Sampling vs Interpolating: Please Learn The Difference

There’s nothing I love more than a little bit of internet discourse. Scrolling through TikTok and Twitter, the new argument of the week seems to revolve around music sampling. Specifically, how current artists seem to be “stealing” from other musicians. What makes the argument seem pointless is the lack of understanding from the audience when it comes to music terminology.

The words “sampling” and “stealing” are being used interchangeably when users online argue over a musician’s work. This has been most prevalent through TikTok user Jarrod Jermaine’s content. His videos pinpoint where current music trends stem from. However, his comment section is a melting pot of mixed reviews over how these different samples are used in modern music.


Did you know this sample for Doja Cat & SZA “Kiss Me More” and Miley Cyrus & Dua Lupa “Prisoner” from Olivia Newton-John “Physical”? #dualipa #dojacat #mileycyrus #kissmemore #prisoner #olivianewtonjohn #sample #samples #sampled

♬ original sound – jarred jermaine
@jarredjermaine on TikTok

What irks me the most about these naive comments is how no one seems to understand the concept of music sampling. Throw in the term “interloping” and there is no chance of making any process in the great music sampling debate. This is why I have taken the responsibility to try to explain some key terms when it comes to the music making process.

Music Sampling

In the simplest terms, sampling is when an artist would literally copy and paste another song’s original recording into their own music. It could be a melody, chorus, or just a two-second phrase from the original lyrics. If it is from the initial recording, then using a part of another song for a new piece would be considered sampling.

The concept that new and aspiring artists don’t understand is that there are rules that come along with sampling. Because the musician is taking an exact copy of another original song, there needs to be some legal action taken place. Musicians must get permission from the original artists to be able to use their song as a sampled piece. This would often be a long process and extremely pricey, but it is the safest way to use work from other music artists.

Music Interpolation

Interpolating music is more common for today’s artists. This is the process of taking a certain part of a music track and recreating it through the new artist’s vision. It would be as if you were to see a beautiful knit sweater at a store and had your grandmother knit one herself in the same likeness. It is not completely ripping off the original piece but recreating it to work more with the current artist’s persona.

What makes artists more tempted to interpolate music rather than sample it is simply the cost. Having to earn the permission and legal contracts to sample music is complicated and extremely expensive. Being able to merely need the permission of the original musician to create an interpolation is more preferable for starting artists. They just need to be aware of the legal troubles it might lead to if not done correctly.

What Do I Gain From Knowing This?

It is exceptionally important to understand the different terms of music making. Especially if there is ever an argument online about whether your favorite artist knocked off another musician’s work or not. The only thing worse than arguing with strangers online is being incorrect. The biggest takeaway is to not look at sampling as a form of stealing, unless there was never permission given to begin with.

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