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Chopping and Flipping: How to Clear a Music Sample

The following post comes directly from Soundfly’s acclaimed online course, The Art of Hip-Hop Production. Learn the nuances of producing hip-hop beats, arranging tracks, and creative sampling techniques. Free preview here.

When you make beat-making a part of your music-making endeavours, it’s easy to try a lot of different things and fun to get creative. There’s a ton of ways to play with sounds, but where do find stuff to chop?

The answer is that material is all around you. We consume music and audio all the time. While passively listening to Spotify, binging YouTube videos, or tuning into your car radio, you’ll occasionally hear something and just know you want to sample it. While that’s great in theory, it’s worth discussing some of the legal issues surrounding sampling.

So, how do big artists like Jay-Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar clear stuff? They work with people like Deborah Mannis-Gardner, the founder and president of DMG Clearances, Inc., to negotiate deals that will allow them to use that existing work in their new releases.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Deborah via Skype to discuss the ins and outs of using samples and how the clearance process works. Check it out below!

As Deborah mentioned, there are services you can use to buy pre-cleared, no strings attached samples you can manipulate as you see fit. When you’re starting out, we believe it’s best to stick to Splice and companies like Tracklib to make sure you’re using material that you’ll be able to post as you want.

At the end of the day, use your judgment. This is supposed to be fun. If you sample a James Brown record, fine! You are not the first, and will not be the last. Just be willing to deal with the consequences of working with that material if the track takes off or you wind up wanting to sell the beat.

Alternative Sampling Ideas and Challenges

Here are some extra ideas for how you might find some exciting material to work with, especially if you’re working in a hip-hop beat making context.

Ask Friends for Playlists

Got a friend who knows every record under the sun? Ask them to send you a playlist of stuff that they think would be interesting to sample.

DIY Rhythm Roulette

Rhythm Roulette is a popular YouTube series that takes producers to record stores, blindfolds them, and has them pick a handful of records. They then go back to the studio and challenge those producers to put together a beat using something they picked up at the record store. The results are pretty incredible.

Thrift Shopping

There’s so much undiscovered gold sitting in thrift shop dollar bins. Even if you don’t have a turntable now, start collecting inexpensive vinyl. Even if you use the internet as strategically as you possibly can, there’s so much good stuff you’re unlikely to find online because of how old or obscure it is.

Embrace the Obscure

One of the best feelings ever is when a random music search for rare, different, and forgotten things leads to discovering something you’re excited to use. Remember, sampling is all about finding something interesting and/or obscure and using it to create something new and incredible. The lesser known it is, the better your chances of clearing it for use without breaking the bank.

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Charles Burchell
Charles Burchell

Charles Burchell is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, educator, and diplomat from New Orleans, LA. He has studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the New England Conservatory (B.M. ’12), and most recently completed the Masters of Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Ed. M ’13). Burchell has recorded and produced albums with Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson, Delfayo Marsalis, Ran Blake, Ciel Rouge, his band The Love Experiment (featured in Touring on a Shoestring), and has performed and given master classes at various music festivals around the world. Burchell also works as a cultural diplomat with the Next Level Program and is currently a teaching artist for Carnegie Hall’s Digital Music Production Workshop and Musical Connections Program in which he works with court involved youth and students from various boroughs throughout New York City. Burchell continues to perform regularly around the U.S. and internationally as a DJ, drummer, and bandleader.