We Live In The Sampling Economy


This is the story of how one song helped create nearly 1300 new songs, and what your business can learn from the art of sampling and remixing.

There are significantly good odds that you’ve heard Clyde Stubblefield’s work, yet you probably don’t know who Clyde Stubblefield is.

Although Clyde played drums on dozens of James Brown songs, it is a short drum break about five minutes into the song “Funky Drummer” that made Clyde Stubblefield legendary. That short drum break is one of the most sampled pieces in hip hop history.

“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy might be the most high-profile and impactful use of Clyde’s work, it is by no means the only song that samples that drum break.

LL Cool J used it in “Mama Said Knock You Out”.

Run D.M.C. borrowed it for “Run’s House”.

Prince borrowed it. Sinead O’Connor used it. Madonna’s “Justify My Love” sampled it.

Nas, Rakim, 2 Live Crew, Scarface, Big Daddy Kane, Jay Z, and Kool Moe Dee all used that very same drum break in their music.

Nearly 1300 songs took a brief sample of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and used it to create something entirely new. 

That’s the sampling economy at work. It has driven hip hop and EDM for decades, and the lessons of the remix are vital to modern business. After all, there are only so many “new” ideas. There is a finite number of chords, notes, progressions, and words. At some point, doesn’t everything become a remix of something else?

The most-frequently sampled song in music belongs to a rather obscure 1982 hip hop song called “Change the Beat” by Fab 5 Freddy, aka Fred Brathwaite. At last count, documents 1830 different songs that sample “Change the Beat”. 

“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis was one of those 1830 songs. It was a #1 hit and sold over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. During the fall of 2012 and winter of 2013, “Thrift Shop” was the song you couldn’t avoid even if you wanted to. It was everywhere. Robert Copsey, a reviewer with Digital Spy, gave the song a 5-star rating and called it “original and musically daring”. And it was original and daring! With it’s funny lyrics about shopping for used clothes, “Thrift Shop” eschewed the typically self-aggrandizing hip hop attitude.

Can a song that is “original and daring” rely on a sample from a 30-year old song and still be “original and daring”? 

According to British DJ and producer Mark Ronson, absolutely. In order to be original and daring, you need to bring something fresh to the table. Great artists take a small piece of something created previously, and they – as Ronson says – flip it. They make it uniquely theirs. According to Ronson, the argument that using samples isn’t original completely misses the point. “We live in the post-sampling era,” Ronson said in a 2014 TED Talk. “We take the things that we love and we build on them. And when we really add something significant and original and we merge our musical journey with this, we have a chance to be part of the evolution of that music that we love and be linked with it once it becomes something new again.”

Ironically, “Thift Shop” was replaced at #1 on the charts by a song called “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell, a song that very prominently borrowed upon an older recording. The family of the late Marvin Gaye publically stated that they felt “Blurred Lines” used the sound and feel of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”. Thicke acknowledged that “Blurred Lines” was influenced by songs like “Got to Give It Up”, but that his song was not plagiarized. Numerous artists agreed, noting that borrowing “sound and feel” could easily be called inspiration or influence instead of theft. The court didn’t agree. In a very controversial verdict, a jury awarded Gaye’s family $7.4 million in damages for copyright infringement. In addition, the writing credits were changed to add Marvin Gaye, resulting in long-term royalties to Gaye’s estate.

While it remains a grey area where respectful sampling ends and copyright infringement begins, there is no question that we live in an era of unprecedented access to the technology to easily sample almost anything. We also live in an era of changing values and opinions, with a generation of hip hop and electronic music artists coming of age in an environment where sampling is a perfectly acceptable form of creative expression.

As an entrepreneur, you can create amazing new things by sampling… taking old things and repurposing them in a unique and fresh way.

Drift Eyewear is a boutique eyewear company based in Chicago. The company uses reclaimed wood to hand-craft designer frames. From wood found at the bottom of the Mississippi River to maple taken from a retired skateboard, Drift finds the materials and inspiration for their frames by repurposing existing wood and creating a completely new product. Is this any different than a modern artist being inspired by and sampling the work of others in order to create something entirely new?

In 2008, Ray DelMuro purchased a small bottle-cutting kit and started creating drinking glasses from old wine bottles. The drinking glasses led to housewares, planters, carafes, votive holders, and much more… all crafted from recycled wine bottles. And Refresh Glass was created.

Today, you can sip from Refresh Glass at Spago in Las Vegas, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California, J&G Steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona, and many other fine restaurants around the world. Refresh Glass does custom work for fine dining, casual restaurants, weddings, and individual homes. Every piece of glass is recycled from a rescued wine bottle. Refresh Glass is on a mission to rescue 10 million bottles, and they keep track of their progress on their website. At this point they have turned over 900,000 wine bottles into brand new products.

While there is plenty of ambiguous territory in the world of copyright infringement, most of the successful brands engaged in sampling, repurposing, or upcycling, are not stealing anything.

They are using elements of something from the past, like driftwood or a wine bottle, and making something entirely new. This is the very same process that musicians use to sample elements from forty years ago, turning them into brand new songs that we fall in love with. Just like musicians who sample, these entrepreneurs are passionate about what they create, they bring something new to the world, and they genuinely see and value the impact their new creation leaves on the world.

While it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway. If you plan to build a business based on sampling the work of others, consult a smart lawyer who knows the inner workings of copyright law. 

By the way, Clyde Stubblefield isn’t credited as a co-writer or musician on ANY of the songs that sampled his drumming from “Funky Drummer”. He hasn’t seen a cent in royalties. The sampling economy is fine, but don’t we have an obligation to reward, or at least acknowledge, those from whom we borrow? 

