Sampling (music)

In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or element of a new recording. This is typically done with a sampler, which can be a piece of hardware or a computer program on a digital computer as in digital sampling. Sampling is also possible with tape loops or with vinyl records on a phonograph.

Often "samples" consist of one part of a song, such as a break, used in another, for instance the use of the drum introduction from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" in songs by the Beastie Boys, Mike Oldfield and Erasure, and the guitar riffs from Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" in Tone-Loc's "Funky Cold Medina". "Samples" in this sense occur often in hip hop and R&B, but are becoming more common in other music, as well.



Early Precedents

In the 1940's, some musique concrète composers utilized portions of other recordings to create new compositions.

In the 1950's, Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman released a song, "The Flying Saucer (Parts 1 and 2)", which featured samples of various then-popular songs, all taken out of context from their original material and used as answers to a wacky reporter's question about spaceships from another planet. Goodman would later make a career out of similar "break-in" or "snippet" records, including such recordings as "Mister Jaws" and "Energy Crisis '74," and is today considered one of the fathers of pop music sampling.

An interesting early use sampling was on Charlie Haden's 1969 release, Liberation Music Orchestra: A few of the album's numbers (such as "Song For Che") feature fragments of Gramophone recordings of songs from the Spanish Civil War, but integrated as part of a new song.

1969 also saw "Revolution 9" from The Beatles' The White Album, composed partly of portions of orchestral recordings.

Modern Sampling

Modern sampling in popular music, however, probably dates back to the 1960s when Jamaican DJs developed dub. These DJs combined instrumental reggae recordings with other albums into single works. Frequently, they would rap over the music, singing unrehearsed lyrics. These early practices made their way to America in the early 1970s. With the assistance of Jamaican-born Kool DJ Herc, who moved to the Bronx, dub, a buoyant predecessor to hip hop, fashioned latter-day DJing and sampling techniques. Initially, DJs did not have the technological comfort of samplers.

By the late 1970s, the stylings of Herc spread from the West Bronx all over New York City. Like any musical style, dub became modified to its surroundings. Instead of reggae, disco and funk were mixed together. New Yorkers were improvising their own variety of poetry and dub, which was soon christened "hip hop".

Sampling made its real breakthrough at the end of the 1970s when The Sugarhill Gang took portions of Chic's "Good Times" and had them replayed as the basis for "Rapper's Delight", which became the first commercially successful hip hop single. It was also the first to be hit with legal difficulties, as Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, who had written "Good Times", were not credited on the disc.

The 1st digital sampler, the Fairlight CMI, was invented in Sydney, Australia by Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie in the late 70s. It was an artistic success but a commercial failure due to its high price tag.

Hip hop was far from the only popular music to use sampling processes during the 1970s and early 1980s. The Temptations' "Psychedelic Shack" features a sample from a 45 of their hit "I Can't Get Next to You", and "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", a 1981 album by Brian Eno and David Byrne made extensive use of vocal samples.

Near the mid-1980s, hip hop music was nearing a mainstream, commercial breakthrough, and the price of samplers became accessible to the general public. It was at this time that sampling finally became mainstream.

Legal issues

Sampling has been an area of contention from a legal perspective. Early artists simply sampled and used bits of previous recordings; once rap and other music incorporating samples began to make significant money the original artists began to take legal action, claiming copyright infringement. Some artists fought back, claiming their samples were fair use.

One of the first major cases of illegal sampling was "Pump Up The Volume" by M/A/R/R/S, released in 1987. As the record reached the UK top ten, producers Stock Aitken Waterman obtained an injunction against the record due to the illegal use of a sample from their hit single "Roadblock". The dispute was settled out of court, with the injunction being lifted in return for an undertaking that overseas releases would not contain the "Roadblock" sample, and the disc went on to top the UK singles chart. Ironically, the sample in question had been so distorted as to be virtually unrecognisable, and SAW didn't realise their record had been used until they heard co-producer Dave Dorrell mention it in a radio interview.

In the early 1990's, Vanilla Ice came under criticism for the unauthorized use of a sample from the Queen/David Bowie hit "Under Pressure". Vanilla Ice's case rested on the addition of one grace note not present in the original. No lawsuit was filed, but it is likely that Vanilla Ice agreed to pay Queen and Bowie if they agreed not to sue.

More dramatically, Biz Markie's album I Need a Haircut was withdrawn in 1992 following a US federal court ruling (Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Brothers Records, Inc.) that his use of a sample from Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" was not merely copyright infringement, but criminal theft. This case had a powerful effect on the record industry, with record companies becoming very much concerned with the legalities of sampling, and demanding that artists make full declarations of all samples used in their work. On the other hand, the ruling also made it more attractive to artists and record labels to allow others to sample their work, knowing that they would be paid - often handsomely - for their contribution.

Cases have still emerged since then involving uncleared samples. In the late 1990's, The Verve was forced to pay 100% of their royalties from their hit "Bittersweet Symphony" for the use of an unlicensed sample from an orchestral cover version of The Rolling Stones' hit "The Last Time". The Rolling Stones' catalogue is one of the most litigiously protected in the world of popular music - the case to some extent the case mirrored the legal difficulties encountered by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine when they quoted from the song "Ruby Tuesday" in their song "After The Watershed" some years earlier. In both cases, the issue at stake was not the use of the recording, but the use of the song itself - the section from "The Last Time" used by the Verve was not even part of the original composition, but because it derived from a cover version of it, Jagger and Richards were still entitled to royalties and credit on the derivative work. This illustrates an important legal point: even if a sample is used legally, it may open the artist up to other problems.

Today, most mainstream acts obtain prior authorization to use samples, a process known as "clearing" (gaining permission to use the sample and, usually, paying an up-front fee and/or a cut of the royalties to the original artist). Independent bands, lacking the funds and legal assistance to clear samples, are at a disadvantage.

A notable case in the early 1990s involved the dispute between the group Negativland and U2 over Negativland's extensive use of U2 samples. More recently, in 2004, DJ Danger Mouse with the release of The Grey Album, which is a remix of The Beatles' White Album and rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album has been embroiled in a similar situation with the record label EMI issuing cease and desist orders over uncleared Beatles samples.

Recently, a movement - started mainly by Lawrence Lessig - of free culture has prompted many audio works to be licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for legal sampling of the work provided the resulting work(s) are licensed under the same terms.

See also

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