The easiest way to get your hands on samples is to buy them from the many, many companies who sell soundware products comprising samples, instrument patches or both. Samples usually come in the form of loops and/or hits, and sometimes libraries will also include software sampler patches for multisampled instrument sounds or drum kits.
Using a professionally created sample library can be more convenient because it doesn’t require recording, ripping or editing. Often, sounds will be provided with variations in effects, tempo, key and more, and they’ll fit into projects more easily.
Pro libraries usually include a license allowing you to use the samples in any musical context without needing to pay any royalties or clear the samples first.
If you were to have a huge hit based around a sample sourced from a library – just as Steve Angello did with Knas, which is based around a melody loop from Vengeance Future House Vol. 2 – you wouldn’t have to clear the sample or share your royalties.
Early soundware products sometimes did include copyright material. Legally, the copyright holder is able to pursue a claim against anyone using copyright-infringing material without permission, so you’d have been potentially liable for using a snippet of a Mariah Carey acapella, even if you’d got it from a supposedly legitimate sample library.
These days, publishers are more cautious, and the material in contemporary sample libraries is, by and large, created entirely from the ground up. Certain classic sounds still crop up from time to time – processed versions of the Think and Amen breaks, say – but the use of these sounds classically goes unchallenged.
Another place to source samples created by others is the web. Freesound.org allows you to search for particular types of samples – field recordings and synthesised noises are featured heavily – and most of the material on the site can be used royalty-free in commercial work if you credit its creator.
With all these legitimate sources, why do people bother sampling others’ musical works at all?
Usually because it’s not always possible to get an exact sound without sampling an existing recording. So far, no soundware producer has managed to recreate the sound of a James Brown drum break such as Cold Sweat, Hotpants or Funky Drummer, so we still hear these again and again in today’s tracks.
Another reason is convenience – why scour library after library for the perfect EDM snare when you’ve got Pryda’s Miami to Atlanta in your music library, ready to go?
Perhaps even more important is the fact that people enjoy familiarity, and the sounds that have been recycled over and over again have become musical memes, capable of very quickly creating a particular vibe in your tracks.