Using Sampling in Popular Music

by Reyse Jaster

Over the past year, I have been investigating the use of samples in popular music. Samples take various forms in music. In rock music, it is becoming increasingly popular to replace a live drum sound with one that has been previously recorded. The previously recorded sound, also known as a sample, is considered to be superior. In other instances, samples have come to be a main component in hip-hop and many electronic music genres. This method of creating music is one that is uniquely modern and worth exploring.

The first time that I really came to appreciate sampling was when I heard the album Endtroducing… by the artist Josh Davis, also known as DJ Shadow. This album is credited as being the first album created entirely by samples. Although the album clearly has roots in the hip-hop production that Davis grew up with, the resulting music is not clearly definable. One does not necessarily be a fan of hip-hop to enjoy this album. Much like a sculptor make use found objects to create their piece of art, Davis uses found portions of recorded music to create something new and compelling. A short section of piano is removed from its original context and juxtaposed against a funk drum sample. Despite the fact that each component of the piece is not created by Davis, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Even if I knew the origin of a sample in one of these pieces, I still felt as if Davis had made it his own.

Using modern software and hardware, I have been learning to create my own music using samples. This process has increased my appreciation of this type of music. Modern hip-hop sampling originated in the late 1980s with the advent of new hardware that made the process more efficient. Equipment such as the Akai MPC gave hip-hop producers the freedom to experiment with samples in the digital realm. They no longer had to physically cut and splice pieces of magnetic tape. My equipment of choice, the Native Instruments Maschine, could be considered a modernized version of an Akai MPC. The touch sensitive pads, and button layout are similar to the MPC, but instead of being a standalone piece of equipment, the Maschine instead functions as a tactile software controller.

Although one could certainly create a sample-based piece of music by exclusively using software with a computer keyboard and mouse, Maschine provides a more musical approach. The user is able to ‘play’ a sample with the touch sensitive pads, similar to playing a note or chord with a traditional acoustic instrument. The user can assign any sound they wish to a pad.

When creating a painting, the available colours are essentially endless. This is also the case in sample-based music creation. When you wish to use an existing portion of music to create a new work, you must be able to think of how that portion will stand alone. This thought process can be a daunting task in itself. However, one must then determine how multiple portions of unrelated music will work together. At this stage, and individual’s creatively can truly flourish.

Current technology allows samples to be incorporated easily into music. The onus now lies on the musician to expand the possibilities of this type of music. I hope to foster this potential, and look forward to the new music it will bring.


Author: dndrew

Orchestral, chamber and interactive music composer Digital musical instrumentalist Real-time software systems designer Computer music educator

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