The definition of sampling involves taking a portion, or “sample” of a song or recording, and reusing it as an element of a new recording. Typically done with a sampler such as an MPC, or digitally using your favourite DAW accompanied by a MIDI controller such as the popular MPK Mini. Sampling has been a key part of music for many decades, particularly within the Hip Hop genre, and there’s no doubt one of your favourite songs includes a sample from another. In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about sampling. Including what it involves and how you can get started.
What is sampling?
Sampling is a technique and art form that has been an important aspect of many genres of music for decades. The foundation of Hip Hop and a major part of the way Pop and Electronic Music is produced. While being a fundamental part of “Remix Culture”. The most common elements of music sampled from songs include strings, basslines, drum loops, vocal hooks and even entire bars of music. Which are then, chopped up, re-arranged and re-mixed to create an entirely new song. Samples are often layered, EQ’d, sped up, slowed down, looped and manipulated to a point where you may not even be able to notice the resemblance. With the latest advancements in technology, the possibilities are endless.
Over the years there have been countless debates as to whether the art of sampling was a true and original art form. However, nowadays it is mostly accepted as an element of modern music. And you’ll find a number of your favourite hits include the use of a sample or two. So why sample when you can create your own sounds using synthesizers? Simple, the art of sampling can produce entirely new and unique results that you can’t achieve with a synthesizer alone. Additionally, the process of finding a sample and then creating something entirely new with it is an extremely rewarding process.
So where and how did it start?
History of Sampling
Many people believe that sampling originated with Hip-Hop. However, the first known instance of sampling dates all the way back to the 1940’s with musique concrète. But it wasn’t until 1970 when the term was first coined by the Fairlight CMI; one of the first instruments to have an onboard digital sampler, and a staple in 1980’s pop music.
Before the rise of sampling, Hip Hop DJ’s would use turntables to loop and playback break-beats from old records, that artists would then rap over. One of the most popular break-beats to loop and sample was James Brown’s “The Funky Drummer”. A song in which the popular drum break is now known to be sampled in over 1538 songs (according to whosampled.com) Then, in 1988 we saw the release of the first Akai MPC, which at the time was a more affordable and intuitive instrument. The MPC opened sampling to a much wider audience, which perhaps almost single-handedly revolutionized the Hip Hop genre.
Hip Hop producers would go “digging in the crates” in search of records that could be used for samples to create new music. Then, using the MPC would chop up sections of the sample, playing out new melodies using the intuitive drum pads.
Examples of sampling
So, now we’ve explained what the term sampling actually means and what it entails. Let’s show you some examples where samples have been used in the music industry to create some hit songs. Take a listen and see if you can spot the parts that were sampled from the originals!
- Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
Sample: Queen – Under Pressure
- Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
- Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
Sample: The Charmels – As Long As I’ve Got You
- Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
- Gang Starr feat. Inspectah Deck: Above the Clouds
Sample: John Dankworth: Two Piece Flower
- Gang Starr feat. Inspectah Deck: Above the Clouds
What can be sampled
The possibilities of what can be sampled are truly endless. When most people think of sampling they think about sampling full recordings of songs. However, basically any form of audio is fair game and sample-able if you get creative. From film sequences and dialogue, to documentaries, YouTube videos, and ambient sounds. You can even record sounds straight from the street with one of our field recorders. Get inspired by Hip-Hop producer Mr. Green as he does just that, sampling street artists and sounds from the street to create some amazing new songs!
Combine these methods of sampling with new advancements in technology and you have everything you can think of at your fingertips. With royalty-free music companies and even fellow producers providing you access to high-quality sample packs. Allowing you to use pre-recorded field recordings, piano sounds, drum hits, synthesized FX, sampled loops and more!
Where can I find samples
So, now you’re aware of all the different options, where can you find them? With countless sounds to sample, there are just as many places to look for them. We’ll go over a few of the basics, so you can get started creating sampled-hits today!
Vinyl / Digital Music Library
If you have a music library, you have a collection of samples waiting to be used. Whether it’s Vinyl, CD or Digital Files, you can sample it all. Originally, the art of sampling was almost exclusively done through the use of records. Producers would “dig” through crates of vinyl for hours and hours trying to find the most unique sounds to sample from. To this day many still exclusively use this method, staying true to the foundations of sampling. You can’t deny that warm human feel to the sample you get from Vinyl too!
