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The wonderful world of sample clearance (4 down, 11 to go)

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It has been a while since my last post but momentum is building so there should be more to say going forward from here. This post is mainly intended as a progress update, for the record (no pun intended).

Album production is now roughly 3/4 finished. The final quarter consists of things like beefing up drums, adding those final sparkly elements that make all the difference, replacing samples with better quality versions I’ve since managed to source on eBay and of course mixing – once the bane of my existence – and mastering (which I’m leaving to a professional as usual). At current time estimates I reckon there’s about 3–4 months of work left. I’m aiming to finish it all by the end of the year.

In terms of launching the album I’ve now moved into an exciting phase that I’ve been avoiding studiously for some time – the world of sample clearance. As you might have guessed I can’t just use all of these magnificent speech and music samples without gaining permission from the relevant copyright holders. The process of doing so is something that is usually handled by costly specialist companies in the employ of a label. As I have a budget of pigeon droppings I have taken this on myself. I am now delving deep into the dark alleyways of music and political audio history, from the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the lovely Irish Harp virtuoso Mary O’Hara. It seems what unites the majority of these journeys into the past is a sense of tragedy. It is not a coincidence that nearly all of the speakers whose words I am repackaging either led tragic lives, died tragically or bore witness to great tragedy. It is endlessly fascinating to speculate on why my subconscious had me choose the samples that ended up on the record.

Getting all of these samples cleared would be one hell of a challenge even under normal circumstances. The real trick in my case is that the album is a non-profit release and there is no precedent for negotiating sample clearances in that context. Usually with a commercial release you are expected to negotiate a fee based on how many copies you expect to sell. I have no label, no distribution, no press and no budget. At this stage I have no idea how many copies I could sell – it will in all likelihood be a digital-only release initially. If it ever gets released I may sell twenty, I may sell a million. I have nothing upon which to base this yet. I have no budget to pay fees and the only leverage I have is offering a percentage of sales, which means less money would go to charity. All I can do is hope that the copyright holders feel compassionate enough to not take a cut. There is also the possibility that any copyright holder simply refuses usage of any kind. This is not uncommon. In that case it is back to the drawing board.

Once all of the samples are cleared I can start to seriously approach distributors and the press. For me that will be a day of glorious victory and for that reason I’m posting a sample clearance countdown…

4 down, 11 to go.

In future the countdown will be fed through from twitter in the column just off to the right. You can always follow me on twitter if you prefer.

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