Grammy-Winning Songwriter Luke Laird On Sampling In Country Music

 Grammy-Winning Songwriter Luke Laird On Sampling In Country Music

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A white man with glasses and a black hoodie, sitting in a music studio.

Nashville producer Luke Laird hopes to inspire new songwriters with the samples in his Splice pack.

Courtesy of IVPR

Sam Hunt’s “Hard to Forget,” the fourth single from his sophomore studio album Southside, opens with a sample from Webb Pierce’s 1953 honky-tonk hit “There Stands the Glass.” It first sounds as if the tape is spinning a bit too quickly. Then, upon the second verse, a vaguely reggaeton beatboxing loop cuts into Pierce’s vocal, splicing the old song into a dance beat. 

Sampling was popularized by hip hop producers using funk and soul tapes in the 1980s, but this production technique is uncommon on country radio. But Hunt’s single, which retools a classic country hit, reached number one on Billboard’s US Country Airplay chart. According to Rolling Stone, “Hard to Forget” may set a trend, inciting more sampled master recordings in country music. 

This trendsetting is thanks to Luke Laird, a songwriter and producer on the track. He’s well-known in Nashville, with credits on 24 number-one country songs and two Grammy awards. Laird was a teenager in the nineties, and loved the sampling techniques he heard on hip hop radio stations. (In a very-nineties fashion, he also became an avid beatboxer. His two young sons, ages 5 and 7, now beatbox alongside him.) 

After hearing “There Stands the Glass” over breakfast, Laird recorded a voice memo in a parking lot of himself, beatboxing over Pierce’s melody. This voice memo inspired the opening of Hunt’s hit song. 

“I didn’t understand production [in the nineties], but in retrospect, what I liked about the hip hop of that era were the samples,” says Laird. “I was attracted to that gritty sound, the collages they would make on their records. They were taking sounds from all these different places and making something that sounds unique.”

Ultimately, what attracted Laird about sample-based production was the ability for musicians to collaborate across generations, riff off of each other’s creations. This is why he chose to create a sample pack for Splice, a subscription service that allows users to download royalty-free samples from producers, artists, and sound designers. For less than the price of a Netflix subscription, anyone with a computer can access Splice’s library of samples. The service also offers payment plans for music production software, a blog with educational materials, and “producer challenges,” making legal tools and communities more accessible to young music producers. 

“There have been a lot of kids who, in the past, would not have had the opportunity due to their financial constraints,” says Laird. “Now, if you have creativity, the playing field has been leveled.” 

Laird’s pack includes 70 loops and 13 samples, spanning guitar, bass, drums, keys, and vocals. He initially recorded some of them on his phone or four-track cassette recorder, drawn to the classic lo-fi sound.

Initially, some well-known producers balked at the notion that they’d share their creations, however brief, on sample libraries such as Splice. But Laird believes that it isn’t necessarily the beat that makes a song — it’s what the writer creates with that beat. 

“This is just sharing a toolkit — you’re not putting your brain in someone else’s body,” Laird says. “We’re all using the same chords, we have been in every pop song since the Beatles. But it’s all about how you put the chords together, and the words you write with them.”

Plus, Laird uses Splice himself, when searching for inspiration. He wanted to contribute to a collaborative ecosystem of creative people that he benefits from. 

“I’ve always been someone who’s open to showing anyone how I do anything. There are no secret tricks in my bag,” Laird says. And he’s still learning from both his peers and young people entering the industry. He recently enrolled in an online songwriting class hosted by Ryan Tedder, a triple-Grammy winner and member of OneRepublic. “I watch kids’ YouTube videos, and think, how are they doing that? I thought it would be cool to be part of that creative process.” 

This is the trajectory of the music industry in the internet age. “Sharing” on internet platforms allows for the continuous reconstruction and interpretation of any piece of creative work, eventually yielding TikTok mash-ups of Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion’s “WAP” with every song under the sun. And when much of the industry is in financial turmoil, creators like Laird are reconnecting with what is important about their jobs: the ability to make art and inspire one another.