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December 5, 2022


Musicians and educators Emily Bettison and Adrian Whalland have launched STAK Sounds, a business giving music producers a locally made alternative to the widely available, over-processed and cheesy vocal samples.

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  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Lauren Connelly
  • Image 1 L—R: Adrian Whalland and Emily Bettison

One of CityMag’s favourite electronic acts, The Avalanches, made a career out of sampling.

They told us last July they repurposed 3500 bite-sized bits of music for their recent 15-track record We Will Always Love You.

Other musicians sample more sporadically. Widely known examples include M.I.A snatching the opening melody of The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’ for her breakout hit ‘Paper Planes’, and Jason Derulo reworking the auto-tuned vocal lick from Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’ for ‘Watcha Say’.


STAK Sounds


The drive for producers building songs out of samples is to not only find a new use for familiar musical refrains, but to dig up new sounds audiophiles might not have heard before. To do this, sometimes they’ll buy a bundle of stems.

This is where Adelaide-based STAK Sounds has seen a gap in the local market.

In 2019, Emily Bettison and Adrian Whalland, teachers at one of the city’s major music education institutes, SAE, realised most of the vocal samples available to electronic music producers were cliched and over-produced. Think: auto-tuned to the max, and heavy on phrases like ‘baby’ and ‘put your hands up’.

“We were, like, ‘Between us, we’ve got the skills that we need to fill that gap in the market’,” says Emily. They launched STAK Sounds in August, offering Adelaide-made and royalty-free a capella and music samples.

Emily has a working background as a vocalist and is one half of wedding performance and DJ duo Andy & Emily. After six years of steady gigs, her wedding work dried up during the pandemic. She needed to find an alternative.

Last October, the Helpmann Academy – a South Australian philanthropic organisation dedicated to the arts – announced it would award $55,000 in seed funding to a pool of emerging creative entrepreneurs. This included Emily.

“I received a few grants from [the Helpmann Academy] over the last five-ish years, multiple projects, but the one that they supported me for was the creative innovator program,” Emily explains.

“That really facilitated the development of the business ideas for STAK, which was at the start of last year.”

Vocal virtuoso Emily on the keys


As a result of this incubator program, Emily and Adrian were able to develop their business. So far, STAK Sounds’ catalogue includes one full sample pack called Get Gone, which comes with vocal and music samples, instrumental loops, percussion, and “drum one-shots”, Emily says.

As well as free samples for download, STAK Sounds also sells a $5 vocal kit.

“You get the vocal top line, so the main melody, along with harmony layers, and different ad-libs and ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’,” Emily says. “That can be used more as puzzle pieces for producers.”

Each vocal sample, made with Emily’s own pipes, comes in a wet and dry version. The difference, we’re told, is that a wet vocal is creatively affected, lush with reverb, delay or even distortion. This type of loop is ideal for a producer who may want to simply drag and drop a sample into a composition.

By comparison, dry vocals are minimally processed. They may be lightly corrected through Melodyne pitch-correction and altered through basic equalisation, but for the most part they’re raw, giving the producer the opportunity to process it to their liking.

Emily says her main goal for STAK is to develop a “big audience base” and a “great community”. She wants to also establish STAK Sounds as an industry frontrunner, which she admits is “really ambitious”.

“The music industry is a really male-dominated space, especially in electronic music production and in the sample pack company side of things,” Emily says.

“I’ve always been an advocate for women in the music industry, and mentored young artists over the years.

“I want to do it and show that it can be done and encourage other women and female-identifying people to follow their dreams.”

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