Examining the Impact of Multiple Technological, Legal, Social and Cultural Factors on the Creative Practice of Sampling Record Producers in Britain.

Background to the Study

The creative process engaged in by music producers has become increasingly entwined with the use of digital technology. However, this use of technology is only one critical aspect of the domain (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988) or field of works (Bourdieu 1996 in Toynbee: 2000) of sampled music. Each of these aspects, not only musical and technological but also social, cultural, economic, legal, historical and geographical ones, are themselves part of a much larger system at work. This system can be represented as a model developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He proposes that:

three major factors, that is, a structure of knowledge manifest in a particular symbol system (domain), a structured social organisation that understands that body of knowledge (field), and an individual agent (person) who makes changes to the stored information that pre-exists them, are necessary for creativity to occur. These factors operate through “dynamic links of circular causality” (1988, p. 329) with the starting point in the process being “purely arbitrary” (ibid) indicating the systems essential nonlinearity (McIntyre: 2009, p. 7).

What is essential to understand for this research project is the idea that each component factor in the system, including but not limited to the mediations of technology, ‘affects the others and is affected by them in turn’ (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988, p. 329). Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu suggests something very similar. He argues that it is the interaction between all pre-existing works (1996, p. 235), what Toynbee indicates is the field of works (Toynbee: 2000, p. 38), which includes accumulated work done to this point as well as the techniques and codes of production needed to operate technologies of all kinds, which presents possibilities of action (Toynbee: 2000) to an individual who possesses the habitus of a musician. Habitus, as a mechanism of cultural practice, is partially composed of personal levels of social, cultural, symbolic and economic capital (Johnson in Bourdieu: 1993, p. 7). This habitus then inclines agents to act and react within particular structured and dynamic spaces called fields (Bourdieu: 1993). Bourdieu suggests that it is the interplay between all these spheres that both constrains and enables cultural practice. In line with these ideas Keith Negus (1996), following Raymond Williams (1976) earlier work on mediation, argues that:

musical instruments have enabled different types of communication to take place. From early wind and string instruments through the introduction of the lute, piano, electric guitar, studio mixing desk, synthesizer and sampler, the technologies of sound production have had a significant impact on how musical messages have been created and received (Negus: 1996, p. 68).

So much so that Michael Fink (1996) has tabulated the correlations between industrial and technological innovations and musical developments from 1875 through to 1995 in the Unired States. More recently Anthony May (2008) has also made a correlation between particular musical movements, what are called genre based phenomena, and specific technological developments. It is important to note that both these accounts eschew a technological determinist argument where determinism is seen as ‘the promotion of one of several major casual factors to master variable’ (Belech: 2009, p. 7). Instead, as Stephen Hill asserts, ‘the technology-society relationship is interactive, and at the same time enframing of possibilities. The key to what is produced in technology-society interactions is alignment’ (1988, pp. 33-34). Furthermore, there are a multiplicity of factors that exist in a causal relationship with musical output and these range from not only industrial or technological factors but also include social, cultural, economic, legal, historical and geographical ones. As James Belech suggests, change, in our case change in cultural production, results quite rapidly from the intersection of a number of variables; the developments of these factors ‘may be autonomous initially, but once they begin interacting their full flowering is caused by each other’ (2009, p. 9). In this case we are looking at what Braudel calls a ‘conjuncture’ or Belech more accurately describes as a ‘resonant interaction’ of factors (ibid). For us this interaction of factors occurs at the level of digital production and the system of creativity enacted there.

While David Toop (1991) Megan Perry (2008) and Nick Prior (2008 & 2010) have detailed the mechanics of digital production, Steve Jones has argued that what a musician hears in terms of tones and effects from the technologies they engage with ‘will affect what that musician plays’ (1992, p. 189). Timothy Warner (2003) has also attempted to meld some of these areas in a specific examination of the work of producer Trevor Horn from the United Kingdom. What Warner effectively pointed out was that:

multitrack recording, signal processing, MIDI sequencing, and sound synthesis and sampling are the four essential techniques which dominate the creative processes involved in the production of pop music. The impact of these techniques is evident both in how pop music is made and in what it actually sounds like’ (Warner: 2003, p. 22).

The specifics of sampling, a musical process described as ‘a (techno)logical extension of the creative process’ (Collins: 2008, p. 1), and its relationship to the development of hip hop from the United States, have also been detailed well by Schloss (2004), McLeod (2005) and Chang (2009). This work has been summarised more recently by Morey (2012, forthcoming). He explains that with:

the launch of equipment such as the Ensoniq Mirage, Akai S900 and EMU SP12 in 1984, 1985 and 1986 (see (Théberge 1997: 63-65), (Burton 2007: 4) and (Schloss 2004: 30) for details respectively), access to digital sampling became a reality for aspiring musicians and producers when only a few years previously the cost of devices such as the Fairlight CMI had made this technology the preserve of a tiny minority of wealthy and established artists and producers (Morey: 2012, forthcoming).

Hip-hop artists, whose work is seen here as contributing to the habitus of sampling producers, were presented with the possibility of translating the elements of what was for them at that time largely a live performance medium, which entailed the use of record decks and rapping in a live setting, into a permanent record that embodied similar practices. Schloss, as Morey indicates, argued that the supposed similarity between turntables and samplers could be attributed to the way in which they were used by hip-hop producers rather than using them in the way the manufacturers of these technologies had intended (Schoss: 2004, p. 52). Producers such as the Bomb Squad saw the possibilities the sampler in particular presented and rapidly undertook its use as a musical instrument that could potentially become ‘the electric guitar for the next fifty years’ (Shapiro: 2000, p. 7).

From these beginnings the technology of sampling, as worked out in the hip hop milieu, went on to afford later sampling producers in Britain the possibility of re-imagining ‘elements of past productions in new contexts’ (Morey: 2012, forthcoming). In short, sampling producers made musical choices about what this technology could, and possibly would, do.

