If you're new to producing or in the process of getting a record signed, it pays to know the basics of the laws that apply to you, before you fall victim to them. One key aspect to dance music that can trip people up is sampling, which is both a very significant tool for producers and also a potentially complex undertaking if you don't take the right advice.

We spoke to Defected Records A&R Manager Andy Daniell and Head of Legal & Business Affairs Shamus Damani to give us the definitive guide to sampling, so you can get it right first time. 

What is a sample?

AD: A sample is when you take an existing piece of recorded music and use it within your new record. 

What would be the benefits of using samples in your music? Any drawbacks?

AD: A sample is a great building block to starting a piece of music. A lot of dance producers aren’t necessarily trained musicians so taking an existing bassline, vocal or musical loop is a quick way to get something exciting going quickly. It can also be a way to find an amazing musical hook that becomes the heart of your new record.  

Is sampling legal?

AD: You can do whatever you want in your creative process of making the record, but the minute you try to commercially exploit the record containing someone else's work it’s not legal and you will risk having the owner of the sample having an issue with what you’ve done.  

I’ve used a sample in my track and now I want to release the track. What steps do I need to take to avoid breaking copyright law?

SD: Clearing a sample properly generally requires two distinctive agreements (i) clearance of the master recording (typically controlled by a record company) and (ii) clearance of the musical composition (typically controlled by a music publisher).

Will I need legal representation?

SD: This totally depends on who you are dealing with on the master/publishing side (are they helpful?) and, how savvy you are (are you aware of all the relevant issues?). It’s worth noting that there are specialist sample clearance companies out there that charge a fee and take all the hassle out of clearance. Sometimes they are worth their weight in gold as they have a lot of experience in dealing with clearances and know what a good or bad deal looks like.

Can I buy a sample?

AD: There are some services out there selling pre-cleared samples or royalty free sample packs. I would say most samples are clearable, but if you sample Madonna or U2 or something you might find it a hell of a lot harder than maybe an obscure soul record from the 70’s.  

Choosing a sample to use – what makes a good one?

AD: It totally depends on what you do with it. I tend to roll my eyes at samples I’ve heard done before but there are also versions that bring something new to the table.  

How do I know who to contact for permission to use the sample?

SD: You should be able to find this information from the label copy of the original record. Look at the label on the record or the internal packaging / artwork sleeve for credits. Failing that, Spotify, Apple Music etc tend to have clear owner info.

What do I do if I’ve tried, but can’t find out who owns the original material?

SD: This is when things get interesting. Some people don’t look hard enough. They go ahead with the uncleared release and then get busted for all their royalties! Don’t be that person if you can help it! Releasing without clearance is fraught with problems (especially when you have sites like www.whosampled.com out there). I will sometimes connect with PPL (mastering side) or PRS (publishing side) to see if they have any rightsholder info on their respective databases. If they don’t either, you need to then decide whether you want to take the risk and go ahead with it anyway, knowing that someone may knock on the door at some point.

What if someone else has used the same sample, does that mean I’m ok to use it too?

SD: It means nothing in terms of your own usage, but can be useful to see if the original sample was previously cleared legitimately (check the label copy). 

The person/label who owns the original material is asking for money to clear the sample – how much should I expect to pay? How much is too much?

SD: How important is the sample to you? Do you expect to recoup the monies through sales? Is it worth paying over the odds because of what the track might do for you on the promotional side? Is the requested advance / royalty share fair, bearing in mind the type or amount of usage? All these questions need to be considered. 

Three examples of a perfectly executed sample in your opinion?

AD: DJ Koze ‘Pick Up’, which samples Melba Moore ‘Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance’ and Gladys Knight & The Pips ‘Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)’:

AD: Stardust ‘Music Sounds Better With You’, which samples Chaka Khan ‘Fate’.
AD: Kanye West ‘Fade’ which samples Mr Fingers ‘Mystery Of Love’, Hardrive ‘Deep Inside’, Barbara Tucker ‘I Get Lifted’ & Rare Earth ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’.

What’s the difference between sampling and remixing?

AD: Remixing would be when you’ve been asked to do a new version of an existing record and you have access to the multitrack parts. It would then be billed as a remix. Sampling is when you take another piece of music and incorporate it into your new composition. 

When is a sample a bad sample?

AD: For me it’s often lazy copy of something someone has already done. I get far more excited about hearing things I’ve never heard before.  

Any tips on sampling etiquette? 

SD: Touching base with the original artist is always a good call.

Any tips for dealing with major labels?

SD: Cross your fingers when dialling / emailing! Jokes aside, majors are pretty good to deal with in my experience and generally have a specific sample clearance department. They will normally send you a form to fill in, you will need to detail the use of the sample and attach audio files containing the original track and new track together with timings. You should then receive an offer within a couple of weeks.