On March 11, 2011, Mac Miller released his fifth career mixtape, Best Day Ever. Among the 16 tracks included on the freely-released project was "Donald Trump," a song that famously went on to become one of the highest-charting singles of Miller's career and the only record in his entire catalog that has been certified Platinum by the RIAA.
At first, "Donald Trump" was released for free as a part of Best Day Ever, but his label at the time, Rostrum Records, decided to make the song available for digital purchase on iTunes following an overwhelmingly positive response.
Before the song could be added to iTunes, however, the sample used on the record—"Vesuvius" by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens—would have to be cleared.
Typically, a publisher (rights holders) will require a minimum of 10 or 15% of the composer share in order to clear the sample, but as we recently learned with Travis Scott's "Antidote"—which includes a sample from Lee Fields & The Expressions "All I Need"—that number can reach as high as 50% depending on the sample and how integral it is to the new production.
In the case of "Donald Trump," though, we have learned that Sufjan Stevens cleared the sample free of charge.
Yes, free—as in 0%.
"He cleared it for free but still wanted a percentage of sync licensing," explained SAP, the lone producer of "Donald Trump." "But we also cleared it before it blew up so maybe he didn't know how huge it would be at the time?"
The process of clearing a sample can take a few days, a few weeks or even a few months, but an artist—read: their label—is supposed to handle this part of the business before the material is released.
At the time, standard practices were a bit flimsy when it came to clearance rules for material that was originally earmarked for a mixtape-only release (the ol' "promotional purposes only" excuse), but as Mac Miller would learn two years later, yes, even samples on a mixtape must be cleared.
"Mac went to clear it when we were about to do a video and sell it and Sufjan said just go ahead and use it," added SAP. "Then it went Platinum. Crazy."
While Sufjan has undoubtedly lost out on a nice chunk of change in the form of quarterly publishing checks, he was wise to ask for a percentage of the song's synchronization license, or "sync" for short, which allows him to earn royalties whenever "Donald Trump" is sanctioned for use in any kind of visual media output (TV, video games, soundtracks, etc.).
As for Mac and SAP, well, I hope they're still counting their blessings. Not having to pay even a penny to clear a sample is unheard of in the music industry—especially in 2017, with the proliferation of streaming and an even larger number of licensing opportunities now available.