Music Sampling: The Definitive Guide (2022)

Education

Music Sampling: The Definitive Guide (2022)

This is the most comprehensive guide to music sampling online. With this expert-written guide by Tracklib, you learn everything you need to know. From finding samples to production techniques to the clearance process. Let’s chop it up about everything you need to know about sampling. You’ll be a pro after going through this guide.

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Tracklib

·

July 12, 2022

What is Music Sampling?

Let’s start with the basics. What is sampling?

Music sampling is reusing a piece from a sound recording (taking a literal “sample”; a snippet) in another recording. There’s a wide variety of techniques to process a sample. Including looping, chopping, layering, repitching, changing its tempo, reversing, splicing, and other ways to manipulate and recontextualize the existing sound(s). This can be done with hardware (digital samplers like the Akai MPC or Native Instruments’ Maschine MK3) and/or software (a digital audio workstation, or DAW in short, such as Ableton Live). But more on that later.

What is music sampling how to
what is interpolation sampling

When I replay a piece of recording and use that, is that also a ‘sample’?

That brings us to some more lingo. Sampling is the use of a portion of an existing recording. When you recreate a recording note for note or when you add new elements to an existing melody, then it’s called interpolation. Mind you: interpolations also have to be licensed and cleared to avoid copyright infringement. Later in this guide, we’ll explain the difference between getting permission for samples and for interpolations.

A Brief History of Sampling

Distant Origins: Splicing & Looping Tapes

The origins of repurposing existing recordings date as far back as the late 1940s, when French composers like Pierre Schaeffer started experimenting with splicing and looping tapes of recorded material to create new compositions. That technique would become known as musique concrète.

Other early pioneers include German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and French-American composer Edgard Varèse. That all happened decades before hip-hop DJs and producers would start to change the evolution of music by their turntablism and music sampling, one beat at a time.

pierre schaeffer studio
DJ Kool Herc merry go round

Before Hip-Hop, There Were Drum Breaks

In the early 1970s—before the genre and culture of “hip-hop” even had a name—DJs like Kool Herc started to extend breaks from funk and soul records to let the crowd dance longer. Kool Herc’s so-called Merry-Go-Round with two of the same records mixed together to prolong the drum breaks played an integral part in the birth of hip-hop.

A ‘Master of Ceremony’ (an ‘MC’ or ‘emcee’) would introduce the DJ and hype up the crowd during the parties; an early version of rapping as we know it since.

Hip-Hop: From Breaks to Beats

To bring the newborn sound of block parties to actual recordings released on vinyl, producers would sample breakbeats—and other elements—such as The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” and The Winston Brothers’ “Amen, Brother” made famous at block parties by DJs like Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, and Grandmaster Caz.

As with many innovations, hip-hop sampling was born from limitations. With digital samplers, people could create their own music and bring music to people’s homes without the need for a full studio, years of theoretical music education, or hiring musicians. The technical limitations of those early samplers and drum machines (eg. a short sample time), also forced creativity and ingenuity.

The music by producer Marley Marl is a key example: he reinvented the use of drum breaks when he found out he could isolate and rearrange drum sounds from any record, as opposed to ‘looping’ an existing break. That’s when he started chopping drums to rearrange drum patterns and create new beats.

DJ Marley Marl

From that golden era onwards, sampling continued to evolve as a true art form with an unlimited source of music to scour. To this day, sampling continues to play a significant role in popular music and the music industry as a whole.

Examples of Music Sampling

A visualization of last year’s biggest samples in popular music:

Sampling: Legal and Ethical Issues

How long can a sample legally be?

A common myth is that a sample is legal without permission as long as it’s shorter than six seconds. You wish! There’s no legal threshold here.

Is sampling music stealing?

Sampling is an artistic expression; a way to give music new life. As long as you treat sampling in a fair way and handle everything correctly, it’s not stealing. Full stop.

Is it cheating to use samples?

