Back in 2016, we spoke with Deborah Mannis-Gardner about sample clearances. In that interview, Mannis-Gardner, who is coming up on three decades of experience in sample clearances, broke down everything from sample clearance 20 years prior, to the importance of sampling to her.
“Sampling is, in my opinion, like a collage, a piece of art where you’re taking pieces of other music and creating new pieces,” Mannis-Gardner said all those years ago. “I think there are copyright holders and artists and writers that never saw income or never thought they’d see income again but do because of samples. I have gotten thank-yous before from people just for bringing their stuff back to life. I think some generations hear music that they would have never heard had there not been samples.”
Most recently, Mannis-Gardner worked on Maryland rapper Logic’s final album, No Pressure. The LP, his best work in six years, is rife with classic samples. To better understand the behind-the-scenes work going into bringing No Pressure to lush life, Mannis-Gardner spoke with me at length about the work she did on the album.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: To start, can you break down, as simply and concisely as possible, the steps that go into a typical sample clearance?
Deborah Mannis-Gardner: There’s different ways it starts. Sometimes the artist comes up with what they want to sample, sometimes it’s the producer. Sometimes it’s collaborative. Once they go into the studio and they incorporate the sample, then they reach out to me. They tell me what they’ve sampled and how they’ve used it. Then it’s our job at DMG to research the copyright, contact the publisher, contact the label, and then negotiate the [fairest] deal for the use for our client. Once our client reviews the quote—this includes artists, artist management, attorneys, the label; this is not sexy stuff. We paper it, confirm the deal, request licenses, and make sure everyone gets paid.
What’s the average length of time to clear a sample?
I’ve cleared samples in an hour, and I’ve cleared samples that take six months. It’s all over the place, depending on what’s been sampled, who the copyright holder is, and what the new song sounds like.
Which step in the clearance process is most infuriating?
What I hate the most and pass on to my staff, who are really good at it, is just making sure all the new writers, sample writers, new publishers, [and] sample publishers all get splits together. Gathering that from as many parties as you need so it’s on one document, back to the labels, the publishers, the artists’ management, so everyone knows who gets paid what. It can get tedious! Publishing goes as far down as .0001 percent. I have an amazing team that works on that stuff!
At what point did Logic or Def Jam approach you to start working on the clearances for No Pressure? Was that enough time?
It was enough time! Bobby [Logic] is one of the nicest people to ever work with. It’s usually him and his amazing management team. They reached out to me first back in February of this year, telling me he was working on this [album] with No ID for a while, and we jumped in with both feet in March. The interesting thing was, the album kept growing. Bobby would tell me, “I’m done; there are no more samples!” Then, over the weekend, he’d go into the studio, “Alright, maybe one more.” The only reason this took from February to July is that he kept adding new music to it. He’s just amazing! It’s my job to make it happen for him.
Would you say there was a lot of pressure?
I don’t think it’s pressure. It’s me making sure my clients are happy. It’s self-pressure. I don’t find pressure from my clients; it’s my own pressure to ensure everyone is happy and satisfied with the end result.
Which sample on No Pressure was most difficult to clear? Why?
I don’t think any one [sample] was difficult. There were some issues where we had to make sure everyone was satisfied with the deal and the end product. The Orson Welles estate was marvelous to deal with. Mr. Welles’ daughter reached out to Bobby over the weekend to thank him for how happy she was with everything. It was a lengthy process to make sure everyone was comfortable.
Another great song with a great sample was “Heard Em Say,” with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Manfred owns the rights, so then you’re dealing with people on a personal level. It’s not a label or publisher; it’s the individual. I’m not saying it’s more difficult, but you have to be more careful because there’s emotions and feelings involved. Again, everything came out beautifully.
We were very excited we were able to clear that vocal sample from Street Fighter (“Perfect”). Not always easy to clear from video games. But there’s a great balance because Logic is a gamer, so it was a lovefest! When things are difficult, you always try to look for the positive stuff that comes out of it.
Any samples you couldn’t clear? What typically happens then?
We had no denials on this album. Again, you get more from honey than vinegar. Everyone involved was nice. When we felt as though the copyright holder of the sample needed an extra explanation, Bobby’s team was on the phone. Everyone made sure everyone was comfortable doing these deals.
Which sample did you think would be a hassle, but turned out to be an easy job? Does an easy job even exist?
We had one that was hard at first… The sample “We Got Love” by Sunny from “Hit My Line.” We couldn’t find the master for it. It was something that was acquired from one company to another so that one took a long time. We were concerned, but we made it happen.
Which sample clearance felt like the biggest get?
The Street Fighter uses were a huge success because video games are not usually approved. That was pretty exciting!
Which sample was Logic most excited about?
You know what? He gets excited about everything. Look at what he did with the Orson Welles! He likes sampling; he likes pleasing sounds. He really digs in the crates, which is nice. I’m looking at my status report, and they asked me what my favorite song is, and that’s hard to say. It is such a good album. You can’t always say that about stuff, you know?
I’m glad to hear this was such a positive experience.
Any obstacles we had, any hesitations, there was good communication to get past any hurdles. That’s what’s key. If you’re working on a project with a denial, you have to go back and say, “Why was it denied?” Was it lyrical content? What can we do to change your mind so we can make this happen? We didn’t have any denials, but there were some bumps, and everything was discussed and worked out.
What’s the biggest lesson learned from working on the No Pressure clearances?
Patience, but it wasn’t me who had to learn. It was me teaching the guys to be patient. If something was taking longer for a quote, they were freaking out or getting nervous, “Do we need to reach out to the artist directly?” I always advise, “Don’t do that. Respect that they have a publishing entity and label deal and let it flow through those parties just as you’d want the same for yourself.” So, patience was key.