"Setting the new market in sampling"
Sellers are looking to make a deal, but buyers are wary
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 3/3/2002
The full-page ad appeared innocently enough in a recent issue
of Billboard magazine. The family of Curtis Mayfield - the pioneering
R&B singer who died two years ago - wanted to thank the many rap
artists, including Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z, who have sampled his songs.
Thanks, yes, but also a request for more business. The ad
included the phone number for Mayfield's manager, and encouraged any
artist interested in making use of the singer's music to put in a
Sampling - the practice of taking parts of preexisting songs
and building new music and lyrics around them - has a controversial
history. Not that long ago, musicians fought bitterly against what
they deemed artistic piracy. After much legal wrangling and debates
over intellectual property, this ripoff-prone sector of the industry
became carefully regulated.
And lucrative. Now more than ever, it's the sellers - like
Mayfield's estate - who are actively trying to get established and
up-and-coming musicians interested in picking up a beat, a musical
fragment, or a snippet of lyrics.
Yet the selling price of samples has some artists saying
they're not in the market to buy anymore. ''It's costing too much to
get clearances, and sometimes it's easier to just do your own
music,'' says Gail Mitchell, the rap/R&B editor at Billboard.
There's no debate that sampling has become an establishment
practice in hip-hop, and, increasingly, in rock. Rare is the argument
that it's not an artistic thing to do - not when the profits are
astronomical; a single Mayfield sample on a high-profile record can
fetch his estate as much as an estimated $350,000. It's fair to say
that the samples used by Eminem and Snoop Dogg had price tags in that
For R&B forefathers such as Mayfield, James Brown, and the
Isley Brothers, sampling represents a multimilion-dollar windfall.
In addition, sampling an R&B pioneer like Mayfield can keep
his music alive and introduce him to a new generation of fans who
weren't even born when his ''Superfly'' album was the most
talked-about record in the nation.
''I probably get about five sample requests a month,'' says
Marv Heiman, who managed the Chicago-bred Mayfield for 30 years and
is the executor of his estate. ''Sampling means an ongoing stream of
revenue for the family,'' he adds, referring to Mayfield's 10
children and widow, Altheida. ''But it's not even the financial
thing. More important to me is that his name doesn't die out.''
The spinoff is more sales of Mayfield's albums. ''Maybe a lot
of kids don't read credits on an album,'' says Heiman. ''But the ones
who do say, `Hey, Snoop Dogg sampled Curtis Mayfield. I like that
cut. And oh, Tupac sampled Curtis Mayfield. Who the hell is Curtis
Mayfield? Maybe I ought to go into a record shop and see if I can buy
something on him.'''
That was then ...
Sampling is a much more respected, better-organized practice
than in the '80s when many rap groups began lifting bits of songs and
not paying for them. This was eventually squelched by the threat of
legal action that followed the 1990 Vanilla Ice hit ''Ice Ice Baby,''
which sampled the Queen/David Bowie song ''Under Pressure.''
Reportedly, a six-figure settlement was made to avoid litigation.
Today record companies have sampling departments that oversee
the process. Rap producers must fill out sheets telling the companies
what songs they are sampling so that licensing fees can be pursued.
And more companies like New York's Sample Clearance Limited are
hired, sometimes by the labels and sometimes by the artists, to
strike the best deals possible.
It's still a maverick field in that there are no set fees
(everything is negotiable), but the money has become so big that most
samples are tracked like smart bombs.
''If you're pro-money, you're pro-sampling. This represents a
second career for a lot of these guys,'' says Daniel Rubin, a lawyer
who runs Sample Clearance Limited and works not just for some labels
(EMI and Capitol, in particular) but clears samples for individual
artists, including Kid Rock, Jay-Z, and Will Smith. He's also working
on an online program to provide music producers and studios a list of
available samples, with licensing information attached. It's
''one-stop shopping for samples,'' says Rubin, who hopes to debut the
program this year.
The money involved is almost unfathomable by layman's
standards. Sampling fees vary depending on how much of the song is
sampled - is it a four-second bass line or a four-minute loop of that
The original artist can potentially get two royalties - one
from use of the master tape (Warner Bros. Special Products owns
Mayfield's masters of his recordings in the United States, but the
estate owns them in the rest of the world), and one for 50 percent of
the publisher/songwriter copyright (Warner-Chappelle is Mayfield's
publisher, so that company gets the other half).
Mayfield's estate might get only 3 to 4 cents per album for
the songwriter copyright, but if the sample appears on a rap CD that
sells 5 million copies (not unusual for Eminem), that's a windfall of
more than $200,000 right there.
