You've written a superb song... lyrics and music are flowing but there's just something missing. Later in the day you have an oldies station playing in the car and it hits you. A simple horn lick under the sweet sound of a commanding bellow. You know it would be the perfect compliment to your newly written hit, but how can you get that sound for your song?
Well, here's the quick and easy answer: You cut that piece out of the song (sample) and you get permission to use it (clearance).
We all know artists who take chunks of popular music throw it on their track and say, "What? I changed it enough so i don't need to get permission." According to copyright infringement law, this may or may not be true depending on the final product. I'm not a lawyer so should you want to interpret copyright law you can find it here.
EMusician.com has one of the best articles I've read about "HOW TO" clear a sample. It provides an in-depth step by step on how to obtain the permission you need to add a sample to your song. You can also check out copyright records here, but may be limited to just the names of writers. Thanks to search engines like Google, you can usually find contact info on the copyright holder pretty quickly. If you have trouble locating the person/company, you can have the copyright office assist you, but at $165 an hour (2 hour minimum) you really need to make sure the sample is worth it!
Beyond copyright law though, one should consider moral law. Some would call sampling flattery, some call it lazy - either way, consideration should be given to the original creator of the music every time. You may get a free meatball sample at Costco, but if you wanted to use that same meatball brand for a dinner party, you will have to pay for it. Bottom line, sampling without proper clearance (permission and payment) is stealing, plain and simple.
Before diving into the magical world of sampling here are a few pros and cons to consider:
- The right sound can really add something special to your song. Song creation is like a puzzle with the melody, instruments, lyrics, and vocals. Sometimes the right sample can be just the piece you need to complete the puzzle.
- If you are trying to recreate an elaborate sound that would require you to hire musicians, it may cost less to pay for sample clearance.
- If the song contains a popular hook or phrase, listeners will relate more quickly which could boost your songs popularity (if done right).
- Sample clearance can be costly. These costs vary widely depending on the person or company granting permission. Roughly speaking you can hire a sample clearance company for around $250 per sample. If you add a couple of samples to a few songs on your EP or album that can really add up!
- If you decide to add samples to your music without clearing them, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands. Lawsuits are expensive so word to the wise: Every sample needs to be cleared.
To avoid these headaches, here are a few ideas that may help in the music creation process instead:
- Sampling music from other indie artists is a great way to not only save money, but find some really great original sounds. You'll generally have an easier time obtaining permission to use the sample, and the costs may be less. This is a win-win for both artists as they will each be promoting the song for their own purposes.
- Instead of sampling music from other artists you can purchase sample and loop CD's or downloads. By doing a quick Google search for 'sample music' you'll get many results for clearance free samples and loops (many free!) that you can use in your music.
- One of the most cost effective alternatives to sampling would be to recreate the sound your way. You can sing, play, or program many of the same sounds with home studio equipment. It may not sound the same as the original artist or song, but at least you can say it's all your own. This saves time and money in the long run.
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