Cover image - Sampling

What’s The Deal With Music Artists Sampling Songs?

Music sampling is by no means a new concept in the music industry. It has been around since the 60s and became more profound when the hip hop genre became popular. As time has moved forward, sampling has become a normal thing for artists to do. To them, it might be a way to tap into their creativity while to the casual audience, they see it as artists being lazy. The real question here is; what’s the deal with music sampling?

To answer this question, I’m going to explain how sampling works, why artists sample music and its impact on the music industry.  

How Sampling Works

If you remember your Statistics 101, you do know how important sampling is when conducting your research. It just involves collecting part of the whole population. The same concept is true for music sampling. An artist takes part of an old or recent song but goes further to manipulate it into a new song.

This is different from cover songs which are new recordings of a previously recorded, commercially released by someone else other than the original artist. In this case, the artist is reimagining that song in his/her own way. This will become more relevant when Adele drops her new album in December.

There are several ways of manipulating a sampled song. One might decide to take a portion of a drum break and looping it in the new song. LL Cool J comes to mind when he sampled the drums from Funky Drummer throughout his song Mama Said Knock You Out. Others decide to loop voices into their new songs as choruses. Think of Ed Sheeran when he sampled PnB Rock in the song Cross Me from his compilation album.

Artists might also opt to sample the lyrics of a song into their own song. Natalie La Rose’s Somebody and Iggy Azalea’s Savior all come to mind here. They might also end up trying to sample the beats and lyrics but still add their own flavor. Yes, there is a thin line between this kind of sampling and cover songs but poteto potato. You be the judge.

Why do artists sample music?

To be honest, there is no definite answer to this question. It depends on what the artist or producer is trying to do. It is no surprise that sampling usually leads to big hits in the industry. Hip-hop artists are the most notorious culprits. Dr. Dre, for example, sampling David McCallum’s The Edge on his single The Next Episode. Eminem sampled Labi Siffre’s I got The… in his classic hit My Name is. Regardless of whether sampling results in bigger hits or not, there are other reasons why people decide to sample music.

1. Sense of Nostalgia

Some producers, like Harmony Samuels, have gone on record to state that they sample music so as to create something memorable. Or giving people a sense of nostalgia for that matter. This triggers people’s memories and they’ll be like “Hey, I’ve heard this song before” and they will continue to listen to the song. If you look at it from a business POV, you’ll see they are trying to make easy money from the new song.

Here’s the thing, who doesn’t like a little sense of nostalgia? I mean, people tend to listen to older music than newer music. I’m one of the guys guilty of doing this. Were it not for the fact that I’m a music reviewer, I would be busy listening to songs that defined my childhood and teenage life. Just like how Netflix subscribers usually prefer watching older shows than the new ones which the streaming company tries to shove down your throat on the homepage.

2. There are no new ways of playing instruments

Let me take you back to the beginning of Twenty-One Pilot’s memorable Stressed Out when Tyler said: he wished he found some better sounds no one’s ever heard or having found some chords in an order that is new. This, unfortunately, is true. A guitar still remains a guitar with its familiar chords and a drum set remains the same. These instruments have been used in all kinds of ways to make memorable say. It’s safe to say that you won’t be inventing the wheel at this point.

Sampling, in this case, can be used to an artist’s advantage as they are able to play around with previously released work. Heck, they might even strike gold with it in the process. Also, it is common to see artists sample their own previous work. Slipknot has done this before with Before I Forget and Prince sampled himself on Lovesign from Crystal Ball.

Trap music seems to be the only sub-genre that finds new ways to produce new beats. While it is refreshing to hear new beats, it sucks that all the trap artists sound the same. It’s okay that Migos have their sound but when every mainstream rapper sounds like them; it becomes a problem.

3. Because it works?

I don’t think sampling wouldn’t be a thing if it didn’t work in the first place. It has proven to be a known formula of making hits so why not? Some artists actually do get relevance from their songs being sampled in new ones. Lana Del Rey comes to mind with her song Summertime Sadness sampled in an EDM song. Btw, I still love the EDM version than the original one. How about the SeeB remix of Mike Posner’s I Took a Pill in Ibiza?

You know what they say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

A Double-Edged Sword

Sure, sampling has proven to be quite effective for the artist and the record company alike but it does tend to have its own issues. These issues range from monotony to class-action lawsuits. Let’s begin with it being monotonous.

You all know Flo Rida, yes? He has bagged a couple of hits from 2008-2015. I guess. The funniest part is that most of his hit singles have been sampling voices from other songs as choruses. Good Feeling, I cry, Spin My Head, How I Feel, are just some examples. The problem with this approach is that it got stale. Do it a couple of times is fine but if you do it over and over again; it will surely become boring with time.

Other times, artists try to replicate the same feel with the original version. This often comes to bite them on their rear ends at times. Let’s take Nelly’s song The Fix, which heavily samples Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. I’m one of the people who didn’t like the final product because it was so similar to the original that it made no sense preferring Nelly’s version over the original. Fortunately for him, The Fix was certified platinum and they were not sued for copyright infringement. But what if you had a hit song that was topping the charts for so long that it actually leads to a lawsuit and heavy penalties? You have Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.

The funniest part is that Robin Thicke and Pharell sampled Marvin Gaye’s song without the family’s consent. This led to a big case where Robin Thicke and Pharell were forced to compensate the family for copyright infringement. A total of $7.3 million dollars had to be dished out. Thank goodness T.I. didn’t pay shit because his verse doesn’t sample anything. Sometimes being the rap feature makes you get away from such lawsuits.

Conclusion

Music sampling isn’t going anywhere. Its outcome really depends on the artists and producers alike. The results are usually great most of the time but we can’t ignore the rotten apples in the basket. So, don’t be afraid to have that moment of nostalgia when a new artist samples a classic song.  

Elvis Mwangi

Student of life, Blogger, Audiophile. Lol.