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How to Clear a Sample for a Song or Beat (Step-by-Step Guide)

If you’re looking to clear a sample for a song or beat, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Clearing a sample can be a quick and easy way to get the sounds you need, but it’s important to take the necessary precautions. But how do you clear a sample for a song or beat?

Unfortunately, not knowing the step by step on how to clear a sample for a song can lead to a lot of legal hassle. 

Image of a paper consisting important informations. Source: rodnae productions, pexels
Image of a paper consisting important informations. Source: Rodnae Productions, Pexels

This article covers the steps you can take to ensure that your sample clears legally and without any issues. So if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to do it, this post is for you!

How do you clear a sample for a song or beat? Clearing a sample for a song or beat means getting the permissions you need to use a sample from someone else’s copyrighted work legally in your music. It usually involves the steps of finding the sample, finding the owner of the copyright, getting permission, paying for the license, keeping track of everything, and clearing the sample. It’s worth noting that the process and laws may vary based on the country, and a blanket license may cover some songs, and you could be able to use samples as long as you pay a set fee or percentage to a collecting society. It’s important to understand the laws and details of any blanket licensing agreement that might be available before using any samples.

What is a sample in music?

A “sample” is any part of a previously recorded song or performance that is used in a new composition. Briefly said, this is the practice through which one musician uses parts of another’s song or even a complete song as inspiration for his or her own.

Take heed! Do not mistake a sample for an extrapolation. This is called interpolation, when a performer recreates the exact arrangement and performance of a previously recorded song based on the original composition. What’s the big deal, anyway?

You need the author’s permission to use the sample, as well as the owner’s permission to utilize the master recording. However, if you’re interpolating, you simply need authorization for the original composition. To save time and money, many musicians now interpolate recordings instead of cleaning samples.

Remember, the clearance of a sample and/or interpolation requires a different license than the publication of a cover song.

How do you clear a sample for your song or beat?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clear a sample for a song or beat:

Step 1: Prepare info about the sample

Gather information about the music segment you wish to utilize and how you intend to deal with it before contacting copyright owners to seek approval. You need to know the following:

  • Sample selection. How much of the composer’s work do you wish to sample?
  • Sample length. The duration in seconds that you wish to be included in your song.
  • Sample use frequency. The desired number of times the sample will be used in the song.

Don’t forget that you still need clearance if you modify the sample so much that it no longer resembles the original. The sample is someone else’s intellectual property regardless of what you do to it.

Step 2: Find the copyright owners.

Two forms of authorization are required before you may utilize a sample from an existing song legally:

  • Permission from the song’s copyright owner (often the music publisher or composer).
  • Written permission from the owner of the master recording’s copyright (usually the recording company or label).

It’s possible you’ve dabbled with music law before, maybe by learning how to copyright your music or lawfully distribute mashups or cover songs. If that’s the case, it’s important to keep in mind that not all samples are created equal.

The two sampling licenses are mandatory. Thus, you may legally sample without the consent of the copyright holders. What’s more, they may set any conditions they want for your use, and you’re stuck with two options: accept them as they are or leave.

How to find the music publisher?

The music publisher is the first place to look because of how commonplace they are. It’s easy to check whether you need permission to sample a song by looking up the title in the databases of performance rights organizations like:

  • Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI)
  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
  • Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)
  • Harry Fox Agency (HFA)

If you can’t find what you’re looking for online, try phoning one of these companies and requesting the music indexing division.

How to find the master owner?

After getting sample approval from the publisher, you should seek permission from the song’s master owner. Step-by-step instructions are as follows:

  • Don’t know who to ask? Try the music publisher.
  • If you need the song’s original release information, contact the label that put out the album.
  • Try looking it up online. Try searching for an online record shop or consulting the Phonology music database.

The difficulty in identifying the master owner stems from the fact that record labels often transfer their rights to other parties. It’s possible that even after you locate the owner, the rights will go back to the original creator, throwing you back into the hunt.

Step 3: Contact the copyright owners.

Get in touch with the proprietors after gathering the data in Step 1. You should provide the publisher and composer with a copy of the original song with your sampled recording so that they may hear how their work will be exploited. If the master owner’s website lacks a submission option, you may contact them via their business or licensing divisions.

What if you are unable to contact the owners of the copyright?

