How remixing and sampling can grow your music career

Over the last few decades, remixing and sampling have become a major part of the music we listen to.

See Jack Harlow’s “First Class” (borrowing from Fergie and Ludacris’ “Glamorous”) for an example of just one of countless instances where artists have created new hits by sampling and remixing old favorites.

But have you ever wondered how major artists and producers are able to build their careers while continuing to remix and sample in this way, even after often dealing with losses from crediting and royalty complications? In the video essay above, iBEENART explores the wins, losses, and different avenues that some of the biggest names out there have experienced, placing particular emphasis on a single concept: the “loss leader.” Join us for an in-depth look, and see an overview of the three chapters covered below.

1. Everything’s a remix

Today, many musicians spanning all genres create tracks that involve one of two processes: sampling and interpolation.

Sampling is the process of taking one piece of audio and using it in a new recording. The re-contextualization above of the hook for “Glamorous” in Harlow’s “First Class” is a prime example of this. That said, sampling can also be much more subtle—perhaps the use of a small drum fill or a single vocal one-shot.

Meanwhile, interpolation also refers to borrowing an idea from a different work, but involves re-recording the part instead of directly sampling it. Interpolation is often used when the artist or label who owns the original recording declines to license the exact sample, or if doing so is determined to be too costly for the musician creating the new composition.

And even if we aren’t directly sampling or interpolating, many of us are consciously or subconsciously influenced by material we’ve heard in the past when composing new ideas. In this sense, it can truly feel like everything’s a ‘remix.’

In the first chapter of our video essay (0:44 – 3:23), we dive deeper into all of these processes and their pros and cons, referencing musical examples and interviews from the likes of Mariah Carey and Doja Cat.

2. You win some, you lose some

Now that we know the core fundamentals of remixing, sampling, and interpolation, we can get into some of the specific wins and losses that musicians have experienced. In this chapter (3:23 – 8:27), we introduce the idea of a “loss leader,” which is a product that’s sold at a loss to attract new customers.

A good illustrative example of a loss leader outside of the world of music is the hot dog combo and rotisserie chicken at Costco. The mega-corporation has sold the hot dog combo at $1.50 since 1985 and the rotisserie chicken at $4.99, and has been cited to have lost tens of millions of dollars annually by continuing to offer them at this price. However, they intentionally continue to maintain the low pricing to build customer loyalty and keep foot traffic high, with the understanding that most will come to the store and purchase more than just the hot dog or chicken.

For many musicians, remixing can also play a similar role in their careers. For example, Juice WRLD’s landmark track “Lucid Dreams” heavily sampled Sting’s “Shape Of My Heart.”

Because the sample wasn’t cleared, a dispute resulted in Sting taking a whopping 85% of the revenue from the track. This sounds like a major loss for Juice WRLD, but he wasn’t upset about it—because the track absolutely catapulted his career, leading to a $3M+ record deal with Interscope and providing him the platform to share all of the other music he was creating with a much larger audience. Juice WRLD’s ability to take his ‘loss’ with grace and maintain the work ethic to consistently release tracks allowed him to maintain the fanbase he gained and become one of the biggest names in music until his unexpected passing.

In the video, we cover this story as well as a recent example in Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.” We also hear T-Pain’s thoughts on weighing the royalties lost from sampling and remixing against other opportunities.

3. Chess, not checkers

In this final chapter (8:27 – 11:53), we conclude by taking a look at how many of the biggest names today have embraced loss leaders to establish their position in the music industry. As Russ demonstrates in how he built his international fanbase, “Catalog is the name of the game.”

In addition, we also review some new paths carved by companies and producers that provide an equal playing field and a win-win situation for sampling, in a world where there are inarguably drawbacks alongside opportunities.

Conclusion: How remixing and sampling can grow your music career

Hopefully this video essay gave you an insightful introduction into how established artists have used remixing and sampling to grow their careers. Perhaps it also gave you some ideas around where to start and what to look out for if you’re interested in exploring for yourself.

Which story within the piece did you find most interesting? What sorts of topics would you like to see us cover in a similar fashion next? Let us know in the comments section of the video, and subscribe to the Splice YouTube channel for more.

Take the next step in your own sampling journey with Splice Sounds:

September 17, 2022

Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a composer, content strategist, and writer who’s passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog and creates music as Namaboku.