Forbes recently published an article about the sampling of music and the resulting increase in sales for the sampled artists’ works. The study by W. Michael Schuster focused on the group Girl Talk, known for their mash-ups and extensive use of samples. The study concluded that sales for the artists sampled by Girl Talk increased the following year.
Don’t get me wrong, sampling laws are screwed up right now and 99% of my music is sample-based, but this is one hell of a biased study. I have 2 main problems with it.
1. It assumes people know what the original sample is
When a pop artist samples an older pop song, a person may know the original or can easily find the source. For example, Gym Class Heroes “Take a Look at my Girlfriend” which used Supertramp‘s original, is easily accessible. Supertramp has several hits under their belt and the song is named the same as the original. Easy to locate.
But what about producers like Alchemist? Who sample records from the bowels of Eastern Europe from the 70s? How are you finding that? Sure, sites like the-breaks.com or whosampled.com (or even my site haha) can help with the search. But contrary to belief, not EVERY song ever recorded in the history of music is known. There are still plenty of obscure samples that no one knows. Or samples that are so altered that they are unidentifiable.
To compound this fact, we also have a slew of mixtapes/street albums from Hip-Hop artists. Those samples are usually not cleared which means production credit is non-existent. Even if they were, when is the last time you saw the liner notes of an album? Hard to do when you downloaded an MP3.
2. It assumes the original song is available for sale
No kiddies, not every song in the world is available on iTunes. There are several sampled songs that are foreign, rare, or never intended for commercial release. Because of that, no one may even own the rights to sell them digitally (or otherwise). Unless the song appears on some sort of “sample compilation” you may not be able to buy it, even if you wanted. For example, Prodigy‘s “Keep it Thoro” (prod. by Alchemist) sampled a Capitol Media Music Library song. These releases were intended for film/tv as background music, not commercial release. So who owns the rights to sell that?
Do people even buy music anymore? Yes, some of us do. But the average hip-hop fan? With so many free albums available and illegal downloads accessible, I find it hard to believe that someone who doesn’t pay for the new song will go out of their way to purchase the sampled one. Yes, the findings in the study do work if the sampling song has a wide audience and the original work is known/accessible. Unfortunately, for a large chunk of hip-hop this isn’t the case.
I get what they are trying to gain by the study – re-examine sampling/copyrights as they have the potential to increase sales. I’m all for that. But let’s be honest, do you know anyone rushing to buy the latest DJ Premier samples?