound channels (polyphony) available in the hardware so the audio digitizer being mono only was not really a hindrance.
With the hardware and software in order, I then started digitizing instrument samples from commercially-published songs. These tended to be contemporary (late 1980s, early 1990s) pop and rock music published on C cassettes. Many songs had intro sequences or breaks from where you could get great, clean drum or bass samples. I also sourced some nice strings or pads with usable major and minor and other chords.
A great deal of effort went into finding suitable loop points for sustained sound without it clicking or popping, especially for the strings and the pads. The audio editors had some tools which made this easier, such as functions for finding zero points in the waveform. But a good result would only come by experimenting and listening to how it sounds.
I then started borrowing keyboards from my friends for the purpose of methodically growing my instrument sample library. I used everything I could get my hands on — from cheap entry-level Casios to actual synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines. A friend of mine had an Ensoniq sampler and an Alesis drum machine which were treasure troves.
In the end, the instrument samples in my sample library came from three sources — other people’s sound tracker modules (some of the instrument samples other people had made were just too good to dismiss), self-digitized from compact cassettes containing commercial music and popular songs, and self-digitized from synthesizers and consumer keyboards. I also digitized my own voice a couple of times.
I can no longer recall the purchase price of the audio digitizer device but I’d estimate it was maybe something like €20 or €30 in today’s money. Certainly not a professional thing at any level but worked fine for the purpose it was made.
There’s this nice video from “debuglive” on YouTube which describes the very process: