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Sampling in Music

How long has this been common practice in popular music?

Vinyl records

Popular music (pop music) these days uses elements of other peoples records.  We think of today's artists, who seem to not have original ideas anymore.  Some say that everything that can be written has been written. But it this idea of sampling and 'ripping off' older music a new thing?  Has it been like this for ages or is it how it has always been?

One famous record producer, you know, the one that gave us Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Jason Donovan (ahh....I think you have guessed it now!), said in a TV programme - where the title escapes me - "They have been recycling music since Beethoven's 5th!".  Yes, there is some truth to this but my view is that it has been happening for a lot longer than that!

Hand-up who listens to Baroque music?  Well, didn't think so.  If we consider one of the greatest, in fact, THE greatest composer of that era, Johann Sebastian Bach, evidence of his influence has crept into other works of classical composers centuries later.  Consider the Well Tempered Clavier Books I and II.  If you study the structure of some of the phrases in some of the preludes and fugues of each book, you find that subsequent composers used those ideas. An example is the opening bars of Bach's "Partita 2" has similarities to the opening bars of Beethoven's "Pathetique Sonata, Prelude 5" from the WTC Book 2 has a similar opening to one of Mozart's sonatas in D major. 

The era before Bach was called the Renaissance period, where composers like Monteverdi, Palestrina, Byrd and Bull, I imagine that some ideas were 'stolen' in order to have some idea of what type of piece the composer wanted.  So, this stealing other people's music is nothing new.

One of the earliest records that I heard which consisted of other records to make this records was "The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel" by Grandmaster Flash. This was around 1983 when part of it was played on Radio 1 and they were introducing this type of music as Hip-Hop. I was blown away that he used some of Blondie, Spoonie G and Chic's 'Good times' and 'chop' them up in such a way  that it sounds like something new.  Think of a compound in chemistry - they way the elements are mixed together to form a new whole. It really was the 'whole being greater than the sum of its parts'.  Since I was quite young then, I did not know it was sampling - I just took this at face value.  A whole new wave of music coming in.

Now that we have more advanced technology, one can speed the samples up, slow them down or add different effects on them so only the sharp eared can hear the original sample at the background.  The sample times have increased over the years, therefore the artists can pick and choose and away they go!

Obviously, there are going to be legal battles due to copyright and rights to the record (I use the word 'record' as I am old-school). This happened when a group called 'Snap'.  The original record was called "The Power Jam" where they sampled an old Chill Rob G record. The beat came from an old Mantronix record called "King of the Beats" and the '...I've got the power!' part came from an old Jocelyn Brown record.  None of the samples were cleared (this means made legal to redistribute). Long story short, this was why the song was changed a little and it became mainstream.

So, sampling is not just a Hip-Hop thing where James Brown's records are chopped and sampled, that how it seemed like in the late '80s, then sampling anything and everything from the 90s. It has been around for a long time and I wander how many legal disputes Bach would have if he was alive today?

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Sampling in Music
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