However, the claims about technology as the pre-eminent driver in this process are only partially so. Technology is necessary but it is not sufficient to explain the creative activity of sampling producers; there are other factors, apart from technology, at play. For example, Paul Theberge (2001 and in Frith & Marshall: 2004), in pursuing the disputes about music copying via digital technology, centres his discussion on the interrelationships of technology, creative practice and copyright.

Adding to this point Roy Shuker (1994) has asserted, that while technology is necessary to a creative process it is not sufficient, by itself, to be the sole driver of change. He argues that ‘those involved in making music clearly do exercise varying degrees of personal autonomy, but this is always circumscribed by the available technologies and expertise, by economics, and by the expectations of their audience’ (1994, p. 99).

If a multiple set of structural factors, such as the structures of technology, music, the legal-industrial framework and the economy, as well as the expectations of an audience, circumscribe action then a brief exploration of the interrelationship between agency and structure is in order. Agency in this case can be thought of as the ability to make choice and structures are most often seen as those things that determine choice. In regard to the freedom thought to be necessary to make choice David Hume (1898 & 1952 ) has argued that ‘we can never free ourselves from the bonds of necessity. We may imagine we feel a liberty within ourselves’ (1898, p. 189) but it is the ability to make choice, rather than the absence of constraint, as Hume argues, that is a more accurate way to characterise freedom. As Pierre Bourdieu has asserted there is a ‘need to be reminded that in these matters absolute freedom, exalted by the defenders of creative spontaneity, belongs only to the naïve and the ignorant’ (1996, p. 235). Creative freedom is, instead, dependent on the action of structures that both enable and constrain choice making action. As Janet Wolff argues:

all action, including creative or innovative action, arises in the complex conjunction of numerous determinants and conditions. Any concept of ‘creativity’ which denies this is metaphysical, and cannot be sustained (1981, p. 9).

It is the complex interactive set of relationships, explored briefly above, that characterizes the multi-factorial creative system at work. It is the impact of the technologies of sampling, as one necessary but not sufficient component of this interactive system, as well as the legal framework producers work within, and the economic, social, cultural, historical and geographical influences that contribute to the creative decisions made by sampling producer’s and leads to the cultural output that this system engenders, that this research sets out to address.

Methodological Approach

The methodology employed for this research is that of a case study (Yin 1989) with a particular emphasis on interviewing as the prime method of data collection. In taking this approach it is recognised that triangulation using multiple methods may be ‘rooted in a scientifically naive notion that multiple methods can reveal a single, “true” reality beyond frameworks of theory and interpretation’ (Jensen & Jankowski: 1991, p. 63). What a case study of this type can do, however, is allow ‘an investigation to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real life events’ (Yin 1989, p. 14) and as such the goal has been to ‘expand and generalise theories (analytic generalisation) and not to enumerate frequencies (statistical generalisation)’ (Yin: 1989, p. 21).

The interview participants were recruited as a convenience sample (Lull: 1990, p. 19) falling into line with approaches such as that used by David Morley (1980) in his pioneering study into audience behaviour. Recruitment of participants occurred through professional music industry networks with contact taking place by telephone or internet (e.g. email).

The in-depth semi-structured interviews were generally conducted and recorded over a one hour period to allow an adequate amount of time essential to collect enough detailed data (Spradley: 1980) with some interviews being conducted via written email exchanges. While there may be a disparity between interview modes the effects on the data may be negligible as the research is seeking a qualitative understanding of sampling as a creative musical practice rather than seeking ‘truths’ via positivist research constructs.


Aston Harvey has been involved in the dance music scene in the United Kingdom since the late 1980s. He was responsible for the breakbeat hit ‘Don’t Hold Back’ in the 90s and has worked with Rebel MC, Definition of Sound and DJ Rap. From the mid 90s onward he has been part of the Freestylers along with Matt Cantor, producing albums and singles that have reached the top 40 in both the United Kingdom and Australia. His knowledge of that period is extensive demonstrating a significant immersion in the art of sampling, one that contributed heavily to the development of his own habitus:

The first producer known for doing it I guess was Marley Marl. He’d take all these mad little samples and loop them up – beats or sounds. After the B-Boy electro thing, that’s what came around I think. So you had Marley Marl, the guys from the Bomb Squad who did all the Public Enemy [productions] and I think they took it to the next level – just the mad stuff they were chopping up and making tracks out of. I suppose I became a massive fan of the hip-hop scene, so anyone who was producing hip-hop at that time from, say ’85 maybe onwards. The first Beastie Boys album was heavily influenced by samples. It was the music that inspired me, and obviously you find out who’s making it. Anything from that period; producers or hip-hop acts. You know, the sound of original hip-hop was sampling. That and your fathers’ record collections. So I think obviously in America they had better trendier dads because the music there was better than what was coming out of England (laughs)… Another really big influence was Todd Terry back in the day. Because he was the first person I would say that you could hear came from a hip-hop background but was kind of doing it in a house way. All those tunes like ‘Bango (To The Batmobile)’ and ‘Royal House’ – he was sampling hip-hop records but doing it in a more housey dancefloor kind of way (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Using his extensive knowledge of the field of works, that is the accumulated work done to this period (Bourdieu: 1996) peculiar to the dance scene in Britain, Harvey turned his process of consumption into production. It was an obvious step for him to take when he ‘first started making music around ’88, ’89’(Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

I got into it through DJing really because when I was 16 I got a pair of turntables and it was an off-shoot from that. That was me being influenced by seeing these guys on Top of The Pops or wherever they played hip-hop tunes at the time, which was seldom compared to nowadays (laughs). There was this TV programme called Arena and they did this thing called hip-hop history [Beat This! A Hip Hop History (BBC, 1984)] with all these DJs cutting up on Technics [record decks] and stuff, and that kind of inspired me to get a pair of those turntables… (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Andy Carthy (AKA Mr Scruff) is a DJ and producer whose output since 1995 includes five albums for the Ninja Tune label (including a top 30 album in the United Kingdom in 2002 with Trouser Jazz) and over 30 singles. He is also very well known in the United Kingdom for his touring club night, ‘Keep It Unreal’, where he plays a 5-6 hour DJ set incorporating a wide range of dance music genres. He references similar artists to Harvey as influencing his approach to using samples in his music. While not engaged in hip hop per se these sampling producers readily acknowledge their debt to that genre:

Basically a lot of U.K. people, myself included, when they get a sampler it’s because they like the sound of Public Enemy or Pete Rock or whatever. Especially with hip-hop, that was most people’s route into making music by using samples. Of course your productions are going to start sounding like The 45 King or [Public Enemy’s production team] The Bomb Squad or Marley Marl,that kind of thing, because most sampled music at that time was from those people (Carthy: Personal Interview, 2011).

