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Tracklib Presents State of Sampling 2019

What’s the overall state of sampling right now? How common is sampling in today's music? What's being sampled? The Tracklib team dug deep into statistics from 2019's music to answer all these questions.

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How Much We Sample

Sampling has been growing from the obvious genres to becoming a natural ingredient in all kinds of modern music. How much of the music in 2019 is made with samples from other songs and what genres tend to sample the most? Let’s find out.

15% of the songs on Billboard in 2019 contained samples

This year, 15% of the songs on Billboard Hot 100 contained samples. A total of 17 samples in 15 of the songs, with some containing more than one. The biggest song of the year, Lil’ Nas X’s 'Old Town Road' is built on a sample from Nine Inch Nail’s '34 Ghosts IV'.

Over the last ten years, the percentage of samples in the biggest songs has been fairly consistent. It’s usually between 15-25%, with variations depending on who the biggest artists and genres were that year. 2019 has been a big year for pop - and even pop artists sample (and get sampled)!

All genres sample

Looking by genre, we can see that sampling is most common in hip-hop. No surprise there, as sampling has always been an integral part of hip-hop. 32% of this year’s biggest hip-hop songs contained samples. R&B also had a 20% increase so roughly a quarter of all R&B songs contain samples.

More than half of all albums contain samples

59% of the top 100 albums this year contained samples. A total of 321 samples appeared on those albums, which translates to more than 3 samples per album on average - across all genres. Even the latest albums from major pop artists like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande contain samples.

The album on the Top 100 list containing the most samples was Tyler, the Creator's 'IGOR' with 13 samples.

  • Fun Fact:
    The sample on Billie Eilish's ’My Strange Addiction’ originates from an actual strange addiction. The song's intro samples popular comedy series 'The Office', which Billie has admitted to being a strange addiction, having watched all 201 episodes over 12 times!

83% of 2019’s top producers sample

In today's digital age, sampling is a key part of the workflow for most big producers. Of the top 30 producers in 2019 (with the most producer credits on Top 100), 60% sampled on at least one song released during 2019, and at least 83% have released music containing samples during their careers.

What We Sample

From Old Town Road's country guitar to Middle Child's Philly Soul horns - this year, musicians and producers have been using samples to redefine genres and truly create new sounds. This section is all about what music, genres and decades are most popular to sample.

Average year to sample: 1998

We're moving back in time. Averaging the release years of all the songs sampled, we get the year of 1998. This is actually 4 years older than last year's average of 2002. In fact, every genre on Billboard sampled older songs this year compared to last.

One eye-catching fact is that pop sampled the oldest songs on average, with the average landing all the way back in 1993.

2010s is the most popular decade to sample from

Despite the fact that artists this year on average sample older songs, the most common decade to sample is actually the 2010s. Even more surprising, this has been the case for the last 5 years.

There doesn't seem to be much love for the 80s this year though, with none of the bigger songs sampling from the decade. Last year no songs on the Top 100 sampled from the 70s, can we expect the pattern to continue with no big songs sampling the 90s next year?

Fewer hip-hop samples this year

Hip-hop is still the most common genre to sample, but much less so than last year. Sampling R&B/Soul/Funk grew in popularity, increasing from 12% last year to 33% this year. Last year we saw plenty of samples from online videos, such as Instagram and Facebook. In fact, 14% of all samples last year came from social media, while this year 0% did. Maybe we are becoming less social after all?

Hardly anyone samples drum breaks

During the 80s and 90s, everyone sampled drum breaks. Nowadays, most producers tend to program their own drums. Only 3% of the samples on the Top 100 Albums were of drum breaks. This goes for Tracklib users as well: less than 2% of the tracks we sell are separate drum tracks. It’s actually our category that declined the most this year.

But there's one area of music that still loves to sample drum breaks and in particular 'Amen Brother' by The Winstons from 1969. In Drum & Bass (and related genres), this classic break is still a cornerstone and it was used in more than 100 songs this year.

Sampling is getting more diverse

With today's easy access to obscure and international tracks on Youtube and other streaming services, the songs sampled are getting more and more diverse.

Our users are following this trend. The number of different genres our users have sampled has almost tripled compared to last year, and so has the range of countries our music sampled. Western African, Middle-Eastern and western European music has seen the largest growth this year.

