How to Mess Up Getting Music Samples Cleared

Samples have been used in recorded music for a long time. For example, the Beatles’ 1967 “I Am The Walrus” recording used a BBC radio program in its mix. Unfortunately, most people are clueless about copyright law and sampling. Errors are costly and it is usually cheaper to ask first. Here are some ways to mess up using music samples and costing yourself more money than you can afford.

Getting just one clearance for a sample

The music that you want to use is protected by two copyrights. One copyright for the performance (what was recorded) and the other copyright is for the musical composition (the song, in no matter what form). The performance copyright will usually be owned by the record company (a long time ago, there were these profitable companies that sold music) that initially issued the recording. The copyright for the composition is usually owner by the song’s author or, more likely, the publisher (this often is a company that cannot hum a tune, but they sure can make money with the tune). So just because you got clearance from the owner of the song, you still need clearance from the owner of the recording. Things get even more complicated when the publishing is owned by more than one company. Then you have to strike a deal that pleases everyone. Click here for music samples

Re-record your own sample

Maybe you don’t want to be bothered with getting clearance for a sample. You just want to put out a song and be done with it. So you think, “I can play by ear. I can easily figure out how they made that riff. Look, I learned how to slap the bass like this. That is all they are doing.” Not so fast. You might be creating a new recording (performance) but you are still probably using a copyrighted song. You cannot just bang the tune out on a different instrument, in a different style, while standing on your head.

You can play the tune yourself or hire someone to do that (there are companies specializing in that area) to avoid paying royalties on the recording, but you still will need to get clearance for the song. If you infringe the copyrighted song, you get to pay lawyers to fight off the publishers.