How to find old music you can sample when producing!

How to find old music you can sample in your tracks

Let me guess… you just listened to a track produced by Kanye West, or Metro Boomin where they sampled an old song. NOW you’re trying to find out how you can (legally) use a sample in your track. There is a world of music that you can sample within your tracks, but many composers worry that they may be sued for copyright or similar issues. Here is a list of ways you can sample music without running into this problem.

Kanye west in the studio producing music and sampling

What is a sample?

A sample refers to a small portion of recorded music that can be reused on newer music pieces. Samples are very easy to create and sound amazing when you properly use them in your music software or DAW.

Vinyl old song to sample in DAW

Where to get samples:

  • Creative Commons: There are many sources of old music that you can use for sampling purposes. One great way is Creative Commons. This basically refers to a licensing organization that promotes fair usage of artistic work that other similar artists can use.
  • Public domains: Another way to find old music is to search through public domains. Initially, when artists create a piece of music, they hold complete rights over that music. However, as time goes by the artists lose the rights to their music and their work enters the public domain. Hence, you can use these music pieces available in the public domain to use for your samples. In the United States, any song older than 70 years is available for public use.
  • Royalty Free Samples: Another great way to get samples is to find them on sample sites, which provide sample packs that are royalty-free. These samples are legal to use and provide you a stress-free experience. They are often much easier to produce with than an older sample as well. For example, check out these samples. They usually don't have quite the same vibe as an older sample, but we'll leave this decision up to you. Take this free pack for example:

Contact the original owner

In case you are not able to find samples in the above ways, and just must use that fabulous sounding non royalty free music, you can clear things out with the owner or creator of that music. Check with the publisher or songwriter, as they own the rights to the song. It is a similar situation for recording music, as the recording rights are owned by the record label or the artist. Make sure to get permission from both the owners. However, this process can be very expensive and time consuming, so it is best to use the royalty-free methods described earlier.

YouTube: a great source for samples

YouTube is another great resource to use when it comes to finding quality samples. While it may not be the best resource to find your hit ready samples, you can use a variety of foley to create atmospheric additions to your music. If you are sampling music from YouTube, you need to first strip the mp3 from the original video. Make sure to use the best quality format of the file possible. Many YouTube channels have recordings from old vinyl records. You can sample a small slice of piano music created in the 1960s, and it shouldn’t raise any red flags. Another common thing to do is to clip a vocal sound and use it as a producer tag, vocal for the bass drop, or vocal sample. Skrillex does this perfectly. 

Reddit and remix contests: a treasure trove of music

Reddit is a great resource for sample music libraries that many mainstream producers swear by. Many libraries are free, while some require a payment to use them. There are also subreddits, which contain samples apart from drum packs. Remix contests are another great alternative where producers hold these contests in order to promote new tracks. This provides you a great opportunity to enter the scene, take the stems, tweak and make them your own. Make sure not to blatantly utilize the stems in your own track. Just take a few elements here and there, and you can sample them for future tracks. Make sure to clear this with the producer who made the sample if they didn't specifically say they were royalty free. 

Create your own

The final resort to using samples is to create your own. Several producers create their own samples. While this process is fairly advanced, it provides you with complete control from a creative context. Once you understand how it works, the process can be quite fun and interesting. You will then start to perceive all the interesting sounds around you as samples waiting to be used. You can start recording your very own mic, use something as simple as a coin drop as a progressive element, or take specific phrases from your acoustic guitar. However, for this, you do need basic equipment such as an audio interface and condenser mic. The cost of these is not very high nowadays and you just need an initial investment. After this, you can start to create your own samples from scratch and spin some really creative and original content into your music.

Female music producer in studio using sample

What makes high-quality samples?

Now that you have a good idea of where to find old music to sample in your tracks, the main question is how do you know a sample is of high quality or is good to pass. Good quality and professional samples have the power to make your track exceptional. However, low quality samples can completely ruin your track. A low quality sample would be one that does not have the data quality required to withstand any effects or processing. In comparison, high quality samples can be presented as the center stage of any music track, and can even be heavily edited, compressed or stretched without losing their quality. They create a beautiful, rich sound environment that creates the foundation for other track elements. Good quality tracks will always start with high quality samples. So, make sure never to compromise on the quality of a sample. Creating any kind of sample library takes a lot of effort and time. However, they represent a great tool to create amazing music tracks. Seasoned producers prize good sample collections as they determine a composer’s unique sound. 

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