My Riff or Yours?

Serious musicians struggle to make everything they play — every
whole note, bent note, attack, and interval — unmistakably their
own. But now more and more top players are selling their uniqueness
piecemeal, in the form of ‘signature’ sample collections on CD-ROM
and audio CD. The musicians record individual notes and riffs
rather than songs — or they sample bits of their own previous
performances. Then anybody equipped with a computer and a MIDI
keyboard can buy one of these pricey ($200-$300) collections and
borrow bass notes as played by legendary session man Steve Gadd, or
tom-tom rolls the way LA studio ace Jim Keltner lays them down.

As it’s explained in an issue of Musician (Aug. 1995),
‘signature’ sampling offers genuine advantages for players. Most of
the users of the collections are professionals — film score
composers, record producers — and a sample collection is, after
all, a sort of deconstructed solo album that may work to publicize
a session player’s skills and get him or her more gigs.

There are down sides: recording single notes or riffs is tedious
work, and the special energy that comes from playing with other
instruments is missing. And when a sample user puts a bunch of Jim
Keltner notes (perhaps filtered, distorted, slowed, sped up, or
otherwise electronically rejiggered) into a new context, the
delicate question of whether Jim Keltner has actually ‘played’ on
the new song arises. ‘They shouldn’t be allowed to say [I played],’
Keltner told MUSICIAN, ‘unless I give them permission. After all,
it could be something I wouldn’t have wanted to be involved

Bassist Marcus Miller feels that when you buy the CD-ROM you’re
buying a musician’s services, and the musician should be notified
and further compensated when his or her notes are used. (A handful
of highly ethical sample users have done just this.) At the same
time, he doesn’t believe that sampling ‘freezes’ his creativity
into a series of signature cliches. ‘The ideas on the disc are just
the ideas I came up with one day,’ he says. ‘[They don’t] define me
as a player.’

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