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Like it or not, sampling is here to stay: Why music is made better with multiple influences

While some debate exists surrounding artists sampling other songs in their tracks, artists like Drake prove that finding inspiration from your peers isn't always a bad thing.  – Photo by Champagnepapi / Instagram

Sampling has been used in music for decades, and its application has led to the creation of many legendary and inventive songs.

In layman's terms, sampling in music is reusing a portion of a song in a different recording. It applies to the rhythm, melody, vocals or any aspect of the music. The sampled portion of the song is then manipulated and edited to fit in the context of the artist and their idea.

In the age of digital audio workstations and a computer-based workflow in music-making, the ethics of sampling and fair use have been debated for as long as technology has been involved in the art of making music. But as we've seen with many popular tracks by artists such as Drake, Doja Cat and many more, it seems that artists are much more lenient toward sample usage than they were 20 years ago.

When clearing a sample, you must pay whatever label owns the master recordings and give up a percentage of your publishing royalties to the original artists and the label. Unauthorized samples lead to lawsuits which create a host of legal troubles for all parties involved.

When sampling was first introduced, producers would go record shopping in second-hand stores and look for obscure music and anything that caught their attention.

With this method, producers would often find artists that they never would have heard of otherwise, which expands their musical vocabulary and opens a window for artists to explore their work and catalog. Traveling to different states for record shops was commonplace, and it became an adventure as well as a scavenger hunt to find the best samples and sounds available.

The legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla was one of the most prolific samplers in history and helped redefine how people could manipulate samples to their advantage. Using his MPC3000, he expanded hip-hop samples far beyond drum loops and pitched-down vocals and became famous for his drum patterns and rhythm manipulation.

His influence ranges to alternative music and drum patterns that seem to shift in and out of their groove, as he helped to popularize drums that swing to the beat rather than simply follow the music as it's written.

The English-French rock band Stereolab released its seminal album "Dots And Loops" in September 1997, and this album utilized samples, extensive drum programming and analog equipment to inspire a new generation of producers. The mechanical drumming and brilliant sound design made it a favorite among music collectors, and Stereolab’s catalog is well known among different spheres because of its sample usage.

Its third track, “The Flower Called Nowhere,” one of Stereolab’s breakout singles, sampled Krzysztof Komeda’s 1967 track “Herbert’s Song.” The hip-hop producer Madlib famously sampled the same song in his 2014 track, “Ra Ash.” Sample usage often transcends boundaries and genres, and the exposure sampling brings to different artists shows how two different minds can utilize the same reference point.

The French jazz band Cortex released its first and most famous album “Troupeau Bleu” in 1975, and this album became a reference point for many of hip-hop’s most famous producers.

Its use of the Wurlitzer keyboard and ethereal vocal production made it a standout among jazz albums of its time, and its improvisational musical passages feel like an extended masterclass of phrasing and tone. The band's song, “Huit octobre 1971” was most famously sampled on MF DOOM’s ”One Beer” off his 2004 album “MM...FOOD” and has been used as a producer goldmine ever since.

Sampling has grown and developed long since its inception, and the internet has helped to streamline the process and make learning it more accessible. Sampling exists as an educational tool and as a way for artists to springboard inspiration off of each other. While occasionally samples can be used in poor taste or aren't utilized to the best of their ability, most of these complaints are subjective in the eyes of the audience and the artist.

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