Sampling quickly was everywhere. The law hadn’t caught up with this new development, and it was ripe for exploitation. Liam Howlett of The Prodigy is perhaps one of the most talented samplers of our time. Not only find great samples but uses them in a way that isn’t at all obvious. Below, is a great video, detailing the rigours work that went into creating The Prodigy’s controversial hit ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, and all the samples used.
Fatboy Slim is another legendary sampler, but perhaps more of an obvious choice, as he made no secret of it. His 1998 album You’ve Come a Long Way Baby was probably nearly entirely produced with samples. His 1999 hit ‘Praise You’ is a good example of using a number of different samples together (the gospel like acapella, honky-tonk piano funk loops and percussion) to create something totally new, that is more than the sum of its parts.
Daft Punk are also held in high esteem as sampling gurus, with much of their back catalogue owing to France’s rich history of importing rare US disco, soul and funk. Subsequently the culture of French house is built on sampling, and together with their classic Alesis 3630 sidechain compression sound, formed the foundations of their first album Homework. However, their 2001 epic Discovery really caught the attention of the world, particularly with their first single ‘One More Time’, with guest vocals from the late Romanthony.
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There have been countless examples of what’s called microsampling; taking incredibly short segments of music and sequencing them together to make a new glitchy canvas, almost mimicking the sensation of tuning an FM radio. The pioneers of this sort of sampling are the french camp of artists on Ed Banger Records. Justice famously admitted sampling up to 400 records for their album † including the likes of Slipknot, 50 Cent and Queen.
Examples of this can be heard in the likes of SebAstian, Akufen and Phonat, artists known for their attention to detail when it comes to crowbarring in minute intricacies into their tracks. From a production point of view, it’s extremely difficult to get such a plethora of sounds to sit together in a mix; a lot of processing, filtering, EQing, compressing and re-processing is needed. By the time you’ve finished, the sources would be almost unrecognisable, even to the artist they’ve sampled.
The use of another recording in your own music without permission, whether or not you sell it or not, is illegal. Even giving away music for free is technically illegal if it contains an uncleared sample. Julio Bashmore notably ran into this issue a few years back releasing a track for free download on his SoundCloud.
It contained a sample from Jimmy Castor’s 1972 hit ‘Troglodyte’. The rights holders caught up with him issuing him with a cease and desist as well as forcing him to make a public apology (below). In addition he paid an undisclosed fee to the rights holders. You can read more about this case here.
Julio Bashmore was forced to issue a public apology for his unauthorised use of Jimmy Castor’s ‘Troglodyte’, despite the track being a free download
This highlights an often lax attitude or ignorance towards the law on sampling, where often it’s assumed producers have carte blanche to user other people’s material if it’s not being sold. Of course, knowing the law is one thing, obeying it is another.
Where the legality is extremely important is if there’s likely to be any commercial exploitation of your music. This includes TV play, regular radio rotation, synchronisation with computer games, film, advert, corporate etc. The companies that license this music would not take a risk. This is where processes like interpolation are useful.
There have been many high profile examples of illicit samples that have gone to court. MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’ uses a sample from Rick James’ 1981 boogie number ‘Super Freak’. Hammer of course wrote his own hook, but the basis of the track is undeniably lifted. James sued Hammer for copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court when Hammer allowed James to be credited as a co-writer.
Vanilla Ice’s 1989 Ice Ice Baby also came under some scrutiny, as the bassline was sampled from Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ and at the time, neither Queen nor Bowie received any royalties or writing credits. This was amended some years later.
One of the more interesting but perhaps lesser-known examples of this going to court was Biz Markie’s ‘All Samples Cleared!’ album, and this was perhaps a landmark moment for both hip-hop and sampling.
After disputes on his previous album, having being taken to court, the lawyers and publishing representatives were beginning to cotton on to sampling, so it meant that clearing samples was now a very real thing. You can read more about the case here.