In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece. Sampling was originally developed by experimental musicians working with musique concrète and electroacoustic music, who physically manipulated tape loops or vinyl records on a phonograph.

In the late 1960s, the use of tape loop sampling influenced the development of minimalist music and the production of psychedelic rock and jazz fusion. In the 1970s, DJs manipulating vinyl on turntables gave birth to hip hop music, the first popular music genre based originally around the art of sampling.

The widespread use of sampling in popular music increased with the rise of electronic music and disco in the mid 1970s to early 1980s, the development of electronic dance music and industrial music in the 1980s, and the worldwide influence of hip hop since the 1980s on genres ranging from contemporary R&B to indie rock. Since that time sampling is often done with a sampler, originally a piece of hardware, but today, more commonly a computer program. Vinyl emulation software may also be used, however, and many turntablists continue to sample using traditional methods. The inclusion of sampling tools in modern digital production methods increasingly introduced sampling into many genres of popular music, as well as genres predating the invention of sampling, such as classical music, jazz and various forms of traditional music.

Often ‘samples’ consist of one part of a song, such as a rhythm break (an instrumental or percussion interlude, a ‘break’ from the main parts), which is then used to construct the beat for another song. For instance, hip hop music developed from DJs repeating the breaks from songs to enable continuous dancing. The ‘Funky drummer break’ and the ‘Amen break,’ both brief fragments taken from soul and funk music recordings of the 1960s, have been among the most common samples used in dance music and hip hop of recent decades, with some entire subgenres (e.g., breakbeat) being based largely on complex permutations of a single one of these samples. Samples from rock recordings have also been the basis of new songs; for example, the drum introduction from Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ was sampled by the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mike Oldfield, Rob Dougan, Coldcut, Depeche Mode, and Erasure, among others. Often, samples are not taken from other music, but from spoken words, including those in non-musical media such as movies, TV shows and advertising. Sampling does not necessarily mean using pre-existing recordings. A number of composers and musicians have constructed pieces or songs by sampling field recordings they made themselves, and others have sampled their own original recordings. The musicians in the trip hop band Portishead, for example, made some use of existing samples, but also scratched, manipulated and sampled musical parts they themselves had originally played in order to construct their songs.

The use of sampling is controversial legally and musically. Experimental musicians who pioneered the technique in the 1940s to the 1960s sometimes did not inform or receive permission from the subjects of their field recordings or from copyright owners before constructing a musical piece out of these samples. In the 1970s, when hip hop was confined to local dance parties, it was unnecessary to obtain copyright clearance in order to sample recorded music at these parties. As the genre became a recorded form centered around rapping in the 1980s and subsequently went mainstream, it became necessary to pay to obtain legal clearance for samples, which was difficult for all but the most successful DJs, producers, and rappers. As a result, a number of recording artists ran into legal trouble for uncredited samples, while the restrictiveness of current US copyright laws and their global impact on creativity also came under increased scrutiny. The hip hop genre also shifted toward a wider aesthetic in which sampling was only one method of constructing beats, with many producers instead crafting wholly original recordings to serve as backing tracks.  Some critics, particularly those with a ‘rockist’ outlook, have expressed the belief all sampling is lacking in creativity, while others say sampling has been innovative and revolutionary. Those whose own work has been sampled have also voiced a wide variety of opinions about the practice, both for and against sampling.

The drums and percussion parts of many modern recordings are really a variety of short samples of beats strung together. Many libraries of such beats exist and are licensed so that the user incorporating the samples can distribute their recording without paying royalties. Such libraries can be loaded into samplers. Though percussion is a typical application of looping, many kinds of samples can be looped. A piece of music may have an ostinato (a motif which is persistently repeated) which is created by sampling a phrase played on any kind of instrument. There is software which specializes in creating loops. Whereas loops are usually a phrase played on a musical instrument, this type of sample is usually a single note. Music workstations and samplers use samples of musical instruments as the basis of their own sounds, and are capable of playing a sample back at any pitch. Many modern synthesizers and drum machines also use samples as the basis of their sounds. Most such samples are created in professional recording studios using world-class instruments played by accomplished musicians. These are usually developed by the manufacturer of the instrument or by a subcontractor who specializes in creating such samples. There are businesses and individuals who create libraries of samples of musical instruments. Of course, a sampler allows anyone to create such samples.

