Is sampling a cop out for less creative people?
There has long been a debate in every form of art between making something from scratch vs sampling the work of others to create something new. One side would argue that all their ideas came from within while the other is just copying what has already been done.
Who made what?
What is truly yours & what is truly mine when it comes to creating? To answer this, you would have to look to the source of ideas.
Where do ideas come from?
Many would say that great ideas don’t have ownership, but rather pass through you from another place. Others would simply say that if it was in your head, then it’s completely you. If you want to come from that angle, then where did “you” come from? Where did the “you” that is creating these wonderful things come from? Did you invent yourself?
Whatever we are has a source beyond ourselves in a physical space that we share. Humans invented ownership, but in reality, it doesn’t exist. We are always sharing… everything (energy, atoms, air, sunshine).
All we are is filters. Each of us has a unique filter that takes in information in a unique way and puts something new back into the world. Some work really hard to develop this filter, and I think that deserves respect, but to say that something is purely your own is fairly delusional.
I read a lot of books that all tend to say the same thing, but because of the filter they come through & the effort to keep that filter pure, some books connect on a much deeper level than others. The content is not really unique, it’s the filter that is you, that makes it individualistic.
When I was younger, I woke up to music when MTV was introduced (yeah, that channel that is known only for reality TV now. Yeah them. They used to be 24/7 music videos, and it was amazing). I saw Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Echo & the Bunnymen, U2 & Devo among many others and thought “I want to do THAT!”.
In my opinion, from that point on, there would be nothing truly original that would come out of me. Instead it would be a mishmash of those things I like about music. Unconsciously I would be sampling a drum rhythm from here, a bass idea from there & a guitar riff from somewhere else. Of course the tone of each would also be influenced by my tastes. Sure, I might stumble upon some happy accidents that help shape my sound, but the source would always be outside of myself.
Maybe you had a music teacher, or a friend you would trade ideas with. Sure you might go your own way, but the influence will always be there, even if it’s “God, I hope I never sound like that. He’s cool and all, but I would never play music like that”.
At what level is sampling considered taboo?
Is it ok to play a riff influenced from another source as long as you aren’t directly sampling from the original artist?
Is it ok to sample a drum hit or a horn sound but not a loop?
Is it ok to grab a loop as long as it’s obscure?
Is it ok to sample whole songs, like a DJ does, as long as he is creating something new with his mixes?
It is ok to play someone else’s mashup in a set?
Is it ok to play a song that has scratching in it, or must you be the only one performing scratches?
Is it ok to sample your own work & then mime to it if the show is too important to risk messing up?
Sampling as an art in and of itself
Like him or hate him, Andy Warhol was a very popular artist who built a career sampling what was around him and repurposing it. Were the pieces used already art, or did he inject something into it that made you look at the work and go “Ah yes, that’s definitely a Warhol piece”.
Some great albums were made from samples & hold up as great works themselves. Several bands come to mind.
Beastie Boys (particularly Licensed to ill & Paul’s Boutique)
Pop Will Eat Itself
Oasis (ok, they didn’t directly sample, but they certainly borrowed ideas heavily)
I’m sure many of you can name loads more. In my opinion, when an artist creates something that is greater than the some of the pieces used to make it, it has merit as art & deserves it’s place. If a song is a hit only because of some Hall & Oates sample it used & is otherwise forgettable, I’d consider that a bit of a cop out.
You know something is good when you are no longer concerned about how something was made or what specific tools were used, because you’re lost in the sound.
Want to reinvent the wheel?
I would say that sampling is using something someone else made to make a work of your own. This would mean that if you didn’t invent everything you are using, you’re more or less sampling. The guitar or piano you’re playing. The plugin you’re using. The computer & Daw you’re using. Hell you might as well make your own electricity while you’re at it.
Music is a bit like evolution, it borrows from the past while testing out new possibilities, the strong ones may split off to a new species (or for music, a new genre).
What are you really afraid of?
I think people who are opposed to sampling have this paranoia that someone is going to get a result more easily than the last generation did by “borrowing” and repurposing old ideas. They might be afraid this it will make their hard work become obsolete with some simple copy & paste action.
Everything becomes a little easier for the next generation. Think about how information is gathered via the internet. What a fantastic resource! Remember that more resources doesn’t make someone an artist. The great ones will always shine through.
I’d say that this is really great motivation to remain relevant in what you do & to keep pushing yourself forward. If you are really good at what you do, you will always be ahead of people who are sampling from you. Then again, you might find that those who sample from you add a spin that in turn re-inspires your new work.
Creativity never stops unless you just aren’t cut out for this profession. Don’t be upset that music is being borrowed, sampled, stolen & re-purposed, be happy that the evolution of sound never ends.
Happy Music Making,
With that said, if you are benefiting from these posts, you will absolutely love my 2 bestselling books:
The Mental Game of Music Production
The Process for Electronic Music Producers
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Happy music making!