Posted on April 20 2018
Sample clearance in the music industry (especially hip-hop) has been a consistent issue for the last few decades. From labels fronting huge budgets to get clearance for sampled songs, to recent lawsuits involving estates wanting their cut of songs suspected of using elements from an old hit record. A whole portion of the sound design industry rose to the occasion to try to help solve this problem. We here at Soul Surplus are proud to say that we exist today because we wanted to solve this problem for ourselves and all else who face the struggle of sample clearance when creating music.
The fear of sample clearance runs rampant in the producer community and we can’t even begin to tell you the amount of emails and private messages we receive asking about our royalty free policy. To make it clear once again, we're here to tell you that all of our products, from compositions to loops, are indeed royalty-free and have been for some time now! We understand many of you just want to be careful and sure. We also want you all to rest assured that we pride ourselves in providing royalty-free products. These products were created for all music makers, filmmakers and content creators wanting to avoid the hassle of clearing samples. With that said it is still a very tough topic to maneuver if you are a music producer who still wants to sample things that aren’t royalty-free. We felt it would be appropriate to give 3 tips to keep in mind when sampling and dealing with sample clearance.
Be Proactive and Make Adjustments
Usually many producers would refrain from reaching out proactively to an artist or estate to get clearance to sample or use a song. But many times I’ve found that being immediately upfront and starting a line of communication with the other party saves time and trouble. The lawsuits always tend to happen when an element is included in production under the radar and the said artist or estate finds out after the song is released without any credit given to them. Obviously now the pursuit for justice and royalties are far more intense and many times downright ugly. For many producers who aren’t dealing with big budgets, big labels or sampling big artists. This first tip certainly applies easier as you may want to sample an artist that doesn't require much to have their original work cleared. However, usually an issue can arise when this reality is overlooked and a producer creates with elements they don't own. When the original artist/estate finds out, this leaves room for things to become far more complicated than necessary. The producer can find themselves in a legal battle that could have been settled over a reasonable price or an arrangement through a personal relationship. It goes without saying that the producers on the big labels should give their respective label a heads up. The publishing department will reach out to the proper estates for clearance.
Counting the Cost
This point really is a continuation of the first point, as many times one may find that it may not be worth sampling a particular work. This is because of the potential of things becoming messy with clearance, and the worth the sample actually brings to the song. If you are working on a sure-fire smash hit and have a big budget with money allocated to get sample clearance, then it may be worth going after that element that drives the track and makes it memorable. But obviously these situations are few and far in between for the huge population of up and coming producers. These producers are usually making music with local indie artists trying to gain a following of their own on platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify. As we stated above, we receive numerous messages from producers in this latter category. Many are worried about our sample clearance policy, which we help to reassure them about. Chasing down every producer and every song would become tiresome for both sides, and negate our mission as a company. We’ve found that we’ve been able to form far more fruitful relationships with higher profile producers because of our royalty-free policy. Creating without worry is the name of the game. This leads to the third and final point…
Use Royalty-Free Samples
This could be seen as a shameless plug, but it really just makes the most sense (in our opinion) as we've seen in many cases. If you are a producer, and sampling is the pillar of your production, it just makes sense to stock up on loads of royalty-free sounds to add to your production. Why waste time worrying about the legal implications when you can just create?
When we started Soul Surplus we were aware that many producers were looking for what we could provide. Many producers in hip-hop seek that old-school, lo-fi, soul sound. Like other reputable sample brands and companies, we've been striving to offer the same quality of sound and texture that would be found on an old vinyl soul record, minus the sample clearance process. Royalty-free really is our mantra, and we're here to help producers create art in music form that's cutting edge and interesting.
- John McNeill