The Issue of Samples
Posted by Jimmy Natural on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 1:10pm EST
I can't tell you how many people told me to stop using samples in my music. I heard it from every where and all walks of life. There gripes ranged from "Its not right to use secular samples in Christian music to, it's too hard to clear them and the top artists are not going to want to clear them, to if you sample music then you're not really a good producer." Hogwash!! first of all, samples are cleared daily all across the world. It takes a little time but its not that difficult to clear if you're willing to pay them ;-). Who is them? Ok, when clearing a sample there are typically two entities you have to contact: The publisher and the record label that owns the masters to the recording. How do you find this information? Typically, you can find that information at either ASCAP's Or BMI's website database or whichever Performance Rights Organization the artist you sampled belongs to.
Once you have the publisher and record label's info, it's as simple as contacting their sample clearance department and requesting a sample clearance form. They will send you the form and you'll need to fill it out and send it back to them with a copy of the sample and the track that you made with it. They will get back to you and let you know how much they want for the permission to use the sample. In most cases they will ask for money up front and points on the album (percentage of money gained from record sales). The money they'll want will depend on several factors (Anticipated album sales, reach of the album, popularity of the sample, etc.) Of course, you can do all this yourself or you can hire a sample clearing house to do it. You can google them and find them. They will do all of the legwork for you and bring back the findings. Also, ASCAP will do this for you as well but only if you're looking to clear 10 or more samples. The lady told me they do this to encourage the artist to get out there and try it for them selves.
Of course, you can do a little research and find more intricate details about clearing samples but this is a glimpse at the process. Now I will give a disclaimer, what I'm about to write should not be taken as legal advice. I am not a lawyer and am in no position to give legal advice and I'm not advising you do what I'm telling you I do. So if you get sued or something like that don't come back blaming me. Now that's out of the way I'll put it to you like one Christian record label executive put it to me when I sold him a beat with a crazy rock and roll sample in it: "I've been in this game for over 13 years and have never had nor heard of anyone having a problem with needing to clear samples. We simply do not move the units to show up on any one's radar."
This label executive is right, in the Christian game, we're just not making enough money for anyone to care. Look at it like this. For a long time, clearing samples in secular hip hop wasn't necessary because it wasn't profitable. It wasn't until hip hop was making money and became mainstream that anyone cared. First of all, it costs money to sue someone so it has to be worth an artist's or publisher's time to sue you. Secondly, how in the world are they gonna know that you're using a sample from one of the artists in their catalogue? They have to have people listening to the radio 24/7 to "watch out" for sample use. Do you hear us on Hot 97 (not yet, anyway!)? The fact is that we're flying under the radar "right now" and it's like the wild west out here. If you're a sample producer, this is the right genre and the right time to get your music sold and out to the public. It reminds me of the beginning of hip hop right now.
Having said that, there are a few artists in the Christian game that need to clear their samples and you know who they are. They are selling units and can't afford to take the risk, but your average artist will have no need to clear a sample. I've sold dozens of sampled beats without issue. However, I'm now working with a few of those artists that are selling units and need to be careful about the samples they use. Contrary to popular belief, those artists are willing to clear samples if they are hot enough. However, they will likely remake the sample by bringing in musicians or have you do it. The track I did for Level 3:16 (Tell'em) was initially sample of the song Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson. I remade it, changed a few things and all was good. This can be tedious but fun if you love what you do and in many cases the beat is actually better because you can add your own flavor and signature to it.
As a producer it is very important to keep a strong network of musicians in your phone and on standby. If you are a sample producer and continue to grow you will have need of them. I have a classically trained pianist, an electric guitar player, and an awesome "violinist/every other instrument you can think of" on speed dial just in case I need to remake a sample and I can't do it myself through software. They are friends of mine and I'm blessed to have them in my life. This is also why I will stress that as a producer, you need to invest in recording materials (mic, reflexion filter, interface, monitors, etc.) This will allow you to invite musicians over and record instead of having to ask people for studio time or having the musician find studio time themselves. You'll see that you can run out of favors really fast if you aren't willing to invest in your craft.
Now, for those who say using samples is not really producing or that a producer that samples is not as good as one who doesn't. I'd say consider this: First of all, Hip Hop was founded on sampling. There weren't always at our disposal fancy synthesizers and keyboards like there is now. Producers had to rent out studio time just to use the SP 1200. This device only let producers sample 2 seconds of a song at a time. In fact, I'm sure that a vast majority of the people that make that comment have a favorite song that has a sample in it!! Sampling goes on so much that most people have no idea they're listening to a sampled beat. For example: Beyonce's Crazy In Love and Upgrade You(just to name a couple. Destiny's Child used a lot of sampled music) Mary J Blige "All I Really Want", Mary Mary's "Heaven", Yep, Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin's "This is it". Both of these contemporary Gospel giants used secular samples to glorify Jesus. Honestly, I could go on forever. Your favorite producer in hip hop has sampled other music before, Pharell, Timbo, Manny Fresh, Ye, Blaze, DJ Toomp, Swiss, etc.
You think it's easy finding samples that no one has ever heard before? Then, to take that sample and turn it into something that makes people move and connect on an emotional level with people? No, its not easy. Most of the time, a producer is so good that if you heard the original sample and then heard the beat made with the sample, you couldn't even tell it was from the sample you just heard! Sampling is an art and many of the producers that don't sample will tell you that they don't know how to do it.
I'd like to stay away from addressing the view of some people that using secular samples for Christian music is wrong. I could argue all day against this but who has the time? The fact of the matter is, I feel I can take most music, flip it, and use it to glorify Jesus. Like I mentioned earlier, your favorite Gospel artists have done it, do it, will do it, and we love it. If you disagree then that's your right. My will is that Christ is glorified over my music and He has been and will continue to be glorified over my music.
Plus, to me, sampled music just flat out sounds better. The focus on musicianship before the 1980's was greater than what you have today. I feel like New-Soul is the closest genre of music to the music I grew up on. The music of the generation before ours was more melodic, better arranged, and has more of the human element to it. Most music from the 1980's to today was made on a keyboard or on a computer. I like music played by human beings, you just can't recreate that sound no matter how hard you try (believe me, I've tried but it's something about a human playing a trumpet that no software can imitate). And For the record, I have many beats with no sample in them or combine both sample and synth. But, If I had an orchestra or a band at my disposal playing music that I wrote and arranged all for free like I do with samples, then maybe I wouldn't sample. Since I dont, I sample, and I'm able to get the sound I want in my music. Nuff said...
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