Possibly the earliest equipment used to sample recorded instrument sounds are the Chamberlin, which was developed in the 1940s, and its better-known cousin, the Mellotron, marketed in England in the 1960s. Both are tape replay keyboards, in which each key pressed triggers a prerecorded tape loop of a single note. Musicians can reproduce the same samples of break beats like the ‘Amen’ break which was composed, produced and mastered by the Winston Brothers in 1960s. Producers in the early 1990s have used the whole 5.66 second sample; but music workstations like the Korg Electribe have used the ‘Amen’ kick, hi hat and snare in their sound wave libraries for free use. Sampler production companies have managed to use these samples for pitch, attack, and decay (Attack is the extent to which the note is hit; Decay is the time within the full duration of the note that the sound is made), and DSP (digital signal processing) effects to each drum sound. These features allow producers to manipulate samples to match other parts of the composition.

Most sample sets consist of multiple samples at different pitches. These are combined into keymaps (keyboard layouts), that associate each sample with a particular pitch or pitch range. Often, these sample maps may have different layers as well, so that different velocities can trigger a different sample. Samples used in musical instruments sometimes have a looped component. An instrument with indefinite sustain, such as a pipe organ, does not need to be represented by a very long sample because the sustained portion of the timbre is looped. The sampler (or other sample playback instrument) plays the attack and decay portion of the sample followed by the looped sustain portion for as long as the note is held, then plays the release portion of the sample. To conserve polyphony (a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices), a workstation may allow the user to sample a layer of sounds (piano, strings, and voices, for example) so they can be played together as one sound instead of three. This leaves more of the instruments’ resources available to generate additional sounds.

There are several genres of music in which it is commonplace for an artist to sample a phrase of a well-known recording and use it as an element in a new composition. A well-known example includes the sample of Queen/David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ (1981) in Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ (1990). Some of the earliest examples in popular electronic music were from Yellow Magic Orchestra, such as ‘Computer Game / Firecracker’ (1978) sampling a Martin Denny melody and ‘Space Invaders’ game sounds, while ‘Technodelic’ (1981) was one of the first albums to feature mostly samples and loops. Big Audio Dynamite also pioneered sampling in alternative dance beginning with their 1985 debut album ‘This Is Big Audio Dynamite.’

On MC Hammer’s album ‘Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em,’ the successful single ‘U Can’t Touch This’ sampled Rick James’ 1981 ‘Super Freak.’ ‘Have You Seen Her’ was a cover of the Chi-Lites and ‘Pray’ sampled Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ as well as Faith No More’s ‘We Care a Lot.’ ‘Dancin’ Machine’ sampled The Jackson 5, ‘Help the Children’ interpolates Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),’ and ‘She’s Soft and Wet’ also sampled Prince’s ‘Soft and Wet.’  Hammer’s previous album and future albums would continue to sample music, although not as notably as this album did. The Isley Brothers’ song ‘Between The Sheets’ is a song heavily sampled by many different artists, most notably Notorious BIG’s ‘Big Poppa,’ and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Luxurious.’

In many cases, artists even join the original artist or receive permission to sample songs such as Coolio did for ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ It sampled the chorus and music of the song ‘Pastime Paradise’ by Stevie Wonder (1976). Wonder performed the song with Coolio and L.V. at the 1995 Billboard Awards. Notably, much of Coolio’s album excessively sampled other artists; including ‘Too Hot’ (contains an interpolation of ‘Too Hot,’ originally performed by Kool & The Gang), ‘Cruisin” (contains an interpolation of ‘Cruisin,” originally performed by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles), ‘Sumpin’ New’ (which contains samples of both ‘Thighs High’ performed by Tom Browne and ‘Wikka Wrap’ performed by The Evasions), ‘Smilin” (contains an interpolation of ‘You Caught Me Smiling,’ originally performed by Sly & The Family Stone), ‘Kinda High, Kinda Drunk’ (contains interpolations of ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘The Boyz in Da Hood’), ‘For My Sistas’ (contains an interpolation of ‘Make Me Say It Again Girl,’ originally performed by The Isley Brothers), ‘A Thing Goin’ On’ (contains an interpolation of ‘Me & Mrs. Jones’), ‘The Revolution’ (contains an interpolation of ‘Magic Night’), ‘Get Up, Get Down’ (contains an interpolation of ‘Chameleon,’ originally performed by Herbie Hancock), and the first line of ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ is taken from ‘Psalm 23.’

