Using Samples in Your Music is Not Cheating

Recording vs. sampling and loopsThis is a pretty common topic among modern-day computer musicians. In this day and age, so many people create music using samples and loops for the basis of their songs. Is this “cheating”?

I don’t think so. Where do you draw the line, anyway? If you use a microphone to record a set of drums being played live, then should it be “cheating” because you did not build the drums yourself? Come on. Besides, if you have pro recording equipment, then the recording of the drum beat played live versus the drum beat played using samples isn’t going to sound very different, as long as you use the same kind of drums and play them the same way. Using samples of recorded instruments isn’t a lot different from just recording instruments to begin with – especially with these crazy, multi-sampled libraries of today, where each note / drum has multiple recordings and nuances to make the beat sound more “real.” Add to that the degree to which you can alter the sound using effects, and you can really make the sound “your own.” The biggest problem with recording things yourself is simply that in order to get professional results it’s going to take a lot more time, effort, money, and equipment. Don’t get me wrong – nothing beats the real thing, but if all you’re doing is trying to lay down a good beat, why not use samples? In this day and age, it’s almost expected.

As for using loops, I think that is in more of a gray area. I think the whole aspect of “cheating” in this regard is not what you used to make your music, but what the music actually sounds like – the content of the music, the actual notes and beats that make up the composition. Loops can be sliced, slowed down or sped up, etc., to the point that they no longer sound like the original loop, but since you could use a drum loop without altering it at all, then there is always the possibility that someone else could use that same original loop, and have part of their song sound exactly like yours. I don’t like that. Sure, there are only so many combinations of notes and beats that one can do, so there’s always the possibility that someone’s beat or musical phrase could sound very much like yours anyway, but loops make it so much more likely to occur. I just prefer for my music to be 100% hand written by me. But that’s just my opinion.

Andy Warhol's Soup Can IdiocyUsing loops too much without changing them can be compared to the modern art works of Andy Warhol. His paintings of Campbell’s soup cans copied over and over again is famous. Those soup can paintings just aren’t art. He didn’t even design the graphics on the soup cans. He’s not the artist, the guy that designed the graphics on the soup can is! It’s just stupid. It’s as stupid as it would be for me to slice a piece of music from an advertisement or something and loop it over and over again without doing anything else to it. I wouldn’t be the artist – the guy that wrote the music for the ad would be. Sure, he painted the soup can by hand originally (and then copied it over and over again), but the only thing that makes the painting have anything on it at all is the graphics on the soup can – which someone else made. It’s not like he was painting a bird or something – the graphics on a Campbell’s soup can is not a natural occurrence. It’s a composition that another artist created – some graphics artist somewhere, who was working for Campbell’s soup. It’s just as stupid as randomly splattering a canvas with paint and throwing cigarette butts on it. Although that was a different “artist.” Anyway, I’ll stop ranting…

2 comments on “Using Samples in Your Music is Not Cheating

  1. Even though I think you’re right about the loops, the comparison to Andy Warhol and his paintings is delusional. The whole concept of this particular painting (among others) is to show the state of consumerism the world has gone into and loss of personality, like the marilyn monroe painting.

    You’re stating a paradox, if the builder of the drums shouldn’t get paid, then the designer of a campbell soup design should not get paid

  2. Hey Benjamin,

    If the comparison to Andy Warhol seems contrived, it’s because I had originally written this article without it, and I added a separate argument that I had written about Andy Warhol to the article, since I thought it kind of fit. However, I stand by my original idea that Andy Warhol’s work is not art, and that the creator of the soup can art is the real “artist.”

    As for your argument about the builder of the drums getting paid – they DO get paid, when you buy the drums… comparing the purchase of drums for the purpose of creating music to the use of someone else’s artwork (which was not even intended to be “artwork”) on your own artwork is not a very good comparison. The drums were built for the sole purpose of creating music, and the creator of the drums knew that. The soup can artwork was created for the sole purpose of promoting Campbell soup. The drum is tool to create art, just as a paintbrush is a tool to create art. Using someone’s art (which isn’t even art) is just… stealing. In a better comparison, it’s like taking a chunk of someone else’s music and using it in your own work. Sure, “stealing” happens all the time in art, but not always to such a blatant degree.

    As for the paintings being intended to show the state of consumerism, did Andy Warhol ever say that? I think he was just being insane. In either case, I think it’s silly.

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