Sampling is when an artist takes a portion of music from another song and changes it, turning it into a completely new artistic work. For example, a hip-hop artist may find an acoustic guitar track that they want to use. They will sample that guitar, but they will also add other elements, such as 808s or MIDI instruments. But the basis of the song is still that sample, which someone else wrote and recorded.
One reason that artists do this is simply when they do not have the ability to make the music themselves. They may simply be a singer who doesn’t play an instrument, for example. But a lot of artists who are musically inclined and can play these instruments are still not able to record them to the quality that they would like. They simply take the samples and sing over them, creating the song that they want.
Another reason to use samples is that they can help to set the mood for a song and because it can be a creative process. Most people do not just use samples exactly the way they were recorded the first time. They will often slow them down, for example, or add effects like reverb. They may even re-pitch the sample so that it’s played in a completely different key.
Do you have to clear samples?
When sampling first started, it was not necessary to clear samples of a certain length. This is part of the reason it became so popular; it was a free way to get music. But you do have to clear modern samples and it can be a form of copyright infringement not to do so.
This is just one way that the music industry has changed over the years. It helps to show why you need to know what legal obligations you have.