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The Impact of Sample Hunting and Technological Advancements in Music Production

Summary

In the summer of 2017, a pivotal moment occurred in the life of Daniel Hansford, a 17-year-old music enthusiast. While on a family vacation, he heard the song “Josie” by Steely Dan playing on the car stereo. Although it was […]

The Impact of Sample Hunting and Technological Advancements in Music Production

In the summer of 2017, a pivotal moment occurred in the life of Daniel Hansford, a 17-year-old music enthusiast. While on a family vacation, he heard the song “Josie” by Steely Dan playing on the car stereo. Although it was his first time hearing the track, Hansford believed that “Josie” had been used in “Perfect Love,” a relatively obscure song by one of his favorite dance music artists, DJ and producer Todd Edwards. However, this wasn’t a straightforward sample like those used by De La Soul, Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, and Kanye West. It was just a few chopped-up notes from the guitar solo. “I was in complete shock,” says Hansford today. “I realized that I had an ear for [Edwards’s] music in that way.”

Prompted by this experience, Hansford pulled out his phone and visited the website WhoSampled, where users catalog songs and their samples, creating an interconnected web of influences. He adopted the username Danny Shazam and submitted the use of “Josie” in Edwards’s song. The submission was approved and published the next day.

In the months following Hansford’s initial discovery, he and several other collaborators on WhoSampled’s platform started a thread on their forum to identify all the samples used in Daft Punk’s “Face to Face,” many of which had remained unknown to the public for almost two decades after its release. In October 2021, a Discord user named lobelia created a Sample Hunting server, which expanded the mission further. During that same month, lobelia utilized a new software called “Hum to Search,” powered by Google Assistant’s artificial intelligence, to identify a tiny guitar sample in “Face to Face” as The Doobie Brothers’ “South City Midnight Lady.” (Note: The software’s name is slightly misleading as it can identify a song from a recorded version or when a person hums it.) While popular apps like Shazam often require a 10-second segment of a song to identify it, Hum to Search can do it in just a second or two, although its results are limited to what is available on YouTube Music.

On July 20, 2022, Discord members discussed their techniques, and lobelia explained her approach. When a member named DJ Pasta fully grasped the possibilities, what Discord later dubbed “The Night of Many Samples” ensued. Throughout the evening, three samples from “Face to Face” were identified, along with dozens of samples from other songs.

At the time, Hansford was working as a part-time manager at an amusement park. “I said, ‘God, I wish I could go home and listen to all of this,'” he recalls. “It was madness.”

In February 2023, Tracklib, a platform where producers can legally find and clear samples, published a blog post about Discord’s Sample Hunting and its activities. In an era where rapidly advancing technology and the use of artificial intelligence create both lofty ideas and existential concerns, the article generated excitement among hip-hop and dance music producers, where sample usage isn’t always legal. Clearing a sample legally can be a complex and expensive process. It also means that the creator of a new song must grant a portion of the copyright (the revenue-generating mechanism) to the original sample artist, if approved at all.

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