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September 23, 2020

4 Steps To Clearing A Sample (And Saving Yourself A Lot Of Money)

Clearing a sample image

Much of today’s pop and hip-hop hits revolve around a sample from another record as the backbeat of the song. That’s not a problem in itself in that many great records have been created this way, but many new artists are unaware of what it takes when it comes to legally clearing a sample so it doesn’t cost them most or all of their royalties received from their song down the line.

It’s All Based On Copyright

Clearing a sample means that you’ve obtained the proper rights from the copyright holders to use it. The problem is there’s almost always more than one entity that has that control so that’s when it can get complicated.

To begin with, there are 2 copyrights for every song – the sound recording copyright (sometimes called Master Recording), and the publishing copyright. A record label will usually control the sound recording copyright and a publisher or publishers (if there are multiple writers) will hold the publishing copyright. You need to get all parties to agree on you using their sample, and you need to do it before you release your record.

Finding the label that released the song you want to sample is usually easy in that all you have to do is an Google search. It’s a little more complicated for the publishing side. There you need to know all of the writers and their publishing companies. The easiest way to find that info is to do a song search on either the BMI and ASCAP websites. There you’ll find detailed information on the writers and publishers so you’ll know exactly who to contact.

But It Will Cost You

As said a couple of paragraphs ago, you need to get the okay from all copyright holders before you release your record. The reason why is that if your song becomes a hit, the parties can demand and receive a big part or even all of the your royalties from the song.

Although the costs might for clearing the sample might be considered steep if you’re an artist with no financial backing, it’s better than losing everything later on.

So what does it cost? These negotiations are always variable but you can expect the record label to ask for somewhere between $2,000 to around $10,000 plus a royalty split of between 3% and 10%.

On the publishing side you can expect similar numbers, but you can also try to negotiate an “all in” price, meaning that you only have a certain amount of money for this and it has to be split amongst all the writers. They might go for it or they might not.

The Steps In Clearing A Sample

So now it comes to actually clearing the sample. Here are the steps:

1. Identify who owns or controls the sound recording.

2. If it’s a label, contact the clearance department and negotiate. If it’s an artist, you can negotiate directly.

3. Identify who owns or controls the publishing.

4. If it’s a publisher, or publishers if there are multiple writers, contact the clearance department and negotiate. If it’s songwriter, contact him or her directly and negotiate.

If that seems like too much work or you don’t feel up to negotiating with the pros, there are clearance services who will do that for you, but they’ll also charge a fee for it.

Remember that clearing a sample before you use it is essential. It will either cost you some money now, or a lot more later. You can find more detail on the subject here.


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