When hip-hop was first created, many thought the genre was a trend that would eventually disappear, like disco. It’s fair to say that most were completely wrong about hip-hop, which is now the most consumed music on earth.
When it was born, hip-hop’s musical foundation relied on samples. Sampling is the act of taking a piece, or sample, of one sound recording or song and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song, according to Wikipedia. Hip-hop was created using song loops during the part of the song with no words, also called the breakdown. This sound loop gave rappers the opportunity to rhyme over the loops, which later developed into producers using the loops and adding their own music to make a new song.
Sounds pretty amazing, right? Problem is, the person or persons responsible for the original track legally own the sample and are entitled to compensation based on how much of the original track was used.
Hip-hop created a new need in the music industry to get samples cleared by the original owner to avoid any possible lawsuits and issues once the music is released. What many don’t know is one of Delaware’s own capitalized off of this newfound need in the early ‘90s.
Wilmington native Deborah Mannis-Gardner owns DMG Clearances Inc., an industry leader. Forbes magazine dubbed her the “The Queen of Sample Clearance” in a 2016 interview. The Concord High School graduate works with some of the biggest names in the industry, clearing samples most recently for Eminem and Drake. Deborah is not only filling a need in the music business, she’s also saving artists and producers millions by providing a service that keeps them out of court and in the studio.
We talked with Deborah about how she started DMG Clearances, an automated clearance service for independent artists, and how releasing free music doesn’t protect artists from being sued.
Q: So, let’s start from the beginning: How did you get into clearing samples?
A: After I graduated from Emerson College I moved to New York City to start a career after just obtaining a mass comm[unications] degree. I got into sample clearing in 1990. When I first started, I was told how sampling was theft. I was told that hip-hop and rap music was a phase. That it wasn’t going to be around. And obviously, that wasn’t true (laughs). After working for Diamond Time and RCA Records I started DMG Clearances, Inc., in 1996, which was based here in Delaware but I was still living in New York. I came back after 9/11 to raise my son.
Q: What set you apart from everybody else when it came to clearing samples early on?
A: A lot of people find clearing samples really hard to do and don’t have the patience to do the work it takes, but I always found it to be a challenge and I love it. My clients love to give me a challenge and music has given our company the opportunity to do all types of media.
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Q: What other types of media does your company clear samples for?
A: Doing music clearances opened the door for me to do everything from movies to video games. Our company handles all the Rockstar videos games like GTA [Grand Theft Auto], etc. I also do Broadway plays and handled the brand rights and clearances for “Hamilton.” There isn’t really any job that we won’t take on.
Q: Has there been a sample you couldn’t find?
A: There are a few been situations where we can’t find a sampled copyright. I think my clients like to challenge me but I’ve been doing this now for almost 30 years, so I think the percentage of songs I haven’t found is under 1 percent.
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Q: In a nutshell, tell me about the process of clearing a sample.
A: Most of the time people think we go straight to the artist but the artist is usually signed to a record label and that label has the copyright to the sample. Unless the artist has passed away, then the process is a little more intensive because we have to deal with the estate or those with power of attorney. Once that happens we determine how much of the song was sampled and send the proposal to them and wait for a quote. From that point, it’s a negotiation process to come up with a final number.
Q: A lot of artists believe that if you’re not selling a record or releasing a free mixtape that they don’t have to clear a sample. Could you clear that up for those who may believe that?
A: That is 100 percent not true. Mixtapes are not immune to lawsuits over intellectual property. I know of cases that I think are in the process right now where copyright holders are going after this stuff because the concept of a free mixtape is to promote an artist. Therefore it’s deemed to have a value. If you gaining followers or a fan base then that sample may have helped garner that which has a dollar value to it. Protect yourself and clear the sample!
Q: Tell me about your partnership with Tracklib and what that technology offers.
A: Tracklib is an online database that the artist can access to clear samples themselves. It has a preloaded database of sounds that producers can use and pay for the sample license at a more affordable cost than hiring a company like us to do the research and negotiations. This is groundbreaking for the independent artists who has a limited budget but wants to make sure they cover themselves. Sampling without clearance is theft and in this modern streaming era, it’s harder to get away with so better safe than sorry. Get it cleared!