Sampling (music)

In music, sampling is the reuse of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in another recording. Samples may comprise elements such as rhythm, melody, speech, sounds, or entire bars of music, and may be layered, equalized, sped up or slowed down, repitched, looped, or otherwise manipulated. They are usually integrated using hardware (samplers) or software such as digital audio workstations.

DJ Premier selecting records to sample

A process similar to sampling originated in the 1940s with musique concrète, experimental music created by splicing and looping tape. The mid-20th century saw the introduction of keyboard instruments that played sounds recorded on tape, such as the Mellotron. The term sampling was coined in the late 1970s by the creators of the Fairlight CMI, a synthesizer with the ability to record and play back short sounds. As technology improved, cheaper stand-alone samplers with more memory emerged, such as the E-mu Emulator, Akai S950, and Akai MPC.

Sampling is a foundation of hip hop music, which emerged with 1980s producers sampling funk and soul records, particularly drum breaks. Sampling has since influenced many genres of music, particularly electronic music and pop. Samples such as the Amen break, "Funky Drummer" drum break, and orchestra hit have been used in thousands of recordings. The first album created entirely from samples, Endtroducing by DJ Shadow, was released in 1996.

Sampling without permission can infringe copyright or may be fair use. The process of acquiring permission for a sample is known as clearance, a potentially complex and costly process; samples from well-known sources are now often prohibitively expensive. Courts have taken different positions on whether sampling without permission is permitted. In Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc, 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) and Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005), the courts ruled that unlicensed sampling constitutes copyright infringement. However, in VMG Salsoul v Ciccone, 824 F.3d 871 (9th Cir. 2016) found that unlicensed samples constituted de minimis copying, and therefore did not infringe copyright.