The available possibilities of sample choice at that time, as Bourdieu (1996) indicates, provided the potentialities of action for Carthy as choice making agent. The available samples presented ‘a space of possibles, that is, as an ensemble of probable constraints which are the condition and the counterpart of a set of possible uses [italicised in original]’ (Bourdieu: 1996, p. 235). The possibilities for Carthy were limited to record collections of the music available to him in the United Kingdom but the fact of having limited media outlets that played the type of music he was interested in also contributed to Harvey’s choice of samples.

How I got into the actual process of making music was that I had turntables and was cutting it up, doing it proper hip-hop style with two copies of the same tune and just scratching the beats in my bedroom, and my mates would be rapping over it and we’d put it on tape. Then I said “well why don’t we try to find a studio and see what we actually sound like properly?” (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Harvey’s early records were all made with the help of an engineer although he subsequently acquired the technical skills, what Jason Toynbee (2000) following Bourdieu (1996) calls techniques and codes of production, to make his own productions. In addition, Harvey’s first production tended to run counter to the established ethics of sampling practice (Schloss: 2002, pp. 101-133). Nonetheless, it drew on an already prevailing aesthetics of hip-hop composition (2002, pp. 135-168).

The first record I actually put out properly as my own, I was sampling hip-hop and funk records. I did this thing called Blapps! Posse. Basically we were taking breaks from the Ultimate Breaks & Beats compilations and sampling James Brown stabs and acapellas and hip-hop. Putting it together with hip-hop records but in a newer way and a more dance floor friendly way (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Andy Carthy presents a similar creative path to Harvey, from avid listener and record collector, to DJ and home producer, to record producer capable of working in either an autonomous home studio environment or in professional recording studios. He also puts forward an argument for his immersion in both the domain of dance music culture, that is an immersion in the ‘symbol system of the culture, in the customary practices, the languages’ (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988, pp. 325-339) peculiar to that music culture, and an immersion in the field of dance music production, the social organisation that holds that culture’s knowledge which ‘includes all those who can affect the structure of a domain’ (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988, p. 330), both of these being the prime catalysts for Carthy’s sampling practice, rather than this being determined solely by technological innovation. This aspect of his story is worth quoting extensively here:

It was listening to music that was created using crude sampling technology and also listening to these DJ mixes and applying the technology, but a home hi-fi pause button version of, you know, razor blade and quarter inch tape editing technology, and writing music using those techniques.…after that I had access to kind of cheap Casio keyboards which I borrowed off friends and then hire a four track or an eight tack tape deck and start using drum machines and that kind of thing. But most of it was still running stuff in live as DJ so if you wanted to keep a one bar loop going you’d record it on two tracks, maybe layer a drum machine down and then on track one and then on track two on bars 1,3,5,7 etc. …I’d run a one bar loop and then on the next track I’d run the same loop on bars 2, 4, 6, 8 and effectively have a continuous loop going on. So it was gradually… I was going, “OK, there’s this new bit of equipment, what will it enable me to do?” whether that’s a crap guitar, delay pedal, another turntable or a new DJ mixer or,,. actually getting a varispeed turntable was a big thing in those days. So it was just all these elements that all added up and, you know, you weren’t getting the final six bits of kit at once. It was like “OK, well I’ve got this, I’ve hired this 8-track machine for a week, I’m going to stay up for a week and learn it and do as much as possible with it”. After that, it was things like very primitive computer technology, things like the Amiga and stuff like that, which had little music programmes which only had four tracks and maybe there’d be a choice of five or seven tempos or something like that. But that’s the kind of thing that certainly again you just sample. The thing is, because of the rate that you accumulated or borrowed equipment when you started out, when there’s not a lot of equipment around, your ideas far exceed what you are capable of I think, technically, so the moment that you get another bit of kit, you already know what you’re going to do with it. And then, obviously, the use of that kit reveals some more things or more generally the restrictions which that kit presents when you kind of step up to the next level of complexity, then it kind of pushes your ingenuity and creativity forward. And then I suppose after playing with stuff like the Amiga and things like that in the early 90s, then finally making it into studios that had samplers in. And then it was “OK, right, this is a helluva lot easier now” I think once you get to using samplers it’s almost like the logical conclusion of part one, because for the previous ten years I’ve been trying to make things that weren’t samplers behave like samplers, trying to emulate the music that I’d heard created with equipment which I’d never seen, never mind could afford…I was never confused by any element of it …[on working in the studio] and even if I couldn’t do it, I could explain what I wanted to be done very well, but that was just a process of, you know, listening intently for the previous ten years and spending my entire teenage existence pretty much in a kind of…doing mixes and trying to create my own music and listening to other people’s production techniques (Carthy: Personal Interview, 2011).