You can order Brand Like A Rock Star: Lessons From Rock ‘n Roll To Make Your Business Rich And Famous with one click right now from Amazon.

Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown, Mark Ronson, Public Enemy 588 Comments

Work Your Ass Off


steve and book

How many Facebook ads did you see this week for get-rich-quick schemes and lose-weight-fast programs? God I’m sick of seeing those.

Those ads are out there because every day thousands of idiots click on them.

Con artists are making millions from gullible people who want to take the shortcut to success.

There is only one shortcut: work your ass off.

James Brown sweated it out night after night until days before his heart gave out. He was the “hardest working man in show business”.

Bruce Springsteen plays for four hours a night because he has fans who expect him to earn his keep, and he doesn’t let them down.

The boys in U2 were so bad when they first got together that they couldn’t even play cover songs. They were forced to write their own music, and they worked their ass off to become world class musicians along the way.

Working hard doesn’t just mean literally putting in more hours than the next guy. It means working relentlessly hard at being smarter, shrewder, and more clever.

Work your ass off to surprise, delight, and amaze your fans.

Work your ass off to be different from your competitors.

Work your ass off to provide an experience that is uniquely yours.

Work your ass off to always live up to the expectations of your customers.

Work your ass off to keep them coming back for more.

Work your ass off to fix problems, rectify mistakes, and prevent them from happening again.

Work your ass off to have fun, share some humanity, and show some kindness and warmth in business.

Work your ass off to get up off the ground when you are hit with setbacks.

Go rock your business today. I’d love to hear how it goes. I’m at steve(at)

Have a great weekend.

You can order your copy of Brand Like a Rock Star with one click right here.


Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, U2 361 Comments

You Need An “EST”

The Who was billed as “the loudest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world”.

James Brown was “the hardest working man in show biz”.

In business, and in music, the brands that occupy one of the extremes of the spectrum are the ones that get noticed.

Smart brands own an “est”.

Drive down the highway, and you can’t help but notice the Smart Car (smallest) and the Hummer (largest). We see the brightest (the yellow Corvette) and the darkest (a matte black Porsche). But the dark blue Honda Civic goes by unnoticed.

Hardest. Loudest. Softest. Easiest. Hardest. Newest. Oldest. Tallest. Shortest. Hottest. Coldest. Fastest. Slowest. Priciest. Cheapest. Fattest. Thinest.

What end of the spectrum do your customers acknowledge that you own?

If you aren’t the “est” at something, there’s a good chance you are getting lost in the boring, invisible, crowded middle ground. The world is littered with quality products and companies who were afraid to stand for something and stand out for something.

Brand Like A Rock Star is a book that can help you define your brand, tell your story, and share it with the world so that your company ROCKS in 2013. It examines the core marketing strategies of rock ‘n’ roll legends and shows you how to put them into use in your business right away. You can order it now by clicking here. It is the rockin-est business book you’ll ever own.


James Brown, The Who 582 Comments

Accelerating Your Rock Star Personal Brand

Being a rock star is hard work. But the rewards are huge.

James Brown was the hardest working man in show biz. You didn’t want front row seats at a James Brown show, unless you enjoyed being covered in the man’s sweat. He was relentless on stage, always striving to give his fans more than they paid for. When James Brown was done one of legendary marathon shows, the audience was as tired as the performer was.

That’s hard work.

Bruce Springsteen is famous for leaving every ounce of energy he has on stage for his fans, walking off the stage physically exhausted to an audience grateful for the chance to spend their money on a show like that.

That’s hard work.

The Beatles may have appeared as overnight sensations in America in 1964, but they had spent several years playing the seedy bars of Hamburg, Germany, perfecting their craft night after night.

That’s hard work.

We live in a world of instant gratification and perpetual short cuts… lottery tickets, miracle weight loss pills, and automated spam that can grab you a million Twitter followers overnight. They are false hopes.

Do not be fooled. Building your personal brand is hard work.

In his fantastic book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell speculated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at nearly anything. That’s 417 days.

Fortunately, our hyper-connected world offers you more opportunity than ever to learn, network, grow, and put in your 10,000 hours.

Five Ways To Accelerate Your Personal Brand

1. Never stop reading. Books, blogs, tweets, posts, articles, and even newspapers. Read. Be a life-long student of what you do.

2. Network. Always be connecting and talking, sharing and collaborating.

3. Listen. We love to talk, but the best talkers are the ones who spend even more time listening. When you’re listening to others, work hard to really hear what they are communicating.

4. Eliminate wasted time. I wrote a book over the course of a year simply by eliminating time wasted watching TV. I spent nearly every down moment I had working on the book. It was amazing how fast things came together.

5. Always Over-deliver. Forget about hype. Instead of building expecatations, focus on over-delivering and leaving people in awe. Under-promising and over-delivering is awlays smarter than creating false expectations. Make it your mission to over-deliver at every opportunity.

6. And one bonus… Think a lot. It sounds really simple, but it is extremely powerful. Always be thinking. Analyse what you see. Contemplate what you hear. Examine truths. Fill your brain with crazy thoughts and ideas, and then get a good night’s rest. You’ll be amazed how the mind sorts it all out while you’re snoring.

Order Brand Like A Rock Star today and begin your brand building journey using the marketing strategies of rock and roll legends like U2, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Guns N Roses, Bob Marley, The Grateful Dead, and many others. The digital version can be instantly download for under $10, or the paperback can be home delivered.

Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, The Beatles 2,243 Comments