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  • Writer's pictureKate Brunotts

How To Clear Samples The Right Way

We get it. You found the perfect sample that is bound to blossom into a banger with the right production behind it. Before you get too ahead of yourself, remember that you need to clear the sample properly if you’re planning on releasing the track to major DSPs like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

It’s definitely not the most glamorous part of building your beats, but taking the time to properly clear your samples is professional, polished, and generally, the right thing to do. Below, we’ll go over exactly how to clear samples and also debunk a couple of sample clearing myths so that you can protect your career.

Why Should I Clear My Samples?

The process of clearing samples often gets a bad rap from artists for being a tedious, sometimes expensive process. While this can be true, it’s just another essential step in producing professional music. It’s only fair that the original creators of a sound receive some form of financial compensation when their music is referenced on a large scale.

Sampled music is more prevalent than what you may think. According to TrackLib, roughly 14% of Billboard’s hot 100 hits contained samples in 2021. In addition, the majority of top albums for 2021 contained samples from other artists. While samples are most prevalent amongst hip hop and related genres, you can find samples across the board in pop, jazz, rock, and soul music.

One thing is for sure: sample use is here to stay and is only set to grow as so many of us seek that elusive, nostalgic sound. Learning how to clear samples is just another skill you have to learn as an artist, but don’t worry – We’ll break down exactly what you need to do below.

How To Clear Samples: A Step By Step Guide

Here’s exactly what you need to do to properly clear any sample.

1. Understand What You Need To Gather

To start, it’s important to understand that you’ll be tracking down not one, but two types of permissions. You’ll to clear the sample with 1) Whoever owns the master recording and 2) Whoever owns the composition copyright, or who created the music and lyrics of a song.

Note that a copyright owner isn’t obligated to grant you permission in any way. You have to work with their set terms for any particular sample or replace the sample in question with one that is already cleared.

The master recording is often owned by a label or the artists. Composition copyrights are often separated amongst multiple people since it can take a producer and multiple songwriters or instrumentalists to create a single track.

2. Find The Composition Copyright Owners

To find out who owns the composition rights to a particular body of work, you’ll want to search databases of Performance Rights Organizations or PROs. These organizations organize copyright data for artists (you should also be signed up with one of these organizations as a releasing artist if you aren’t already).

Search for the song in question on ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Harry Fox, and SOCAN. Once you’ve tracked down the owners of the copyright, you’ll want to contact each party and present the track including the sample in question.

3. Locate The Master Recoring Owner

Next, you’ll want to track down who owns the master of a particular track. This is often a major label and you can usually find the associated party within the track notes or credits on a DSP like Spotify. You can also use the internet to help you find the master rights holder. From there, contact the label or the individual party’s clearance division and present your track.

4. Pay Your Dues

Once the label and publisher (composition copyright holders) have listened to your track, it’s time to hand over a chunk of change. Both the publisher and master rights owner may ask for an upfront fee, along with a percentage of all revenue generated by the song. These terms are negotiable, but you’ll need to close out a deal with all parties involved before releasing your track.

5. You’ve Officially Cleared Your Sample

Congratulations! You’ve officially cleared your sample and your free to release your song according to the terms outlined in your agreement.

Alternatives: Sample Libraries

Some artists understandably don’t want to deal with the outreach and financial obligations associated with clearing a sample. Thankfully, you can use a service like TrackLib to pay an affordable fee for pre-cleared samples.

You can also check out services like Splice, BPM Create, and LoopMasters for royalty-free samples. However, note that these services specialize in pre-cut samples whereas a space like TrackLib provides full tracks for manipulation.

Sample Clearing FAQ

Still have questions about clearing samples? Here are a couple of frequently asked questions and answers to expand your understanding as an artist.

Do I have to clear samples?

It’s important to get in the habit of clearing any and all samples in your music. Thankfully, there are plenty of pre-cleared, affordable tracks available on sample libraries for those who don’t have the financial means to clear samples from a major artist.

If I use 6 seconds or less of the sample is it okay?

Contrary to popular belief, the amount of time a sample is used in a song is irrelevant. You may be able to negotiate different royalty rates based on the prevalence of a sample in a piece of music, but if you use the sample at all, it must be cleared.

How long does it take to clear a sample?

Unfortunately, the process of clearing a sample can take months, especially if there are a lot of rights holders. You’ll want to finish tracks including samples well before your expected release date in order to secure time for proper clearance.

Hence, clearing samples is an essential step in the music production process. Hopefully, this guide makes it easier for you to clear samples with confidence.


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