Dean Honer presents a similar immersive narrative peculiar to the development of his own habitus to that of Harvey & Carthy. As well as the groups Add N To (X), Bouncing Bomb, Mu Chan Clan, Skywatchers and Spook, sampling producer Dean Honer was part of a collective called All Seeing I from Sheffield in the United Kingdom. This latter group gained mainstream success, and therefore a degree of symbolic and cultural capital (Johnson in Bourdieu 1993), with their songs ‘Beat Goes On’, which sampled the Sonny and Cher song ‘The Beat Goes On’ sufficiently to be treated as a cover version in terms of the publishing rights, and “Walk Like A Panther’, both of which were top 20 singles in the United Kingdom. The same can be said for another of Honer’s collaborative projects, I Monster, which gained a top 20 singles placing in the United Kingdom with their song “Daydream In Blue’, which samples the song “Daydream’ by The Günter Kallman Choir. Honer has also worked with a number of other artists such as Jarvis Cocker from Pulp and Phil Oakey from Human League. All Seeing I have also engaged in production work for Britney Spears. Honer began making music in a ‘hands-on’ way using the technology available to him. The process of sampling had by then established a certain tradition and there were now a list of artists and producers operating within what both Csikszetnmihalyi (1988) and Bourdieu (1993) call the field or social organisation of dance music that used samples and Honer credits with influencing what he did. These included:

Probably at the time someone like Big Audio Dynamite and maybe some of the ZTT stuff as well. It was just an unusual sound for the time; those now clichéd techniques of stuttering samples and playing around with found sound. With very early sampling you didn’t have access to sample libraries and stuff like that unless you had a Fairlight where you could have choirs and strings and everything, so it was more a case of just finding little noises and manipulating them (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

Martin Reeves, whose alias is Krafty Kuts, is another producer and DJ who uses samples as a matter of course in his work. His first solo album, Freakshow, appeared in 2006 but he was an accomplished DJ and producer prior to that release having taught himself turntabling and scratching early in his career. Indicating part of the source of his own habitus Reeves has been described as ‘immersing himself in the music he loved’ (Wikipedia: 2011). From this point ‘Martin went on to run a record store in Brighton throughout the 90’s, where he built an encyclopaedic knowledge of dance music in all its forms’ (ibid) evidencing the fact that he had been immersed in the knowledge system of the domain (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, pp. 325-339) or what Bourdieu calls the field of works (1996), that is, the accumulated heritage of the collected works pertinent to this field that presents an agent with a ‘system of schemata of thought’ (Bourdieu 1996, p. 236). Reeves had at this point begun to transfer ‘his dance-floor knowledge to the studio, creating his own tracks for use in his DJ sets’ (Wikipedia: 2011). Acting as a choice making agent, Reeves, after hearing more uptempo beats at early raves and via break beat, realised that this particular beat enhanced the dance floor experience; ‘there was something really special about it’ (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011). At this point Reeves had ‘started collecting records, like ridiculous amounts, and I had all these records and I just wanted to use them for that purpose. I wanted to make records. So I started wanting to make music with more up-tempo beats, like instrumental hip-hop, because obviously I didn’t have the rappers’(Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011). His break came when a dubplate he made of ‘Gimme the Funk’ impressed Norman Cook, alias Fatboy Slim, and Cook issued it. Word of mouth spread. The operation of the field as a network of influential decision makers (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, p. 330) was in evidence here. Reeves benefitted from his interaction with the field, trading on his social capital, that is, the ‘social obligations (connections), which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital’ (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 243) and this was deeply connected to his love of DJs and sampling producers. But Fatboy Slim remained his all time favourite DJ and producer.

I’m trying to think who else. There was a lot of hip-hop DJs, mostly hip-hop DJs like Gangstarr, Pete Rock, Brand Nubian and all the late 80s and early 90s hip hop movement that really influenced me to want to sample and recreate my own music from using all different types of funk and jazz and hip-hop. That’s basically what I used, funk, jazz and hip-hop really, and disco. I didn’t really delve into the rock and progressive and more off-the-wall stuff. It was the quite traditional roots (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

A similar immersion process, typical of the acquisition of both domain and field knowledge, could be seen in the early experiences of Richard Barratt alias Parrot who, along with Dean Honer, was part of the Sheffield based group All Seeing I. Barratt has also been a member of other groups such as Funky Worm and Sweet Exorcist who were among the first artists signed by Sheffield’s pioneering dance music label, Warp Records. He has produced remixes for Pulp and a number of other and is an admirer of other early Sheffield based sampling artists. He was, as this demonstrates, a crucial member of the field of dance music.

I was aware of the people in Sheffield like Cabaret Voltaire; that Dadaist approach of finding things and putting them on the records. I suppose really, the hip-hop guys, the Americans really, just in terms of like the breakbeat thing. Like when I found out about that in the early 80s, I started obsessively collecting the records that the DJs were cutting up (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

It is worth noting here that Richard Barratt (Parrot), as well as Martin Reeves (Krafty Kuts), went on to  work with engineers, themselves increasingly important members of the field (Csikszentmihalyi 1997, p. 41), who facilitated the technical side of programming and production for them.

To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t even go anywhere near the computer – I’d just tell the engineer what sounds good. I really don’t give a fuck about any of it. I’m not interested in getting involved with pressing keys on a keyboard or pressing keys on a computer, because I think as soon as you start doing it, you can’t hear what you’re doing any more (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

In a manner very similar to more conventional record producers, those who form a major part of the field of record production, that is, the arena of social contestation identified by both Bourdieu (1993) and Csikszentmihalyi (1997), many sampling producers are also significantly involved in musical decisions without having any considerable engineering or technological focus. Furthermore, one of the traditional functions of a producer, according to Rupert Hine, is to lead and direct as well as provoke and stimulate (Hine: 1994, p. vi). In the case of Richard Barratt, he fulfils all of these functions while acting as a catalyst in a non-technical role so as to maintain a certain perspective on the production.

Absolutely. Kind of instigating it with the idea in the first place. If it’s sampling, then just finding the sample, starting the whole thing off, then nudging the engineer, or musicians if you’re using musicians, in the right direction, and finishing it off and saying whether it’s right or wrong…I don’t think it’s about the equipment one little bit. It’s about the attitude of the people in the room, and if the attitude’s good, you’re likely to get a good sound(Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

Martin Reeves (alias Krafty Kuts) makes little distinction between conventional musicianship and the use of samplers as musical instruments, especially since his experience is that most often these skill sets may be embodied in the same person.