Another example is in 1997, when Sean Combs collaborated with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin on the song ‘Come with Me’ for the ‘Godzilla’ film. The track sampled the Led Zeppelin song ‘Kashmir’ (approved by Jimmy Page). ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ sampled the melody and some of the lyrics from The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ from 1983. The single also borrows the melody from the well-known American spiritual ‘I’ll Fly Away.’ Combs went on to perform it with Sting and Faith Evans on the MTV Video Music Awards. By the late 1990s, ‘Puffy’ was receiving criticism for watering down and overly commercializing hip-hop and overusing guest appearances by other artists, samples, and interpolations of past hits in his own hit songs. ‘The Onion’ parodied this phenomenon in a 1997 article called ‘New rap song samples ‘Billie Jean’ in its entirety, adds nothing.’ Artists can often sample their own songs in other songs they have recorded, often in differently titled remixes. The Chemical Brothers sampled their own song ‘The Sunshine Underground’ in their later song ‘We Are the Night.’

In the late 1980s, then-N.W.A producer Dr. Dre was already experimenting the use of samples from 1970s moog synthesizer-based funk songs, such as ‘Funky Worm’ by the Ohio Players, which he first sampled on N.W.A’s ‘Dopeman’ in 1987. Later on, he mastered that sound creating a whole sub-genre of hip-hop, ‘G-funk,’ based on high-pitched synthesizer solos and sampling whole parts of one song to create another, creating a simple sound, rather than the dense sound of many samples in one song, then used by ‘The Bomb Squad’ (a hip hop production team, known for their work with Public Enemy). The ‘G-funk’ style dominated hip-hop from 1992 to 1996, through multi-platinum album releases such as Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ (which contained the global hit ‘Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,’ that samples ‘I Wanna do Somethin’ Freaky to You’ by Leon Haywood), Snoop Doggy Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle,’ and 2Pac’s ‘All Eyez on Me.’ After 1996, Dr. Dre took a whole new direction away from sampling, moving to interpolating songs with the use of live instrumentation, and changing his sound to a much different style, which dominated his second multi-platinum album, 1999’s ‘2001.’

Taken from movies, television, or other non-musical media, spoken word samples are often used to create atmosphere, to set a mood, or even comic effect. The American composer Steve Reich used samples from interviews with Holocaust survivors as a source for the melodies on the 1988 album ‘Different Trains,’ performed by the Kronos Quartet. Goa trance (a genre of dance music) often employs samples of people speaking about the use of psychoactives, spirituality, or science fiction themes. Industrial is known for samples from horror/sci-fi movies, news broadcasts, propaganda reels, and speeches by political figures. The band Ministry frequently samples George W. Bush. Paul Hardcastle used recordings of a news reporter, as well as a soldier and ambient noise of a protest, in his single ‘Nineteen’ a song about Vietnam war veterans and post traumatic stress disorder.

The band Negativland samples from practically every form of popular media, ranging from infomercials to children’s records. In the song ‘Civil War,’ Guns N’ Roses samples from the 1967 film ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ Sludge band Dystopia make frequent use of samples, including news clips and recordings of junkies to create a bleak and nihilistic atmosphere. Other bands that frequently used samples in their work are noise rockers Steel Pole Bath Tub and death metal band Skinless. The American rapper and producer MF Doom frequently uses spoken word samples, taken from anything from old ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Fantastic Four’ cartoons to Charles Bukowski’s ‘Dinosauria, We’ poem. Oasis used a clip from a John Lennon interview for their song ‘I’m Outta Time.’

Some sounds are not musical in the conventional sense – that is, neither percussive nor melodic – but which are musically useful for their interesting timbres or emotional associations, in the spirit of musique concrète. Some common examples include sirens and klaxons, locomotive whistles, natural sounds such as whale song, and cooing babies. It is common in theatrical sound design to use this type of sampling to store sound effects that can then be triggered from a musical keyboard or other software. This is very useful for high precision or nonlinear requirements. For example, the English composer Jonathan Harvey sampled a thunderclap for use in his opera, ‘Wagner Dream.’

Sampling has been an area of contention from a legal perspective. Early sampling artists simply used portions of other artists’ recordings, without permission; once rap and other music incorporating samples began to make significant money, the original artists began to take legal action, claiming copyright infringement. Some sampling artists fought back, claiming their samples were fair use (a legal doctrine in the US that is not universal). International sampling is governed by agreements such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act.

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