While this is making the job for traditional clearance experts a lot harder - it is just as easy when you find the samples here on Tracklib.

Trends in Sampling

Trends move faster in music than almost any other industry. Some trends stick around or evolve and some disappear before you even realized what they were. Here are a few trends around samples this year.

Trend #1: Spreading the gospel

Kanye West’s 'Jesus Is King' is this year’s prime example of gospel in hip-hop music. It marks an exodus of producers towards gospel samples: here on Tracklib, it’s even the most requested music by our users and we’ve heard several producers predict that we’ll see many big songs with gospel samples next year.

A few months ago, Chance The Rapper's 'The Big Day' (another big release with clear gospel influences) got beaten to the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 by the debut of ‘Christian rapper' NF. Religious music seems to be a winning concept right now, both in terms of content and samples.

  • Fun Fact:
    When Chance The Rapper finally released his mixtape 'Acid Rap' on streaming services, the popular song ’Juice’ didn't make it due to sample clearance issues. On brand, Chance managed to turn a bad situation around by replacing ’Juice’ with a 30-second soundbite of him explaining the situation and urging his fans to still stream the track since all revenue would go to charity.

Trend #2: Horns are hot

Sampling horns is nothing new in hip-hop (think Tom Scott on Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s 'They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)' or Menahan Street Band on Jay-Z's 'Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)...”)'. But it was certainly a trend on the rise this year compared to the last few years. Charting hits this year by the likes of J. Cole, Young Thug, Tyler the Creator, EARTHGANG, Denzel Curry, Trippie Redd & Lizzo all showed their love for the brass section for added power or melody.

Trend #3: The ongoing rise of lo-fi

A new wave of producers has been conquering the internet for the last few years. Heavily inspired by greats like J Dilla and Japanese ‘godfather of beats’ Nujabes, they generally create dusty, loop-driven, sample-heavy "chill lo-fi beats". Playlists, live streams, and even vinyl records within this subgenre now reach millions of daily listeners. This year, key player Chillhop Music’s 'lofi hip hop beats - music to study/relax to' Spotify playlist even broke the 1 million followers mark and we see no signs of it slowing down. It's a definite favorite for us here at the office as well!

In the News

Samples and sample clearance is often a hot topic in the press. From decade old legal battles to a very ambitious Mixtape project, here are some big news stories around samples this year.

Logic's "Fuck sample clearance"

On the verge of the release of his 2019 album, 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind', rapper Logic hopped on Twitter to share his frustrations about sample clearances. The last straw for him was an interpolation of A Tribe Called Quest’s 'Can I Kick It?', for which he had to give up 100% of the publishing to the estate of Lou Reed, the original maker of the infamous bassline (from 'Walk On The Wild Side') on the 90s ATCQ classic. "Finding out Tribe owns zero publishing and I have to give up 100 percent of my publishing to Lou Reed and not Quest, is insanity," he wrote in a Twitter rant which led to thousands of comments and debate.

Kraftwerk wins after two decades

A nearly 20-year long court battle over a 2-second sample got resolved this year. Good news for original creators (Kraftwerk, in this case), worrisome for sample-based producers. The European Court of Justice decided that a 2-second loop of Kraftwerk’s 'Metall Auf Metall' was indeed unrightfully used in 1997 track 'Nur Mir' by German rapper and singer Sabrina Setlur. Her producers claimed it was fitting with “freedom of arts” rules, which allows samples that are “in a modified form unrecognizable to the ear.” But this court ruling made the vague grey area of sampling legislation a darker shade of grey for producers… 

  • Fun Fact:
    Tyler The Creator’s song ’Puppet’ had an unusual clearance issue with its sample of ’Today’ by 70s rock band Czar. Mick Ware (once composer of the band and now a furniture restorer) who took the call from Sony, believed the request to be a scam. It was first after his grandchildren had convinced him Tyler was a real artist that he finally gladly accepted.

The new bragging: Tory Lanez loses money with Chixtape 5

In November Tory Lanez released the fifth installment of the 'Chixtape' series, sampling only 2000s R&B hits. According to his manager, it took Tory ten months to create his 'Chixtape 5' album—and equally as long for his team to clear all the samples. Hold tight: they needed to go through a total of 19 lawyers and 29 songwriters (excluding the sample writers) to clear over 40 samples which, according to Tory Lanez, resulted in them losing money with this release.Tory Lanez didn’t mention an exact number spent on clearances, but 'Chixtape 5' debuted at #2 on the US Billboard Album charts with 83.000 album-equivalent units. So do the math of still losing money with such a successful release...

