To quote The Jimmy Castor Bunch: what we’re gonna do right here is go back. Way back. Back into time…

The earliest traces of sampling music and spoken word goes back to the 1940s. An experimental musical genre known as musique concrète, or concrete music, gained more and more traction at this time through it’s use of recorded sound as a “raw material”.

As our time train choo choos on and on into the 1950s and 60s, we begin to see these new sampling techniques seep into commercial music with recording legends such as The Beatles & Marvin Gaye using them.

Recording artists began “copying and pasting” segments of other tracks and spoken word mediums into their own music to create what you could call a collage of sound.

“The Flying Saucer”, released in 1956, by Buchanan & Goodman is a great example of some very early sampling.

Notice all of the unedited speech samples? In our modern-day, a copyright claim would most likely be making its way to Buchanan & Goodman. But we’ll discuss that later!

A Sample of Music History

Sampling, as we know it today, is believed to have evolved through a very special genre that was born in the south of the Bronx… Hip Hop.

On August 11th, 1973, history was made by DJ Kool Herc, a Bronx DJ. He wanted to test limits, so he decided to extend the break sections of funky records he was playing live to an enthusiastic crowd. He manually looped the break sections and switched between breaks of the same or similar sounding tracks at the height of the party. This blended the breaks together to create one long break section… and so Hip Hop was born.

Herc called this technique the “Merry-Go-Round”. All that was needed to rock the party were 2 turntables, a selection of break filled records… and a lyrically fluent MC!

When people have a lack of resources, sometimes it’s necessary to innovate. Like many births of new musical genres, Hip Hop was born in this way!

As the ’70s came to a close, so too did this new Hip Hop template make it onto commercial records. “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang was the first breakthrough Hip Hop track to make it onto vinyl and is still one of the best selling 12″ singles of all time.

Although “Rapper’s Delight” was recorded by a live band, it was a slavish recreation of Chic’s “Good Times” – a famous Break track. Most early Hip Hop releases were just that – recreations of famous Break tracks.

For our music nerds out there, the first use of a sampled Break loop in a commercial recording was done by British prog-rocker group YES in 1983 with their hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. This record includes a breakdown section that samples the drum break from “Kool is Back” by Funk Inc, released in 1972, along with the infamous ORCH5 preset from the Fairlight bank…

The Birth of Music Samplers

Two years on from the birth of hip hop… we see the birth of commercial sampling technology. However, the first designs go back to 1969 when Peter Zinovieff developed the first digital sampler, the EMS Musys. This bad boy was followed by the commercial sampler Synclavier in 1975 and the Fairlight CMI in 1979. The CMI was priced at $12,000 – so glue your piggy bank back together. Only the top recording studios could afford these, not the Hip Hop community.

The Fairlight was mostly used for instrument creation via sampling live instruments. High profile producers weren’t contemplating sampling third party recordings.

As the 80s progressed, so too did sampling tech.

The Emulator SP12 was the sampler that really changed the course of sampling history. Launched in 1985, and was later superseded by the SP1200 in 1987, the SP12 and 1200 took the form of a drum machine. These were the first affordable samplers to hit the market.

They allowed you to create an entire beat inside one machine with a 5 second sample time (SP12) or a 10 second sample time (SP1200). This soon made them a classic amongst early Hip Hop producers such as Marley Marl, Mantronix and Ced Gee.

As we approach the late 80s, more affordable (and powerful) samplers were developed and sampling began to be embraced by many artists across many genres. Copy and paste records (mash-ups of various breaks and other samples) began to grow in popularity!

Pioneers such as Double Dee and Stienski and The Latin Rascals went on to influence a new breed of producers such as Coldcut and Bomb The Bass. A massive hit of 1987 was “Pump Up the VolumeM|A|R|R|S – a testament to how far sampling had come.

Around this time saw an emergence of a new breed of music. One that was born from the flashing lights of club nights.

House began to emerge from the club scene of Chicago and was predominantly produced with the use of synths and drum machines… but samplers were often used for sampling vocal elements. “Jack Your Body” by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley from 1987 is a great example!

It’s worth noting how sampling has influenced sound design and instrumentation in this period. The ability to easily record and manipulate audio without the use of tape truly liberated the music community and freed people up to get more creative.

Along came Yamaha with the first commercially successful digital synth: the DX7. The ubiquitous 80s orchestral stab became as integral to the sound of the decade as the synth itself.

Talking of synthesis, 1988 saw Korg launch their first (and the first) sample-based synthesizer.

The M1.

The legendary Korg M1 used samples as opposed to recognised sound design methods as the basis of the waveforms resulting in some of the most realistic sounding instruments to date.

And now we’re coming to the naughty 90s.

Around the early 90s, the very first purpose-designed third party samples were being developed. Brands like Zero-G specialised in producing CDs filled with specifically designed audio material for people to sample and reuse! Drum loops, synth lines, as well as lots of one-shot sounds and pads!

These early sample CDs were the predecessor to the multi-million sample industry that we see, hear and love today.

Sample First, Ask Questions Later

As sampling grew in popularity, so too did the legal implications.

Sampling started out as a “Wild West”. A playground for creativity. What began with a DJ at a flat party spinning vinyl was now becoming an industrial beast – and that’s where the lawmakers step in.

A brand new musical phenomenon that had no legal oversight led to a number of big lawsuits. The most notable cases are De La Soul vs The Turtles and Biz Markie vs Gilbert O Sulivan.

These cases made people realise they needed to ask permission and get samples cleared.

And, with a bit of innovation, came tailor-made royalty-free samples.


The royalty-free sample industry now features hundreds of brands that specialise in providing reusable samples for all genres of music.

Loops, one-shots, pads, foley, and acapellas are all sampled musical elements that are used every single day in bedrooms and professional studios alike!

Now you know a summarised history of samples and sampling… you may be keen to get your hands on some.

Mixxed has thousands of samples, including loops, one-shots, pads, foley, and acapellas, for you to choose from for less than $3 a month!