There is little you can do if you get no answer or are turned down. Working up a mutually beneficial arrangement is typically in everyone’s best interest when sampling is involved since it opens up a new money stream for the original artists. However, many publishing companies are hesitant to provide sample authorization to unsigned musicians they are unfamiliar with.

As an alternative to tracking out the rightful owners and haggling over conditions, you might offer to pay publishers in advance to get them to talk to you, or you could engage sample experts to do the legwork for you. The downside is that both are very expensive and beyond reach for most unsigned musicians.

Finding copyright holders that are willing to approve samples beforehand would save independent artists a lot of time and ensure a great conclusion. Services like Tracklib and Splice provide royalty-free music and samples that have already been approved for use.

In conclusion, the sample clearance scenario is straightforward: if the original music is copyrighted, you must clear it to use the sample, no matter how short or how heavily altered it is.

This procedure might cost a lot of time and money. The procedure of getting authorization to use samples might be longer and more expensive if you get into legal trouble for doing so. If you’re trying to save money without sacrificing quality, exploring other options for obtaining musical samples is a better idea.

Image of someone writing on a song notebook. Source: yan krukau, pexels
Image of someone writing on a song notebook. Source: Yan Krukau, Pexels

How much does it cost to clear a sample?

It’s been said before, but this is mostly a matter of haggling. Some record companies and publishers may not understand how sampling works or why you would want to do it. Furthermore, there will be some who have gone through this process several times and may provide invaluable insight.

They will want either a flat fee upfront or recurring royalties. This is at least somewhat dependent on whether or not they anticipate making a profit from you. Understand that there is space for bargaining regardless of your strategy for approaching the transaction.

The cost of clearing a sample might vary widely. It’s also possible that publishers and record companies won’t allow you to listen to any of the artist’s work. A lawyer specializing in entertainment law may be of assistance in resolving the legal issues involved in clearing the sample. It won’t help you save money, but it could help you save time.

According to several reports, these are the most important factors for record companies and publishing houses:

  • Which song is being sampled, if any.
  • It might be the master recording was listened to, or the sample was played again.
  • The size of the sample in question.

They often ask for a master rights advance of $2,000 to $5,000, plus a publication advance of the same amount. You wouldn’t have to pay an advance if they approached you first and asked for partial ownership of the song’s copyright.

But you need to inquire to find out. In addition, it is feasible to get a better outcome. These expenses may not seem so high if you know you have a winner on your hands. However, if you are unsure, sampling may seem to be more costly.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Legally Sample Music (The Easy Way) | Don’t Release Your Music Without Clearing Your Samples” from the JamMob YouTube channel.

A video called “Legally Sample Music (The Easy Way) | Don’t Release Your Music Without Clearing Your Samples” from the JamMob YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about clearing a sample song.

Do you have to clear every sample?

When approval for a sample is necessary. Copying and distributing your music to the general public is the only time you’ll need sample approval. If you are performing for a small group of friends, you probably don’t have to fret about a copyright lawsuit from a major record label.

How do artists clear samples?

When clearing a sample, musicians will likely require two licenses: the publishing license and the master license. This means that in addition to the publishing license, which covers the words, music, and melody of a song, the artist must also have a contract for the sound that is being sampled.

Can I release a song with an uncleared sample?

Keep in mind that it’s against the law to use samples without permission, no matter if the song is free or not, and no matter if you give credit to the samples or say you didn’t mean anything bad. But publishing music with samples that haven’t been cleared is “criminal” in the same way that jaywalking is.

Can I get sued for sampling a song?

Samples from existing songs may need explicit permission from the original artists before they may be used in your compositions for public consumption. Avoid copyright infringement lawsuits at all costs if you want to keep releasing music.

Conclusion

So now that you know how to clear a sample, it’s time to get started. Just remember to follow all the steps above, and you should be good.

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great music artist by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what sample music is, how to clear a sample song, and how much it costs. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A sample is any part of a previously recorded song or performance that is used in a new composition. 
  • There’s a step-by-step guide on how to clear a sample for a song or beat.
  • Some record companies and publishers may not understand how sampling works or why you would want to do it.
  • In contrast to sampling and interpolation, cover artists need to get a mechanical license from the original songwriter or publisher for their renditions of songs.
  • Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ, as the adage goes in the music industry.
  • An advance, or clearance fee, is often requested by publishing houses.

So, how do you go about the proper process of clearing a song? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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