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A Cynic Writes...

Sampling Payback

It's amazing what a near-death experience can do for you. There I was, walking towards the white light, when all of a sudden I saw with great clarity that I still had a job to perform on this Earth. Yes, me, Brian Aspirin, professional cynic and righter of wrongs.

Suddenly the white light faded to grey, and I found myself in the offices of a sample clearance lawyer. Had I, after all, died and been banished to Hell? Perhaps. Hell on Earth, anyway.

It's no secret that lawyers keep the wheels of big business well-oiled. Nor is it a secret that some of the well-oiled wheels of the music business have been used to grind down the creative instincts of the young musician armed with a sampler and an attitude. Watching this happen has been a saddening experience for anyone who values innovation in music. The net effect has been to pass control over the use of samples to the big corporations, who own vast amounts of back-catalogue - and let's face it, they're not ones to let creativity and innovation get in the way of making a buck or two.

But isn't there a touch of hypocrisy going on here? If it's right that sampled artists should get paid for helping sampling artists to sell records, isn't it also right that sampling artists should get paid for helping sampled artists to sell records? I mean, how many fading artists have found themselves back in the limelight - and earning money from live shows and back-catalogue re-releases - because sampling has created renewed interest in their music? ('The James Brown Syndrome'). And how many of these artists have benefitted financially from licensing back-catalogue tracks for compilations - compilations which might not have been a viable proposition if sampling hadn't 'resurrected' the music and created a market for it?

Trouble is, it's not possible to quantify this 'knock-on' effect in such a way that sampling artists could be reimbursed. But it does seem that sampled artists and the record companies who own their back-catalogue win both ways, while the sampling artists lose out both ways. Creativity? That loses out, full stop. Bloody typical.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Jun 1993

Opinion by Brian Aspirin

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