People might say, “oh people who sample can’t play musical instruments”. That’s wrong because a lot of people who do sample, like A Skills is a drummer, Featurecast is a guitarist. You know, all the people that I’ve worked with… Dr Luke is a guitarist and bass player – all these people that I’ve worked with can play musical instruments, so I think sampling is just one of those things that, you know… you just hear something and it has to be that that has to be used (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

Barratt’s attitude to musicians, those players who typically engage with more conventional instruments, is somewhat different and appears to be based on whether or not they can deliver what he requires in a musical sense. He argues that the production may take place using the latest equipment in the best possible studio environment with ‘the best musicians, so-called, in the world and still end up with a piece of shit…If they don’t make a good noise, I don’t give a fuck really. I think it’s similar with technology. A lot of the time you’re much better being limited’ (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011). While those limitations are most often seen as constraints it can be also be argued that they may also be the very thing that enables a project in that they present possibilities of action within well defined structures since ‘all action, including creative or innovative action, arises in the complex conjunction of numerous determinants and conditions’ (Wolff: 1981, p. 9); as Hank Shocklee has asserted ‘there is always structure’ (in McIntyre: 2008, p. 7). Those structures, the elements that, as Bourdieu (1993) argues, predispose us to make certain choices and not others, may come not only in the form of technology but also in the form of knowledge about what ‘works’ and what ‘doesn’t work’. Parrot reveals that, for him, the sampling process ‘was so basic at first, and my attitude to it was so basic – that you just heard something that you liked and took it, and you didn’t really examine why you liked it that much’ (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011). In this regard Donald Schon has argued that many practitioners make decisions about their work based on their tacit knowledge of that domain of knowledge. Schon suggests that a practitioner’s skills become ‘internalized in our tacit knowing’ (Schon: 1983, p. 52) and many of these practitioners have naturalised this knowledge to the point that they are ‘often unaware of having learned to do these things; we simply find ourselves doing them’ (ibid). It is this process that Tony Bastick calls intuition. While intuition is often seen as a mystical or metaphysical process, Bastick, in his book Intuition: How We Think and Act (1982), defines intuition as the ‘nonlinear processing of global multi-categorised information’ (1982, p. 215). It is non-logical but not irrational. Richard Burgess also supports these ideas in his book The Art of Record Production (1997). He argues that:

We’re not talking about the kind of instinct that you’re born with. This is the instinct that develops from being around music, musicians and studios your whole life. This, I think, is the reason that DJ’s with no musical or technical ability can still become excellent producers. They have listened to many, many records, logged the way people responded to the music and subconsciously programmed their instinct to be able to reproduce those excitement factors in their own records (1997, p. 177)

It is this process of ‘programming their instinct’ that Bourdieu equates with habitus, a practical sense of how thing ‘work’ that has become naturalised to its holder and is ‘the result of a long process of inculcation…which becomes a ‘second sense’ or a second nature’ (Johnson in Bourdieu 993, p. 5). Aston Harvey agrees with Burgess’s summary, suggesting that for him there is a relatively indefinable quality to the samples he chooses. ‘You know, certain things prick up my ears. The sonics, the groove, although nowadays you can change the groove, that’s the great thing about it, but it is essentially the sonics’. Krafty Kuts’ (Martin Reeves) approach is similar. Having acquired a ‘‘practical sense’ (sens practique) that inclines agents to act and react in specific situations in a manner that is not always calculated and that is not simply a question of conscious obedience to rules’ (Johnson in Bourdieu: 1993, p. 5) Reeves knows what ‘works’ as ‘sometimes within the track it is what it is, it’s like sonically it has to be that sample, because when you recreate it, it just doesn’t sound right’ (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011). The fact that Reeves could make a decision that something ‘doesn’t sound right’ implies that he had a set of criterion, tacit or not, that he was using to make those judgements. Inevitably these criteria come from the same source; the body of knowledge he possesses ofthe field of works (Toynbee: 2000, p. 38). This body of knowledge not only includes the accumulated work various record producers have accomplished to this point in popular music’s history, that is, the many songs they have listened to from their record collections and had heard from various media outlets, but it also includes the conventions, techniques and codes of production familiar to many songwriters.

At the time, what we wanted to do, which seems a bit stupid now, but it was like “Oh, we can build a new song entirely out of samples of old records, you know what I mean?” I suppose we were thinking about it in quite a traditional way in that we wanted to create something that actually sounded like a traditional song, but using shards and elements of other people’s songs, which, when I’m thinking about it now doesn’t actually seem that creative. But at the time it did seem like, “oh yeah there’s this amazing new technology and we can use all these bits and bobs – we don’t have to be musicians, and we can build our own music out of these other people’s drum loops, beats, bass lines, what-have-you. And it never really occurred to us that it was thievery or anything like that (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

While ignorance of the law is no plea, one of the obvious source of both enabling and constraining possibilities sampling producers work within in their daily practice is the legal-industrial framework. This framework underpins the music industry. But as has been written elsewhere (Morey: 2012, forthcoming), over a twenty year period to date there has been ever more strict policing of copyright. While Barratt has identified this in a pragmatic way Morey (2012) more generally suggests this enforcement of the law regarding copyright has, made ‘the cost of releasing sample-based music prohibitive, with the conclusions of Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 2004 FED App. 0279P (6th Cir.) effectively ring fencing sampling as physical theft, rather than a potential infringement of intellectual property’ (ibid). This legal situation has caused some change in opinion and practice amongst sampling producers.

For the amounts records are selling these days, it’s not worth chasing someone up and trying to clear a sample. If you’re selling 200 copies what’s the point? If you’re selling 200,000 copies then I can understand… The only reason to get [a sample] cleared is that if you’re signed to a publisher they freak out a bit and say “oh we can’t use this for sync licensing”, so I say well don’t use it then, use a different one…I’d still use samples, I don’t shy away from that. I’ve come from that school…Again, if the record is going to be big, a major record label comes in and says “this is going to be massive”, then yes but apart from that, no. There’s no point. It’s a whole performance trying to clear something and it puts back the release [date] of your record. Nowadays, the amount of records you’re selling is so small that no one’s going to come after you really. I just feel it’s unnecessary really (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Reeves’ approach to this legal situation is also a pragmatic one but in this case is hinged on questions of affordability.

