Why Make Cover Songs?

Cover songs aren’t just for karaoke. Covering a famous or even an unknown song by a famous artist is one of the secret tools of the music industry. If you are a singer or performing artist looking to boost your exposure, recording a cover song may just be the perfect way to gain more fans. Hook them with a great cover song, and they may just become fans of your original work too.

What is a song cover good for?

Many people in the music industry believe that recording a cover song is an efficient way to promote an artist, whether it is because you would rank more competitively in search results with a hit title, or because performing a cover song can make audiences resonate with you more easily. Releasing your own cover song, even on youtube, isn’t as simple as just making the music and uploading it to the internet. There are some important legal issues to consider. Here are some helpful steps to learn how you can legally record and perform a cover song, without getting hit with unwanted copyright notices on your YouTube channel, etc.

What is a cover song? Demo My Song
Cayman Ilika performs Adele's, "Hello" on the rooftop of Sear Sound in NYC.

Step 1: Know what type of license you need.

Getting hip to the music industry lingo is half the battle to understanding how to go about understanding whatever license you will need to release your cover song. Here’s a breakdown of the licenses you will likely want to obtain.

Mechanical License

If you want to record a cover song and make it accessible to your fans online, you need to secure a mechanical license for the song.

Reprint License

If you plan to distribute a physical album with liner notes, a reprint license is required as well to allow you to include the printed lyrics inside.

Sync License

When you wish to shoot a music video for a cover song, a synchronization (“synch”) license is necessary. Of course, if it’s a live performance to film, getting a public performance license is required too.

Still confused about “Mechanical License” and “Sync License”? Check out our older blog post:

Step 2: Submit your cover songs licensing request.

Usually, there are two channels to submit your licensing requests. One is to directly contact the copyright holder/music publisher and try to get the permission yourself. Or you can find a company that provides cover song licensing. Based on our experience, we would recommend the second method to secure your mechanical license. It’s usually pretty affordable and you can leave the details to those who know what they are doing. HFA (Harry Fox Agency) has long been a trusted source for obtaining a mechanical license. They recently released a service called Songfile. I haven’t used it yet but it looks to be a promising, simple solution for those seeking a mechanical license. http://www.songfile.com/ There are other competing services that also offer mechanical licensing. Having not tried them, we can’t vouch for their street cred. By google searching “get a mechanical license” you will be able to find other services. Have you used Songfile or other services for getting a mechanical license? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. Leave a comment below.

Step 3: Create a YouTube cover song video legally.

As we mentioned in Step 1, if you plan to shoot a video for any performance of a cover song and share it on YouTube, you should get a sync license before creating this video. Perhaps, you would ask “can we get the sync license by just contacting any of those companies able to help with that on behalf of us?” Our answer is it may not be a wise choice especially for an indie artist without sufficient financial support. They usually charge you a lot if you do need the sync license service, let alone there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to close the deal; even if they finally make it, you will be facing a huge bill proposed by the copyright holder. Needless to say, the cover song we usually choose is a big hit, and the bill does make a lot of sense. However… no worries! YouTube already gives you a roundabout route to upload your cover songs video successfully. Many copyright holders and music publishers know that YouTube is an excellent platform for a song to be exposed more widely by allowing an indie artist or fans to share more versions of the song. For another thing, many right-holders opt for the monetization option that YouTube offers – Ads revenue.

So the good news for you is that many copyright holders have made agreements with YouTube that allow their songs to be used in exchange for the ad revenue generated on YouTube. In other words, if the right holder for the cover song you chose has signed the agreement with YouTube, you can directly upload your covers to it with nothing to worry about. What’s more, YouTube has opened the dataset for you to search all the hit songs that shared their opt-in policy about how you can use their songs on YouTube.

To learn more details, check out:  How do I get permission to use someone else’s content in my video? https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2797449

View usage restrictions on claimed music: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6364458

Bonus Tips: What are some good songs to cover?

Start with something you really love. If you are feeling ambitious find a song by one of your favorite artists and try putting your own spin on it. Focus especially on finding songs that highlight your vocal abilities. Don’t forget you can always adjust the key to wherever you “money spot” is.

If you want to shoot a video for your cover song as well, no matter how simple the video might be, type in the song title first at: https://www.youtube.com/music_policies to see if it that title is allowed under YouTube’s standard license agreement.

Have you ever posted a cover song on YouTube or elsewhere? We’d love to hear about your experience. Please log-in and post a comment below.

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