In a world where all of yesterday’s musical heritage is available at the touch of a button, and instant fame through a choice sample, where do we draw the line? When does compliment become plagiarism and what should we do to combat this? It’s of no surprise to anyone that sampling and the art of skillfully using another musician’s material is widely popular, it’s simply something which has existed since the dawn of the genre. The greatest and most revered of dance music legends have healthily borrowed from the depths of musical time so why shouldn’t we? This article aims to answer all these questions and more, giving our two cents on the current state of sampling, samples, and how to make it work without looking like a complete idiot.
Arguably the origins of djing and dance music come from a combination of turntablism, disco, and in this particular case hip hop. Mixing pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash laid down the groundworks for sampling and it’s musical value through his showmanship djing, pulling out moves like the backspin, punch phrasing, and scratching. In this way he used “samples” of music in order to create his own, reinventing the classics of yesterday for a dance-floor who most likely hadn’t heard them. It was tastefully done and very rarely did a DJ claim to have written the music which he/she played. Furthermore Hip Hop music is in itself indebted to sampling, as the combination of self-produced grooves combined with a rock/soul/or disco sample provided a beat to which an artist could spit their lyrics. Traditionally this was done through the use of a digital sampler such as the Akai MPC2000, where by samples could be recorded or had previously been so. Many of the genre’s greatest, artists such as Pharcyde, Biggie, and of course less subtly Kanye West, sample across the board to give themselves a little musical boost. So integral is sampling to Hip Hop & Dance that genres themselves have spawned from a mere sample. The now legendary “Amen Break” solo performed by Gregory Sylvester Coleman in 1969 provides the rhythmic figure (as scored) as well as the sound basis for almost all Drum and Bass and large sections of Hip Hop and Breaks. This one sample, slowed to 108 or sped up to 170, is integral to several new and successful genre’s with which Gregory Sylvester Coleman had nothing to do with.
Sampling a piece of music is today so widely widespread that very rarely is borrowing another piece of music to highlight your own sneered at. The demand for samples and the difficulty of making them work has given rise to a sample industry, which provides snippets of sound for producers to use at their own leisure. Approximately 20 years ago, Zero-G and Ed Stratton released the very first dance music sample CD, Sample Magic. A sample pack (contained on a sample CD) is a collection of audio files of as long as 16 bars to as short as a single second stab of sounds, produced by a studio or team of musicians for use in other people’s music. The sample industry in itself has grown massively since, and today a very wide range of samples for every type of genre are readily available for a price. Similarly to the use of unlicensed samples, it’s commonly agreed that including a sample from a sample pack in your music needs to be utterly seamless as well as (unless manipulated) providing limited importance within a track. At the end of the day, dance music is an underground genre and culture and for many of it’s fans and listeners it’s authenticity and dedication to quality is what sets apart from popular music. A producer using an obvious sample from a sample pack, can readily be compared to the inauthenticity of plastic pop stars, whom do not write or produce any of their own music. How can we as listeners and fans love an artist when their musical output is equivalent to what’s currently available in tomorrow’s sample packs?
Only last year did Swedish House Mafia poster boy “Steve Angello” become the target of harsh criticism for deriving almost the entire content of his beatport topping track “KNAS” from a future house sample pack. No one has ever admired the group for being “authentic” but plagiarism of the like can only be evidence of an underground culture falling prey to the popularization of electronic dance music. The fact that an established artist in whose production talent we trust, should use a sample from a sample pack is detrimental to the development of dance music and our relationship with an artist. Musicians have borrowed and stolen from each since the dawn of time but the matter becomes much more problematic when an artist let’s his/her fans down by using an obvious and clumsy sample, of who’s source is readily apparent. No listener wants to be considered ignorant and stupid, and a producer who takes credit for what is largely someone else’s work is digging himself/herself into the ground.
As a result of today’s fast moving dance music industry, many listeners simply don’t care where a piece is from or who wrote it. Barbara Streissand, yet another mega cross-over hit, is little more then a rendition of Boney M‘s Gotta Go Home, aided by a healthily compressed kick drum. The track has catapulted underground superstars Duck Sauce (A-trak + Armand Van Helden) into the international limelight. The fact that no one is calling for blood is down to the fact that the two producers have been crafting the proud mega-hits of the underground for many years previous, as well as the fact that the Boney M original heavily borrows from another track. I can’t speak for the world’s listeners when I say this, but I personally lose faith in an artist when I find out that they’ve used a sample from a sample pack collection. However I can’t complain when I see that a producer is risking underground credibility (of which they have loads) in order to give their career a much needed boost. It’s an art making a sample to work in the context of an artist’s production and that’s what we as listeners admire.
