A Beginner's Guide to Sample Clearance: Playing It Right

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Writer Rutger Beijer
Last updated Sep 2023
Now here's a crucial piece of information: when you're clearing a sample, you need to get permission from both the owner of the 'master' recording and the owner of the composition. Often, these rights are held by different entities - typically, the record label owns the master, while the publisher or songwriter owns the composition.

How to Obtain Sample Clearance

Now let's delve deeper into the process:

  1. Identify the copyright holders: Start by researching who owns the rights to the track you want to sample. As mentioned earlier, you must clear both the master and composition rights. The master is usually owned by the record label that released the track, while the songwriter or their publisher typically owns the composition. Resources like the databases from ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC and online platforms such as WhoSampled can significantly help in this step.

  2. Contact the copyright holders: Once you've identified the rights holders, you'll need to send them a detailed letter or email explaining your intent and providing specifics on how the sample will be used. For instance, how long the sample is, which part of the song it comes from, and how it will fit into your new piece. This is a formal request for permission, so make sure to be professional and respectful in your communication.

  3. Negotiate the terms: If the rights holders are open to granting permission, the next step involves negotiating the terms. The cost of clearing a sample can vary significantly and often depends on factors like how well-known the sampled song is, how much of it you plan to use, and the expected popularity of your new track. Be prepared for some back-and-forth negotiation to reach an agreement that satisfies all parties. This might involve a one-time payment, ongoing royalties from your song's revenue, or a combination of both.

  4. Get it in writing: Once you've agreed on the terms with both rights holders, ensure you get the agreement in writing. This could be a license agreement, a legal document outlining the permissions granted, the payment terms, and any other conditions. This agreement proves that you've legally obtained the sample clearance, so it's crucial to keep this document safe.

Remember, each situation is unique, and the process can differ depending on various factors. When in doubt, seeking legal advice's always a good idea to ensure you navigate the process correctly.