Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sampling in Music - Creativity or Lack Thereof?

One of the more contentious areas of argument in the modern music industry is the ethics behind the use of sampling in the creation of new music. Some people argue that it proves or enhances creativity. Others say that it is just theft, and is used by artists who aren't creative enough to come up with their own original works.

Basically, for those who don't understand sampling, it is when someone takes a piece of an existing song and uses it in (or as the entire basis for) another song. The sample can be simple, like two or three notes or chords, or it can be more complex, consisting of a full bassline or a more complicated chord set of chord structures. Sometimes the artist will copy the exact sound from the old song, and other times they'll just create a very similar replication of their own.

I'm going to give you a few examples, and I'll start with one that probably very few people are aware of. Listen to the first few seconds of each of these two songs. One is the very well-known "Paper Planes" by MIA from just a couple years ago. The other is an old song called "Straight To Hell" by The Clash, which I listened to a lot when I was younger:

House music and Hip Hop are probably the two genres which rely most heavily on the use of sampling. Interestingly, in an evolutionary sense, house and hip hop are very closely related genres, although most people wouldn't expect that. I won't get into that discussion, but suffice it to say that they both evolved from very similar origins, just like chimpanzees and humans shared common ancestors.

I first became acquainted with the use of sampling when I was just a kid. My parents had a lot of old 45 records from the 50's and 60's, and I used to listen to them constantly and watch shows like "Name That Tune" on TV. One of the records was a novelty production called "The Flying Saucer," by Buchanan & Goodman. They experimented with a story of a UFO that landed on earth, and pretended they were doing a newscast of the event, but threw in clips from eighteen other popular 50's songs as part of the story (yes, they eventually got sued). It's pretty odd, but as a kid, I thought it was pretty fascinating:

Anyway, I'm going to show you five other pairs of songs where the first song uses samples from the second. Most are really obvious. The last one is far less obvious (it's in the bass line). See if you can figure out the samples used.

"Ice Ice Baby" (Vanilla Ice) samples "Under Pressure" (Queen)

"Rapper's Delight" (Sugarhill Gang) samples "Good Times" (Chic)

"I'll Be Missing You" (Puffy) samples "Every Breath You Take" (Police)

"Barbara Streisand" (Duck Sauce) samples "Hallo Bimmelbahn" (Nighttrain)

"Rhythm Nation" (Janet Jackson) samples "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" (Sly and the Family Stone)

As I said, this last one is pretty tough to notice if you're not looking for it specifically. Some artists will manipulate a sample heavily in order to try to change it significantly before they recycle it, either though the use of tempo changes, pitch changes, effects processing, or a combination of all of the above.

That's all for now, but at some point in the future, I think I'll probably make another post with some comparisons of some really subtle samples.