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Are Drum Loops Copyrighted? (& How You Can Protect Yourself)

By Matthew Vultaggio

October 27, 2020

When making music it can get confusing to tell if drum loops are copyrighted or not, so I researched the topic and wrote my findings down here.

Drum loops, drum beats and drum patterns are not copyrighted because they aren’t technically considered songwriting. Copyright law states that only a piece of music’s lyrics, melody, harmony and rhythm can be copyrighted.

However, there is one catch that you should be aware of…

Recorded music can be copyrighted, so if you are sampling a section of music that another artist has created, you can be infringing on copyright.

If you want to learn as much as possible about whether or not drum loops are copyrighted, there are a few extra things you should keep in mind. So strap on your fancy business man suit, and let’s dive into the wonderful (lol) world of copyright.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. I’ve only researched the subject a lot and have personally released music using drum loops, beats, and patterns both on a record label and self-released. A more complete source would be a music copyright law book.

How To Know if Drum Loops Are Copyrighted

There are two main types of drums or drum loops that you should be knowledgeable about when it comes to copyright. Those would be:

  • Pre-recorded drum loops or drum parts (with sound)
  • Drum beats or patterns (without the sound)

In general, the main rule applies here that drum loops are not considered copyrighted. But, there are a few technicalities and differences that you may want to be aware of.

Are pre-recorded drum loops copyrighted?

When it comes to truly understanding if pre-recorded drum loops are copyrighted or not, it comes down to one main thing:

  1. Do you have permission to be using the drum loop?

What this really means is, did you obtain the pre-recorded drum loop legally (like from a sample pack), or did you sample it from a song that an artist has released without their permission.

To be honest, if you sample a kick drum or even a small drum loop from an artist’s song, you can probably get away with it. The original artist may have taken that sound from a sample pack themselves and it can be very hard for them to legally prove that you have taken it.

So when it comes to sampling drum loops from an artist’s original piece of work, it depends on what you feel you can get away with. But, you are totally fine when it comes to sample packs and libraries.

For more on sampling and copyright, check out the Music Copyright Manual on Amazon.

Are drum patterns copyrighted?

Previously, we had been discussing if pre-recorded drum loops were copyrighted. But what about the drum patterns (aka the drum loop hits but without the original sounds of the loop).

Drum patterns are not considered copyrighted because they aren’t technically considered songwriting and because they don’t use any pre-recorded music.

Basically, it is a lot simpler when it comes to the drum pattern. Whether you recreated the pattern or are using a MIDI loop, you are soooooo in the clear here, my friend!

To sum things up…

It’s pretty safe to use drum loops, drum beats and drum patterns in your music. Particularly, when it comes to the copyright side of things, you are good to go.

But what about the more ethical or “creative” side of this argument?

Some people (mostly just other nerdy producers really) think that using loops in music is a bad thing. But is it really a bad thing?

Is It Bad To Use Drum Loops When Making Music?

No, it is not bad to use drum loops when making music.

I previously wrote about the topic of whether or not it is bad to use loops in music. But what about when it comes to drum loops in particular?

Personally, I think using drum loops is okay because of these three reasons:

  1. It allows you to release more music faster, which means you will get better at producing and it helps with the Spotify algorithm if you are releasing your music (this way you will never be wondering why your Spotify streams went down.)
  2. Relying on loops is great for beginners because it cuts down on how long it takes to learn Ableton.
  3. There are lots of free loops and sample packs out there, so you can cut down on our costs to make electronic music since you don’t need to spend money on plugins and instruments!

Although using loops in music is okay to do, other producers can see this as lazy or uncreative even though the casual listener won’t care at all. On top of this, those same producers seem to think that it is fine to use samples in music.

So why is it that loops are a more controversial topic?

Because loops are longer pieces of musical work created by another artist, using their work unaltered can look bad to some other creatives (like producers, artists, etc.)

I break this down further in the article I mentioned just earlier, but in general, there are just two main things to consider here:

  1. The artist who created the loop intended for other artists to use their work and, on top of that, they have literally given you written consent to use their work by providing it in a sample pack.
  2. If you are making music for fans of music instead of producers, then write this down: casual music listeners don’t care that you are using loops, they just want to listen to good music.

This applies even more so to drum loops because:

So, again, one more time for the people in the back…

No, it is not bad to use drum loops when making music. Just try to make them a bit more unique by applying different effects, cutting them up, or layering multiple drum loops.

Well, what about sample packs… are sample packs cheating? Thankfully, the same rules apply to sample packs – so you should be fine. 🙂

Can You Copyright Your Own Custom-Made Drum Loops?

If you’ve been following along this far, then you probably know the answer to this one. However, there is some more knowledge to share on this topic.

On top of the benefit of just general knowledge, understanding what would go into you trying to copyright your own drum loop can really help you get a better overall understanding of drum loops and copyright.

You can not copyright your own custom-made drum loops.

The reasons you can’t copyright your own drum loops are the exact same reasons already mentioned in this article for why it is okay to use other people’s drum loops.

With that said, if you release a song using your custom-made drum loop and get that song protected by copyright, that is a different story.

By protecting the copyright of that sound recording, no one can lift portions of your song without your permission. If they were to lift sections of your music or sample that sound recording, they would be breaching copyright.

Just know that to defend your copyright you need to prove that you truly are the author of the work. If it is just a drum loop, beat, or pattern, how can you prove that you are the author and that you didn’t just get it from somewhere else?

Are Drum Samples and Loops Legal?

Drum samples and loops are legal as long as you have obtained them legally. It is pretty simple but that is the straight-up truth.

Here are some instances where you can be sure your drum samples and loops are legal:

  • You got your samples and loops from a free sample pack.
  • You got your samples and loops from a sample pack that you paid for.
  • You got written consent from the original producer that you can use the samples and loops.

However, just remember that a sound recording can be copyrighted. If you are lifting your sample from another artist’s recording without permission than your drum samples and loops are not legal.

If you illegally downloaded a sample pack or sound library, then those drums samples and loops are not legal.

Finally, if you recorded your own drum loop by using the same pattern as someone else, that is completely legal.

What Next?

Now that you’ve made sure that your music has no copyright issues, you can safely get those tracks up on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music without having to worry about any pesky copyright strikes.

Thankfully, it is actually 100000X times easier to get your music live on Spotify than it was 10 years ago.

Sure, when you look at how much Spotify pays per stream, it is not too much but it can definitely start to add up. Plus, it’s pretty cool to have your music available where everyone can hear it and it takes your musical project to the next level.

To get started, all you will need is a “music distributor” to get your music uploaded to all the popular streaming services and stores.

My top suggestion for a music distributor is definitely DistroKid because you get unlimited song uploads for a small annual fee (it’s also what I personally use).

With that said, I’ve compared DK to other popular services if you would like to search around first to find the right digital distributor:

Or, if you would like a more detailed look into what DistroKid has to offer, you can check out my big fat DistroKid review. 🙂

Related Questions

Can I copyright music made with drum loops?

Great question! It is okay to copyright music made with drum loops as long as you have permission or legally obtained them from a sample pack or sample library.

Do you have to clear drum samples for copyright?

Another great question! You do not have to clear drum samples that you have permission for or obtained from sample packs. If you sampled drums from another artist’s sound recording without permission, you should consider getting that sample cleared.

Do professional producers use loops?

Wow! Another great question! Professional producers do use loops in their own music. Examples of professional producers using loops in their music includes Disclosure and Mike Oldfield.

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