Producers Rejoice: Legal Sampling Is Now As Easy As Online Shopping (Video)

A potentially game-changing new service is about to hit the digital streets, one that could theoretically help usher in a new golden age for sample-based Hip-Hop. Swedish startup Tracklib has created a one-stop online “crate-digging” marketplace, on which producers can find, buy (at $1.99 a track) and eventually license existing music to use in their own original compositions to legally release with relative ease.

Record sampling has been an important aspect of Hip-Hop music production since day one, intrinsic to the genre’s early development, when pioneering DJs began manually looping breaks for B-boys and MCs to rock over. Sample clearing, on the other hand, can be a grueling, confusing and bank-breaking task. This is especially true for independent and up-and-coming artists, who often don’t possess the kind of budget, resources, or know-how necessary to clear samples.

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“The biggest problem for sampling today is the money that it costs to clear ’em, and finding the songwriters and publishers, and to have them all agree,” claims legendary Hip-Hop producer Hank Shocklee in a Tracklib promotional video. Shocklee’s production team, The Bomb Squad, is renowned for their dynamic compositions, having masterfully chopped and sequenced multiple samples per song on seminal albums like the first three Public Enemy records and Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (which likely would never have been released under current copyright law, due to the exorbitant cost it would take to clear all the source material). “We’re stopping the experimentation and the advancement of creativity because the younger generation cannot afford to use the samples,” Shocklee affirms in the video.

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All that could change, however, with the introduction of Tracklib’s revolutionary service, which not only aims to make sample licensing more efficient, but also more affordable and accessible. “Sampling, which is an art that has been repressed for 35 years, is gonna be liberated, and that’s why the name of the company is Tracklib, as in track liberation,” explained Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Records, on this week’s episode of The Cipher. “People will be able to sample to their hearts’ content.” Silverman has backed some of Hip-Hop’s most game-changing samplers, from De La Soul to Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force.

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Prince Paul is involved in the ambitious startup, as well, and is also featured in their promo video. Notably, the influential producer was behind a 1988 Stetsasonic song advocating sampling titled “Talkin’ All That Jazz” off their 1988 Tommy Boy-released sophomore album, In Full Gear, which was referenced in the aforementioned Cipher episode with Silverman. Of course, Paul would go on to produce sample-heavy albums for De La Soul and others.

Another outspoken Tracklib advocate is The Roots’ bandleader and producer Questlove, who triggered an air-horn sound effect and simply exclaimed, “I’ve been dreaming of this moment all my life,” upon learning about the service from Silverman on his own Pandora radio show, Questlove Supreme, in March.

The platform will also benefit the samples’ original creators and rights owners, Tracklib claims, in both helping to keep their music relevant, as well as profitable (through royalties and, of course, licensing). The fees charged to producers, however, will supposedly be less under the company’s system than the traditional industry model allows. By predetermining fixed-rates for each individual song, beat makers will know how much their creations will cost to clear up front, as well.

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According to the company’s chief product officer Oskar Sundberg, the “standard sample license” for most of Tracklib’s existing catalog is only $50 (for flips that use no more than 15 seconds of material from a given song). Of their three pricing categories, Sundberg says that is the most common (accounting for “99%” of their current library). Alternatively, their other two are $500 and $2,500 for a “standard” sample length, respectively. If producers want to monetize on their creations and commercially release the resulting compositions, of course, they would also have to share a portion of the publishing revenue with the sampled song’s original rights owners. That percentage is based on the amount of the sample used, as well (25% for a “standard” sample, for example).

Not to be confused with a sample library, Tracklib boasts a catalog of officially published music that ranges from frequently-sampled hits like “Impeach the President” by the Honeydrippers and “The Hook And Sling (Part 1)” by Eddie Bo, as well as songs by icons like Ray Charles, to more obscure and cultural gems. “We currently have lots of Reggae, Middle Eastern music, Swedish music, Indian music [and] African music,” Sundberg tells Ambrosia For Heads. “We’re speaking with all the world’s interesting major and indie labels and publishers, methodically building an amazing and unique catalog for sampling.” He also went on to state that he expects the catalog to grow exponentially in coming months. “With the tracks we’re adding [in] the next few days [alone], now we will have more than 10,000 tracks available to our users.”

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Although the marketplace is still in beta, only accessible to select taste-makers (AFH being among the first press granted access), it will eventually be made publicly available. If Tracklib does, in fact, deliver on its promise to provide simple and affordable sample licensing to the masses, the company could very well help herald a new renaissance in sample-based Hip-Hop production.