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Guest post: A Guide to Tracklib
Sampling

Guest post: A Guide to Tracklib

Aaron Turner is a producer/artist creating vaporwave, future funk and lofi hip hop who recently discovered Tracklib. Get his thoughts on being a sample based producer in today's era - and his experience licensing the samples for his new album through Tracklib. This guest post is filled with great advice, tips and perspectives for bedroom producers who'd like to license - and properly release - their sample-packed projects.

By Tracklib

Yo! I’m Aaron! On the internet of music, I go by Groovy Kaiju / Groovy Godzilla (Vapor Wave / FutureFunk), Aviscerall (Lofi Hip-Hop), Marquice Turner (Electronic / Future Bass / Downtempo), and more to come I’m sure. I recently released my newest VaporWave / Future Funk album “Still Groovy” under my Groovy Kaiju alias. This is my first album that I fully own the rights to, because I did all of my (heavy) sampling through Tracklib. 🦖

I’ve been making sample based music from my bedroom for about 10 years. I love sample culture. Whether it be digging through vinyl, searching through YouTube, chopping samples, or even discovering samples used in some of my favorite songs.

However, sampling has a lot of ethical and legal implications that an artist may or may not be respecting in their work. This is because rightful sampling, which is commonplace in modern music, is done through connections and deals for larger labels and artists. Getting the rights to, or clearing, a sample has historically been inaccessible for most independent musicians like bedroom producers. 😔

Tracklib is a relatively new service that allows bedroom producers to truly own their own music by having an accessible library of music that anyone can clear. I feel like Tracklib has had a huge positive impact on my workflow, and completely changes how my music can grow.

In this article I’m going to share my process of how I distributed my newest album “Still Groovy”, end-to-end. This process includes: sending my song to my distributor (Distrokid), handling my works registration (SongTrust), handling my recording registration (SoundExchange), and clearing the samples (Tracklib).

But first, I want to explore why bedroom producers like myself haven’t been able to clear most of their samples. 🤔

Why aren’t Bedroom Producers Clearing Samples?

Bedroom Studio of my close friend, bedroom Lofi HipHop producer, Astroblk.
Bedroom Studio of my close friend, bedroom Lofi HipHop producer, Astroblk.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, copyright person, or music distribution expert. This post is NOT sponsored by anything mentioned in this article. I’m just some bedroom producer, who is hyped on their new workflow, and trying to share it with others.

Bedroom producers aren’t clearing their samples, because Bedroom producers do not have the ability to make a deal with copyright holders. If you search “how to clear a sample,” you will often find articles like this one; where they explain a lengthy, confusing process and then admit that you probably will not even get a response from a copyright holder unless you are a large artist or have connections (most of us do not). Even if you did have the correct connections, the cost of clearing that sample could be unobtainable for someone who is making music as a hobby, is barely scraping by on their art, or has a part-time job to get them by. 🔒

No matter however you feel about it ethically, it is commonly known NOT clearing a sample goes against U.S copyright law. You will often see jaw-droppingly large lawsuits for artists who did not properly clear a sample. Looking at those lawsuit numbers really drives fear in a lot of bedroom producers, as most independent musicians could never pay the amount of money from a copyright case on their own music.

Because of this fear, I’ve never charged for my music or put it on any major streaming services like Spotify. Even when my music was becoming somewhat popular and notable, I knew I could never take it seriously and I had to keep it as a hobby. I knew in that environment, I would never truly own my own music. 😭

I would like to mention there have been some attempts, or at least side channels, to give bedroom producers samples that they can claim is cleared. Personal favorites of mine have been:

  • Free Music Archive. Which is a website providing music for free, that is licensed under Creative Commons. The website’s intention is not primarily for sampling; however, if you can find a song with a sample friendly license, the sample could be considered cleared.
  • Converse Sample Library. Which was a collection of studio recorded music and sounds that were meant to be sampled and used freely in other’s music. It seems to have been shutdown, but is now available as a Splice Pack.

However, these alternatives weren’t always the best. Free Music Archive definitely had some great stuff in it, but a lot of it was very experimental, or stuff that wouldn’t jump out at you as “sampleable.” Converse Sample Library was more of a “fleshed-out sample pack.” Instead of sampling sections of a completed song like most producers would do, Converse Sample Library offered very short stems in a band session. Some of these would come together for some really nice samples, but there wasn’t much relative to samples you’d probably see in most “good” sampled songs.

For the community, this was kind of the whole story. Though, I’ve heard that some established labels were able to get around this, by passing around a hard drive for their producers which was a library of songs that the label had already struck a deal with the copyright holder(s) of the songs. For over a decade, I’ve wished that bedroom producers like myself had some type of service that offered a clear way to sample a song from some type of library. 🙏

When I started working on “Still Groovy”, I found Tracklib. I immediately knew it would completely change how I could make music.

