Can you own a sound?

A friend recently showed me this trailer for Copyright Criminals, a 65-minute documentary about the origins of musical sampling and modern copyright law. The film contains interviews with a ton of legends, including Aesop Rock, Chuck D, George Clinton and Clyde Stubblefield (the original Funky Drummer). The write-up on PBS.com sums up the scope of the documentary:

Long before people began posting their homemade video mashups on the Web, hip-hop musicians were perfecting the art of audio montage through sampling. Sampling — or riffing — is as old as music itself, but new technologies developed in the 1980s and 1990s made it easier to reuse existing sound recordings. Acts like Public Enemy, De La Soul and the Beastie Boys created complex rhythms, references and nuanced layers of original and appropriated sound. But by the early 1990s, sampling had collided with the law. When recording industry lawyers got involved, what was once called “borrowed melody” became “copyright infringement.”

In particular, the interview with Clyde Stubblefield is definitely worth checking out. The Funky Drummer beat is the most sampled piece of music in history, and Copyright Criminals devotes a solid portion of the film (as they should) to explaining the beat’s history. I would say more about the Funky Drummer’s back story, but you can just watch the clip from the film here which explains everything:

Roughly 200 (known) songs have sampled the Funky Drummer beat, and you can see the list here. A few of the more notable tracks include: Fuck Tha Police by N.W.A, Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J, Let Me Ride by Dr. Dre, Original Gangster by Ice-T, Shadrach by the Beastie Boys, and Scarlet Begonias by Sublime (and many, many more). If you haven’t yet, watch Copyright Criminals!

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One Response to Can you own a sound?

  1. Pingback: The Amen Break | Bangers and Mash

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