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Digitality digging in the crates

WhoSampled is the go-to website for dance nuts investigating the funk, soul and electronic music samples that underpin their modern day favourites. Growing from a niche concern into a huge database with 10,000 contributors, it's become a vital music research site. We spoke to founder Nadav Poraz to find out more...

It goes without saying that the manner by which we consume music in this day and age has dramatically changed from even a decade ago. Yet while the majority of these technological advancements have proved bad news for the artists and record labels of this world, it’s worth noting that not all such advancements are detrimental to the music business. One such example of a website that’s most definitely run for all the right reasons is WhoSampled.com.

Based in London, the site was established in 2008 by software engineer Nadav Poraz, a man who is as much a music aficionado as he is a canny businessman. Renowned as the internet’s “ultimate database of sampled music, cover songs and remixes”, WhoSampled unearths the DNA of the music that we listen to, making it an especially important medium for fans of electronic music in particular. So if you’re wondering where Moodymann’s inspirations actually come from or if you want to delve deeper into the warped mind of Aphex Twin or the sheer genius of Theo Parrish, then WhoSampled is most definitely the site for you. An indispensable online resource for true music lovers, the site is proof indeed that there’s still space for innovative techniques in the music industry. We caught up with Mr. Poraz recently to find out what’s what with one of our favourite websites…

Can you give a quick outline of what WhoSampled is
“WhoSampled is a music discovery experience that is built on the world’s largest database of sampled music. It’s a huge crowd-sourced effort with around 10,000 contributors working in a Wikipedia-like manner to gather this huge database. Everything that’s added in is cross-referenced, but our users use everything from their ears to CD notes to input the samples of a song. We’re an established resource on anything to do with sampled music and it’s a go-to place with granular information about each sample, whether that be the drums, the bassline or the time the sample comes in. You can also listen to the tracks side-by-side and compare them and enjoy them.”

How did you come up with the idea?
“I guess it sort of all came together from my love of music. I had a career in software and moved into all sorts of management roles, and while it made my mum proud, I always had a burning desire to apply what I was doing to music. At the same time I was a serious music collector and DJ and I was making my own electronic music. From a music discovery background, I found that finding samples was incredible. That was in the early '90s when G-funk came to the scene, which in turn, led me to discover P-funk. Then trip-hop came about, which got me more into electronic music. Then I came up with the idea and the format and data-gathering mechanism, and it all came together. Initially I just thought it’d be something I’d love personally as a resource for myself.”

Did it just spread through word-of-mouth?
“Yeah, it was all very organic and we put a very basic version of the site out there in late 2008. We didn’t have a budget to promote it or do any major announcements, and we started with around 300 samples that we knew. Very quickly people noticed it and it started to come up through search results and people started adding their own — which is what we’d wanted all along. Then we took on voluntary moderators who helped manage the content. Everything on the site has been verified and checked, so we really pride ourselves on our accuracy. Now we serve over one million music fans a month!”

Do many musicians actually use the website to find new music then?
“Oh, absolutely! And I actually met [Parliament Funkadelic’s] George Clinton last year and he told me he’s a massive fan of the site. That blew me away — it was possibly one of the greatest moments in my life! Getting recognition from guys like George about what we do is what makes it all worthwhile. After all, if it wasn’t for what those guys did, there’s every chance I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”

So how do you guys make money?
“We have four different revenue streams, which is quite unusual for a music start-up. First up, of course, is advertising. The second one is commission on music sales. Obviously there’s no cost to the user, but if they buy on Amazon or iTunes through us, we get a cut of the sale. The third is our iPhone app, which doesn’t contain any ads and costs £2. So we’re connecting to our audience through there too. The fourth one is really interesting for us; meta-data licensing, which means we power music discovery on third party services. So, for example, we’ve just launched a project with Universal Music around the James Brown biopic, as obviously he’s one of the most sampled artists of all-time. So you can actually check out the movie’s site at getonupjamesbrown.com. So we provided all of the data, editorial and the concept for the website, so that was a really cool project to work on.”

Do you run into a lot of copyright issues?
“As we’re a fully legal service, it’s rarely an issue. The streams we show on the website come from licensed services like YouTube or Spotify. We are acutely aware that there are various legal question marks around sampling, and this is something we occasionally chat to artists about. But we are seeing a better understanding of sampling and realising that knowledge is the key to solving problems.

”How has being involved in the site influenced your own music tastes?
“I’ve certainly expanded my horizons and you just naturally pick up stuff that you didn’t know existed. Sometimes it’s very quirky, sometimes funny, and sometimes bizarre. On the whole, I just know so much more. And I think that can be said for anyone who uses our service.

Is there one sample that really blew your mind?
“Yeah, there’s one that really floored us. The opening to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ was lifted as a whole from a demo record for a Synclavier synth that came out a year before 'Thriller'. Obviously Quincy Jones and Jackson had one of these in the studio and it’s a well-known fact that they used the presets. A bit less known is that they used the structure from a demo vinyl the year before 'Thriller' came out! At this stage, however, because we’ve charted so much popular music, we very rarely get amazed by the new samples we find. But that demonstrates the lengths our contributors go to. Naturally there’s still information we’re missing from CD booklets, and we still add 1000 new tracks to the database every week. It’s a never-ending journey.

What do you see as the future of music technology?
“Well one thing we feel is missing from the digital age is the absence of liner notes in the booklets. I’m nearly 40, so people of my age, we grew up with the booklet and it was all part of the experience. It’s one thing to have an unlimited digital jukebox that costs £10 per month, but there’s nothing to flick through there! So we think we’re alleviating some of that problem with WhoSampled. But the rest of that experience, reviving all those liner notes, we’d love to bring that back to life. Watch this space!”

Keep up with WhoSampled at whosampled.com and on Twitter @whosampled

The WhoSampled app is now available on the App Store, the Android app and on Google Play