E-Diggin Provides Greater Accessibility to Valuable Music and a Pivotal Link to the Art of Sampling
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
Simply put, “e-diggin'” is the process of diggin’ for music (source material) on the internet. In and of itself, that should not be seen as an inherently “bad” or “good” thing. Instead, it should be considered as a necessary component for many sample-based beatmakers. Fact is, vinyl records are simply not as accessible as they were, let’s say, 10 years ago. Therefore, diggin’ for source material online has become the only reality for some beatmakers. Moreover, it’s another legitimate means for finding/discovering new music (often rather quickly). This is why I strongly endorse e-diggin’.
There are, however, a number of beatmakers (some of them very notable) who view e-diggin’ as some sort of bad or inferior process. Inasmuch as e-diggin is, fundamentally, a means to searching for and finding new music, I don’t see how anyone can dislike it. In fact, it would appear to me that the basis of opposition towards e-diggin’ lies in the fact that it does not correspond with the nature and unwritten protocol of diggin’ for vinyl records. But let’s be clear here: Diggin’ for or possessing vinyl records doesn’t necessarily determine whether or not someone is going to be a dope beatmaker. On the contrary, knowledge, skill, and creativity—above all—determines that.
Therefore, the rants against e-diggin’ itself are actually off base. I have been diggin’ (consciously) for records for more than 15 years. As a result, I—like many diggers—am a de facto collector of vinyl records. However, I do not allow my slant as a collector of vinyl records to cloud or otherwise interfere with my interest in searching for and discovering “new” music, particularly those recordings that I would never be able to find in the rapidly dwindling number of vinyl record stores.
Spending hours upon end in record shops, flea markets, yard sales, Salvation Army branches, record exchanges, used book stores, and/or the basements, addicts, and storage spaces of friends and relatives—ALL of which I have done—does NOT equate to any superiority in the area of musicianship, nor does it necessarily make anyone more skilled at the art of sampling. Instead, it mostly equates to the desire for that particular process and experience. Furthermore, it is also simply a reflection of one’s “collector’s slant;” because the reality is this: Most beat diggers with large vinyl record collections will most likely never sample even 25% of their total collection. Indeed, there are many (like myself) who have upwards of 2,000 or more vinyl records that they have never sampled. In fact, I can assure you, out of my own 3,000+ vinyl record collection, I have yet to sample anything from 2,500 of those. And if those who tout 10,000 and 20,000 vinyl record collections really have sampled even 15% of those records, then it stands to reason that there should have been a much larger number of classic sample-based beats in use, over the past three decades.
Furthermore, as I state in my book, The BeatTips Manual, “technology serves at the command of the one who uses it. That is, technology is to be used in the manner that each individual deems that it can be used…The goal of technology is to facilitate and make easier those fundamental things that we have always done.” Thus, it should follow that the discovery of music itself trumps any one method (or tradition) of discovery. It matters less how I came to discover “new” music; as long as I discover it, I’m fortunate. After all, I can’t flip something that I can’t hear. And I can’t hear something that I don’t have access to. And whether I prefer to handle vinyl in my hands or stream a cut on YouTube, I still can’t ignore the fact that e-diggin’ gives me much more access to “new” music than diggin’ for vinyl records ever did (or ever could). I also can’t ignore the fact that the e-diggin’ search process generates—on a whole—way more suggestions for similar findings than any cross-credits referencing I’ve done reading the credits or liner notes of vinyl records that I’ve acquired.
Still, I certainly do recognize that there is a “difference” between diggin’ for vinyl records and e-diggin’. There are some nuances that come with sampling a vinyl record; perhaps most notably the sound quality of a vinyl record; or the sort of “connection” to a musical past that a vinyl record can offer; or the “connection” to the traditional method of sampling in the beatmaking tradition. But that being said, the notion that someone is “lazy” or somehow “uncreative,” or that someone is doing it (sampling) “wrong,” merely because they use source material (music) that they’ve found (discovered) online rather than a vinyl record that they’ve acquired from a record shop or another place where vinyl records are typically sold, is ridiculous and completely out of tune with the realities of the day.
In most cases these days, e-diggin’ is the only choice for would-be samplers; it’s the only way many people have access to valuable music of eras gone past. And accessibility to the music (source material) that is to be sampled has always been a key factor of the art of sampling. Thus, because samplers have always been distinguished not only by their skill but by what they actually sample, it should be understood that samplers are also often distinguished by the music (source material) that they actually have access to.
But because of the limited accessibility of vinyl records, the playing field for sampling has been largely uneven. For years, those who lived in or near hot-spot centers for vinyl records, that is to say, major cities and towns that contain a healthy supply of vinyl record stores and the like, have had an advantage of access over those who did not live in those centers. But e-diggin’ virtually makes an indefinite number of hot-spot centers available to anyone with a working internet connection. In this way, e-diggin’ has scuttled the advantage of access that some samplers previously held. Through this new level of access to the same music most privileged by veteran vinyl diggers, e-diggin’ has leveled the playing field for sample-based beatmakers. Moreover, because of the scarcity of vinyl record shops and the like, e-diggin’ is providing a pivotal link to the sampling tradition; a link, I must add, that many people might not otherwise be so fortunate to enjoy.
Finally, any capture method—whether it be through the vinyl diggin’ or e-diggin’ process—that adheres to the fundamental tenets of the art of sampling, while also bringing to light the elements of valuable music from eras gone past, should be embraced, not spurned. Beyond that, we should remember that no one judges sample-based beats according to the original audio format of the music (source material) that was sampled. Besides, there’s no way for anyone, other than the sampler who sampled the source material, to be absolutely certain what audio format was actually sampled. One can just as easily say that they sampled a piece of music from a vinyl record, when in fact, they sampled it from a source online. Who’s to know either way?
But the truth of judgment remains: The basis for how we judge sample-based beats is pretty much the same for how we judge any style of beat. That is to say, our personal tastes; the level of quality of a beat; and the beat’s cohesion with the lyricist, are all main factors that determine how we rate a beat. Therefore, if e-diggin’ plays any role in the creation of a beat that suits our taste and measures up to our individual and collective perceptions of quality, well, then we have no choice but to support it.
Editor’s Note. In keeping with my support of e-diggin, I have created DiggersGoldmine.com, a website, like BeatTips.com, that is dedicated to music education, research, and scholarship, but also focused on the facilitation of e-diggin as well.
—Amir “Sa’id” Said,
Author of The BeatTips Manual