If you use a sample and you can hear it and it’s totally obvious, and everyone knows, or even the trainspotters know, you have to pay your dues for that because it’s enhancing your music. If it’s too expensive and they’re charging too much money then I think it’s unfair, because most artists who write music are not extremely wealthy. There’s only a handful of people who have got enough money with a major record label [behind them] to pay for that. I haven’t got a major record label supporting me, so unfortunately I’m not going to be able to afford to clear a ten/twenty grand sample (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

Carthy’s view is similarly pragmatic, but also acknowledges a frustration at sample clearance being decided by rights holders (record companies and publishers) rather than those who literally manipulate the symbolic content:

Each sample – you consider it. I think from being a record collector and knowing what is likely to be cleared as well. But that generally comes on so early where I’m looking at a record and I’ll go “oh that’s a great sample but it’s going to get spotted and I’m not going to clear it’ – you don’t clear it, you won’t use it. So it kind of does inform your writing process. But I think that kind of sample issue is rather frustrating once you get to the state of a finished track and you can’t use an element and you’re like “this is an amazing piece of music”. And it’s a high percentage chance that the artist whose music you’re using would probably enjoy how you’ve interpreted it, especially if you’re saying, “look, I want to split the writing on it with you”, and they’re probably not even part of this process. I think that’s a little bit frustrating and also a lot of the money that the major labels are asking for, and the writing splits, because in general music income has fallen for everyone, if someone wants 80% of your publishing for a sample, well most of income comes from publishing. It gets a little bit frustrating but I think it’s par for the course (Carthy: Personal Interview, 2011).

The ethics attached to sampling becomes even more problematic when the sampling producers themselves have been sampled, as was the case for Richard Barratt and his publisher Warp.

There was a record that came out shortly after “Testone” [by Sweet Exorcist] came out called “Tricky Disco” – somebody had sampled “Testone” and cut it up, and Warp actually chased them down. They put the record out as well and I think we got some publishing on it. “Testone” did pop up in records of the time – just like the bleeps off the record, and we used to grumble at Warp about it – it was in an 808 State track, it was in an Orb track, but I hadn’t got a leg to stand on really, and neither had Kirky [Richard Kirk] for sampling people’s stuff. It seemed a little bit hypocritical to be chasing people down, complaining that they sampled you when, you know, you’d been sampling every fucker. It didn’t fit right somehow – complaining about being sampled when you’d been sampling everybody else (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

What this set of legal circumstance highlights, at least for this study, is the effect it has had on the creative decisions being made when sampling. In addition, there is some argument to suggest that there are certain times and circumstances where leniency in strict application of the law may be apt.

I think that in a perfect world, if everybody was reasonable, if you’re using something that’s basically musically recognizable or sounds good because of somebody else’s playing or somebody else’s writing, then yeah, you should clear that. And if you thought you were going to get treated fairly, I think that people would be much more like “yeah, that’s just what you do” – do you know what I mean? A bit like paying a session musician. When it’s just like a noise that’s twisted up beyond all recognition, it doesn’t really matter about the original, whatever it was, because it’s changed, it’s something else… Some people will be really fair about it but they can [also] properly have your trousers down. When they do that, you think, “Well, what’s the fucking point?” (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

Dean Honer’s attitude to payment for sampling is also a pragmatic one, built from years of engagement with these legal structures, but he suggests that there needs to be a ‘trade off’ for significant levels of sampling, whether or not the sample was changed enough to warrant its recognition as an original contribution to musical practice, and therefore whether there should be a reward for that creative effort.

I think certainly if someone sampled four bars of my music I’d expect something for it, but I’d also respect the contribution that was made over the top. For instance, with ‘Daydream in Blue’ we didn’t get any publishing on that, whereas we thought because we’d written new sets of lyrics and complete new parts we deserved some kind of cut on the publishing, but it weren’t to be…It’s hard to judge isn’t it? You’d need someone who’s got a clue really to make a good judgement call on that. I could sample something and put it through a filter and say ‘I filtered it’ just so I could get away with grabbing a bit of publishing. But if you’ve done it for artistic reasons, or to serve the piece of work you’re using it in, then maybe there’s an argument, yeah (Honer: Personal Interview, 2011).

The immediate result of being aware of the legal implications of sampling, and the financial ramifications of this, is that it has made these producers more wary of what they do in the studio. Honer agrees, emphatically, that he is now more risk averse than he would have been even ten years ago; ‘Yeah. Definitely!’ (Honer: Personal Interview, 2011). Martin Reeves (Krafty Kuts) and Dean Honer concur.

I would definitely be more cautious. I’ve tried to use more obscure things rather than sampling something blatantly obvious like James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, Lynn Collins, whatever, you know, because people are just going to come down on you really hard. When you sample a more obscure artist they’re not going to want so much money when you clear the sample. We used a disco loop on my last album and I think it only cost £1500 to clear (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

I’m much more careful about sampling other people’s music in general. But fashions change as well don’t they? We use a lot of drum samples obviously just as drum sounds, but we will create our own, sample our own. Not using traditional samplers, but more recording audio into the computer…or processing other people’s drum sounds. I recently bought a couple of early 70s drum machines, like an old Maestro Rhythm King. I’ve just been playing that in, putting that through synthesisers, recording it in and then chopping it up afterwards, so you’re kind of creating drum loops and drum sounds on the fly, then recording it in and chopping it into its components..And also, quite often, not so much recently actually, you can find a part of an old sixties record that you really like and then use a loop of that as a start point and add to it and add to it and recreate it, but not recreate it exactly musically, but just use it as a source of inspiration, or for the feel and the rhythm, and then get rid of the sample…Sometimes it’s better just to start with something than stare at a blank screen (Honer: Personal Interview, 2011).