No! Why would sampling be “cheating” as opposed to playing an instrument? Sampling can be as original, intricate, ingenious, and distinctive as you want it to be. Case in point: sampling changed the face of music as we know it today. Keep on reading for more on sampling techniques, to get inspired.

Is sampling music legal?

Sampling music is legal, as long as you get permission for the sample usage from the original artists and/or copyright owners. Music is protected by copyright law, so reusing any portion of music—no matter how short or long—needs to be cleared and licensed. Luckily for you, here at Tracklib, you find 80K original songs available for legal, pre-cleared sampling. Use Tracklib as a go-to spot for digging so you don’t have to worry about clearances or copyright infringement.

Here’s a little taste:

Can you get sued for sampling a song?

You can get sued if you didn’t clear a sample or interpolation. However, with Tracklib, you are 100% covered and safe with samples. By sampling from the library of 80K+ original songs and multitracks, you cannot get sued for sampling. That's partly the reason why numerous productions these days are made with Tracklib.

Where do I start to find and contact the original artists and copyright holders to clear my samples?

Welcome to the maze called clearing samples. Choose your way forward:

THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE

You need to pay two types of licenses for a sample: for the use of the master sound recording (usually via a record label or directly via the artist), and a license for the publishing (related to the authors of the musical works: such as composers and songwriters, usually represented by a publisher). Both parties of rightsholders need to be tracked down—with the risk of not being able to get in touch, or them denying the inquiry. After all, the choice is completely up to them. For interpolations, usually, only a license from the creator(s) of the musical works is needed, as you don’t sample an existing sound recording.

Got in touch? Good. Then the negotiation starts, usually dictated by their demands based on your sample usage. This can range from an advance fee which can go from a hundred to thousands of dollars—PLUS a percentage of the royalties (think from 15% to 50%, if not more, depending on the length and recognizability of a sample). In specific cases in the past like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” (sampling Lou Reed) and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” (sampling The Rolling Stones), the cut of royalties was even 100% for the original artists!

In addition, a rollover fee based on sales might come into play. Sometimes the rightsholder also wants songwriting credit(s) publicly stated and added to the newly produced song. Beyoncé’s newest album, Renaissance, is a good example of this.

THE TRACKLIB ROUTE

All songs on Tracklib are pre-cleared. All you need is a subscription, a standardized sample license (from three price categories; most are in Category C for $50), and you know what the fee will be even before you download the audio. There’s no need to chase down rightsholders or to have negotiations. It’s as simple as that.

What is ‘fair use’ in sampling?

The fair use rights allow you to ‘copy’ (read: sample) a small portion of a copyrighted piece of audio for limited, practical use. Think of an educational purpose, or previewing a piece of music to comment on or criticize. A few factors weigh in when a case is reviewed in court based on a fair use claim:

  • The amount sampled. There’s no fixed rule here, but a few seconds versus an entire minute obviously change the definition of “fair.”
  • The new piece the ‘copy’ was used for, needs to be distinctive. Think of adding a new melody or additional instrumentation.
  • There’s no financial harm to the original copyrighted work or public promotion of said piece. For example, when you sample a classical record for a hip-hop beat, you appeal to an entirely new audience. Which is unfair to the original copyright holders.

Note that this is an oversimplified take on the definition of ‘fair use.’ As court cases have shown in the past, the legal side of things is far more complex… That’s why it’s better to stay on the safe side.

How to Find Samples?

Where to find songs to sample

In theory, you can find samples anywhere. Back in the days, sampling was all about crate-digging for vinyl records: dropping your needle till you find an isolated piece of music or a perfect loop. Ever since producers have shown that anything goes. From sampling straight from TV such as The 45 King’s beat for “Stan” by Eminem, to sampling off YouTube such as MF DOOM and Madlib have done in the past. Hell, you can then even sample album covers for your own cover art. Other sources include free sample packs, sample libraries, royalty-free sounds, and platforms that offer one-shots, loops, and other sounds.

where to find music samples
why sample royalty free audio

Why sample music if you can also use sample packs or royalty-free audio?

