Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sampling in the Music Industry

One night, I sat down with some friends to watch one of those music awards ceremonies on MTV or VH1, not really expecting much out of it. As we all know, no award ceremony would be complete without a slew of performances from the “in” musicians of that time.

It got to this point in the ceremony, and one of those perfectly tan Hollywood women came out and announced that Kanye West would be performing. Personally, I’m not much of a hip-hop fan, so I took the opportunity to go get a snack. On my way back to the room, I heard a familiar horn line. I thought maybe someone had changed the channel, because to me, this sounded like something from a few decades ago. I looked at the TV and to my surprise, there stood Kanye, rapping over what I then realized was the famous horn line from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”.

Wait…what is Kanye West doing using Curtis Mayfield’s music in one of his songs? Last time I checked, 70’s funk typically doesn’t get spliced into 2006 rap music. I was immediately upset at the use of my least favorite music cop-out: sampling. As something that has been debated for years, is sampling a legitimate technique for musicians to use?

Legally, when musicians want to use the material of others, they have to wait the required amount of years after the death of the musician for it to be considered public domain, or pay fees to obtain permission if they are still alive. Even after this legal business is taken care of, there is still the issue of a musician using someone else’s material. So, does the annoyance of sampling go away when performers admit they’re doing it and “not stealing”? Not really.

Regardless of the admittance of sampling, the fact still remains that the music is not theirs. Even if there is legal admittance of the sampling, many fans don’t know the music they’re listening to came from someone else. It’s not as if every time Kanye does “Touch the Sky” (song where Curtis Mayfield is sampled) live, he starts it out with the accreditation of something like, “I’d like to give mad props to Curtis for letting me use his stuff. You’re the man!” So while Kanye West received praise for his originality and edge, he was really using the work of past ground-breakers like Curtis Mayfield and Ray Charles to win people over. This lacks integrity and this originality that he supposedly has.

Kanye West isn’t the only culprit. Tons of other musicians do the same thing. Public Enemy was guilty of looping track from The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Vanilla Ice was busted for ripping off Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”. Both Danger Mouse and Jay-z faced criticism for their remixes of The Beatles’ “White Album”, some without granted permission.

Sure, not everyone considers this stealing. But do they really know what is original and what is sampled? If you consider some of it to be ok and some of it to be stealing, where do you draw a line? In an age where musical variety is present, there are many forms of media to create music and share it, and musicians are still creating new things every day, sampling should not be in use by serious musicians.

Too often, people confuse the easy-access to music with the ability to steal it. It is one thing to be influenced by a musician, but it is completely another to take their material, for whatever reason. If they really respect the musician as much as they say they do, they owe it to them and their fans to not steal their creations and to make their own music instead.

Isabella Carini


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