Sampled music’s golden age was begun by musicians and ended by lawyers. The producers of the late ’80s and early ’90s plundered their record collections, layering sample after sample to build amazing new tracks. Then, record labels got greedy. Before long, licensing even one sample from another record could cost an artist most of their own income, and woe betide anyone who dared use an unlicensed sample. People still wanted to make sample-based music — but sampling other artists had become a legal minefield. So where could producers find the resources they needed?
To give producers something to sample, companies began to sell recordings that were made specially for the purpose. These innovators included EastWest, who launched the first commercial collection of drum samples in 1989, and Prosonus (not to be mistaken for Presonus, who arrived later), whose pioneering set of orchestral samples were released the same year. Discs of samples were more expensive to buy than ordinary music CDs, but the sounds they contained were ‘royalty free’. Once they’d paid for the CD, producers were free to use contents in their own releases, and they wouldn’t have to share their income with anyone.
Purpose-made sample libraries benefited producers in another way, too. Sampling from records is a lot of work: you need to find suitable fragments of music, trim them, loop them and match them to the key and tempo of a track. With sample libraries, all that work is done for you, so production becomes much easier and quicker.