Sample Clearance

Hey all,

Are there any users that have experienced clearing a sample for play/sale/distribution that would want to help contribute to a thread focusing on the topic? The aim would be to help out fellow elektronauts that may find themselves in a similar scenario. Also, it would be interesting to hear about personal business experiences, both good/bad, that may have occurred in the past, and could potentially help others navigate in their musical endeavors.

For instance, is it better to go through a sample clearing agency, an organization like ASCAP or BMI (in the US), or are there other ways of clearing samples by yourself that may be more cost effective? Helpful site links and resources are welcome!

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I haven’t so don’t have first-hand knowledge. My friend is co-founder of a record label that releases quite a bit of hip hop stuff on vinyl, and based on conversations I’ve had with him, it seems like it’s still quite common for smaller or independent releases not to clear samples. That said, there’s not much money in those kinds of releases. The real issue comes if you ever want to release those tracks in other mediums like TV/film/commercials, where there is a lot of money to be made.

Personally, if I were going to use samples in a commercial project, I would probably save myself the headache and go with a solution like Tracklib.

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I’d have to agree with Tracklib. Theres the other one too, but I forget the name.

The business model is built around the solution to this very problem.

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I always think about this because of the mixtape scene in the 90s and for his intros/intermissions, DJ Clue would call out some of the record shops in his area bootlegging his tapes. :rofl: But I don’t know how deep the oversight goes in that regard or if it’s just wild west until someone that actively follows catches on. Not promoting bad behavior, but it makes sense if you can release something now, and potentially pay it off later to get an idea out, while it’s fresh.

Tracklib looks interesting, and thanks for sharing what looks like an immense library to sample from! Not to compare, but I think I vaguely remember Tidal offering a similar type of paid subscription deal for producers, but I haven’t researched any reviews about either.

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I’m not sure if the pay it off later approach would actually work these days, as I think you are only really a target if your music blows up, and at that stage, there is no incentive to license to you, but just to come after you for everything you’ve made and claim residual rights.

Most artists that don’t clear probably are just banking on sales always being below the threshold that someone would care to go after them. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess very few smaller artists are getting in trouble for sampling, but it always seems self-limiting to me to release something for which you don’t have the rights. Tracklib seems like a great idea to me.

Another one to look at for samples is Drum Broker, which has the Kingsway libraries. I think you have to pay for the release and then pay royalties beyond a certain amount of sales if the track blows up. I might be wrong about the system as I looked at them a long time ago and have never bought any of their releases.

FWIW, there is a forum called VI Control, where lots of film/TV composers hang out. The people that make music for film/TV (either directly or through libraries) seem to use a lot of VSTs and Kontakt libraries, particularly orchestral stuff.

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That’s an interesting thought. I wonder what that threshold is/ how much the original content/rights owner would allow the sampler to roam before considering taking legal action. It’s not news that hiring a lawyer is expensive for all parties involved, so the entire scenario creates a really fascinating grey area. :face_with_monocle:

That looks awesome thanks for sharing!

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I have a related topic to mention here.

There is a concept known as ‘audio watermarking’ which could become relevant for people when they attempt to release music containing samples that have audio watermarks, particularly via aggregator services or directly on streaming platforms.

It’s different to ‘audio fingerprinting’ (see Shazam) and involves some encoded info in the audio stream that identifies that audio in some way but isn’t audible, but it can be detected when searched for.

As far as I understand it,the encoded info can be spread throughout the spectrum and will be very hard to remove once put there without totally degrading the audio. No amount of resampling or time stretching etc will remove it or make it undetectable.

I only found out about this concept the other day. I’d made a track for a rap client (no samples from released music in it at all by the way - totally from scratch with synths and drum machines and some samples that I had recorded myself) then when he sent it to his aggregator they rejected it. They gave the reason that there was an audio watermark present in the track and demanded proof he owned the rights!

