Sampling in music: What is it? Good? Bad? Who knows?

cellar door’s take on Sampling

In short, sampling is the practice (an art form some may say) of taking a portion of another sound recording, music or not, and reusing it in another sound recording. Samples come in many shapes and sizes. They can be speech sounds, instrument sounds, ambient sounds, beats and even lyrics. Musique concrète, which originated in the 1940s, was a way of making music out of previously recorded sounds. Artists who indulged in this kind of music composition would literally take tapes, cut the audio out that they wanted and then proceed to manipulate them via music technology. The point of musique concrète was to find “music” in everyday sounds by looping them, slowing them down or speeding them up. Now, thanks to some French dudes, sampling was (sort of) born. Of course, artists were borrowing from each other since the beginning of music; sampling is an inherent element in music-making.

In the 1960s, Jamaican dub reggae artists would take previously recorded reggae tracks to create faster songs to dance to and then they would DJ over them, these songs were called riddim (not EDM, though they share the same name). Jamaican immigrants who moved to America shared their practice of sampling and so began its roots in hip hop in the 70s. Sampling is the foundation of hip-hop itself, which is why it’s so widely used in the genre today. DJs would use turntables and loop breaks in soul records from artists like James Brown and use them to rap over for their audiences.

So why do some people despise sampling? Is it because they don’t know about its history and thus make blind assumptions of stealing (yes.)? Or is it because they do know what sampling is and they still don’t exactly agree with the “taking” of intellectual property even if it is manipulated to create another work? I’m not the one to say, but I can say that there is plenty of controversy surrounding sampling in the music world. I mean sure, it is very wrong to literally take someone’s work, copy it, paste it and then call it your own. To me, that’s not what sampling is. Sampling is about paying homage or shouting out something you really like as a music artist and it gives artists even MORE creative room to work with. It gives artists the chance to share something new with their audiences and it sometimes propels the original to new stardom. Sampling also creates a unique space for music to be made of other music which is pretty meta if you ask me. However, running into copyright issues is where it can get tricky and controversial. Of course, nowadays, you hear a lot about artists having trouble getting samples cleared because of how expensive and difficult it is to get through copyright rules. Imagine all of the good, juicy sampled music we could have if these samples had been cleared. Personally, I love sampling. For me, it’s like finding hidden treasure because the original song is ALWAYS better than the song with the sample. It also broadens my musical horizons greatly and gives a song another layer of history. Hip hop and electronic music are my most favorite genres and sampling is at the base of their creation so I am all for it.

 -cellar door xx