Business Interviews Digital The Great Escape 2014

Q&A: James Hamlin, WhoSampled

By | Published on Tuesday 15 April 2014

James Hamlin

This year’s CMU Insights-programmed Great Escape Convention features an exciting new mini-conference called Blueprint, a day of talks, debates and collaborations for people building and executing creative products and ideas in and around technology. It’s all about how the music, creative and tech communities can better work together to create exciting new products, services and content.

At the heart of Blueprint will be the first ever Samplethon, presented by WhoSampled and Boosey & Hawkes. A team of producers will be given access to a rich pool of samples from B&H’s music library, and will then get about creating great new music there and then in the middle of Brighton’s Old Ship hotel. To find out more about it all, CMU Business Editor and Great Escape Convention Programmer Chris Cooke threw some questions at WhoSampled’s James Hamlin.

Blueprint takes place on Saturday 10 May at the Old Ship Hotel. The event is open to all Great Escape delegates, plus standalone tickets are available for the mini-conference for just £30. 

CC: Give us a quick lowdown on how the Samplethon will work.
JH: For the first time we’ll be bringing together a group of music producers and catalogue rights holders together under one roof during a timed event to collaborate on new sample-based tracks. Using a set of curated material from the Boosey & Hawkes music library, 20 producers will be going against the clock to create new works, completely free from any legal restrictions, under the mentorship of a group of esteemed music makers.

CC: Where did the idea for the event come from?
JH: The idea came from the success of the various hackathons that take place around the world, where APIs are provided by tech businesses to armies of developers for them to create interesting new projects. We wanted to create “a hackathon for music” – that is to say for music creators, not music tech developers – and thought that applying this to sampling would be the perfect fit, by providing a bridge between the music rights holders and the producers, and allowing access to pre-cleared music, just like APIs. The removal of any legal shackles from sample-based music unlocks its creativity and holds the potential to add substantial new value to both the producers as well as the rights holders.

CC: How are you selecting the producers who will take part?
JH: From the applications we are receiving we’ll be looking at the producers’ backgrounds and recent output, to gather a good mix of participants in terms of the styles of music they create and their experience in making sample-based tracks. We’ll also have some esteemed mentors participating on the day to provide advice and direction, and hope to promote some very interesting collaborations.

CC: You mentioned the music library the producers will be able to tap for samples, tell us more about that.
JH: The source material for the first Samplethon is provided by the famous music library of world reknowned publisher Boosey & Hawkes. This library material is an untapped goldmine of incredible sample material recorded by world class musicians, typically from the 60s through to the early 80s. The material being offered on the day was curated from the thousands of available tracks in the library during a lengthy digging session at the physical Boosey & Hawkes underground archive of vinyl records, buried underneath central London. The records were picked by producers Mr Thing, Johnny Cuba from SoundSci, My Panda Shall Fly, Boean and Chris Read.

CC: How will the remixes created via the Samplethon be showcased?
JH: The winning tracks will be put forward for inclusion in a forthcoming release alongside tracks created by established producers, all to go on to form part of the prestigious Boosey & Hawkes music library. The winning tracks will also be presented via the WhoSampled website and mobile app, and put in front of our large audience of sample-based music fans.

CC: Ah yes, WhoSampled. For the uninitiated, tell us what that’s all about.
JH: WhoSampled is the world’s largest database documenting sampled music, cover versions and remixes. We break down the DNA of music by outlining the musical connections between the music of the past and the music of now. We allow our users to dig deeper into the music they love by discovering the influences of their favourite artists, dating back 1000 years.

CC: When was the business created?
JH: WhoSampled was founded by CEO Nadav Poraz in 2008 as a website. Our iPhone app was launched in 2012 and was selected by Apple as one of its ‘Best Of Year’ – the only music discovery app to have been selected that year. And from 2012 onwards we’ve also been powering music discovery on other services, including Blue Note’s apps, Universal Music’s uDiscover Spotify app and SoundHound. Our website now sees over a million monthly visitors, and it keeps growing.

CC: You have a big team of moderators overseeing the WhoSampled database, how were they recruited?
JH: It all happened organically – our moderators are people from around the globe who want to get involved and help grow our database. We have over 10,000 content contributors, and some of them want to contribute further by helping us to moderate our huge database, which is no easy task. Whoever proves to be up to the required standard is very welcome to join the moderation team.

CC: Blueprint is all about better collaboration between the creative, content and tech communities – what collaborations have been key to your business?
JH: There has been so many. One of the greatest things about WhoSampled is the incredible response we’ve elicited since launch. WhoSampled’s mission is about making the awareness of sampled music bigger and making sure its importance within modern music is always recognised and appreciated. We collaborate with other music services and technology providers as well as artists and rights holders to create new experiences and solutions in an area of music that is absolutely fundamental in the 21st Century.

CC: How do you think the creative, content and tech communities could better work together?
JH: It’s about getting all those forces to work collaboratively to secure a healthy and prosperous future for the music industry. Using the Samplethon example, if we could continue to look at needs and opportunities that exist out there, connect the dots and apply our strengths towards a common goal we can achieve great things. By focusing on what each of these areas can deliver, it’s possible to achieve some fantastic, valuable results – and that’s our real hope for Samplethon.