But there's more. If the sample is part of a hit single, then
radio stations have to pay performance royalties to tracking
agencies, mainly ASCAP and BMI, which relay more money to the estate.
Thus, a sample can be even more lucrative than if an artist does a
cover version of a Mayfield song (as En Vogue did with a remake of
''Giving Him Something He Can Feel'' that went to No. 6 in 1992). In
that case, the estate would receive only songwriting royalties, not
Security in sampling
Mayfield's most popular songs include ''People Get Ready''
(redone by Rod Stewart), ''Freddie's Dead,'' ''Pusherman,'' and
''Superfly,'' the title hit from a 1972 film about an urban hustler.
In all, he wrote more than 400 songs and roughly 100 landed on
various charts. And after a devastating injury in 1990 when a
lighting truss fell on him at a Brooklyn concert and rendered him
quadriplegic, Mayfield had further reason to embrace the sampling
''Sampling allowed him to keep his dignity and
self-respect,'' says Heiman. ''He had health insurance, but his
injury cost the insurance company over $1.5 million. Sampling let his
family be financially secure. And where a lot of artists at the time
thought that sampling was a misuse of their music, Curtis saw just
the opposite. He thought these guys were incredible poets.''
More of today's street poets, however, are turned off by the
sampling trend because of the enormous fees. On his lates album,
rap-rocker Kid Rock samples just a few seconds of the guitar line
from Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic ''Free Bird,'' but Skynyrd's publisher
wanted so much money that an outraged Kid Rock made a personal call
to a member of the band and managed to get the fee reduced.
Even though sampling has become an accepted practice, some
artists still won't consent to have their music sampled. Examples
include the Beatles and Pink Floyd (''The Beatles can still sell
millions of records, so why do they need the incremental income of
sampling?'' says Sample Clearance Limited's Rubin), along with
techno-rock pioneers Kraftwerk and some old-school rock groups like
Jefferson Airplane. ''I remember trying to use a Jefferson Airplane
sample from their song `White Rabbit,' but they wouldn't let us,''
says Cypress Hill's B-Real.
In the loop
But many rock acts are increasingly involved in sampling. U2
has used samples, as have Beck (who relies on them heavily), and even
Barenaked Ladies, (who sampled a Rush song). And pop acts such as
Britney Spears and Michael Jackson have used samples. Janet Jackson
made waves last year with a surprise sample of the guitar riff from
''Ventura Highway'' by granola popsters America.
It's hardly for everyone, though. ''I'm not involved in it,''
says rocker Lenny Kravitz, though he doesn't criticize those who are.
''If you're an artist involved in sampling, then great. It's just
another way to do music. It's making something out of other things
and recycling them into collages. For people who do it well, it's
cool. But it's not something that I do.''
The Isley Brothers have another take on the situation. They
are among the most sampled groups to date (samples from their 1969
hit ''It's Your Thing'' have been repeatedly in hip-hop), but
sometimes the attention can fuel audience backlash, even if it fills
the Isleys' wallets. Guitarist Ernie Isley recalls how their song
''Between the Sheets'' was sampled by rapper the Notorious B.I.G.,
also known as Biggie Smalls.
''A Top-40 station in New York played our version of `Between
the Sheets,''' Isley says, ''and an angry listener called in to say,
`I want to know why the Isley Brothers ripped off Biggie Smalls.' It
was strange hearing that remark. That was our song first, but people
don't always realize it.''
Lies the Pentagon Told Us America Still Has an Office of
Disinformation. It's Called the Pentagon
by John R. MacArthur
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's abrupt abortion
of the Office of Strategic Lying (a.k.a. the Office of Strategic
Influence) -- in response to critics who feared for Washington's
stellar reputation for honesty -- deserves to be ranked as one of the
great propaganda coups of modern times.
Mr. Rumsfeld sounded upset, I know, but that was just another
aspect of his public relations brilliance. Reading the
literal-minded, largely positive reaction to his announcement, I
realized that a good many citizens must have inferred that the
Pentagon and the White House have been routinely telling the truth
over the past few decades.
In all frankness, the only thing more dishonest than an
Office of Strategic Influence aimed at deceiving foreigners is the
suggestion that the Bush administration, or any other since the
Second World War, likes to tell Americans the truth.
"The office is done," a seemingly hurt, aggrieved Mr.
Rumsfeld told a press conference. "It's over. What do you want,
blood?" Thus, with three short phrases and a touch of martyrdom, the
former drug company chief executive officer swept away the Pentagon
Papers, the Church Committee hearings and the collected works of
journalist Seymour Hersh, all of which speak to the vast array of
lies perpetrated by the US government since the world's greatest
superpower took center stage, at Hiroshima in 1945.
