Who Sampled Who and is Vinyl staging a comeback?
“Who Sampled Who” is a series of live video streaming sessions hosted by Tareeq Musafer, and the third session of the series is set to air on Wednesday, 24 June at 9 p.m. on Facebook.
The series explores the use of sampling, unearthing old vinyl records that have been used as samples in contemporary music. The records that Tareeq uses are from his own personal archives – a most impressive vinyl collection.
Tareeq, who is also a DJ, uses only vinyl records in his mixes. According to him, he is likely the only one to do so in Sri Lanka and one of the few left in the world who exclusively uses Vinyl, which he himself does not recommend as he only plays selective gigs. It is alright, he said, but it is quite cumbersome compared to how one box can carry six records whereas a pen drive can accommodate about 10,000 songs.
The Morning Brunch spoke to Tareeq about the intricacies of music sampling, his love for vinyl, and the resurgence it has experienced in the past decade.
Tareeq shared that while today’s music – that is music from the early 90s to the contemporary works – feature a lot of “samples” from older music such as music from the 60s funk era and the 70s rock era, samples are little excerpts, melody sections, or drum rolls which are percussion rolls taken from old music or records introduced into a new production in a creative way.
You can identify this being a big phenomenon in the early to late 90s, particularly due to the state of copyright laws at the time. Then, as things progressed, older artists started to realise this trend. These new productions proved to be catchy, with evoking feelings of nostalgia being highly popular, and generating some real income for new artists.
He shared some examples like Snoop Dog’s first single from his debut album What’s My Name which featured samples and interpolations from George Clinton’s Atomic Dog in its chorus and throughout, and an interpolation from Parliament’s Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) in its bridge.
There was a lot of influence from Hindi music, considering how the West has developed a fascination with the East, and they would often sample eastern music coupled with the new productions and so music of that nature is often used in the mainstream because these works appeal to a massive cross section.
DJs are getting big
Tareeq also stated that right now, the electronic music scene – that is EDM – is very popular and people tend to hear a lot of it here in Sri Lanka as well. But back in the 70s and 80s, DJs did not command audiences like they do today in music festivals like “Tomorrowland”; those eras were highly dominated by the bands and the current trends with big names like skrillex, Armin Van Buuren, and Carl Cox, and these guys also produce a lot for their own music.
The reason for the emergence of this new era is that due to the accessibility of electronic music, these productions can be done in your home studio off a laptop and a small rig of equipment. He said that you often even get local guys who produce their own music as well, and in creating this music sampling is something that you do.
When you listen to an old classical piece, you get influences from that. Now, with the technology being readily available, you can play around with that material; there are recognisable parts in these classical pieces and you can utilise them to fit today’s vibe.
Legality and copyright
When sampling, a less talked about issue is the legality of using another’s work and Tareeq said that whether you are using one bar, four beats, or an entire verse, the new artist owes royalties to the original creator if you are using it for commercial purposes.
He said that in Sri Lanka, since the scene is so small, if a DJ here releases a track through an underground label, unless it becomes massively commercial overseas, you won’t be cracked down on it. But globally, it is highly regulated, distribution is highly policed, and when you take someone else’s work, then you must rightfully contact the original copyright holder and obtain their permission or pay what’s due.
An example in Sri Lanka is, if you are going to sample a Victor Rathnayake song, you must definitely contact the Maharaja Label and acquire those rights.
While these measures in place to protect the artists’ sampling are not inherently evil, it is one of those ways that creates impactful moments in music. “You can keep listening to Dancing Queen over and over again, but it means something when it gets a new and different purpose when it is recycled and sampled for a new production,” he said.
Is sampling always intentional?
There have been occasions where producers have been clever and used these old samples in a way that is not recognisable, but some of them have had to pay for those mistakes. Tareeq gave an example where Pharrell Williams had to endure a long drawn-out copyright battle over Robin Thicke’s 2013 song Blurred Line which ended after a judge ordered them to pay almost $ 5 million to Marvin Gaye’s estate in the case’s final ruling years after the song’s release.
While there are occasions where it is totally possible to create something completely original yourself as a result of the influence these legendary tracks have had on you, it could resemble something that is already in existence. On such occasions, you must either prove 150% that it is entirely an original piece or pay the price. In such occasions, however, the distributor would bear the brunt of those consequences, and to avoid such liabilities, there are safeguards in place. There are lots of software through which you can run your works and check any overlapping with pre-existing music.
