Hip Hop Tip: How to Legally Clear Samples Used in Your Music

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Thanks to our friends at IndieHipHop.net for letting us repost this article.

If you’re a hip hop artist or producer, odds are you either have or will be faced with the issue of using a sample in your music. The biggest problem with this is that most people wait until their music project is completed before they start dealing with the legal aspects associated with clearing those samples.

Typically, most independent releases selling 10,000 records or less remain under the radar and never draw broad enough attention to face the legal ramifications of NOT clearing samples. Having low sales expectations of your project and not clearing samples is still a dangerous place to be. You could have an unexpected hit from that release and find yourself in a very defenseless position. The owner of one uncleared sample could have that record pulled from your project or ask for an unreasonable amount of payment because they are aware that you’re in a vulnerable spot.

So I’ll begin to walk you through the proper steps for getting samples cleared.

You must get permission from two sources: The copyright owner/publisher and the owner of the master recording.

How do you find the copyright owner?
The easiest way to do this, if you have the title of the song, is to search the performing rights organizations’ websites. The two major ones are ASCAP and BMI.

The Harry Fox Agency website may also be helpful. Once you get the information, contact them about your interests in using their music.
How do you find the owners of the master recording?

This is usually the record label. If you can’t find this information, the copyright owner and publisher should have this.

Costs: This could vary. It really comes down to negotiations and/or how popular the artist is. It could become very expensive. Some artists won’t let you use their music regardless of the situation.
You could seek the counsel of an entertainment attorney or a clearance consultant. Some may charge by the hour to handle this for you. Some have a flat rate. Neither can guarantee success, but it CAN save you time.

Now that you have the info, the choice is yours. Using a hot sample could make your career, so it has its potential benefits. It could also cost you a lot of up front money to clear. Money that will possibly never come back to you.

(editor’s note: if you ARE lucky enough to have a hit song with an uncleared sample, you’re going to forfeit all the money you earned or could earn from it. So CD Baby always recommends clearing samples legally. If the copyright holders don’t want to license it to you, they’re not going to be any nicer when you have a hit on your hands. If they do comply, great! And if not, maybe that is a good time to start looking for a different sample, or record your own thing that works even better!)

Once you’ve cleared your samples, sell your songs on iTunes!

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