Introducing Tracklib

A screenshot of the Tracklib Website, How It Works page.
A screenshot of the Tracklib Website, How It Works page.

Tracklib describes themselves as “the world’s first record store for sampling”. At a high level, Tracklib is a website / service with a searchable library of songs with purchasable licences. 🎉

How this works is that Tracklib negotiates deals with copyright holders for a collection of their songs. Each song they negotiate a license for, gets put into a category. Each category of song has a different upfront cost, and percentage of revenue you must share back with Tracklib and the copyright holders. The percentage of revenue is determined by how much of the original song you sample (a maximum of 60 seconds), but the upfront cost is always the same.

For example, “Still Groovy” is a VaporWave / Future Funk album. VaporWave is known for its exploration of “plunderphonics”, and uses of heavy sampling. Thus, I definitely got close to that 60 second sample maximum, but was able to fit all of my songs in without too much trouble. All of the samples I chose for “Still Groovy” were Category C, which is the cheapest and most common category of Tracklib Songs. So taking a look at the chart on the Tracklib “How it works” page. We can see that I will be paying an upfront $2 per sample download, upfront $50 per sample licence, and 20% revenue I make through a song on “Still Groovy”.

If you wanted to release a 10 song album, you could expect to pay an upfront ~$520 (~$620 if you also need to register with Songtrust, which we will explore later). Revenue share on a VaporWave / FutureFunk album would probably be about %20. Genres that do not sample as heavily, like Lofi Hip-Hop, could probably fit under 15 seconds of sample per song, and revenue share 10%. Not every financial situation is the same, and this is definitely not a small price. However, considering this is all cheaper than most modern/popular smartphones I’d consider this affordable. 😄

Therefore, after understanding how Tracklib works, reading through a ton of additional Tracklib help articles, and emailing customer support, I learned Tracklib was the service I have been dreaming of for years. Tracklib is clear on how you can obtain the rights to your samples, and “somewhat” affordable for someone who is very passionate about creating and releasing music. I immediately started digging through the library, downloading songs, and getting to work on “Still Groovy”. Once I had finished the album using songs from Tracklib, it was time to release them. 📼

Releasing “Still Groovy”, an Album Entirely Sampled through Tracklib

The Tracklib Website Interface for an active sample license on one of my songs.
The Tracklib Website Interface for an active sample license on one of my songs.

Once I finished my album using only samples from Tracklib, I was S T O K E D. 😃 And then came time to actually start clearing them through the TrackLib interface. Clearing a sample through Tracklib is straightforward, but I would also say it is also a bit difficult. I did have a few hiccups when trying to read help articles and understand what I actually needed to, so I am hoping this section of the article makes things go much smoother! As quick overview, in order to clear a sample through Tracklib you will need:

  • The sample recording purchased from Tracklib (usually ~$2 per sample).
  • Purchase the License fee (For Category C samples, $50 per sample).
  • An account with a Publishing Rights Organisation to handle Works Registration. Tracklib recommends Songtrust. ($100 one time account creation fee).
  • An account with a Collective Management Organisation to handle Recording Registration. Tracklib mentions SoundExchange for US. (Free to make an account, but you need to send a voided check).

To clear your first sample you will need to have ~$152 on hand (~$52 each sample after), and be ready with all of your personal information to make some accounts. I’m going to explain this process with the assumption that you have only ever released music on more underground platforms like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, and distribution services like Distrokid (Recommended by Tracklib). I also recommend that you read this whole process first before following it, as some steps can become easier if you do some external items first. 👀

Here’s a step-by-step as I am literally clearing a sample through Tracklib as I write this:

  1. Register the song with Tracklib (Top Nav > Your Songs > Register New Song). You will to the following: enter the name of your song, choose the song that you sampled (that you had purchased from Tracklib), choose how much of the original song that you sampled (up to 2, 15, 60 seconds), enter the timestamps of each sampled section, and what was sampled in that section. Since you need to report how much and what you sampled, I definitely recommend keeping track of this while building your song. Since I use FL Studio, I tend to just keep all this information in FL NoteBook. 📝
  2. Pay the sample license fee. Your newly registered song will now appear in Your Songs. Click the Licence button, read the agreement, fill out the short form, and pay for the sample.
  3. Fill out additional song information. After paying the sample fee, you will be placed into a new form. The first step is entering information on the song. You will need to re-enter the song title, add the Artist(s) for the song, enter the duration of the song, and upload an .mp3 for the song (the form appears to only take .mp3, no .wav). 🎵
  4. Register with SongTrust, Get your IPI number. SongTrust has a $100 fee to add a writer to your account, which is how you will register songs in your name. SongTrust will have you register with a Publishing Rights Organization (Tracklib mentions BMI and ASCAP for US artists). This process in total will take a handful of business days to get your IPI number. Therefore, I’d recommend starting this step sooner, probably before you want to clear the sample. This step only needs to be done once.
  5. Add yourself to the Songwriters and Publishers. Most of this information will already be filled out. If you are the only artist on the track, you will click the “Add new writer or publisher”. You will fill out your information, add your IPI number, and add yourself as a writer. The “Share %” should be a value that adds up to 100% for all artists. For example, if you are the only artist, and you sample up to 60 seconds (where Tracklib gets a 20% share), you would then enter 80%. Then, set yourself as the writer to connect to Tracklib, and you are done with this section! 🧍
  6. Handle your Works Registration. If you are registered with SongTrust, you would use SongTrust’s service to register your song. The experience of converting the “Share %” per service is VERY confusing. In my experience and through e-mails with Sontrust and Tracklib, Songtrust only wants to know about writers and they should add up to 100%. For example, let’s say you have a sample up to 60 seconds and have an 80% share from the last step. When you register with songtrust, you will enter yourself as an 80% share. Then, you will do the math to set the remaining 20% to the writers in the correct ratio. If there is only one other writer, then they would get the remaining 20%. These writers are added with the “Add a new outside co-writer” button on SongTrust. Back on Tracklib, you would choose the Publishing Rights Organization you registered with (for example, ASCAP). Then, click the box to confirm that you registered the song. NOTE: Songtrust will eventually give you an ISWC number, which you should go back and enter in the ISWC field when received.
  7. Register with SoundExchange / Handle Recording Registration. In this step, you would want to register with a Collective Management Organisation (Tracklib mentions SoundExchange for US). In my experience with SoundExchange, there were some things that I wished I had known beforehand. SoundExchange will require a picture of your I.D, and a picture of a Voided check to confirm your bank account information (so they can pay you). This will also take a handful of business days to create your account. Therefore, I’d recommend starting this step sooner, probably before you want to clear the sample. After you handle this, you can then go back to Tracklib, and confirm your recording registration. 🎙️
  8. Upload your song to your distributor. Interestingly, the next step we will need to do is register / upload our song to our distributor. This is because for the “Distribution”step in Tracklib, Tracklib will need the ISRC number from your Distributor. Therefore, register with a Distributor if you have not already (Tracklib recommends Distrokid). Then, if you are using Distrokid, you will want to upload your song to be distributed. After this step, you can make things a lot easier for yourself by adding Tracklib as a part of the release on Distrokid, to automatically send them the appropriate share of income that your song makes. After a few business days, you will be able to get the ISRC number from your distributor. It is very important that you schedule your song for release on a day that gives you time to register the ISRC number back to Tracklib, before the song goes live and starts earning income. Personally, I would recommend putting your releases a month out, as Distrokid recommends in their UI. Also, one month should be plenty of time to register your ISRC number. 💿
  9. Register your ISRC number in the “Distribution” section of Tracklib. After a few days, and once Distrokid has given your ISRC number, you can now register this with Tracklib. Go back to your sample license form, enter the Distribution model, choose your distributor, enter your ISRC number, and confirm that you have released your song. NOTE: Tracklib requires a specific format for the ISRC number, and you may have to insert the dashes yourself.
  10. Get your sample licence! The final step is to just confirm that everything is finalized and correct, and then get the license! Congrats, you just cleared your first sample! 😎🎉

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m really happy I finally have a way to make music that I not only enjoy making, but is also entirely mine. I think there are ways we can improve upon the process of clearing samples, as Tracklib still has a lot of rough edges that I think some people will not want to work with. However, I feel that services like Tracklib provide a great entry point for bedroom producers of sample-based genres like Lofi HipHop and VaporWave; lifting the ceiling for how and where a producer’s music can grow. 💪

To wrap up my story with “Still Groovy”, I did my first ever physical release! I worked with a close friend of mine who runs their own VaporWave record label, Pacific Plaza Records. We worked together to do my very first run of cassettes! And yes, I said cassettes, people in VaporWave still love them haha! For my first run of my physical music, they sold very well! A lot of the VaporWave scene, and fans of mine, really came together to let me know how much they loved the album, and it meant the world to me! Within the first day, we already sold about 60% of the total copies! At the time of this writing, we only have ~15 cassettes left! 📼

“Still Groovy” on cassette by my friends at Pacific Plaza Records
“Still Groovy” on cassette by my friends at Pacific Plaza Records

Thank YOU very much for reading this article! It’s definitely a long one, and I hope you got something out of it. As always, I’m more than happy to continue this conversation! Feel free to reach out over Twitter, or Instagram! I wish you good health and good vibes, especially in these challenging times! Peace! 👋

Huge shoutout to Astroblk and Netnavi for the Article review and help. They make some amazing Lofi HipHop and are close friends of mine, please take the time to check them out. :)

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