What is sampling?
In music technology, sampling is the technique of digitally encoding music or sound and reusing it as part of a composition or recording.
This started to become popular in the 1980’s but synthesisers and samplers were limited by the ability of the technology of the day and early samplers would only be able to record (or sample) a few seconds of audio. I got my first sampler in 1990s, the EMU ESI-32. It had a whopping 2 MB of RAM (about 11 seconds at 44.1kHz stereo).
This meant people using early samplers had to get creative and would have to loop small sections of audio and manipulate them, by slowing them down, speeding them up, filtering them, reducing the audio quality etc. to make new usable sounds.
Nothing sounded massively realistic due to the limitations, but moving forward to 2019, samplers are generally computer-based and the amount of sample that can be recorded and played back is massive now. Gigabytes of sound can be stored and streamed on command. Full and realistic instrument emulation and full vocal parts are no issue at all to modern samplers.
The video below is a great demonstration of the power of sampling.
What is the problem with sampling?
Well, it depends on your views. You can see it as creative or stealing. Personally, I see it as creative and a wonderful tool for modern music makers. The stealing aspect can be resolved simply by getting permission.
Sampling is artistically creative, but morally you are taking something you don’t own and reusing it in your own work, possibly with the intention to generate money from it. When somebody creates something new from something you have created, this is known as a derivative work.
Typically, it will be a vocal hook, drum loop or a riff that is exposed on a track and easy to sample (or cut out).
Artistically, it is very creative and music producers can produce great and inspiring results by using samples of old songs in new mixes or versions of songs.
The simple solution to the moral dilemma is to get permission from the owner. However, this is easier said than done.
Getting permission from the owner
This can be relatively easy with independent composers, but almost impossible for mainstream music. Sampling mainstream music is another topic.
In theory, it should be simple enough to get permission once you have contacted the composer/owner, but contacting the owner is often a massive challenge, especially with mainstream music.
What is the solution?
I know it may be a creativity killer, as you may have heard a track and have been inspired by an element you heard, however, you are going to have to assume that you probably can’t get permission to use it.
To avoid the crushing disappointment of making a new mix or song that you cannot get clearance to release, I would suggest only starting work with samples you know you can use.
The simple way to do this is to use sample packs or services that are set up to provide production elements for music producers and composers.
As a composer, I am a big fan of Splice. They literally have millions of sounds that you can license and use in your music. There are many other services out there, but Splice is one of my favourites.
Can I use..?
Quite often we get asked whether a section of our music can be used to create a new piece of music. This is a track we have available in our music library that we have had several requests for.
As you can hear it has an African chant at the beginning. We get people asking if they can sample this, however, we are unable to grant permission for it.
In this example, I can’t tell you whether the African chants are recorded live by the composer of the track or whether it’s a sample they have used.
If the composer used a sample, he cannot give permission as he does not own the sample. If he recorded the chants himself he has full right to allow or not allow reuse of it in someone else’s music or remix.
Sampling Royalty-Free Music
Just because it is called royalty-free music, it does not mean it is completely free to use. Our composers send us music that is available for use in media projects. For example, use in video, TV, YouTube videos, adverts, films and more.
We are able to offer a license which allows the music to be synchronised (combined with) media projects. However, our license does not allow users to create derivative works, which means it cannot be used as a sample to create a new music track. This is typically true of all royalty-free library music but terms will vary from library to library.
Again, the best way as a music creator is to use services that provide samples and sample packs. Alternatively, record your own sounds if possible. You can’t just assume that you can use a sound just because you can chop it out of a track. Doing this could at best leave you with a track you can’t release or worse still land you in a law court.
Feel free to comment below if you are a music creator. What is your experience of sampling, what are your favourite sample sources? Have you ever had your work sampled without your permission? What was your first sampler capable of?
Also, please share this article with anyone you think will enjoy it!