As an independent artist, releasing a good cover song can be a great way to grow your audience. Potential fans could be searching for their favorite classic hits and stumble upon your interpretation! Once you get someone hooked on a cover they already love, they will most likely want to hear more. Take the opportunity to build your fanbase.
The challenge that independent artists face is how to legally release a cover song on streaming platforms. It may seem complicated, but releasing a cover song on streaming sites is a lot easier than it seems. Here is everything you need to know about legally releasing a cover song on streaming platforms, made simple!
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1. Choose the perfect song and boost your visibility
Releasing a cover song isn’t necessarily about making money. It’s about boosting your visibility as an artist, gaining new fans, and sharing your influences. Emerging artists have an opportunity to reinterpret and cover songs that already have a devoted audience. Releasing a successful cover song can be a huge boost to your career!
When choosing a cover song, keep the following criteria in mind:
- Choose a song that fits with your musical universe
- Take a classic or popular song and reinterpret it in a different genre
- Turn a well-known full band song into an unplugged acoustic version
- Follow musical trends and listen to what other artists are covering
- Most of all, pick a song that has meaning to you
Once you have chosen the perfect cover song, it’s time to record your own interpretation of it! A cover song needs to stay true to the original by using the same lyrics, melody, and structure. You can take liberties with the style and adaption but make sure to keep these three elements the same. If you stray too far from the original, it is no longer considered a cover song. Different legal actions are required in this case. Also keep in mind that remixes or mash-ups are not considered cover songs and require different licensing as well.
2. How do I legally release a cover song on streaming platforms?
Thanks to an update made in 2021 to The Musical Works Modernization Act, it is now a lot easier to release a cover song on streaming platforms. The streaming platforms are in charge of making sure the original owners get their share of the royalties. In short, it is legal to release a cover song uniquely on streaming platforms without a mechanical license in all territories excluding the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, India & Pakistan. However, you need to acquire a mechanical license if you want to make your song available worldwide and on download platforms. A mechanical license is also required if there are going to be any physical copies made of your cover song, like on a CD or vinyl.
Before obtaining the mechanical license, you must first get the proper information on the ownership of the cover song. You can use a database like the one on SACEM or Songfile to find the original lyricist, composer, and publisher. You will need this information when filling out the metadata of your cover song through a digital distributor. Keep in mind that to legally release a cover song, you must keep the original title the same. Do not add the original artist’s name to the title or any other information.
3. How do I get a mechanical license and which digital distributor should I use?
If you want your cover song to be available in all territories and for download rather than just streaming, a mechanical license is required. Some music distributors get the license for you and others require you to use outside services. Here are the most popular digital distributors and how they function when it comes to getting a mechanical license.
- DistroKid: requires you to obtain the mechanical license through them directly. When uploading your music, you have the option to click on “Another artist wrote it”. DistroKid charges a fee of $12 per year to obtain the license and manage your release. They will then pay the original artists their share of the royalties every month.
- TuneCore: requires you to obtain the mechanical license through their partner company TuneLicensing or Songfile through the Harry Fox Agency.
- CD Baby: requires you to obtain the mechanical license and recommends using the service Easysong.
- Spinnup: does not require the mechanical license if you don’t distribute the song to the excluded territories or on download sites. If you want to distribute your music worldwide and on download sites, they recommend getting the mechanical license through Songfile or Easysong.
Out of the options above, DistroKid seems like the best way to go. Getting the mechanical license directly through them means that you don’t have to worry about using a third party service. It is definitely the simplest solution for releasing your cover song on streaming platforms!
4. How do I release my cover song on Youtube?
Youtube is full of videos of musicians playing cover songs. Is it legal to post a cover song on Youtube without obtaining permission from the original owner? Technically, no- it is not legal because you are infringing on the copyright of the work of another artist. You still need a mechanical license to reproduce and distribute the audio, in addition to a synchronization license. A synchronization license allows you to sync the audio to video images. You are probably asking yourself, did all of the indie artists posting cover songs on Youtube get these two licenses? The answer is, most likely, no.
Youtube has made it easier for artists to post covers by using a Content ID system. If your video contains copyrighted music, Youtube automatically claims the material on behalf of the publisher. The publisher or artist who owns the original song can then decide if they want the video taken down or not. Often, Youtube will place ads on cover videos to pay royalties to the original owner.
Though the Content ID system is certainly helpful, just know that if you don’t obtain both the mechanical and synchronization licenses, your video could be taken down. To obtain a synchronization license, you need to contact the publisher of the song and ask them for it. Some publishers will give out a synchronization license for free but most will charge a fee. If you don’t want to deal with contacting publishers directly, you can use the platform We Are The Hits who will get the sync license for you. If you get a sync license, you will be able to monetize your cover song video and keep a percentage of the profits for yourself!
5. How to collect royalties on cover songs?
If you have the mechanical license to release a cover song, you will be able to collect your share of royalties from its exploitation. You will not collect any publishing royalties because you did not compose the track and are technically renting the copyright, but you still own the master sound recording of your cover. This means you can still collect master royalties: sales income (if you are selling physical copies or digital downloads), streaming royalties from platforms like Spotify but also web radios like Pandora, and sync royalties if you’re song gets licensed to be in a TV show, movie, or commercial. Your music distributor will take care of giving the original composer and publisher their share of the royalties and then sending you your share of the royalties for what is generated from the master sound recording.
6. How can music industry professionals discover my cover song?
Now that you’ve figured out the legal aspects of releasing your cover song, it’s time to focus on promoting it! Recording a good cover can be a great way to show professionals in the industry your talent. If you recorded a live video session of the cover song, this is even better!
How can important players in the music industry discover my cover song? Through Groover: an innovative platform that connects independent artists directly with musical professionals. Artists can send their music to a wide variety of influencers and medias for the price of 2 Grooviz, or 2 euros. This could be a music label, a playlist, a concert booker, a manager, a radio show, a music blog, and more. The influencer then has 7 days to listen to the music and respond. If they are interested in your project, they will share it and usually follow up with you for potential opportunities. If they do not respond after 7 days, your Grooviz are returned to you. For a fair price, it is the best way to have your cover song heard by the right people and get guaranteed feedback!
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