In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a different sound recording of a song or piece. The widespread use of sampling in popular music originated with the birth of electronic dance music, hip hop music and industrial music in the late 1970s to early 1980s. This is typically done with a sampler, which can be a piece of hardware or a computer program. Sampling is also possible with tape loops or with vinyl records on a phonograph.
Often "samples" consist of one part of a song, such as a break, used in another, for instance the use of the drum introduction from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" in songs by the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mike Oldfield, Rob Dougan, Coldcut, Depeche Mode and Erasure, and the guitar riffs from Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" in Tone Lōc's "Funky Cold Medina". "Samples" in this sense occur often in industrial music, often using spoken words from movies and TV shows, as well as electronic music (which developed out of the musique concrète style of electroacoustic music, based almost entirely on samples and sample-like parts), hip hop, developed from DJs repeating the breaks from songs, and contemporary R&B, but are becoming more common in other music as well.
Once recorded, samples can be edited, played back, or looped (i.e. played back continuously). Types of samples include:
- Main article: Music loop
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 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. (See sample-based synthesis for more information.) 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 Series (EM-1, ES-1; EMX-1 and the ESX-1) 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 and DSP 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, 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. A common standard format for generating such sample sets is the SoundFont protocol.
Resampled layers of sounds generated by a music workstation
To conserve polyphony, 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.
Recordings and popular examples
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.
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 notable 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 (Grip Your Hips More)" 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".
- Main article: Sampler (musical instrument)
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 USA 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.
Sampling existing (copyrighted) recordings using manipulation with tape recorders goes back at least as far as 1961, when James Tenney created Collage #1 ("Blue Suede") from samples of Elvis Presley's recording of the song "Blue Suede Shoes." At the time, many artists such as Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs were experimenting with the new technology that was tape-recording by manipulating existing works such as radio broadcasts. Brion Gysin's work tended to favor his permutation poems as the vehicle for cut-ups with spliced repetition of the same series of words rearranged in every conceivable pattern, frequently utilizing snippets of speeches or news broadcasts. Burroughs preferred a much more frantic and disorganized sound that would later spawn similar disjointed collage material from modern groups such as Negativland. Burroughs would record, for instance, a radio broadcast about military action, then dub parts of the broadcast likely at random often stuttering and distorting the original work far beyond comprehension.
However, before then, the 1956 novelty hit single "The Flying Saucer", by Buchanan and Goodman, used segments of the original recordings of 18 different chart hits from 1955–56, intertwined with spoken "news" commentary in the style of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, to tell the story of a visit from a flying saucer. After the record was issued, an agreement was reached with music publishing houses for them to take a share of royalties from the records sold. Although his partnership with Buchanan soon ended, Dickie Goodman continued to make similar records through the 1960s and 1970s, one of his biggest hits being "Mr. Jaws" in 1975.
Simon and Garfunkel sampled themselves in using a portion of their song "The Sounds of Silence" in "Save the life of my child" from their 1967 "Bookends" album. The Beatles also used the technique on a number of popular recordings in the mid to late '60s, including "Yellow Submarine", "Revolution 9" and "I Am the Walrus." John Kongos is credited in the Guinness World Records as the first person to sample a song with his single, "He's Gonna Step On You Again". Timothy Leary sampled the Beatles and the Rolling Stones among others on his album You Can Be Anyone This Time Around in 1970.
In the early 1970s, DJ Kool Herc often looped hard funk break beats at block parties in The Bronx. However, sampling did not truly take off in popular music until the early eighties when pioneering hip hop producers, such as Grandmaster Flash, started to produce rap records using sampled breaks rather than live studio bands, which had until then been the norm.
Conventional wisdom would hold that the first popular rap single to feature sampling was "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang on their own independent Sugar Hill Label in 1979. However, instead of 'sampling' the existing record "Good Times" by Chic, Sugar Hill employed a house band, called "Positive Force" to record a copy of "Good Times" which was then rapped over. Doug Wimbish and other session musicians were called upon to play live music on many classic Sugar Hill records. Those sounds are not samples but live musicians.
Earliest examples of this practice include Grandmaster Flash's - "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981) (which was made by recording vinyl manipulation on a pair of turntables and used the "Apache" break by the Incredible Bongo Bong Band amongst other famous breaks), Brother D and the Collective Effort's "How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise" (1984) (which sampled the beat and bass line from Cheryl Lynn's 1978 hit "Got to be Real") and UTFO's "Roxanne Roxanne" (1984). Bill Holt's Dreamies (1974) is often cited as one of the earliest examples of sampling in popular music. Later examples of sampling include Big Audio Dynamite and their 1985 album This Is Big Audio Dynamite and the single E=MC² which Mick Jones (formerly of The Clash) sampled snippets of audio from various films including works by Nicolas Roeg which make up the Roeg homage E=MC². The 1981 album by David Byrne and Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, used sampling extensively for the songs' vocals.
One of the first major legal cases regarding sampling was with UK dance act M|A|R|R|S "Pump Up the Volume". As the record reached the UK top ten, producers Stock Aitken Waterman obtained an injunction against the record due to the unauthorized use of a sample from their hit single "Roadblock". The dispute was settled out of court, with the injunction being lifted in return for an undertaking that overseas releases would not contain the "Roadblock" sample, and the disc went on to top the UK singles chart. The sample in question had been so distorted as to be virtually unrecognizable, and SAW didn't realize their record had been used until they heard co-producer Dave Dorrell mention it in a radio interview.
In 1987, The JAMs released 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) 1987 was produced using extensive unauthorised samples which plagiarised a wide range of musical works. They were ordered by the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society to destroy all unsold copies of the album because of the numerous uncleared samples, after a complaint from ABBA. In response, The JAMs disposed of many copies of 1987 in unorthodox, publicised ways. They also released a version of the album titled "1987 (The JAMs 45 Edits)", stripped of all unauthorised samples to leave periods of protracted silence and so little audible content that it was formally classed as a 12-inch single.
2 Live Crew, a hip-hop group familiar with controversy, was often in the spotlight for their 'obscene' and sexually explicit lyrics. They sparked many debates about censorship in the music industry. However, it was their 1989 album As Clean as They Wanna Be (a re-tooling of As Nasty As They Wanna Be) that began the prolonged legal debate over sampling. The album contained a track entitled "Pretty Woman," based on the well-known Roy Orbison song Oh, Pretty Woman. 2 Live Crew's version sampled the guitar, bass, and drums from the original, without permission. While the opening lines are the same, the two songs split ways immediately following.
Roy Orbison's version – "Pretty woman, walking down the street/ Pretty woman, the kind I'd like to meet."
2 Live Crew's version – "Big hairy woman, all that hair ain't legit,/ Cause you look like Cousin Itt.
Usually 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.
Many genres utilize sampling of spoken word to induce a mood, and Goa trance 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 Posttraumatic 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, on the album Use Your Illusion II. Other bands that frequently used samples in their work are noise rockers Steel Pole Bath Tub and death metal band Skinless.
These 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.
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