The Washington Post reported Mr. Rumsfeld's retreat as a
"victory for the military public affairs community," which "had
worried that the new office would blur the line between their work of
dealing with the media and the public and the 'black' world of covert
operations, which sometimes involves disseminating false
information." When was the line ever clear?
Of course, it hardly seems to matter anymore whether the
government lies or conceals, now that the war on terrorism justifies
almost anything. The Bush administration set the tone immediately
after the commencement of bombing with a strict military censorship
policy that forbids reporters from covering US troops engaged in what
was initially dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice" (unless they work
for Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram van Munster,
who are making a Pentagon-approved "reality TV series" for ABC).
Technically, this is a secrecy policy, not censorship. But it
permits lying at a far more effective level. Censorship rules can
always be broken by eyewitnesses, but it's harder to report what you
can't see. If the government says such-and-such a target was
surgically bombed and so many al-Qaeda members were killed, you can
repeat it in the newspaper, but you can't refute or corroborate it.
Lately, the military has gotten annoyed with pesky reporters
concerned that the "military public affairs community" might be lying
about its selection of military targets in Afghanistan -- and how it
is that so many civilians have been killed and wounded when bombing
has been likened to a delicate medical procedure. Last month,
Washington Post reporter Doug Struck went to investigate some corpses
in a village and was held at gunpoint by a US Army officer who told
him, perhaps truthfully, "Don't move or we'll shoot."
In the lexicon of government-lying, there are specific lies,
big, overarching lies, and there is propaganda. A specific lie is the
Eisenhower administration saying that above-ground nuclear testing in
Nevada posed no danger to the soldiers who were asked to witness it.
A specific lie is the Johnson administration's version of the Gulf of
Tonkin incident in which North Vietnamese gunboats were said to have
fired, without provocation, on American vessels, this in order to
justify a massive military buildup without having to resort to a
straightforward declaration of war.
A specific lie is the Kuwaiti/White House/Hill and Knowlton
invention of the baby-incubator atrocity, allegedly committed by
Nazi-like Iraqi soldiers, which whipped up popular support for
liberating freedom-loving, tolerant Kuwait from the iron grip of
tyranny. (All of these lies were disseminated through "regular"
channels and "subcontractors," a practice that Mr. Rumsfeld said will
A big, overarching lie is the assertion that the US can
impose a government on Afghanistan and that Prime Minister Hamid
Karzai has anything like genuine control over his countrymen. And
then there's the lie, ably distributed by Thomas Friedman of The New
York Times, that the Saudi royal family really wants peace in the
Middle East and a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli bloodletting.
My own Israeli source, a diplomat based in New York, tells me
that the Saudi government helped subvert the Clinton-Barak peace
proposal, before the latest Palestinian uprising, by spreading the
word among the Islamic faithful that Yasser Arafat had no authority
to negotiate the future of Jerusalem because of its "holy sites." The
Saudis and the US foreign policy establishment prefer a measure of
instability in the Middle East because it distracts attention from
the vast corruption of the Saudi elite and the complicity of its
oil-craving US backers.
Propaganda sometimes involves smaller lies or lies by
implication. In early January, we learned that the US military was
dropping leaflets on Afghanistan that accused "Usama Bin Laden" [sic]
of faithlessness to his Afghan hosts and al-Qaeda henchmen: ". . .
the murderer and the coward has abandoned you and run away. Give
yourself up and do not die needlessly . . ."
On the front of the leaflet, the warning photograph of a
corpse seemed genuine enough, but on the back an obviously fabricated
picture of Mr. bin Laden -- smiling, beardless and attired in Western
business clothes -- gave the lie to this shabby little promotion.
Around the same time, the State Department placed ads in US
newspapers under the headline, "What can you do?" [to stop
terrorists]. . . . Bad enough that the ad copy said Mohammed Atta was
"interested in crop dusting" when he never said any such thing at his
Florida flying school.
Worse still that the ad (along with another headlined "Can a
woman stop terrorism?") implied that ordinary citizens were to blame
for Sept. 11 by not being vigilant enough -- "If someone had called
us, his [Mr. Atta's] picture wouldn't be spotted in this ad." Surely
the government bore no responsibility.
But perhaps the biggest lie is that Mr. Rumsfeld is peeved by
the latest sniping about Pentagon disinformation. I still remember
him in great good humor last fall, mocking the Pentagon
beat-reporters who wanted more regular and truthful briefings: "Let's
hear it for the essential daily briefing, however hollow and empty it
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