Sampling original music brings a sound and spirit to your production that can’t be recreated. From the sound of analog studio gear to the chemistry between musicians; those magical moments are captured on record. Real music lets you build off true skills by artists who have mastered their craft for decades.

Different Types of Samples

Sampling music can be done in many different ways. These are some of the most common go-to techniques and methods for producers.

Looping

Chopping / Rearranging

Layering

Pitching

Changing tempo (sped-up or slowed-down)

Time-stretching

Pitchshifting (time-independent or repitching)

Reversing

(Such as masterfully done by DJ Dahi on Kendrick Lamar’s “Father TIme,” using a Tracklib sample).

Resampling

Other types of manipulation

Add effects, equalize (EQ) frequencies, use filters… There's a wide array of options for digital music sampling and audio processing.

How to Sample Music in Easy Steps (Tutorial)

What are the rules for sampling songs?

The most important ground rule: you cannot sample music without permission. So always make sure you clear the samples you use. On a creative level, it’s all up to you: genres of music to sample or the production techniques to use… Music sampling means full creativity, no holds barred. You can even use interactive lessons on a platform like Melodics to learn how to sample and play instruments with confidence.

Where do I start sampling?

First, you have to get familiar with a digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice. Software like Ableton Live or FL Studio is usually among the options of good places to start. Both even offer free trials to start with music production and sampling!

How do you properly sample?

Sampling an existing song is one thing, but properly doing it, is another. Make sure that samples are processed in the right way using the right effects, plug-ins, and techniques. More on that can be found in our educational content and Sample Stories on the Tracklib blog.

Where do producers get their samples?

As music sampling traditions have shown us, producers can use any source to find samples. From YouTube to vinyl records to old VHS tapes—anything goes. But in this day and age, the internet of course offers countless options to find music to sample. Examples of popular samples include the drum break of “Amen Brother” by The Winston Brothers or “Nautilus” by Bob James.

What songs can I sample for free?

You can search for free sample packs or libraries of royalty-free sounds to sample audio without spending a penny. Some of those libraries and sounds are specifically made for music sampling. Artists like Shuko & BASTi even compose new music with the purpose of sampling in mind.

Where to get real and original samples of music?

We don’t mean this in a sense of shameless self-promotion, but it’s simply what it is: Tracklib is the world’s first service where you can legally sample real and original music. Music that’s all-cleared and ready for one-click licensing, so you don’t have to worry about using an uncleared sample.

What's the best sampling software for beginners?

Which digital audio workstation (DAW) is best for you, depends on your personal workflow, optionally the hardware you use, and the type of producer you are. Some of our recommended options are Ableton LiveFL StudioLogic ProPro ToolsNative InstrumentsKomplete, and Propellerhead’s Reason.

Do producers have to clear samples?

The answer is plain and simple: yes. Even if you make a release available for free, technically you still need to clear samples.

How much does it cost to clear a sample?

This depends on various factors such as the type of sample, the length of the sample usage, the recognizability, and how known an original artist or the sampled song is. The negotiation is usually dictated by the rightsholders’ demands based on such factors. Costs can go from an advance fee of a hundred to thousands of dollars—PLUS a percentage of the royalties (think from 15% to 50%, if not more). In addition, a rollover fee based on sales might come into play…

Can artists or rightsholders deny a request to get a sample cleared?

Even if you manage to track them down and get in touch: the original creator(s) and/or rightsholder(s) are still in the position to leave you hanging. Whether or not to accept an inquiry, is fully up to them. However, by using Tracklib you don’t have to worry about steep fees, permissions, or the fine print of clearance contracts… The pre-cleared samples are guaranteed good to go—without hidden fees!

music sampling guide

Sampling Tips from the Tracklib community

Learn from music production communities like Tracklib’s dedicated user base, to get insights on where to start:

Who is Your Favorite Sample-based Producer?

favorite sample based producers

Most Sampled Decades & Genres

most sampled genres

What is Your Favorite DAW for Sampling?

best DAW for sampling

Conclusion

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