The idea of music sampling may seem like it’s cheating to some, but most producers will say that it’s totally okay to sample if you’re going about it the right way. The problem is, a lot of new producers out here are doing things really wrong and making the rest of us look bad when we say we dabble in sampling as well.
Many of the most successful producers in genres like EDM and Hip Hop use samples for their beats. Kanye West is a popular example of a producer who is known for samples that many people in the music industry and fans really respect in terms of his craft. A lot of well-known producers in the EDM realm like Olly James and KSHMR use sample libraries like Splice to make their beats as well.
If you’re getting really paranoid about the prospect of using samples, try to think about the fact that most musical ideas are recycled anywho with minor unique tweaks here and there. More generally, a lot of creative works including fiction, fashion, and visual art are sampled in one way or another. Don't let it stress you; music creation is supposed to be a fun process.
South African DJ and Producer Pagan-za describes it perfectly here:
"I thought using loops was cheating so I programmed my own samples. Then I thought using samples was cheating so I recorded real drums.
I then thought that programming was cheating so I learned to play drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating so I learned to make my own.
I then thought that using premade skins was cheating so I killed a goat and skinned it. I then thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating but I'm not sure where to go from here. I haven't made any music lately, with the goat farming and all."
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The best way to sample is with material that you have been given the right to sample. Use sites like Splice and Primeloops to get access to samples that won't get you in trouble later down the line. Stolen samples can get you sued and doxxed in the music community; it's not worth it! And don't assume that just because you don't have a big audience, you won't get caught.
If you plan to use a sample in your song, that's totally fine. Issues may arise when you start using all samples and no original content in your production. Try mixing in your own instrumentation here and there if you can with live instrumentation or MIDI. Don't limit yourself to sample ideas that the sample creator already put together themselves.
Many sample packs and loops come in folders with tags that often have samples grouped together by their sound. For example, you may come across a few files labeled "cool AF drum", "cool AF synth", and "cool AF bass". Don't be the producer that decides to put all the same elements together without putting in any original thought of ways to mix the sounds and make them more original.
Another option for sampling the right way is to edit the samples to your own liking to the point that it's recognizably different from the original sample. Effects like EQ, Overdrive, Auto-Wah, Panning, and Reverb can change a sample so much that you're in the territory of original ideas. Chopping loops is another great way to make it your own.
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Most popular producers that use sample packs highly edit the samples that they find, so it would be hard to tell they are even sampling at times. This is a good thing! It may not be ideal to have a prominent sound in your song that is exactly like 1000 other songs that are floating out there in the independent music world. You'd be surprised what tweaks and chops can do!
If you're worried that many of the popular sample libraries are being used by too many other producers, especially in your genre, try to think outside of the box. Get samples from friends or family members that will give you permission to use their sounds. Look into obscure sounds that are found in the public domain to add to your beats. Create your own loops and then edit and chop them yourself if you want.
Make sure you know what you're doing when it comes to the musicality of your track. Are you familiar with music theory and ear training? A lot of people that are getting into sample libraries really don't have the ear for music, and it's not a good look especially when you're showcasing your tracks to people who are actually musically trained.
Make sure you have a good command of time signatures and key signatures. Know your scales so you don't mix instrumentation melodies that don't make sense together. The fact that you're sampling will surely stand out if you're not doing it in a way that's sonically pleasing.
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Using samples in beats is not cheating as long as you are still being original with some aspects of your creation. And if you still have a nagging feeling that sampling will take away from your authenticity, simply don’t do it! It’s really a choice that is all your own. Just know that there aren’t that many new things musically coming up in this day and age, so you’re likely sampling someone else’s idea with everything that you create regardless.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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