With a multitude of hit tracks based on sampling, including “Express Yourself” by N.W.A and “My Name Is” by Eminem, it’s easy to think that you could sample any song. But if you don’t have a bag of expendable money then, unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

You’ve just heard a sweet phrase from an awesome track and you want to sample it. But how do you go about this? Are there laws concerning music sampling? Surely the artist will be fine with you sampling their track because you’re spreading the message of their work, right? What about any other concerned parties such as, dare I say, record labels and music publishers?

What we hear and experience influence us as musicians. So, when the sampling revolution began in the 70s, it caught on over the following decade and pretty much all hip hop artists were sampling this and that track.

The difference between now and the 80s, however, is that regulators have caught up with the times and sampling is no longer a “wild west”.

Is Sampling Music Legal?

The short answer is yes. Although there is a but.

If you want to sample a commercial track or any track in theory, then you will need permission from the owner of the sound recording as well as the owner of the composition itself.

These two copyrights are usually owned by one in the same person with independent artists, but when it comes to commercial artists there’s always more than one person.

For example, the label may have in-house songwriters who composed the track. They hired a record producer to produce the track, and the artist themselves only performed the track.

So, the composer is the owner of the composition copyright while the producer and artist own the sound recording copyright.

So, do not use samples if you don’t have permission from these copyright holders.

What Happens if I Sample a Song Sampled Illegally?

Let’s say you ignored this article because you didn’t like the answer. What would happen to your track?

Should you sample illegally, you may find that our track gets pulled from the market completely (known as an injunction), you could receive a huge fine (in the thousands), or even a criminal prosecution under theft of property.

In 1991, Biz Markie was taken to court for sampling “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan and using the sample in his track “I Need a Hair Cut”.

Sampling music illegally could see you serve a criminal sentence for theft of intellectual property, Source: Cre8 Music Academy

How Much Does it Cost to Sample Music?

So, as we said, there are two permissions that you need to obtain to sample music.

  1. Composition copyright holders’ permission
  2. Sound recordin copyright holders’ permission

The copyright holders will determine however much it costs to get a license by how much value they place on their work. There’s no standard rate, unfortunately.

With this in mind, it’s going to come down to negotiation. Not only will there be royalties to consider, which could vary from a fraction of a cent to five cents, but there is also the matter of an advance/upfront payment to use the sample which could cost many thousands of dollars.

But it’s not just money. Other factors will include how you intend to use the sample. If the copyright holders deem that the way you’ll use the sample will devalue their work then you will be very lucky if they agree to let you use it.

Here are some examples of terms that the copyright holders could set, as stated by Music Industry How To:

Mechanical license for a flat fee or royalty

Mechanical license for a royalty and share in the performance royalties

Co-ownership of the composition and recording rights of your track

Complete ownershi[p of the composition and recording rights of your track

Are There Alternative For Sampling Music?

It’s funny that you should ask that.

There are multiple platforms that allow you to download a given amount of samples for a small fee. There are sites that allow you to download samples for free but the quality of these samples is often compromised or they’re not out of copyright… so it defeats the entire point, really.

Sample subscription services such as Mixxed allow you to pick and choose from thousands of samples and you can download and keep them forever.

On the flip side, there are also sites such as TrackLib. TrackLib allows you to sample polished songs from within their catalogue with a variety of payment plans from free to premium.

The content in their catalogue ranges from old to new and popular to unheard. If you’re looking to grab a segment of a song and legally use it, TrackLib may be your best bet.

The sampling revolution has risen in popularity and shaped music since the early 1970s. Sample culture continues to transform how millions of artists and producers do their thing in DAWs.

You too can break conventional norms, challenge the status quo, and open Pandora’s box of sound design.

Mixxed works with a growing number of sample labels and contributors to provide you with a premium sample subscription service that’s more accessible than any before.

You’ll have access to our growing catalogue of loops, one-shots and sound effects that you can browse, download and keep forever for less than $3 a month.

Sign up today to find your sound!