I was making music the other day and when reaching for a sample pack I thought to myself: are sample packs cheating? I did some research on the topic and it turns out there is a lot to this, so I wrote it all down for you here.
No – it is not cheating to use sample packs, loops, or samples to create new and original music. From a legal and moral standpoint, just make sure your samples are cleared for copyright and were obtained legally.
However, there is a range when it comes to what the producer community finds to be cheating. For example, short or percussive samples are seen as more safe while longer and more melodic samples being less safe.
Navigating whether or not to use sample packs can be a tricky decision, and for the most part it does come down to personal choice. There are a lot of factors to consider, from the length of the sample you are using all the way to how many times other people have used that exact same sample.
To help you out on making the decision whether or not to use sample packs in your own productions, I’ve gone ahead and done a bunch more research and wrote all my findings down below.
Are Sample Packs Right For You To Use?
If the definitive (and more legal) answer to that question is: sample packs are not cheating. Then what is the not-so-legal answer to that question? Well naturally that would be… it depends. 🙂
Here is an exhaustive list of things to consider when deciding if sample packs are right for you to use:
- What is the length of the sample? Are you using a short, percussive sample or a longer melodic sample? For shorter samples: don’t sweat it, just use it!
- How much are you modifying the sample? Especially when it comes to melodic samples, are you cutting/chopping/editing the sample to sound more unique or are you just dropping it in? My thoughts: if you are modifying the sample a whole bunch, go nuts and use it!
- How many times has that sample been used? Particularly if you aren’t modifying a longer melodic sample AND it has been used in lots of other productions, that would be a reason to reconsider using the sample.
- Will you use the sample in the final version? If you are just using the sample to kick start a song and you plan to recreate it or heavily modify it before finally releasing, go nuts with it.
- How did you get the sample? If you purchased the sample from someone or a company then you are technically in the clear. If you illegally downloaded the sample or you sampled someone’s work without their permission, you are less in the clear but honestly could still get away with it!
These are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to using sample packs. If you want my honest opinion: I would say go nuts and use any sample you want 9 times out of 10.
In fact, I’ve personally released a bunch of songs (self-released and on record labels) using sample packs and loops.
The only times I would personally say don’t use samples is if:
- The sample you used is long and melodic and you have barely altered it.
- If the sample is uncleared (ie: sampled from a Lady Gaga song or something lol) and you plan on releasing it on Spotify or Apple Music.
- If you got the sample from a free pack that literally everyone is using. It’s great that free packs can help reduce the costs to make electronic music but it can make you look unoriginal.
Is Using Pre-Made Loops Cheating?
These days, sample packs can come with a whole bunch of items including one-shot samples, drum loops, and melodic loops.
When it comes to whether or not using pre-made drum loops or pre-made melodic loops is cheating, the answer is quite similar to whether or not using sample packs is cheating: using pre-made loops is not cheating.
Again, it depends on:
- How you use the pre-made loops (and if your drum loops copyrighted or not)
- How you got the pre-made loops (legally or not-so-legally hehe)
I found this quote from Pagan-za on Reddit that modifies a common idea when it comes to sampling:
“I thought using loops was cheating so I programmed my own samples. Then I thought using samples was cheating so I recorded real drums.
I then thought that programming was cheating so I learnt to play drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating so I learnt to make my own.
I then thought that using premade skins was cheating so I killed a goat and skinned it. I then thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating but I’m not sure where to go from here. I haven’t made any music lately, what with the goat farming and all.“
In short: don’t get lost in the rabbit hole of what is cheating or not. Just focus on creating great music (and lots of it). Try not to get too caught up in whether or not you should be using other people’s loops or samples.
Just focus on making music.
In fact, did you know that using samples is actually very, very common?
Do Most Producers Use Sample Packs?
When deciding if you should use sample packs in your own music productions, it may be helpful to know if other people are using sample packs as well. The answer to that may or may not surprise you but…
Most music producers do use sample packs in their music.
It is pretty safe to say that most bedroom producers rely on sample packs, whether they are making hip hop, house music or pop music.
In fact, based on research by Statista, it is reported that “in March 2019, it was reported that music creation and collaboration platform Splice had 2.5 million users around the globe, up from the 1.5 million users recorded just under a year earlier.”
2.5 million producers growing rapidly on 1 sample pack service alone, is a lot of producers. But did you know that this number doesn’t just include bedroom producers?
Do bigger artists use sample packs?
One of my favorite artists, Disclosure, have mentioned several times on their production live streams that they use Splice samples in their productions. It’s also pretty common for larger artists that have sample packs available actually use their own samples in their productions to speed things up.
However, not all bigger artists are keen on using sample packs. For example, Deadmau5 has mentioned that he is against using samples in the past.
Is using sample packs common in all genres of music?
Using all kinds of samples (one shots, drum loops, melodic loops, etc.) is very common in these genres of music:
- Electronic music
- House music
- Hip Hop
- Lo Fi
Samples are less common in these types of music, however, they do frequently use one-shot drum samples to beef up their productions:
- Rock music
- Country music
- Pop music
Is Using MIDI Loops Cheating?
The last step to coming to a definitive answer to whether or not using sample packs is cheating or not is to discuss the MIDI loops which can commonly be found in sample packs.
But first: what the heck is a MIDI loop?
A MIDI loop is preprogrammed drum pattern, melodic line, or chord progression without the sound. You need to load up an sound (drum set or instrument or sample) for the MIDI to then trigger that sound.
Again the same rules apply here: using MIDI loops is not cheating but can be seen as unoriginal. It all depends on how you use the MIDI loops and where you got them from.
And just a fun fact: did you know that chord progressions are not protected by copyright? This means you can use the same chord progression that your favorite artist, Ed Sheeran, uses!
Just make sure to change things up a bit and add your flavor to it. It’s totally cool to use anything you get from a sample pack but do try to make it a bit more original. That’s where the fun part is anyways. 🙂
Is using Splice cheating?
Great question! Using Splice is not cheating, but can be seen as unoriginal. Splice samples are cleared and you get full legal right to use their samples and loops in your productions.
What are royalty-free samples?
Another great question! Royalty-free samples are pieces of audio that you can use without having to manage copyrights, paying royalties, and other legal work. You can freely use royalty-free samples in your music.
Should I buy sample packs?
Another great question! Buying sample packs is okay if you want to produce quickly and have no way to make them yourself. For example, if you are trying to make a new song every week or if you want to use a 909 kick drum but don’t have access to a 909 drum machine.