Mark Ronson: “Sampling Isn’t About Hijacking Music”

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From renowned musician / DJ / producer Mark Ronson‘s recent TED Talk: “How Sampling Transformed Music”.

Mark Ronson: “See, thirty years ago you had the first digital samplers, and they changed everything overnight. All of a sudden, artists could sample from anything and everything that came before them. From a snare drum from the Funky Meters, to a Ron Carter bass line, to the theme from The Price is Right.

Albums like De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique looted from decades of recorded music to create these sonic layered masterpieces that were basically the Sgt. Pepper’s of their day.

And they weren’t sampling these records because they were too lazy to write their own music. They weren’t sampling these records to cash in on the familiarity of the original stuff. To be honest, it was all about sampling really obscure things — except for a few obvious exceptions like Vanilla Ice…

But the thing is,  they were sampling those records because they heard something in that music that spoke to them, that they instantly wanted to inject themselves into the narrative of that music. They heard it, they wanted to be a part of it, and all of a sudden they found themselves in possession of the technology to do so. Not much unlike the way the Delta blues struck a chord with The Stones and The Beatles and Clapton, and they felt the need to co-opt that music for the tools of their day.

You know, in music, we take something that we love and we build on it.

Since the dawn of the sampling era there’s been endless debate about the validity of the music that contains samples. You know, the Grammy committee says that if your song contains some kind of pre-written or pre-existing music you’re ineligible for Song of the Year.

Rockists, who are racist but only about rock music, constantly use the argument to devalue rap and modern pop. And these arguments completely miss the point because the dam has burst. We live in the post-sampling era.

We take the things that we love and we build on them. That’s just how it goes.

And when we really add something significant and original and we merge our musical journey with this, then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of that music that we love and be linked with it once it becomes something new again.

Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more. Follow her on Twitter: @nine_u

25 Responses

  1. jw

    Who transcribed this? The delta blues aren’t a band, it’s a genre.

    • Nina Ulloa

      there’s also a delta blues band, but that’s besides the point

      • jw

        The Delta Blues Band didn’t strike a chord with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles or Eric Clapton. I can assure of that.

  2. Chris H

    It’s racist now to say you prefer one form of art over the other? Such a Nanny state world we live in now.

    To me, the analogy has always been oil painting vs. collage. They both have their moments and people generally prefer one over the other.

    • Nina Ulloa

      he’s not sying it’s racist to like rock more than rap, he’s saying it’s racist to devalue a rap song because it used samples

      • agraham999

        Still not racism. Biased or bigoted perhaps…not racist. I’m going to give a pass here since he was speaking publicly and not writing about the subject, but should be more careful with use of words. Don’t see how race enters his point at all.

        • Me

          I’m pretty sure he’s using the word “racism” as a metaphor, and not in the literal sense.

          • Chris H

            I still don’t see it as racist. Devaluing the form, saying one form of art is better than another, has nothing inherently to do with racism.

            The “kind of fella” who might say such a thing may or may not have racists feelings towards the performers, I’m not arguing that point. But he should REALLY walk that edge with less of a blunt point.

  3. Spencer

    He said rocksist. Not racist.. Read a little more carefully before jumping to such conclusions.
    And to the people above about the blues. He was clearly speaking of the genre as a whole.

    • GGG

      “Rockists, who are racist but only about rock music”

      I see both those words.

  4. Matthew Montfort

    This talk completely ignores the effect that sampling has had on the art of music itself. Just answer the following questions for yourself, and you will get a better picture of what is going on.

    1. Is the emotional impact of recorded music deeper today than it was 40 years ago because of sampling?

    2. Does a musician who samples the work of another musician grow as much as a musician who actually learns to play the work of another musician?

    3. Which takes more artistry: making a collage, or painting a masterwork?

    • Anonymous

      Pretty sure the idea was around for a while, via Musique Concrete, and I don’t think anyone would really say that was a bad thing.



    • Kurto

      1. Is the emotional impact of recorded music deeper today than it was 40 years ago because of sampling?
      No. It is the same. Emotional impact is measured by the listeners. I doubt fans of music today are any less impacted by listeners of music 40 years ago.
      2. Does a musician who samples the work of another musician grow as much as a musician who actually learns to play the work of another musician?
      Let’s not assume all musicians are the same here. Also- assuming that an artist that samples can’t also be a skillful instrumentalist is wrong. Does digital technology make it easier for a hack to put out music? Sure. But great artists can see digital sampling as just any tool to create their art.
      3. Which takes more artistry: making a collage, or painting a masterwork?
      Oddly biased question. Who says a collage cannot be a masterwork? To me, aristry is the successful execution or a personal vision in a medium of choice. IMO – a great musical artist will make impactful music using different tools for different music.

      • Matthew Montfort

        I’m just trying to raise these questions because I don’t think people are really thinking about it. I was one of the early adaptors of music technology. But what I’ve noticed over time is that technology is not necessarily making music better. There are of course exceptions, but as a general rule I’d say that the quality of music that people are exposed to is going down due to technology, rather than going up. This is because it enables mediocrity. And because of technology, I myself am a collage artist. I make my own album covers in Photoshop. But I wouldn’t consider myself a master visual artist even though my artistic expression of course shines through because of my choices. But that just isn’t on the same level as someone who could paint a masterwork. Technology has also decreased the value of art. I remember the days when a record label could afford to pay someone to paint a CD cover for one of my records. Now it is almost a necessity for me to be intimately involved in the album cover. So looking back, I think in many ways we would be better off artistically without all of this technology that so easily enables mediocrity. For example, while I know my digital tools well, I’ve found that I’m better off writing music direct to paper rather than using MIDI. It is faster and the music follows its own logic, rather than being guided by the tools. When I compose with MIDI, it is easy to get sucked into a loop and improving all of the parts of the loop because that is fun. But for the sake of the composition, I find it is better to use your imagination and go where that leads you rather than just get sucked into a loop. The tools are changing us. And not always for the better.

  5. Jeffrey Barkin (@JeffreyBarkin)

    I see no problem with sampling providing the original sources are acknowledged and FAIRLY treated.

  6. Jens

    “Sampling Isn’t About Hijacking Music”

    And stealing isn’t about making somebody else poorer. Doesn’t really make it better, does it? It’s just courtesy to ask permission.

  7. Maurice Oliver

    For me Sampling is about capturing a frozen moment of time, the atmosphere in that ambient space, the emotional content of the player, the sound of the equipment used in that session, the vibe even if it is one single note, or sound. I’ve sampled one single note from six or seven different trumpets to “compose” a single
    phrase that I can easily play, but it’s the atmosphere that is magical.

  8. hippydog

    I see both sides of it..

    Sampling and layering is how music is being made, and as a creative process is just as valid.. A recycling of music if you will, which I think is a good thing..

    on the other hand, Television and movies re-record the same sounds all the time (because it protects them)

    • Me

      It’s not just “recycling,” it’s “repurposing.” They’re taking existing ideas and adding a personal take on them. It’s like people who take old beat up furniture and turn them into new pieces that have value.

      Also, “recycling” has been around in the music industry for generations, in the form of covers.

  9. ludande

    The Young Gods, one of the most innovative band using Samplers in 80¨

  10. David

    Yeah, sampling isn’t about hijacking music. Except when it is. A good example here:!942540342

    The likes of Larry Lessig always give the impression that sampling and ‘remix culture’ is about young underdog musicians making something new and fresh out of tired old material, but not infrequently it is about rich and egotistical rap singers and producers taking the work of more creative people and giving little or no credit or payment in return,

  11. saxonyrose

    In the real transcript it says Delta blues as in Delta the genre of blues not a band