It’s no secret that when you look at the credits and personnel on certain albums, with hip hop, manufactured pop and modern R&B being the most notable culprits, you will see a long list of writers and producers. Albums from such artists as Beyoncé and Kanye West which have made big waves in the industry this past year seem to practically have an entire office block worth of people credited with making the music that made them famous. I imagine few of these people have made conscious contributions, many of them simply have had their work sampled.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that artists are receiving the recognition that they are rightly due, but this entire culture of sampling is deeply flawed. I can understand and sympathise with it’s origins. Music lovers, often from poorer backgrounds, trying to create something new from tracks that they love. Not everyone has the necessary time or money to pursue a career in music but here was a way to channel the creative spirit despite all obstacles and perhaps even share the music you love with a wider audience. Those days however seem long gone and what remains is almost beyond recognition.
What started simply as a means to an ends and people trying to make the best out of a bad situation is now something to be idolised and emulated. People are making millions from cutting and pasting snippets of other peoples work and what’s more they are lauded for their minimal efforts. It is a concept that utterly baffles me, a world where a best selling artist can hear a piece of music and their first though will be “I’m going to use that”. It’s a shamefully lazy attitude. Once upon a time when someone was inspired they would take it upon themselves to try and create something new and sometimes to try and surpass the level of musicianship and influence of their heroes. Although careers built off the back of sampling can sometimes produce good music, it seems like someone cutting up famous artwork at the Louvre and making a collage from the fragments. It begs the question why couldn’t you simply create the art from scratch?
I’m not against sampling as a whole, when used in moderation it can be a powerful tool. The excerpt of Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech in Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky is a powerful moment in an already stirring song. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, arguably the greatest album ever made, features plenty of samples of bizarre sounds, everyday objects and background chatter amongst it’s many sonic layers. The difference here is that it doesn’t form the backbone of the song, it’s something added atop an established song it it’s own right. Sampling is like the use of electronic instrumentation in that it shouldn’t be the foundation of the music, it should be the final decoration. Talented musicians can still add something extra to a song, but all too often sampling is used to cover up a lack of talent.