Sample Music Legally: Making Music Wisely And Safely
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The best part about music is that starts with silence. You can do anything you want. What do you design? What happens when you see new potential in someone’s already existing piece? How to sample music legally and without getting in trouble?
What is sampling?
Simply said, sampling in music is the technique of taking a portion of an already existing musical piece and using it in your music. Technology is giving us an easy access to everything and sampling is easier than it has ever been before. This, of course, made record labels and artists keep a better eye on their work and protecting it. Sampling might put you in a very unwanted situation if you are not doing it right. Due to the many platforms we can upload and promote our music on, it is obviously impossible to keep track of every song out there that includes a sample of another song. You need to be aware that if you are going to put your work out there for commercial use, this will bring you the attention.
How to sample music legally?
To sample music legally you will need sample clearance.
What is sample clearance?
Sample clearance is the process through which you get the permission from the original owners of the record to use a portion from their record in your own work.
Who do I get sample clearance from?
When you need sample clearance, you usually need it coming from two ends, both owners of copyrights:
- The owner(s) of the song and
- The owners of the master tape – the record labels.
How do I get sample clearance?
This is the first step in using a sample legally through getting sample clearance. Narrow it down to who are the people who own the copyrights of the song you want to use. Sometimes this might be a bit challenging, but here’s a a few websites that could help you do this:
- The American Society Of Composers, Authors & Publishers
- The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada
- Harry Fox
After you’ve located them, you’ve done the first step, and now it is time to contact them.
What if I can’t reach the owners of the copyrights?
This is actually very possible. Well, you will reach out to them, but, will you get a response? This really depends on who you’re dealing with. How big is the artist, how popular is the song, who is the record label standing behind it, and well, who you are. If you are an independent artist, sadly you will sometimes have to face the reality of someone never even bothering to give you a response. But in case you do reach them…
How do I increase my chances of getting sample clearance (especially as an independent artist)?
Imagine you reached them and now you can discuss the topic and you have the chance to finally ask for sample clearance. This itself will bring you some obstacles as well. Again, depending on who you’re dealing with, but you should be prepared cause you never know. Sometimes, the owners might put you in a position where they will want a demo of your work where the sample of theirs is included. Sometimes they will ask you to send them the whole product before they approve or reject the use of their sample, or owning the copyrights of your product and most likely paying to get the sample. However, you already got it – it does not come to you for free. There are things you can do though.And they can help you get into a deal that might be reasonable and worth it on your end as well.
- Be accurate about your work – describe the duration of your song, what portion of their song are you sampling, how long will that last, what is your distribution plan, the amount you plan on distributing, the medium on which you want to distribute your final product etc.
All these things are very important and your answers might help you get what you need easier. So, be prepared.
If I use a few seconds of a song…
While we are at these details, here is one common myth that circulates around all of this. You have probably heard that there is a certain duration of a few seconds when it comes to a sample, that you can use without breaking the law and offending the copyrights. This is not true. If the sample lasts shorter then the chances of it being recognized by an average listener might be smaller, but this still does not make it any less illegal and will still put you in trouble if the owners come to knowledge about it.
How much will it cost to sample music legally?
This depends on many factors (most of them we mentioned in the above):
- How long is the sample?
- Who is the owner of the copyrights?
- Is the song well known and so on and so on..
So in order to find this out you have to find out to who you’re dealing with first, and see their particular policy around the sample clearance issues.
What happens if I don’t get in contact with the people I need to get the sample clearance from?
In all honesty, if you see a lot of potential in the product you use the sample(s) in, and you think it is going to get recognition, then you have to face the reality of putting yourself in trouble if you proceed to use a sample without getting clearance first. This might put you in some not very comfortable situations. But if you want to maybe try an alternative solution to the problem in the meantime.
Know these few things
- Using a sample while performing live without the material being recorded in any audio or video form that will end up being distributed to the public should not put you in trouble.
- If you are using someone’s vocals consider covering the song with your own vocals.
- Work around the sample. Give it your own touch. Cover it with your own creative dust. To make it less recognizable. This is not the greatest idea and I am not encouraging you to do it because it is illegal. But if the ear of an average listener is not able to recognize it – the risks of getting in trouble are smaller.
What if I don’t get sample clearance and proceed using the sample anyway?
So, you’ve finished recording your song, you have the sample in it, it hasn’t been cleared with the owners. You decide to distribute the song, bring it into the commercial world. It gets popular, people hear about it, so do the copyright owners of the sample you used. Now what they decide to do is up to them. You might end up in court for this because sampling without a sample clearance is actually a crime. They might make you pay a huge amount of money for using their sample, take your copyrights away, label it as their own product, or even make you put your song down. So think about it, is it worth it?
Well.. what have we learned?
I hope this gave you a better understanding on how to sample legally.
Now here is the thing, the reality is – everyone is inspired by someone. There might be some artists out there who will take sampling as a compliment. I am sure nobody would ever hesitate to give credit to the original creator. But, things are the way they are and breaking the law isn’t really a nice thing, so take this whole process of sample clearance as a way to respect the artist’s intellectual and creative effort that originally influenced or inspired you. Despite all of this, I leave you by asking you to think about it and reconsider it when someone asks you to use your sample – maybe you just helped another great piece of art affect the world.