Music Sample Clearance

Everything You Need To Know About Clearing Samples


We routinely dig through our old emails here at Sound Hype headquarters, looking to find better, more effective ways to teach and help our clientele. One of the most popular questions we’ve had through the years is about how to clear samples for production.

If you’ve ever wondered if you had to clear a sample, when you have to clear a sample or how you go about clearing a sample, read on.

First things first: In the eyes of the law, there are two kinds of sampling. 

1. Sampling – Taking another piece of music (aka the master recording) and creating a new, derivative work, and

2. Interpolation – Replaying a part of another piece of music (aka the composition) and incorporating it into your own music

Depending on which of the above you do, there will be different factors to consider due to the two different forms of music copyrights

1. Copyright for the master recording (the original recorded music), and

2. Copyright for the musical composition (the melodies and lyrics)

If you sample a master recording, you will need to get clearance from the record label for the rights to use the master recording AND clearance from the original publishers of the composition. If you interpolate a sample, you no longer need to get clearance for the rights to the master, but you will still need to get clearance from the publishers.

So those are the basics. Here’s where it starts getting tricky.

When should you actually begin clearing samples?

NOTE: We are not lawyers, so this is not legal advice. We have, however, been around the proverbial legal block a time or two, so we speak from experience and feel comfortable making some common sense observations.

Things to consider:

A high-profile rapper like 50 Cent puts out “mixtapes” for free which contain a ton of samples. Hundreds of thousands of people download them for promotional purposes, but he doesn’t clear the samples on these mixtapes, because he is not profiting from the music itself. As far as we’re aware, he’s never been sued for this.

-If you head over to Best Buy and take a look at the CD racks, you’ll find thousands of CDs that contain uncleared samples.

-This may be a bit of a stretch, but one of our guys had a long conversation with a certain executive who worked very closely on the creation of a certain album released in the late 90s. This exec informed us that they never cleared a few of the samples on the album, and it had multi-platinum sales.

– Before you begin, you should know that this can be an extremely expensive proposition. Sample clearance houses can charge a few hundred dollars just to find out how much it will cost you to clear a sample. Not exactly economical.  Plus, you may pay that $400 and find out that the artist you want to sample won’t allow you to use the sample  you want.  So if you’ve been wondering whether you should clear the beats on your beat CD, while we won’t tell you “no,” we will say that you should consider all the factors involved.

It is nearly impossible to bear down and do the research yourself, but if you approach the creator of the track as opposed to a big clearance house, you may end up with the sample you want and giving up less in the long run. However, if you’re not dealing with a track that you think will make significant waves – and by that, we mean you’re fairly confident the track you want to put out there will be a significant addition to the music world – any of this is likely to be too expensive for your return on investment.

The facts presented here show that clearing samples is mostly unnecessary. If you’re doing this for a hobby, it’s a non-starter. If you’re planning on having a hit record, nothing should stand in your way of getting it made and getting it out there.

That being said, making any money off a sample or using it as promotional material is illegal… but so is jay walking.

Use your head. Be safe out there. And cover your assets.

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