Bittersweet victory

Ultimate earworm track 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' by The Verve is a monstrous hit since its release in 1997. It’s still in heavy rotation—but The Verve hasn’t made a dime off of it. All the royalties and publishing rights went straight to The Rolling Stones, as the track samples the strings from an orchestral version of their song 'The Last Time'. Until this year. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over all their publishing of the track to The Verve. “A truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do,” said The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft during a lifetime achievement prize acceptance speech back in May. Faith in (musical) humanity restored. 

Big Samples in 2019

From Japanese pop to Nine Inch Nails and Sound of Music. These are some of the biggest and most talked about samples in 2019.

Nine Inch Banjo

'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X was without a doubt the biggest song of 2019. Period. The track includes a sample from '34 Ghosts IV' by industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails; as far away from country music as it gets. Still, 'Old Town Road' spearheaded the genre of "country rap" into the mainstream. Incredibly enough, Lil Nas X originally bought the beat for 'Old Town Road' for only $30 via the online store of Dutch producer YoungKio. The incredible success of the track—and the many stories around its original sample and creators—shows that sampling music is as vital as ever. 

J. Cole's bargain

J.Cole’s Grammy-nominated and Billboard top 5 track 'Middle Child' features a Tracklib sample. Cole and Co-Producer T-Minus used the horns from a 1973 Philly Soul track, licensed it for $500 and cleared it officially through Tracklib. Since they already knew there wouldn’t be any issues, the sample was cleared just hours before the song was released. All it took was five clicks and a bargain to get to a four times Platinum hit. Fingers crossed for the 2020 Grammy for 'Best Rap Performance'.

  • Fun Fact:
    Madlib & Freddie Gibb's album 'Bandana' was finally released this year, but it was a hard-fought battle. Containing dozens of samples, they spent almost a year clearing all of them. Previously claiming he doesn’t even remember the samples he used (and subsequently getting sued in 2015), Madlib sure seemed to be more strict with clearing his samples this time around.

The Sound of Music takes 90%

“Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines / Buy myself all of my favorite things,” sings Ariana Grande on this year’s major hit '7 Rings'. Ironically, the song itself isn’t necessarily a cash cow: 90% of all royalties go directly to the estates of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the original 'My Favorite Things' song in 1959 for The Sound Of Music, which Ariana Grande interpolates. The strings in the beat interpolate the original song from the iconic musical drama film. And so does Ariana’s mention of “my favorite things."

Unreleased but still #1

The track 'Kid Cudi' (a.k.a. 'Pissy Pamper') by Young Nudy & Pi'erre Bourne featuring Playboi Carti remains officially unreleased to this day due to sample clearance issues, sampling a track by Japanese singer Mai Yamane from 1980. But thanks to a fan and high school sophomore, this year the track went viral on Spotify, reaching #1 on Spotify’s United States Viral 50 chart. An unofficial upload on Spotify, under the fake name of 'Kid Cuti' by Lil Kambo, reached a staggering total of two million streams until the streaming police found out and deleted the track later that week. 

Summary

Sampling is alive and well - and some of the biggest songs this year contained samples. It’s been very fun to investigate the State of Sampling and we will continue doing so annually for many years to come.

It’s hard to predict what next year will look like since the world of music keeps moving at a faster and faster pace. However we’re proud that we’ve built a platform that enables more and more producers to release sample-based music without fear of getting sued for what they love doing.

Can’t wait to hear your music in 2020. Happy Sampling!

For this piece, we mainly looked at Billboard’s End of Year lists for the top songs and albums. This means it doesn't include every single song or albums that appeared Billboard’s charts throughout the year, only the top 100 for the full year. We counted direct samples and interpolations from previously released music as samples. However references of lyrics has not been counted. Worth noting is that since we only examined the biggest hits of the year, it doesn’t necessarily represent the statistics of sampling as a whole. It’s also worth noting that these are only the samples we were able to discover and there are definitely quite a few we missed. Besides Billboard's charts, other sources were Chartmetric, ASCAP, Wikipedia, Whosampled, Sample Spotters and our own Tracklib data and user survey.

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