In this case it can be claimed that the creative practice of these producers has been altered, in part, to comply with the legal industrial framework they work within as they are now predisposed to think more seriously about the implication of that creative practice before they commit to making choices about certain samples. While Raymond Williams (1981) has argued that there have always been a set of historical relations that have existed over time between cultural producers and the institutions they have most often interacted with, it can also be claimed that ‘a huge number of talented and motivated artists, musicians, dancers, athletes, and singers give up pursuing their domains because it is so difficult to make a living in them’ (Csikszentmihalyi: 1997, p. 333). This set of very real imperatives, linked to the financial circumstances of cultural producers, is also apparent at the more specific level for sampling producers as they engage with the technological apparatus that facilitates those sampling procedures. What connects the legal structure and the technological one as determiners of action for them is the question of affordability. For example, Barratt indicates that technology and its affordability was an important driver in his creative practice.

I suppose at first, going back to the mid-eighties, it was my route into making music really, as a DJ and somebody with a big record collection. The technology became affordable and available; do you know what I mean? You weren’t having to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a Fairlight. Emulators became available and then the big leap forward seemed to be the S1000, when that came out. Everybody was very excited about that because you could sample in stereo and it was affordable (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

As the technology got cheaper and you were able to make longer samples and better quality samples, that enabled you to take bigger chunks of music from people’s records (Honer: Personal Interview, 2011).

Of note here is the fact that most of these producers tend not to emphasise the technology they use in their practice as the penultimate reason for their involvement in music. Instead they emphasise what it has allowed them to do. In their simplest sense technologies are, according to Terry Flew ‘the tools and artefacts used by humans to transform nature, enable social interaction or extend human capacities’ (2005, p. 25). He argues that these tools, artefacts or pieces of hardware only have value when they enable ‘the user to do things with it’ (Flew: 2005, p 26). Therefore technology themselves have social and cultural determiners that act upon them as technologies are bound to the ‘the systems of knowledge and social meaning that accompany their development and use. The use of technologies entails the development of forms of education and training to acquire necessary knowledge and skills to make use of the new technologies’ (ibid). From these premises Flew asserts that this way of seeing technology in relation to practice points to ‘the interaction between physical objects, contexts of use, and systems of knowledge, indicating that technologies inevitably intersect with cultures” (ibid). Technologies such as the Akai and Emu SP1200 samplers have potential uses but, as Ryder and Wilson (1995) assert, in relation to the affordances, or the range of potential uses technologies present for users, that these could also ‘be constraints, as the awareness of new possibilities arising from a new media technology also draws attention to practical limitations in achieving these gains’ (in Flew: 2005, p. 7). All of these ideas are evident in the way these producers interact with these tools but what is most important to realize is that, instead of technology being the most valued item in these record producer’s creative toolkit, what appears to be most highly prized in the dance community they operate in is the idea of ‘instinct’ and ‘ear’. The technology appears to be in service to what ‘sounds good’. Using this as a basis one could claim that Paul Theberge’s (1997) suggestion that the acceleration in the production of new music technology equipment wasn’t being driven by the end users demand but was, instead, being driven by the manufacturers and suppliers of that equipment in an effort to maximise the manufactures and suppliers’ sales budgets may be apt. In other words economic imperatives are the driver not the technology. In this regard little discussion took place amongst these producers around specific pieces of equipment, other than to valorise, and possibly mythologise, the sound of the old Akai and Emu SP1200 samplers despite most of them not having used them in their own productions. This valorisation may have more to do with the construction of a tradition of authenticity than it has to do with the feature of the technology themselves.

The only sequencing programme that I ever got half familiar with was the old C-Lab on the Atari, and I still think to this day that that sequencer sounds better than most modern sequencers, rhythmically. It still sounds really good to me (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

It may also be the case that these pieces of technology, and their availability, led to a particularly idiosyncratic sound emanating from the United Kingdom. But, again, these producers don’t emphasise the technology but emphasise the results that were produced from the use of samples and the way the musical elements of those samples contributed to what was being produced musically in Britain. Both Krafty Kuts’ (Martin Reeves) and Aston Harvey believe there is something distinguishable about the way that British producers approach the sound of their recordings.

I think they use the sample to utilise like, especially let’s say the Chemical Brothers, or Groove Armada, they use a sample or a sound distinctly, loud in the mix. It’s prominent and you recognise it, and as soon as you hear it, you cheer. It’s there to be recognised, it’s like ‘Yeah! Yeah! We found this idea, we found this sound, and we wanna show you’ (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

Definitely. I can’t really describe it. But the first super dance group, the Prodigy, all of their albums had samples. No one makes music how Liam makes his music. It’s funny, there’s no Americans that have really tried to do it. The Prodigy is an extremely English sound (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

This distinct approach to sampling also has a set of historical antecedents that are more general than the specifics of each producers own idiosyncratic experiences. It is this cultural trajectory that gives the British dance scene its own peculiar flavour. Reeves gives a truncated account of that trajectory.

Thanks to the guys like The Prodigy, Shut Up & Dance and all the early rave stuff it’s what’s helped us go forward, and U.K. dance music has just become a phenomenon worldwide with people sampling stuff, because the U.K. was really the first place to do it in terms of the dance period. America was streets ahead in terms of like the hip-hop movement, but when it comes to rave music and the dance culture, drum and bass, dubstep, breaks and big beat, we were the leaders in that field (Reeves: Personal Interview, 2011).

While he may not see it in these terms Harvey has also been subject to the larger history of the British Empire as have all of these record producers. The essence of this argument is that where creative practice takes place has as much influence on it as how it takes place; as Braudel argues ‘civilisations continually borrow from their neighbours, even if they reinterpret and assimilate what they have adopted’ (1993, p.29). In this regard we can say that, following the strain of the Second World War, Britain was forced to divest itself of much of its Empire but one of the legacies of British colonialism had been to centre the world on the colonist’s home country. The pressures of population expansion and dislocation forced many of those in the former colonies to migrate to that supposed centre. Britain had retained its symbolic role as the centre of all things cultural for these migrant groups but they also bought a set of cultural influences with them as they migrated to what was, for them, the centre of the Empire. Those migrants, in particular those from the West Indies, themselves part of the much larger African diaspora, constituted a major musical influence in Britain. The music of the West Indian dancehall soon became part of the intermezzo musical world of British record producers who took this music and used it for their own purposes in what became, in effect, a long standing dialogue with black culture. It was picked up in punk and bhangra, and of course the strong dance culture that took hold in Britain, and these groups fed these influences back into the Anglo-American mainstream.

