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How To Use Samples On Tracks Without Getting Sued


The legal battle with sampling tracks is ongoing. You probably see it in the press a lot, whether it’s Kanye West claiming he’s bankrupt from the copious amounts of samples on his new album, to minascule everyday cases. It appears everywhere and it’s easier said than done to know what to, and not to use. Landr compiled a list of ways to fit in samples, without being sued.


“How to Find Sounds to Samples

  1. Use The Creative Commons – Creative Commons is a licensing organization that fosters the fair use of artistic work for other artists to use. Their search engine CCMixter is great for finding all types of sound that is legal to sample. Just type in what you’re looking for and browse the results.
  2. Search The Public Domain – When an artist creates something they keep certain ownership rights. But after a certain amount of time these rights expire and their works enter the public domain. That means they’re safe to sample. A great place to find public domain sounds is the music page on archive.org.
  3. Make The Sample Unrecognizable – Apply effects to your sample. Reverse it. Pitch it down. Layer it. Or bury it in the mix. This basically just means making your sample an entirely new thing. Sure, the original sound is in there somewhere. But you’ve made it your own and it’ll be hard to hear any trace of the original. Doing this can be a bit dicy. So make sure you really change it up.
  4. Use Sample Sites that Offer Royalty-Free Sample Packs – Sites like Wavy.audio provide sample packs that are 100% free and legal to use in your own tracks. They’re the perfect resource for finding good free sounds to build a project around. They take the stress out of clearing samples.
  5. Clear Your Sample – If all else fails and you just have use that perfect copyrighted sound you can clear your sample with the owner. When someone writes a song the songwriter or publisher owns the rights. The same thing goes for recording a song. The recording is usually owned by the artist or their record label. To clear a sample you must get permission from both owners and enter into a sample agreement. Usually a very expensive endeavour. Your best bet is to stick to the royalty-free sample methods I mentioned above.


Snatching the Needle from the Haystack

Now that you know where to find good sample material you have to start listening in a different way. Stop hearing the whole song and start focusing on the little bits. Hear the song, but focus on the parts that it’s made of. If you’re looking for drums, hear the drum part. If you’re looking for strings, focus on the strings.

How to Use Samples

Let’s find a sample in a song and use it in a beat. There’s a million different ways to sample—loops, breaks, one-shots, vocals. But for this example we’re going to take a small orchestral stab from the Dragnet theme song. Here’s the original that I found through the public domain search tool on archive.org:

Dragnet Theme

I found a sound that I like right around the 4 second mark. You can see it highlighted in the waveform below. I used Simpler in Ableton to isolate it.

Here’s what it sounds like on its own:

Stab Individual

Explore the options in your daw and try morphing, flipping, and effecting your sample. Most DAWs have an option to play your sample as a multi-octave voice. It’s my favourite way to mess around with samples. Here’s how I used my sample in a simple beat. I used the Dead Horse Beats sample pack for the drums. Listen close for the Dragnet sample.

Sixteen Jewel Thieves

What you do with your samples after you cut them out of the source material is the fun part. Experiment in every way that you can and add sampling to your production toolbox.”

It may not be the easiest process, but remember, all good things take work. Take some extra time before diving in and using samples.

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