The Sound of Samples
By Katherine Stallard
The best part about music is that is it a component of a multitude of parts. Whether it be a swirling mix of vocals, guitar, and a beat, a track booming with numerous sounds and frequencies, or a minimalist track that echos in your brain, music is its most successful when its production is skillfully crafted and its whole is more than its single parts. Musicians succeed because they develop rhythms and flows to create songs with their own sounds and characters. A popular and age old process called sampling enhances this idea of a song’s individual energy. Sampling easily enhances the music making process and can take any sound, revive it, rework it, and make it into a different, entirely separate work of art that wouldn’t have been the same without it.
While widely debated across the board, the process of sampling has been used for decades to effect the sound of a track. Sampling at its narrowest definition consists of taking a portion (a sample) of another sound recording and implementing and enfusing it in another song. In the early days of hip-hop, where most good things in music begin, sampling rapidly exploded. Despite its appearance decades before the 80s hip-hop conception, with the sampling of everyday sounds like a train track, sampling quickly became a new beast of its own, scorching a path through conventional music.
It’s no surprise that sampling still finds its biggest audience in hip-hop music, with its allusion-packed lyrics and samples curating a deliciously complex puzzle to be cracked, but samping can also be incredibly malleable to whatever vision the artist wants to create.
Utilizing samples in music, despite critics’ cries of unoriginality, is in fact quite the opposite. Samples play with the breaks in the music, the tempo, and the overall effect of the sound in a new piece, making it a fresh and independent song. While the sampling privilege has been manipulated before, with numerous musicians sued for using a sample too much or violating the contract between the two parties, when sampling is engineered well, the result can be an exceptionally new, engaging, and separate piece from the sampled party.
Some of the best samples are ones you aren’t even aware of. Sampling doesn’t have to be apparent or in your face, and it often isn’t. A sample can range broadly from a blatantly snipped clip of dialogue or a simple melody taken and re-arranged. Sampling also helps shed a light on lesser known works. Often sampled are a handful of obscure songs that didn’t have original success but have bathed in the royalties from the immensely popular sampled tracks.
Sampling intrigue goes beyond just the creation aspect of the track and can offer listeners the fun chance to play detective in their music. With sites like whosampled.com available for music listeners to scavenge pages of music sample history to their heart's content, the discovery process can be streamlined to help figure out that ear-bug that’s escaping your mind.
Songs like ‘Secrets’ by The Weeknd are their own complete body of work. But if you really know your music, there are melodies that peak out underneath the signature Weeknd sound - samples from two hit new-wave songs, ‘Pale Shelter’ by Tears For Fears and ‘Talking in your Sleep’ by The Romantics. Digging deeper into the songs’ samples allows the listener to get a heightened appreciation for their music, and may even prompt them to check out the original tunes and discover a new favorite song.
Music itself is an art. Forming a song from scratch is hard enough when almost everything has been done before and to some, sampling is just a cop out. But the truth is that while original, groundbreaking music can be created without samples, original groundbreaking music can also be created with samples. No matter how little or how much a sample makes it way into the track, it is crucial to the unique outcome. Samples aren’t a regurgitation but rather an engaging innovation, a revamp of something already good into something newfangled and captivating.