Is Sampling in Music Fading Away? A History and Hypothesis

in Opinion

BY IAN SPENCE

The worlds most sampled song is a little known B side soul track from soul group The Winstons called Amen, Brother. According to Whosampled.com, the most popular and accountable site for sampling info and history, Amen, Brother has been sampled almost 4000 times, and The Winstons have earned 0.00 from it. This is not a mistake. The particular drum line that it features spawned its own spinoff genre of techno, jungle, which was popularized in new York and European clubs in the early ’90s. Even though the break is used in thousands of songs, the copyright system has awarded The Winstons nothing, and this isn’t a bad thing. Sampling is an incredibly common practice and has been since around since the first records hit the shelves, and it’s still as popular today. Some people have a distaste for sampling in every form, but some samples completely change a previous piece and give new life to it. Amen, Brother wasn’t a record-breaking list-making song and it never would have become one. The break taken from it has become iconic to the point of where it has lost its impressiveness in difficultly. This all goes to show the cultural impact that just one sample had. With sample credits in songs like Straight Outta Compton by NWA, The Futurama theme, No Money by Galantis, Pigs by Tyler, the Creator, I Know Who You Are by Skrillex, I Desire by Salt-N-Pepa and thousands more. The man who created such an iconic piece of culture died homeless, and yet the sample lives on in music. Sampling is incredibly important to many genres, especially rap, electronic, dance, and pop music. But like all good things, they fall apart.

The turn for the worse started in the early 2000s with the rise of the internet and the explosion of popularity of electronic music. With the internet, sampling sites became more and more widespread, and the need for a music studio to make music almost vanished. You may wonder what even is a sampling site. A sampling site is a sort of storeroom for premade and group packaged sample to be purchased or downloaded. This led to a rise in common sound and sample packs and the desire for custom sound design and sampling dwindled. Originally to make a sample, one needed a physical sampler and record to mix, and it took effort and skill to make something that worked. DJ’s would mix breaks from soul samples into their soul sets, producers would flip classic tunes on their head as an entirely new song, and rappers would take the simplest of guitars or piano lines as a canvas to make a lyrical painting. The first rap song ever recorded was done with a sample of Le Freak by Chic. Sampling was a misunderstood art form, and the internet took that art form and commercialized it to sell to the masses. I do not wish to say that sound packs and sample packs are a bad thing. There has been great music made with out-of-the-box presets and samples, Animals by Martin Garrix charted at number 21 on Billboard when he was only 17. I only wish to show that the complexity and honesty of sampling has been slowly losing itself over the last years. Kanye West was never considered to be a lyrical mastermind with incredible flow, his samples and self-production kept people coming back album after album. Thousands of amazing artists would have never been able to make music without classic and online sampling.

The real question is, does sampling have a future? In 2008, a popular UK DJ named Fabio proclaimed the end of techno, due to similar laws restricting events in fields, which was aimed to limit the rising jungle and techno culture. This seemed to be the beginning of the end, but the industry adapted. A majority of techno and jungle music had been based of sampled music, and the fear was definitely present.  With copyright laws being not exactly in the best space right now, people worry that sampling could become too dangerous, several large artists have been sued by labels for sampling a song. Most recently, Lil Nas X, the creator of hit song Old Town Road, was sued for 25 million dollars by the music label that owned the rights to the song sampled in it. Nas didn’t even himself create the beat to the song, he found it for free on Youtube. The danger of legal action almost promotes the use of premade, royalty-free package samples from places like Arcade Output or Vengeance. People would rather not lose everything because they ripped a part of a song, accidentally or on purpose. With large media conglomerates being in control of multiple large labels, no one is safe from big business. The popularity of sampling exploded in the ’90s, and the labels decided to cash in on it. Not by encouraging sampling and creating more streams and downloads on songs, but by taking money from those who sample. 

Sampling has never been a perfect system, with stealing songs being truly rampant (stealing being taking a song and changing nothing and taking credit, or not crediting the original artist), the hope for sampling seems to be inside of the internet and the sampling packs. If the industry doesn’t change, the music industry could really suffer, and no one wants to not be able to listen to their favorite artists.

Dgoldenberg. (2016, September 22). It Only Takes Six Seconds To Hear The World’s Most Sampled Song. Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-most-sampled-song-of-all-time/.

Fabio – The Root To The Shoot Pt.2. (2008, April). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20080420135102/http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/TUTORS.9.0.html?act_session=290.

Seydel, R. (2018, June 15). 8 Free Sample Packs Every Producer Needs. Retrieved from https://blog.landr.com/6-free-sample-packs-every-producer-needs/