I sent a quick video of the session, muting and unmuting parts to show I had composed the material. Not heard back from him so assume its all fine now. To be continued maybe…

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I know people that make a living out of music and clear no samples. And i know people that got famous and then started clearing samples. So if you’re starting to think, oh i’m going to make a lot of money with my music because i’m blowing up right now, that’s the point where you should clear samples. Before it’s not really important and the companies will not care because there’s no money to get for them.
These are just my experiences with the topic and i’m not advising you to do or not do anything.

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I think this is exactly what led Franks Duke to start Kingsway. Couldn’t get the sample clearance, so he made his own samples.

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Here’s a geeky white paper about the audio fingerprinting stuff if anyone is interested:

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Sure - I broadly agree, but if you’re going to release through any platform that has automatic watermark checking, they may reject the content if they detect one, even if you’re a unknown name. So just bear that in mind.

Btw it also depends a lot on what you’re sampling and how you rework the material.

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That’s wild to hear about your experience. I have so many questions about this, if you’d be interested in discussing some more. Wouldn’t watermark checking apply to modern digital sources obtained online? Does that mean that, in theory, anything pre-adoption of the process wouldn’t contain any watermark messages? What if a producer creates their own watermark to mask the pre-existing watermark? I’m genuinely curious on this topic because I feel it’s irrationally kept me back from using so many samples, or leaving beats half finished so it’s not such blatant usage.

I actually came across this article the other day that is a surprising read about an old copyright lawyer who was a larger player in the music industry that talks about not clearing a lot of samples on a lot of projects: Sample clearance - a cautionary tale

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That watermarking stuff is interesting. We are entering uncharted waters with technology now. On that VI forum I mentioned, there are all sorts of horror stories from professional composers about people stealing their music from SoundCloud and YouTube and registering it as their own, so the composers are getting demonetized and copyright strikes on their own creations.

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I don’t clear samples. I twist them up pretty heavily and retune/repitch as well. Run the result through shazam just to see. I also sample old tracks that would never have some sort of watermark on them.

Wonder if people sub to Tracklib and grab samples from there and never pay the clearance? Have to imagine the answer is yes.

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Do you think that audio watermarking would be defeated by granular synthesis?

I would imagine that both the gran synth sample and analyzing program would have a very obscure discussion amongst themselves when meeting. :face_with_monocle:

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Sure - happy to discuss further! But I’m about as knowledgeable as you on this topic since I only found out about it the other day myself.

Here’s another page with more detail about the technical process and links to academic papers:

Wouldn’t watermark checking apply to modern digital sources obtained online?

I suspect that the technology has been available for some time, however I’m not sure how widespread the use is. From what I can understand, it’s embedded data in the audio itself, so any recording / playback medium could hold an audio signal which contains a watermark, not just online sources or digital files.

Does that mean that, in theory, anything pre-adoption of the process wouldn’t contain any watermark messages?

I would think that if the physical recording medium itself is older than the process, then sure - it won’t have a watermark on it. But just because a piece of music is older than the the process doesn’t mean it won’t have been watermarked because they can obviously be added after the music had been recorded.

What if a producer creates their own watermark to mask the pre-existing watermark?

See link above for more detail about how it works - possible I suppose, but you’d need to know the technology used to imprint the watermark, and have access to similar technology to “over-write” an existing one (I guess!).

I’m really not an expert on this at all - I’m just using the web and my brain so don’t quote me on any of this stuff!

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I think the point about what you are sampling is important. If it’s a major label release from the last ten years, you’re probably being stupid.

if it’s a Lithuanian folk record you found in a junk shop on holiday then even if it’s owned by Universal they might not know they even own the rights until your record blows up and someone outs your sample.

a lot harder in the age of digital watermarks and content ID than it was when you just pressed 500 of something and took it to record shops and they were all gone by the time anyone realised.

And mostly because there’s no easy money anymore so the majors want every last penny their catalogue is generating.

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Watermarks have been used for promo CDs and downloads for a long time now - and if you rip from the CD to MP3, for instance, the watermarking comes too. I have no idea if it’s been done with vinyl promos, though I doubt it for practical reasons - but perhaps it has.

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