Alternatively, if you choose to use music from your digital library, or CD’s; you can simply drag these files into your DAW and start chopping your samples from here! One thing to make sure with this technique is that you’re using high-quality files and audio-formats. From experience, nothing sounds good when you’re sampling from a 128kpbs Mp3 file. Check out our article on the best Audio Formats for a better understanding!
YouTube is another great library for samples. With 300 hours of video being uploaded every single minute, you can be sure there are countless gems ready to be sampled. If you dig for long enough, you’ll find many channels dedicated to uploading Vinyl rips of obscure songs, albums and drum breaks. Therefore, perfect for finding obscure music that just MAYBE, hasn’t been sampled before, especially if you don’t have access to a turntable or record collection. Again, you have to be careful when it comes to sound quality on YouTube. With such a wide variety of video and audio at your disposal, there is plenty that doesn’t make the cut when it comes to audio quality.
Sample Websites and Producer Sample Kits
Another place you can go to find music samples, drum kits and pre-recorded sounds are curated sample websites. There are so many websites out there providing access to high quality and royalty-free sounds. Meaning you’re free to use these samples with no legal ramifications. Additionally, many notable producers also individually offer their own Sample Packs and Drum Kits. Perfect if you’re looking to replicate a certain drum sound that you love. An example of this is Hip Hop producer Illmind, who has leveraged his range of “Blap” sample packs and drum kits to grow his name. And are now used by budding hip hop producers worldwide. You can also find sample packs from well-known artists such as David Guetta, Hardwell, Deadmau5 and more
You can also use website whosampled.com as a quality sample directory. Giving you an insight into some of the most popular samples, and what songs they were used on. For legality reasons, this acts primarily as a directory and reference point, without providing downloads for samples. Nevertheless, it’s a website worth having in your sampling arsenal!
If you’re looking for websites featuring downloadable and royalty-free ready-to-use sounds, we’ve compiled a list of a few popular websites. Featuring sounds, loops and drums for a range of music genres:
How To Sample
The general approach to sampling involves taking a portion of sound from your audio track and processing it through your sampler or Digital Audio Workstation. You’ll then chop it up, loop it, pitch it and or arrange it in an entirely new way to create a brand new sound for your song. From there, you can assign slices of your sounds to different MIDI notes to play out on your MIDI controller or keyboard.
Often, samples are processed with effects like the Equalizer or EQ to purposely isolate a portion of the audio. For example, adding a high-pass filter to your sampled audio can help remove the kick drum and percussion instruments. Therefore allowing you to add your own hard-hitting drums on top of the sample. While adding a low-pass filter can help you isolate the bass line if that’s what caught your ear.
There’s no right or wrong way to sample, and the best way is to experiment and find something that works well with your workflow. However, there are plenty of in-depth tutorials on Youtube that go into sampling with your specific DAW.
Legalities of Sampling
Sampling is a fun and unique way to create interesting new sounds for your productions, however, it does come with a downside. When sampling songs from songs and records you risk the legal issues of getting sued. As in most cases, you’re technically breaching copyright laws. Although the art form has been done for decades, there are several cases where high-profile artists have been sued for millions of dollars just for using a sample. The most recent and notable case at the time of writing involves Lil Nas X with his hit song “Old Town Road”. Lil Nas X is being sued a whopping 25 million dollars for using a sample from Bobby Caldwell’s song “Carry On”.
Check out this article by HighSnobiety for some other names who have been famously sued for sampling.
You can go through the processes to clear the sample, giving you the right to use it. However, it’s a timely and costly process and doesn’t always end up in your favour anyway. On the plus side, if you do choose to use samples without clearance, your chances of getting sued are quite small. That is until you start making some serious money from it. So it’s up to you!
Alternatively, If you’re worried about being sued for sampling copyrighted music, you can always take the safe option of using royalty-free music and sounds from some of the websites listed above. Additionally, almost every DAW comes included with a variety of royalty-free samples and sounds you can use however you want.
Now you have all the information you need to know about sampling to get started. So close this page and get to work!
If you’re interested in a MIDI controller to make sampling within your DAW even more exciting, check out our wide range of products!