Sampling has developed as an art form in itself and interweaves genres and artists through evolving musical quilts; but when the brush is wet with legal and ethical issues, how does it prevail and where does it stand?
The art of musical sampling is a historical and above all modern tale. Its evolution is in the essence of all authoritative creation: to draw inspiration from the creators and artists who came before it and to exercise this power to paint your own image with the methodology and the vision that you have absorbed from your experiences of everything. the art and creation that you have witnessed throughout your life.
But beyond ingesting an author’s prose or finding resolute influence in the music you hear; sampling is the method of literally taking that work and making it your own. It’s about reworking something in which you see potential and bringing it in a new light, one found from your own vision.
Sampling found a vocation through hip-hop as disc jockeys took disco hits and funky beats and bent them to their liking. They took the music they loved and moved them to the backseat, with the track itself no longer in the foreground, they put the model down for the MCs to rap on. A new form of appreciation developed in the way people were able to make songs their own, like a newly realized whole.
The decades have progressed, as has the flowering process of sampling. To the work of producers reworking records in brand new mixes, to vocal chops merged into dance hymns, to the complete deconstruction of elements that could be picked and placed in an entirely different context.
Now here we are today with years of process and increasing possibilities with each generation behind us and the art booming. There are entire websites dedicated to creating and distributing samples that were designed to be used in leads as their own ingredient. Sampling has come a long way and the process can be found in music spanning all genres, from the biggest bands to the nascent chamber producer.
Taking directly from other sources means of course that sampling may be a legal gray area. This can be as simple as asking the original copyright owner for legal rights to use its content, but most of the time, it’s not that simple.
For starters, contacting the original copyright owner is not an achievable task for many creators, and it becomes more and more difficult as the source material becomes more publicized. Then there is a deeper ethical argument to be had when the sample has been reworked to the point where it is entirely abstract from the original – then is it still the property of the sampled creator / copyright holder?
Legally, yes. But of course, it’s an argument that finds staunch supporters on both sides of the issue. Barriers to obtaining legal rights to use samples are, however, being eased. There are now dedicated song and sample license websites with tracks that open up access to this type of application to people all over the world.
But there’s not always a guarantee that the sampler will just get permission to go the official route, and it’s also not ubiquitous for all music or all types of sampling. It’s best to assert this position before shedding blood and tears on a lump – if you plan to release it commercially.
What is the state of sampling in music today?
Sampling is booming in the modern market and is more common than ever, although you might not always recognize it. From hip-hop artists who continue to reimagine the process their ancestors brought about with chopped rap beats – to some of the world’s greatest pop artists using the endless catalog of music that brings them to life. has preceded.
A recent study from Tracklib (a great source of songs that can be bought and sampled legally) found that 15% of all songs on Billboard contained samples last year. In fact, over the past decade, up to a quarter of the songs listed by Billboard have contained samples each year. Biggest song of 2019 used a sample!
The Lil ‘Nas X hit song “Old Town Road” used a sample of Nine Inch Nails’ “Ghosts IV” and is a perfect example of how music can be recreated from its source material to become a brand new. I’m sure Nine Inch Nails is upset with their cut of the track’s massive success as well. In fact, NIN’s Trent Reznor won a Country Music Award for being listed as a writer on the track Country / Rap.
There are no limits in the 20th century to this production tool. Pop artists like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande use samples. It is a technique that is now used in all areas of the widely open musical tapestries of the 21st century. It is constantly being reinvented and applied in new ways. Find out how much sampling was used across all major genres last year:
Sampling is more important this decade than it ever was, right after the 1970s – although people have been sampling since the 1950s. It is being used to such an effect now that most of the time you don’t. won’t even know when a song has been sampled and it has almost become an art in itself to find obscure sample sources.
It is also interesting to note the evolution of the use of sampling. When hip-hop made it so popular, its primary use was to capture drum breaks to provide a backdrop rhythm. Now, with advanced music production tools for creating drums, sampling has become entirely more creative by taking vocal chops or melodies and reworking them. Just look at how Kanye reinvented vocal sampling in the early 2000s.
Sampling can cause problems, but for the most part it has become a full-fledged instrument in the same way as DAWs. In fact, Tracklib also found that over half of the top 100 albums contained samples last year.
If you’re sampling, you just need to make sure you’re following the unwritten code of ethics related to it – and more importantly, the very written related copyright laws. It is an art form, an appreciation, an instrument, a brush, and it has been one of the greatest musics of recent years.
If you have no idea how copyright laws affect your music or the music of other people that you might want to use, you can read our essential guide for artists here: https://routenote.com/blog/protect-your-music-a-guide-for-artists-on-copyright/