Yeah, definitely. I think reggae has always played a very important part in dance music throughout its history. Even in the Acid house days a lot of tunes had a ska influence, and then the whole jungle scene came along, sampling the reggae stuff… I think reggae, ska and dub has always been a very important part of [British] dance music culture (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

Carthy echoes Harvey’s thoughts, but also notes that more recent producers may have assimilated the influence of other musical cultures on dance music in the United Kingdom into their own habitus and naturalised to the extent that these domain immersions are no longer recognised or acknowledged:

I think our kind of cultural mix has obviously meant that a lot of musical combinations have come out. Although they might be quite surprising when they arrive, and you think, “well that’s a really good combination”, when that music becomes established you can look back and go “yeah, that’s very definitely a product of…” You can see how different communities using different forms of music have combined to make something particularly British. But obviously after 20 years of sample culture, mainstream sample culture, a lot of music which people are making now is kind of maybe influenced by drum & bass or dubstep or rave stuff. It’s quite strange, because a lot of it is starting to sound like music from the 80s before the music was so…So as a DJ, it’s brilliant, because in my lifetime I’ve seen circles being completed, possibly without the knowledge of the people who are making that music as well (Carthy: Personal Interview, 2011).

Though they may be embedded in a particular time and place, both of which have contributed to their producer’s habitus, in the final analysis what appears most strongly from these interviews is the love of music these producers have and the fact that sampling allowed them to engage fully with that.

I think at first, it was definitely the rhythm and melody, but as you get deeper into it, I think the sonic quality becomes much more important, do you know what I mean?…It was only much later when, like what I was saying to you, about realizing the shortcomings of most musicians that I realized that, being a non-musician myself, what was really special about those old records that you were taking bits from. Those players were fucking properly good and the circumstances that they recorded in were atmospherically different than the way modern records are recorded, and that’s part of the whole thing (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).

You hear a bit of music and think, ‘oh, I can do something with that’ and that inspires this tune…The good thing about when I heard all these samples, back in the day, you’d hear a sample that was an amazing bit of music and you’d think ‘where did they get that from?’ and you’d find out, somehow, and source where that came from. In the 1980s at 17 I’d never heard of The Meters, and then you find out about a sample and think ‘Who are The Meters?’, and you have to go to a record shop, you couldn’t go on the internet, and you’d go through all these albums and think ‘oh my God, there’s all these amazing bits of music’ (Harvey: Personal Interview, 2011).

I think to this day if I heard something and I thought ‘fucking hell, I can spin that into something really good’ and make it really good and make it in some way… relevant seems like a bit of a pompous word but, you know, make it into a modern piece of pop music, I’d still do it, just ‘cos it’s exciting when you hear something like that – you hear something and go ‘ooh, fuckin’ ‘ell, that’s right good’, all you’ve got to do is basically pull some bits out of that and loop it up and it makes a really nice piece of modern pop music – it’s good. I’m still excited about pop music I suppose; it’s what motivates me. (Barratt: Personal Interview, 2011).


From the evidence it can be seen that each of these record producers has been immersed in the domain of sampling. This immersion has been effective to the point that each of these musical operatives has acquired a body of tacit knowledge of this domain of knowledge that they have then drawn on to make decisions about the samples they choose and use. In effect they are, as choice making agents, embodiments of the structure of knowledge manifest in the particular symbol system pertinent to sampling. They have all been immersed in the field of works pertinent to sampling, which for these producers includes the accumulated heritage of the work done to this point in this domain. It also includes the acquisition of the techniques and codes of production needed to operate technologies of all kinds, which presents possibilities of action to them. In their use and understanding of the way the various forms of capital (social, cultural, symbolic and economic) circulate within the world of sampling each producer has exhibited what can be called a sampling producer’s habitus, that is:

a ‘feel for the game’, a ‘practical sense’ (sens practique) that inclines agents to act and react in specific situations in a manner that is not always calculated and that is not simply a question of conscious obedience to rules. Rather it is a set of dispositions which generates practices and perceptions. The habitus is the result of a long process of inculcation…which becomes a ‘second sense’ or a second nature (Johnson in Bourdieu: 1993, p. 5).

These producers are therefore also deeply connected to the field of sampling, that is, the structured social organisation that understands the body of knowledge pertinent to sampling. They are connected to this field through their interaction with other producers, engineers, publishers, record shops, those who organise awards ceremonies, and others involved in the sale and promotion of their music. They clearly work within a legal industrial framework that structures their approach to how they pursue the act of sampling, which has changed as a result of that interaction, and they have a relationship with the technological apparatus of their chosen form of cultural production that, while not central to them, is necessarily effective in providing them with the tools to explore and use the possibilities it affords them. They have tapped into, and been a part of establishing, a series of conventions and traditions that have come to typify this cultural and creative field. These conventions and traditions do not exist in a vacuum, however, as they borrow, in part, from pre-existing domains and fields and they may in fact be seen as extensions of them. Those pre-existing domains and fields are those of record production and the field and domain of music itself.

These producers also exist in a very specific historical and geographical context that is part and parcel of the world they inhabit. They bring to that world their own idiosyncratic social and cultural trajectories and as such act as choice making agents who are predisposed to act in ways that are not mechanically determined. Instead they are predisposed to choose what they do within the constraints and possibilities afforded them by their existence within the world of sampling. In short, they are individual agents who act within a field of like-minded operatives and they make changes to the stored information that pre-exists them. They are structured into this, and use, all the unifying forces of history. They remain motivated, and are united, by their shared love of music.

Finally, it can be claimed that there is, on evidence, not one causal mechanism that can be isolated as the major factor in these producers cultural production but it is, instead, the interplay between all of the identified spheres that both constrains and enables their creative practice as sampling producers. As such it can also be claimed that creativity emerges, for these producers, from this system at work.

About The Authors

Phillip McIntyre

University of Newcastle, Australia.

Justin Morey

Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.


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