Words by c.z.robertson

Sampling and DRM

2002-09-08 12:41:28 UTC

Strangely, very few people seem to have commented on the effects that DRM technology will have on sampling in music. Quite why this should be the case, I don't know. Perhaps because sampling is regarded as a less worthy technique for making music. Or perhaps it just hasn't occured to anyone. But it occured to me a little while ago, and now I'm getting very worried about it.

Most of the sounds in my music were gained from sampling. Furthermore, the music of a lot of better musicians than myself is based on sampling. Negativland's music simply wouldn't be possible without sampling. Future Sound of London have declared themselves to be "collage artists" rather than musicians. And there are hundreds more musicians for whom samples are simply a rich source of sounds for their music.

The DRM systems that the music industry is attempting to create and make compulsory through legislation will make this kind of work impossible. There are proposals being made that would not only prevent digital copies being taken direct from CD, but would also make it illegal to create devices which recorded analogue sound without checking for "watermarks" and prevent recording if those watermarks were present. That would kill music based on sampling.

One might ask why this is such a bad thing, why musicians couldn't just go back to making their own sounds like they all would've had to do at one point. There are two answers to this.

For musicians such as Negativland that simply wouldn't be possible. The whole point of their music is that it is assembled from samples.

But there's also a more subtle reason why sampling should be allowed: it's cheap. Gaining a sound through sampling is takes much less time and effort than synthesising or recording it yourself. A lot of my own music contains the sounds of instruments that I simply don't have access to. It would be ridiculously expensive for me to find some of these instruments and set up microphones around them. But instead I was able to pick them out of a recording. If I could not do that, the music would simply not get made.

The presence of an easily accessible source of sounds allows music to be created that otherwise would not be created. It means that more music gets made. This is a good thing.