Sampling isn’t cheating – it’s quoting and recycling

DJ Premier

by Kristian on July 8, 2012 · 2 comments

in Technical stuff in simple terms

Man, sampling is like, lazy

I don’t know about you, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve viewed sampling as something almost inappropriate. I’ve always known the facts – how it influenced pretty much every genre of electronic music, and how it’s often done really creatively. Still, I couldn’t quite get my head around how it wasn’t “cheating”.

My first step towards changing my mind was the fact that there’s nothing truly original in music. It’s all the sums of artists’ influences and thoughts, nearly all of which are taken from somewhere else.

I’ve made music for more than a decade, and I’ve done lots of creative sampling myself, such as when I made a choir sound from my cousin’s talking. In many instances, I’ve made background loops from tunes I’m not pleased with, and used them in new projects – just like recycling!

My puristic view wouldn’t quite let go though – why couldn’t we all make everything from scratch, like in ’70s electronic music or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop?

“Is sampling a cop-out for the creatively challenged?”

Finally, I stumbled across some wise words by Music Software Training, in a post called “Is sampling a cop-out for the creatively challenged?“. As I read the article, I realised that sampling might simply be the audio version of quoting, like in a speech.

When writing a speech, you’re primarily relying on your own experiences and thoughts, but might back them up with something someone else said. This can add credibility, insight, connection, depth, and a whole lot more – it strengthens your words. Relying too much on quotes in a speech is lazy, but used moderately, they can greatly enhance your message, I think.

Many of my favourite artists like Daft Punk and The Prodigy sample a lot, just check out their respective WhoSampled entries: Daft Punk at WhoSampled and The Prodigy at WhoSampled. At times, I’m surprised by how little they’ve done themselves, and I must say I’m getting mixed feelings about them getting so much credit. Is it a tribute to great music from the past, or undeserved fame?

Quoting or recycling?

I haven’t done very much sampling before, but given the insights I’ve gotten, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all. Picasso might have said that great artists steal, but I would rather view it as great artists quote or recycle.

Rather than sampling for its own sake, you now have to ensure that the quote is given a good context and interpretation, or that the recycled material works like it should.

You might have heard the controversy surrounding Timbaland in 2006, when he “sampled” a song by a finnish chiptune artist from six years earlier. To me, it seems a bit too lazy. A quote should be a part of a speech, it shouldn’t be the entire speech. In other words, I think it’s fine to take a tiny segment and mix it up, but this is laziness and stealing.

Great sampling / The history of sampling

However, I’ve also heard several examples of fantastic sampling. A recent example of great sampling is called “Pop Culture” by Madeon, in which he sampled 39(!) popular songs, and turned it into something completely new. To me, this is both quoting and recycling, and it’s a brilliant example of how creative one can be with the music of others:

Here’s one that I did – The first one is drunken girls singing, and the second one (sample occurs at 0:13) is a childish dubstep tune I made:


Skitsang (Analrifter)

Here’s a bunch of examples of sampling, showing how it’s used in Hip Hop; a genre I’m not too familiar with, but it’s very interesting to see its origins.

Learn about the origins of Drum ‘n’ Bass: A song from 1969!

And here’s how it all started, with the Fairlight Sampler, more than 30 years ago.

I also love these delightful Casio commercials from the ’80s:


  • cx

    I basically share your exact sentiments. I have used a bunch of samples in my tracks but I try to always tweak them to make them my own. They can really invigorate a track, but I find myself most content with making beats and sounds myself. Still, I would be lying if I said every track I made was completely made by me… It’s a lot of different things compiled by me, memories and samples alike.

    • Kristian

      I don’t think anything is ever completely made by ourselves. We’re kind of like amazing blending+wizardry machines for the impressions we receive from the world.

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