"Sampling, Art Form or Cop-Out?" or
"How To Sell A Million Copies Of Somebody Else's Music and Get Away With It"
B. K. Hart-DSR Records/Hart Music Co.
Columnist, Forest Pro Music
Well, kiddies, here we are, in another brand new year.
I'm still trying to get over the BS from last year. Mariah and her breakdown. Michael and his dangling baby. Whitney and her drama. Mary J. and her lack of drama. Eminem and his issues. And my man Dubya trying to get his fight face on for real.
Damn, man, will it ever end? I'm telling you now, this year has to be better.
Well, enough of the drivel, I'm here to talk about music to those of you who are serious about the work. My concern this month is about the art (?) of sampling. You know, the art form where you chop an old school song to pieces to get one little chunk to repeat over in loops to create a soundtrack, maybe adding a note or two of original stuff to make it yours. Back in the day it was a novel concept as an add-in for a track to give it a hook. It was so cool when the Sugar Hill Gang took a Chic rhythm line and made a rap anthem out of it. That was historic! Talk about fresh. It was good work, mathematically, musically and right on time.
Oh, but it was maybe TOO good, because in the days that followed, a lot of artists tried to capitalize on that idea, some successfully, and others not quite so. The music everyone used parts of the most was James Brown's music. "...it takes two to make a thing go right...", remember that? That was OK because most of the song was original.
But what about the ones who just completely took an entire melody line and mutilated it to try and make another song out of it? I don't mean like Weird Al Yankovic and the work he does, because that to me is creativity and mad genius. I mean like what Mariah Carey did to a line created by a group called the Tom Tom Club, or some of the stuff Mary J. is coming out with these days. Oh, Mary, not "Backstabbers"! Don't do that to us! And get off the soaps! Damn! When I lived in Brooklyn back in the early 70's, we had a name for what they are doing. We called it "bitin' " and it was a shameful thing because it reflected your LACK of creativity.
Isn't that what it's all about now? All these artists trying to look smart by trying to handle all the aspects of being a successful entity by doing everything themselves. Forget about whether or not they actually have the skills to do it. Let's face it, just because an artist may be a good singer or musician, it doesn't automatically make them a good writer or producer. But because they have "star power", they get to beat us up with their lack of writing skill, mainly because some fool told them they could.
People, there is more to music than pawning crap off to the public and making the money from it. I mean, what happened to the music? Although I have detected some people creating some decent tracks, most of what is selling nowadays is crap. There is a major difference between music and what I choose to call "sonic art". When you take a series of instruments, record on a big board over the course of weeks or months, actually using skills you spent years perfecting, that's music. When you get a hold of a program such as Fruity Loops or something like that, and sit up one night abusing Wave Table synthesis making loops with a monitor and a mouse, that's sonic art. 90% of the folks using these programs have absolutely no musical skills whatever, but make up for it in technical savvy.
Problem is, there are so many out there like that, it's hard to get to the good ones, because the crappy ones make their way to the front lines, mostly by force. A lot of underground rappers are doing it, but none of them are really musicians anyway.
Please don't misunderstand, I don't dislike Fruity Loops, as a matter of fact, I have it myself. But it really was designed as a tool, not necessarily a total music solution. I use it for the warm analog synth sounds, and to sweeten foundation tracks. I personally like programs like Cool Edit Pro and Sound Forge 6.0. While you guys were reading my main man Johnny Riddle's review about these titles, I was trying them out. Trust me, the brother knows his stuff. I now swear by them, and because I am a hybrid fusion of old school and "techno-gear", I took his advice, coupled it with my own years of experience, and am now living the engineer's life. Since I play all my own gear, the keys, basses, guitars and percs, analog still reigns supreme with me. I'm still inspired by the Rick Wakeman and the Edgar Winter schools of synthesis, and no sampling machine in the free world is going to give me that kind of high.
One day I'll treat you all to a delicious fat analog performance.
As I said before, I am a guitar player mainly. I gotta tell ya, I just bought a new axe, an Epiphone Casino (yeah, like the Beatles had!), and I've been working out with it. Helluva sweet axe. Along with that, I've been using a sampler to practice those fat licks like you hear the big boys do. Thus the "tool" theory is substantiated. You can record the sample, play it back at whatever speed you want, learn it note for note, and astonish your friends! Yeah, right. Anyway, it does help you learn difficult runs because you can usually change the speed without altering the pitch.
A good sampler on the market today is the SP505 by Roland. Roland seems to make the best samplers these days; I tried a few others, like the Zoom Sample Track. But for some reason Zooms have the rep for sounding cheap and tinny, so it really depends on your ear. But the Rolands are capable of true CD quality sound, and a lot of features for a little bit of loot. The SP505 lists for about $600, and its little brother, the SP303 lists for about $400. If you really want to fly, try the SP808 for around $1700.
These machines and others like them are on the scene like mad, and if I weren't a real musician, I would tout them a little harder. But as a REAL musician, I can't help but think about how all these folks with so little musical talent have flooded the market with these endless loops of pseudo-musical techno-refuse and continue to choke the living hell out of a legitimate music industry by convincing other spaceheads that what they are conjuring up in their basements, dorm rooms, treehouses, outhouses and crappers can laughingly be referred to as music. I'm sorry, y'all, but kindergarteners can do that. A sampler can be a serious tool in the hands of a competent musical artisan, but that's all they are. Just tools. Not instruments.
You sample-sick folks want a tip?
Buy a piano.
Learn a real skill.
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