There are a handful of times that I’ve used uncleared samples and loops in my songs. When I was working at Coconuts Records on Diversey and Sheffield (don’t look for it now, unless you want a Potbelly Sandwich) my friend and purchaser Jeff Hardman ordered a 5 cd set of “Top Secret DJ Beats”. When they arrived at the store, I bought all of them immediately.
Each cd has about 30 tracks on it: 20 drum beats and 10 fills that were sampled mostly off early 60’s and 70’s funk and soul records. It says explicitly on these multicolored cds that the drum beats are meant for DJ use, as in club play (I.E. not to put in recordings). These cds themselves are possibly legal, because at that time there was little case law about copyrights of samples like this. The little company (possibly legally) registered the rights to distribute, and profit from the 150 songs they sampled. Somehow, they got away with it and the collection ended up in the catalog from which Jeff placed his weekly order at the record store.
Even though the samples were not for recorded use, I used some of them in my songs anyway because it added a whole new feel to my music, which up until that time had only drum machines, or in some cases a real (and poorly miked) drum kit. Building songs off these drum-beat samples brought a whole new feel to my rock/pop sound. On the whole, I found these newer songs to have a bit more funk going on that I previously was able to produce on my own.
I knew at the time this was illegal, and my rationale was this: If any of these songs were to blow up and make any money- if a song was big enough that I got caught, I would happily pay any fees or licensing that I’d incurred. The positive effect using these samples had stylistically for me was really what I was most interested in.
What’s key for me when using loops is to make something totally new using the sample as a starting point. I’m not going to take a two-bar drum loop and just sing over it. (Although that maneuver was pretty much the genesis of the hip-hop movement.) I’m a little more hands-on, so I would combine these loops with a drum-machine beat, a real drum set beat that I played over the loops, or both. Not to mention original guitars, bass, and keyboards.
When the internet started getting smarter and apps like Shazam and Soundcloud began to ‘recognize’ sound files I was a little concerned. I’ve recorded about 250 songs, and I’d say about 8 of them use these unlicensed, or what I call ‘dirty’ loops. I’m legally exposed! The question remains- are the loops buried enough in the rest of the song that the algorithms can’t spot them? Will a mega-corp sniff them out and chase me down with a ridiculous fine not remotely based on income derived from the track?
So should I not, in this blog post, point out which songs I used these loops and name the original records they came from? Considering the relatively intimate audience of this website and email list, I figure why not. So here we go! First I’ll play you my finished track, followed by the original song from which the drum sample was lifted.
Underneath my drum machine part is a loop I got from the (illegal?) cd collection I talked about above. After playing the loop through the Shazam app, I was able to determine that the sample is from the 1973 track “Impeach The President” by The Honey Drippers. Cool! (And topical!)
My song Breathing Underwater is driven by another loop from the dodgy collection. This drum part turned out to be from “Catch a Groove” by the band Juice in 1976.
This was a little trickier. When I put one of the drum loops I used on Nostalgia into Shazam, I didn’t get the original song it was sampled from, but rather another artist’s song that used the same sample. Oh well. Here’s the same drum loop at use in “King of the Beats” by Mantronix in 1988.
I committed this art crime directly. I had an LL Cool J cassette of “Walking like a Panther” and when I heard the beat to the track “Change Your Ways”, I went ahead, sampled it and looped it myself using my Ensoniq EPS keyboard.
January’s Last Day
January’s Last Day was never released on any of my albums, but it was featured on Q-101 back in the day. As I was building tracks for the song in 1991, I heard a song on the radio that had a super solid rock drum beat, recorded brilliantly in a professional studio. A level of sonic quality I can’t get in my home studio. So I borrowed it? You’ll know this one.
So there you go. I still use loops some of the time, but they’re always from royalty-free libraries that I’ve purchased. I try to manipulate them and make them my own the best I can, knowing full well that everybody out there with Garage Band could make a song with an identical drum part if I’m not careful. But hey. It’s the end product, the fully completed music and lyrics that matter most. Whatever can help inspire me to make new sounds, I’m on board. To quote a Huff Post article about sampling: “…when copyright is flexible, innovation and culture grows along with market and capital.”