Sampling has been used in music production since the late 1960’s and continues to be a widespread practice today. By reusing older recordings, music producers and artists can create new songs quickly and more cost-effectively while expanding on the possibilities of songwriting. However, many artists are unaware of the rights they have as creators and composers and may find themselves in breach of copyright laws.
This article explores the definition of music sampling, how it has been used in music throughout history and how you can properly sample music for your own projects.
- | What Is Sampling?
- | Is Sampling Legal?
- | Examples Of Sampling
- | Sampling & Hip-Hop
- | The Most Sampled Song Of All Time
- | How To Legally Sample Music
Without further adieu, let’s get started!
| What Is Sampling?
Sampling is the process of using portions of an existing audio recording in a new recording. Samples can be anything that has been recorded, including music, dialogue, sound effects and more. Samples can be used in a variety of ways: as musical accompaniment for an entirely new track, as snippets of spoken or sung phrases or simply as atmosphere or texture. While sampling is most associated with hip-hop, the technique is also used in many other genres of music.
Sampling was originally developed by experimental musicians working with musique concrète and electroacoustic music. These musicians would sample audio by physically manipulating tape loops or vinyl records on a phonograph. It has since evolved into a musical language that almost defines today’s pop culture. Much of today’s popular music contains samples from other songs.
| Is Sampling Legal?
Yes, sampling is legal — as long as you have permission from the copyright owner of the original work. In order to legally sample someone’s else song, you need permission from both the owner of the recording (record label) and any artists involved in the creation of the song. As technology improved and the art of sampling came to prominence in hip-hop and electronic music, so did the legal ramifications that come with it.
| Examples Of Sampling
Throughout music history, musicians have utilized sounds from different songs to create new tracks. With technology advancing steadily and becoming easier to use, sampling started to become a bigger part of music in modern times. Some of the most popular uses of sampling in music today include:
- Kanye West’s use of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” in his song “Stronger”
- Vanilla Ice’s use of Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” in his song “Ice Ice Baby“.
- Madonna’s use of ABBA’s “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” in her song “Hung Up“.
- Avicii’s use of Etta James’ “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” in his song “Levels“.
- Kanye West’s use of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” in his song “Touch The Sky“.
| Sampling & Hip-Hop
Hip-hop has played a crucial role in the development of sampling. Hip-hop took the concept of sampling to a new level, using samples as the basis for entire songs. As the genre began growing in popularity during the late 80s/early 90’s, so did the practice of sampling. One could argue that hip-hop music wouldn’t be where it is today without sampling.
Perhaps the most famous examples of sampling in hip-hop is The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”. The 1979 release features a sample from Chic’s disco hit, “Good Times”. While this was not the first time someone had sampled music, it was an early landmark in how hip-hop producers would go on to use samples. In fact, sampling became such an important part of hip-hop culture that it led to several lawsuits and even more songs being banned from radio play because they contained uncleared samples.
| The Most Sampled Song Of All Time
You’ve heard it. It’s the most sampled drum break in history. Originally released in a 1969 recording by gospel and soul outfit The Winstons, the ‘Amen Break’ has been used in thousands of tracks across genres from hip-hop to drum and bass. It has been sampled by artists like N.W.A., The Prodigy, and the Beastie Boys. You may not have known its name, but you’d definitely recognise it if you heard it, which is why its ubiquity is so remarkable.
You can listen to the ‘Amen Break’ from The Winston’s. “Amen, Brother” here:
| How To Legally Sample Music
Obtaining permission to use a sample can be expensive, time-consuming and difficult but there are some things you can do to make the process as smooth as possible:
| Use Royalty-Free Samples
Royalty-free samples are those which have no copyright restrictions on them and can be used within your music freely. Samples from services such as Splice or Loopmasters are almost always royalty-free and can be used openly without permission.
| Find out if the song is copyrighted
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important not to skip this step! Just because the artist or album isn’t well known doesn’t mean they don’t have rights to the work. If you use a sample without permission, even unknowingly, there could be legal consequences.
| Contact the original artist for permission
If a song is copyrighted, the next step will be contacting the original artist and asking for their permission to sample their work. In some cases, it may be as simple as asking via email or social media if you can use their music for sampling purposes. But generally, there is more than one owner of copyright for a given track. This includes any artists who contributed to the creation of the song, as well as the record company involved.
When all else fails, contact ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers) or BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) with your query. They can help lead you in the right direction when it comes to getting permission from everyone involved with a particular song’s creation before sampling any part of it yourself.
Want To Know More?
Here at Live Aspects, we have dozens of useful lessons and tutorials created to enhance your music production skills and help speed up the learning process. You can access our huge range of music theory lessons and production tips and tricks here.