Everything You Need To Know About Clearing Samples!

clearing samplesI’ve been digging through my old gmails trying to figure out which questions I’ve been asked the most over the years.  Questions about if, when and how to clear samples are definitely a subject that a lot of people are curious about.

If you ever wondered if you had to clear a sample, when you have to clear a sample or how you actually clear a sample, read on…

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The first thing we need to clarify is that in the eyes of the court, there are two types of “sampling”.

Type 1:  Sampling – Taking another piece of music (aka the master recording) and incorporating it into your own music.

Type 2: Interpolation – Replaying a part of another piece of music (aka the composition) and incorporating it into your own music.

Depending on which of the above you do, there will be different factors to consider when you clear a sample.  There are different factors, because there are two different forms of music copyrights.

Type 1: Copyright for the master recording (The original recorded music)

Type 2: Copyright for the musical composition (The melodies & lyrics)

If you sample a master recording, you will need to get clearance from the record label for the rights to use the master recording AND clearance from the publishers of the composition.

If you interpolate a sample, you no longer need to get clearance for the rights to use the master recording, but you will still need to get clearance from the publishers.

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Ok… now that we have the basics down.  We need to talk about when you should actually be clearing samples.  Note: I Jim Bond am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice, but I’ve been around the sample clearance block a few times so I’m speaking from experience & common sense observations.

If you are wondering whether or not you should go ahead and clear your samples, here are a few facts to consider…

  • A high profile rapper like 50 Cent puts out “mixtapes” for free which contains tons of samples.  100’s of thousands of people download them for promotional purposes.  He doesn’t clear the samples on these mixtapes.  As far as I know, he’s never been sued for it.
  • If you head over to best buy and take a look at the dusty cd racks, there will be a bunch of CD”s which contain uncleared samples.
  • This may be a bit of a stretch, but I had a long conversation with a certain executive who worked very closely on the creation of a certain album released in the late 90’s.  This exec informed me that they never cleared a few of the samples on this album which had multi platinum sales.

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So… if after all of this you have decided that you are going to try to clear your sample, the next step is figuring out how to clear the sample.  Clearing samples can be a very difficult process.  The good news is that there are agencies that will handle this process for you for a fee.  The bad news may be the #1 thing stopping you from clearing a sample…

Sample clearance houses charge a few hundred dollars just to find out how much it will cost you to clear a sample…  So you may have to pay $400, only to find out the artist you sampled will not even allow you to use your sample.  If you ever wondered whether or not you should clear the beats on your beat cd… there is your answer…

It is possible to bear down and do the research yourself.  I know of producers & artists who have done this.  Although it can be difficult/near impossible to do, if you approach the creator of the track as opposed to a big clearance house, you may end up paying & giving up less in the long run.  At the end of the day, it does not make sense to pursue this unless you have a song that you really think may make waves… or you have a bunch of money to spend… or you are Sherlock Holmes…

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I think the facts & evidence presented here show that clearing samples is pretty much unnecessary unless you are really planning to have a huge hit record or sell a lot of units.  That being said, making any money off of a sample or using it as promotional material IS ILLEGAL… But so is jay walking, watching unauthorized clips on youtube & downloading movies & mp3’s online…  You make the call!

About Jim Bond

Jim Bond is a good dude, veteran Hip Hop producer & has been helping producers out in one way or another for over 10 years. He is also the creative mastermind behind such illustrious sites as Kicksandsnares.com , SaturdayMorningSamples.com & Beabetterproducer.com!

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27 comments

  1. Lol, at the best buy, I def copped a cd or two with uncleared samples…Cormega

    • Haha yeah, I wouldnt be surprised if 99% of koch hip hop releases have uncleared samples on them. But they were clearing samples on the Jim Jones record I was on…

  2. Thanks for the post. I been prodicin for ten years now and im trying to continue to advance. i appreciate your blog.

  3. As the Producer/Beat Maker, is it really our responsibility to clear samples or should the Artist/Label be responsible should they choose to record on and the beat?

  4. Great information keep up the good work

  5. This is a great article. Legally, it’s best to get a clearance to avoid copyright infringement suits; but, from a business standpoint, getting a clearance takes too long and is a very difficult process…especially for older tracks with multiple creators. I normally give two types of advice…(1) legal and (2) business. They are not the same!

  6. My understanding is that music copyright has changed a lot since the internet age, musicians that make real money off of a sample are being sued….FatBoyslim?

    http://www.rcfp.org/node/92999

    DjSchiro123 U.T.C Production

  7. 50 cent has been sued or I should say is being sued now

  8. Well, and what about “royalty free samples” ? There are a lot of such a products
    as “construction kits”, their manufacturers sell licenses for commercial use of
    their product, but they always state: ” We don’t sell a copyright for our kits, just
    license”
    So what about these cases? Looks like those guys are very tricky –
    they have got a money for license, so what do they want else?
    They wait when a song based on their kit becomes a hit and then to ask whether
    share of a profit or court suit?

    • Good question. I’ve never bought any construction kits, but it’s my understanding that you can use the kits combined with other musical elements as much as you want and they CANNOT claim any ownership of the song. But you cannot own the actual copyright of the music, which would allow you to resell it as is, with no additional music to whomever you want.

      • Jim, thanks for the quick reply, well, hope everything is as you told me,
        and, of course, I’m not going to resell construction kits as they are
        without adding my own elements: hooks, synths etc.
        Sometimes when I do my beat I take different parts from the different kits, then combine them in a project and, as a result, exactly new music appears.

  9. Right, I figured that. But I think they just need to word things that way to protect their self.

  10. i would take the chance. don’t clear the samples……If it turns out to be a hitrecord and the original artist recognizes his work….then settle with them……i’m not gonna pay a sample clearing house a few hundred dollars for every samples i need to clear

  11. I working on a interpolation of a song. I need to know the procedures for getting permission. I am not sampling, I am replaying the song with a gospel twist on the lyrics.

  12. 50 Cent sued over uncleared mixtape sample, would like to know what the results of the case were… http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.19486/title.50-cent-sued-over-mixtape-sample

  13. hi im planning to make an album coming out soon and i was wondering, im just using the kicks off the MMG kit .. and the melodies are made by me from a product i brought FL.. do i still need a clearance for the kicks? cuz i have changed the pitch and cut it to make it my own sound.

  14. The Smash brothers ©

    Nice article! This is CeeGramz from The Smash Brothers. I’m a producer/songwriter. The right thing to do is to take the legal route and clear your samples BUT let’s just say hypothetically you don’t. Here’s what’s going to happen: A. Your project gets released and doesn’t even come close to making any type of buzz on the charts therefore making your decision to NOT clear samples a smart one. Or B. your project does great and gets major exposure and makes you a lot of money and you get caught! In most cases – excluding the whole Dr Dre/DJ Quick/Truth Hurts “So Addictive” debacle, you’ll settle out of court for pocket change and maybe an extra agreement with the original artist (i.e. featuring them on a remix, percentage of royalties, et

  15. I downloaded a sampled beat by 3 doors down and really wanna use it to rap over. Should i still be trying to clear the sample . i can’t seem to find out if the person i downloaded it from got it cleared or anything

  16. I have a few songs that I’ve used a line or two of lyrics from another song. Do I need to get a license to use the lyric sample?

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