In Sri Lanka, you have Yasmin Yusoff who promotes only local artists, and she runs the music she plays through such software to make sure that she is promoting 100% original content. Otherwise it is not fair, and you are promoting something that is not authentic.
The resurgence of Vinyl
As a vinyl-head, we asked Tareeq about this second appearance by vinyl records, and he shared that this resurgence came about around 2012, adding that while there is some confusion as to how exactly it happened, it could be chalked down to “millennials began to discover vinyl”.
Since the 80s came up with CDs, the vinyl record had really declined in sales, particularly due to the CD’s convenience and the ability to make more numbers, and so naturally vinyl sales took a nosedive. However, since digital downloads have taken over CDs in music sales; those who were born in the late 90s and the 2000s were experiencing a lack of tangible music ownership and this generation is a group that has never experienced vinyl.
Many of them would dig for old records, and old record shops and large corporations picked up on this newfound interest and started supplying to meet the demand. Now, commercial artists like Adele would release their albums on vinyl.
Analog vs. digital
There is a debate on whether the audio quality is better on vinyl, but Thareeq said that there is some truth in the fact that the sound is much warmer and therefore more pleasant and soothing to the listener. It is easy on the ears with the more direct feeling of communication, but the biggest plus point of purchasing a vinyl record is its tangible nature.
When you purchase a record, there is a lot of information about the record on the album, such as about who is behind the production, who is on drums, on keyboard, etc., whereas in a digital download, you may get all this information but it is not available in such an obvious way that you have no choice but to take a look.
Vinyl art was also a huge draw; there is always unparalleled artwork on records. Back then, this was not digital photography in the 70s and the 80s; everything was shot on film and therefore it has a lot of depth to it. There was a lot of “on the fly” photography in that era as well, like the Rolling Stones or someone would be touring and you get these candid imagery with depth and raw exposure that all has a story to it. It would contribute to the tangibility of that history; everything in analog that you consume has been through a journey.
In Tareeq’s opinion, those in their 20s who were not born into that era are now looking into it and are experiencing a new world. They are now buying vinyls, which has resulted in vinyl sales poised to overtake CD sales since 1986. CDs were on the decline considering the digital downloads. However, vinyl is experiencing a comeback and while it would never be able to go near where digital and streaming is at, it is something that has resurfaced.
Vinyl is here to stay
Another element that has really boosted the sales are the reissues of old records, said Tareeq, sharing that if you are to take a band like Fleetwood Mac, they would have a limited “x” amount of copies of their vinyl records that were made, and these records carry massive value in the underground market and the accessibility is less considering the rarity of it. These are collectible items almost and will be sold for thousands of dollars.
However, record companies, having picked up on this demand, have begun to reissue these old records; those in ownership of the old master disk would reissue it as a brand new record, allowing more accessibility for fresh enthusiasts and a wider spread of consumption and interest.
There is talk that George Michael’s album Older which was originally released at an extremely limited number of copies will now be reissued, allowing a great opportunity for fans. Those artists who were popular during that CD-dominant era, like Counting Crows, can now release on vinyl as these reissues have begun to boom vinyl sales.
Vinyl in Sri Lanka
Tareeq stated that while he is no longer a seller for vinyls, there are three major sellers in the island, sharing that they have been bringing down old records and players since 2015. There are websites like Urban.lk who are selling brand new and even second-hand players.
He shared that currently there are two WhatsApp groups totalling up to 200 members who have created a community around vinyl enthusiasm, and beyond that there are hundreds around the island who are looking for vinyl records.
In the case of vinyl, there is a community and personality built around it; you would often share your collection with others and like a book you are reading, you would swap out what you have with another and listen to it and bring it back.
There is a lot more work to maintain a vinyl collection as well. You have to play it every month or so to ensure moisture or dust do not collect/gather in the ridges, and you have to store it properly. Also, you must frequently take it out for cleaning and give it enough playtime. It is pretty much a hobby that keeps you engaged.
There is a certain beauty in listening to music through a vinyl record, when you can hold a record in your hand and exercise a journey as the artist intended you to witness it. Tareeq shared how while DJs nowadays may not need to use analog music, there is weight in knowing your roots and this is the history of DJ-ing. You should take the time to familiarise yourself with the journey and history of your passion, and if it peaks your interest, you can start to incorporate some of these elements into your own works.