Many would consider Daft Punk as one of the founding groups of modern house music. A vast amount of their music is based upon both large and small samples of funk artists which have been skillfully remolded in a french house manner. Perhaps one of their biggest hit’s “One More Time” borrows a very large section of it’s DNA from Eddie John‘s “More Spell On You” which is arguably of poorer quality and certainly of lesser fame. The French duo’s ingenuity when using samples is what puts them a notch above everyone else. Bangalter & Manuel De Homem used snippets of material, rather than entire sections, and placed them within their own contexts. Chord sequences and melodies were re-imagined together with a vast array of SH-101′s and Moog Voyagers. In this way the samples they used were given new meaning and became a part of the duo’s now legendary sound. The process by which this was achieved can in many ways be seen as an art in itself, as the manipulation of samples and their treatment lies at the heart of dance music. In many cases, Daft Punk would borrow musical material from a certain artists and then using their own studio recreate it in their own manner. This is fabulous sampling technique, and one which resulted in the duo’s long lasting success.
Flight Facilities“Crave You” was one of the biggest underground success stories of the summer, gaining radio airplay and noterierity far outside of the scene. A recent discovery of the quintessential organ line of the track as a part of rhodes disco sample pack let me and the fans of the group down. However upon closer scrutiny. it’s clear the group have done little that Daft Punk haven’t. Though the chord sequence is derived from the sample, the beat, vocals, and bass are all the work of Flight Facilities themselves. The groove comprised of conga’s and tom’s are essential elements of the dance number, and would be just as funky on their own. Furthermore the group’s musical and production skill is showcased by the irresistible semi-distorted bassline which picks up halfway through. Many people identify with the track due to it’s catchy and honest vocals, which most definitely is the work of the group and super-model Giselle. In short Flight Facilities have appropriated a sample into their own production, given it new life, and created a massive hit. This is a classic example of sampling done correctly and to very powerful effect. As fans of a particular artist we may be disappointed that they haven’t created everything they claim as their own but the truth of the manner is that making a sample work is almost as complicated as creating it yourself.
Though it’s widely accepted that the rights of musicians whom have been sampled are only relative to the financial power they have to pursure the perpetrator the “clearing” of samples is a practice which is becoming more and more common to both dance music labels and producers. When releasing a track which contains obvious samples, it’s up to a label to clear the right’s with the legal owner of the original material. It’s a good grounding process as it prevents producers from completely using another musicians material, as well as providing financial provisions wherever it’s due. Only earlier this year did Djuma Soundsystem became the victims of a Danish trial in which they were liable to pay a sum of 100,000 euro’s for using an unlicensed sample in their track “Les Djinns” which has only made about 70,000 in profits. Personally I can only recall the track due to a fabulous Trentemoller remix, whom luckily doesn’t have to pay anything. A-Trak & Armand Van Helden would’ve cleared the sample from Boney M’s Gotta Go Home for a relatively low sum, especially when considering the benefits they’ve received in the form of DJ fee’s. However no record label executive responsible for the rights of Boney M could’ve ever predicted the widespread success of a single known for squelching “Barbara Streisand” approximately 60 seconds through.
In conclusion good sampling is the use of an obscure or unrelated musical source (most often not in it’s entirety) in a new musical context. Building upon the previous work of an another artist, and melding their creative input with your own. The greatest of all samples are quite often less than two or three bars long, and most importantly not completely imitating the original material. In the case that a fairly well piece of well known music is butchered, a producer must make it apparent that’ it’s been put into a new context or one whose very novelty gives it new meaning. The re-appropriating of disco classics such “Love’s Down” (Nist and Ellijiah Collins) and “Love Ting” (Anna Lunoe + Wax Motif) is quality dance music not only because of their clear referencing to the original music, but also due to the freshness of their groove and production. As EDM takes center stage in popular culture it’s more important then ever that the dance music community continues creating new original material as well as sampling in a creative, concise, and ultimately pleasing way.