Earlier this year, just moments before I got on the phone with legendary MC-producer Erick Sermon to discuss the making of Def Squad’s El Niño album, I came across a video about a new music start-up, “The Liberation of Sampling.” As the video opened with a vinyl record being placed on a turntable and the iconic song “Impeach the President” began to play, I leaned into my MacBook Pro to see what was going on. Once Hank Shocklee of the legendary Bomb Squad (Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Slick Rick) showed up I knew this must be official.
Tracklib has developed a back-end system that allows producers to purchase songs to potentially sample, and a simple clearance process for each use. After getting in contact with their team, Oskar, Per, and CEO and co-founder Pär, I was able to get access to the beta. Over the last few months their catalogue has grown and the platform introduced a handful of new features, from allowing users to search via genres to including stems and deep playlists to get users digging. Soon I was putting producers in my own network on and getting their feedback and by way of the Tracklib guys, I got to speak with their partner- legendary music executive Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Records and New Music Seminar, who spoke to me about the value of sampling in music and how for years Hip Hop music has suffered at the hands of harsh legal battles and restrictions on sampling.
Read my exclusive interview with Tracklib’s CEO Pär Almqvist and head to the Tracklib site to sign-up for early access.
What was your introduction to music?
Music has always been a big part of my life. My parents actually met in a choir (even though my father, to this day, can barely hold a note), and music is still central in my family. My father’s collection of jazz vinyls, both 33s and 78s, had a massive influence on my music listening, playing and producing later on in life. Music has been my major passion since I was young (I started creating my own songs on the piano when I was about 5 years old and went on to learning various instruments and then started producing digitally). A passion that has come back full circle with the creation of Tracklib.
What was your inspiration for Tracklib?
Tracklib co-founder Eric received numerous requests from other producers that wanted to sample and remix his songs. He thought it would be great to have a service where he could share his own tracks for other producers to use. The initial idea was to create a cloud-based service for stems and multitracks. But we realized over time that the big challenge is music licensing. That’s where we’ve really done the heavy lifting – to make sense of music rights and create a global marketplace that finally enables anyone, anywhere, to easily, legally and affordably sample original recordings. That’s where the game is.
Sampling is hard, technically and legally, right?
Sampling is an art form, but not always recognized as one. It’s not about stealing someone else’s work, it’s about using one or several recordings as inspirational building blocks for something new.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is widely accepted across other artforms, but has been in part stigmatized in music. To some extent maybe because of the complexities of music law, and perhaps also because of the misconception that you have to play a conventional instrument and read sheet music to produce worthwhile music. So let’s clear that up: if it sounds, it’s music. If someone has a reaction, it’s art. And whether it’s good or bad is entirely in the ear of the beholder.
Sampling is the foundation of music genres. Hip hop is obviously built on the art of sampling, but once you start looking a little deeper, you realize that sampling goes far beyond hip hop. A much larger part of Billboard Top 2100 than you would expect contains songs that use samples – more than 20% in our estimation. And as with any artform, it’s down to both putting in the hours to learn the skills, and having the basic talent. To master the art of sampling you need a musical ear, you need to have rhythm, you need to learn technical skills. Hardware and software have together made sampling more accessible than ever before. But the same rules apply: if you want to master it, you have to apply yourself.
Legally, sampling has been a nightmare for decades. There are two main reasons: music creation is in its nature very far from concerns about copyright, and music copyright is very complicated.
Let’s start with the first part—creation. There is no standard recipe for how music is made. You can start out in a kitchen by recording the sound of a dishwasher, or an improvised rhythm using a pot and a beater. Record a fragment from a distorted AM radio transmission, then chop it up in Pro Tools and add a sampled sitar. Get twelve equilibrist Stradivarius-playing violinists into a grand recording studio to perform the perfectly prepared sheet music you have put in front of them. Collaborate with a group of musicians you found online, then mix it all together in Logic, adding a live recording of a late night scratch session on your friend’s SP 1200s connected to a Numark mixer.
No matter how it’s approached and created, in the end there’s a song. And that song may end up containing bits and pieces of music copyright. Intentional or unintentional, aware or unaware. Songwriter and composers are seldom bothered with copyrights in the creative process, it’s all about the music at that point.
The complexity comes into the picture when someone is about to release a track they’ve created that contains someone else’s music rights. That’s when music copyright law comes into play.
A track consists of two main parts – the recording and the composition. Master rights belong to the recording, and publishing rights to the composition. To get sample clearance, both sides need to agree. On the publishing side this involves publishers and songwriters. On the recording side music labels, artists and producers.
This means that the process of licensing samples is slow, complicated and expensive, most often requiring costly legal advice. Or it was, until Tracklib. We power the liberation of sampling – making it dead simple to get clearance, because all tracks in our catalog are pre-priced and pre-cleared original recordings. So producers can focus on making music and not worry about music rights, takedowns and legal battles.
How did you approach the issue of Global rights?
Tracklib’s customers are all over the world, and today a song instantly travels everywhere whether you want it or not. So we believe strongly in the value of simplified global rights, and our catalog reflects that. There are no shortcuts and it will take time for copyrights to evolve with the times, but this is the direction the world is moving in. At least in music!
You have some legends in your promos! How did you connect with them? And how did you pick them?
A combination of a deep love for hip hop and a great global team made it possible for us to connect with some of the luminaries and innovators. Prince Paul and Hank Shocklee are true legends that we really wanted to be part of the movement. Paul as a sampling pioneer with a huge production body spanning decades, and Hank as a sound innovator who trailblazed sonic sampling and is a vocal advocate for innovation in music.
Fortunately, we had ways to connect—Tracklib partner Tom Silverman and Prince Paul have known each other for a long time, and Hank spoke at a panel at SXSW earlier this year together with Tom. The topic was Music’s Interactive Future. And the interesting finding was that one of the keys to the future of music production can be found in the past—in the world’s music catalogs and repertoires of original recordings and compositions.
Tracklib now makes it possible for more people than ever before to create new songs from existing ones, it changes the way the world can make music. Commercially it means new revenues for the music industry. Culturally it means musical legacies are extended into new generations, and bridges are built between musical traditions. And creatively it means a massive explosion. We’re going to see the birth of new genres. New forms of expression. A new era of music.