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Launched in April 2018, Tracklib is the world's first and only music service that enables music creators to discover, sample, and license original recordings. It solves a problem that has been plaguing producers, DJs, artists, and others since the rise of sampling in hip-hop and dance music over 30 years ...

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James Paasche

How Swedish Startup Tracklib Has Transformed Sampling and Solved the Toughest Licensing Problem in Music

Tracklib has solved one of the music business’ biggest licensing challenges: samples. The backbone of several key, commercially successful musical styles, samples often prove next to impossible to clear with the original recordings’ rights holders--if the right parties can be located. Even when rights holders are open to a deal, the negotiations can drag on for months or years and can result in an impasse and in unreleased potential hits. Artists, producers, and their fans often turn desperately to social media, begging someone, anyone to help them, only to hear crickets.

Tracklib CEO Par Almqvist took this pivotal problem on, diving blithely into an epic struggle to win over a skeptical industry. It started the way most crazy adventures do, with a chat between friends. Almqvist was talking to producer and artist Eric Amarillo, one half of the Swedish house duo The Attic and Tracklib co-founder. Amarillo mentioned how many people wanted to sample his music and how he wished there was a platform that gave instant permission to sample legally, without all the endless back-and-forth traditional licensing negotiations require. Almqvist suggested they build one.

Little did he suspect that it would take five years to bring that cool idea to fruition. Almqvist was used to tough challenges and liked them; he had been a driving force in bringing distributed solar power, and thus electricity, to villages across India. “I often joke that if you’ve been able to bring distributed power to rural India, you just might be ready for a music licensing-based project,” laughs Almqvist.

Almqvist and his team developed a sample licensing model that is refreshingly simple and intuitive. Unlike the opaque and unpredictable negotiations in traditional sampling deals, Tracklib offers licenses by song category (which determines license pricing). Of the three song categories, 90% of Tracklib’s repertoire falls into the least expensive category ($50/license). Rights holders are also given a share of the new track’s revenues, depending on the length of the sample. The best part: Once a user picks a track and pays the appropriate fee, they have the license and can get sampling immediately. Tracklib even offers guidance about how to register the results with a local PRO.

The approach has been embraced by the producer and artist community as an antidote to years of sample licensing-induced misery. Producers like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Zaytoven, and Erick Sermon have supported Tracklib and its growing community of users. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment all my life,” enthuses producer and musical mastermind Questlove. “Someone sees it!”

Artists weren’t the only ones who needed to see the value. Other important stakeholders, especially publishers and labels, had to get on board. As Tracklib brought independent publishers and labels’ catalog into its system, however, Tracklib got big enough and popular enough to persuade industry skeptics and heavyweights. “This will change the music industry in more ways than anyone could ever imagine,” Tom Silverman, Tracklib partner and founder of Tommy Boy Records, states.

The complexity of the licensing and royalties landscape made persuasion necessary. The dual copyrights related to each recorded work, the entrenched and glacial systems that manage them, the intense distrust of digital formats and sampling meant Tracklib had a series of deep-seated challenges to tackle. Almqvist and his team knew they needed all their licensing ducks in a row before opening the service to the public. “We are probably the only music service ever that was fully licensed at launch,” says Almqvist proudly.

To clear that bar required a whole new way of dealing with one of the thorniest issues in music today: cleaning and matching data to ensure proper royalty payouts. “We assume that the data we’re getting from publishers and labels may be incorrect as a matter of course,” explains Almqvist. “We’ve made it our standard practice to double and triple-check against various databases, as well as conducting our own research, to be absolutely sure.” In a world where everyone everywhere listens to (and sample everything), where a decades-old recording of a Soviet chorus or rare Chinese folk song can make it into a viral rap hit as a sample, this data sleuthing and cross-checking has vital importance. Tracklib has developed proprietary systems and technology to accomplish this because “everything else out there left something to be desired,” notes Almqvist.

Tracklib is the revolutionary response to the automation of sample clearances with their brilliant digital crate of music to dig through, making sampling easier, more accessible and affordable, enthuses Deborah Mannis-Gardner, licensing expert, who’s cleared samples for Drake, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar (among many others), and Tracklib partner. “It’s one-stop shopping for samples: Buy it! License it ! Release it!”