21 Aug Can I Record a Cover Song Whenever I Want, or Do I Need Copyright Permission?
Have you ever wanted to record a cover song and put it on the internet? If you are a singer or songwriter looking to gain more exposure, covering another artists’ song can be a great way to showcase your talents. But how do you cover someone else’s song without being sued for copyright infringement?
We’ve all been there. As songwriters, we all struggle for the attention we think we deserve. But as many of us have found, it can be difficult to gain the traction we hope for when releasing our own original music on the internet. Sometimes the best way to gain notoriety as a songwriter or performer, is to cover another artists’ work with your own unique perspective and voice. If you are ready to release some of your own cover songs, here are some helpful tips to ensure you don’t get sued.
Sound Recordings Vs. Composition – What is the difference?
There are two different properties to focus on: the sound recording (master) and the composition (the song itself). As the artist, if you have recorded your cover yourself then congratulations, you own the property called the sound recording. However, the copyright to the song still remains in the hands of the original copyright holder. In order to get permission to sell your version of the song, you need to obtain a mechanical license. Although it sounds like something a car repairman would use to fix the engine of 1990 Ford Taurus, this mind-blowing “mechanical license” can make all of your musical dreams come true.
Obtaining a mechanical license from a songwriter or their publisher gives you the permission to record, reproduce or make copies of the song.
Mechanical Royalties – How much does it cost to cover a song?
Every copy of the song sold, adds up. The established amount of money each copy sells for is called the mechanical royalty. The rate currently set by the Copyright Royalty Board is $0.091 (rates may change). Here is a breakdown: When you record a cover song, every time your recording sells/makes a profit, you owe the songwriter or publisher about 9 cents out of every dollar. You get notoriety, can still earn some profit yourself, and the original songwriter/publisher still gets paid as well. Everybody wins!
Ready to record a cover song? Here’s how to get started…
The Harry Fox Agency (recently acquired by SESAC) acts on behalf of publishers and songwriters, and administers music publishing rights. If you wish to cover a song and release it, head over to Harry Fox Agency to submit an application for a mechanical license.
If you don’t know who the publisher of a song or songwriter is, you can search the PRO’s (Performing Rights Organization) databases at ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC:
Lastly, if a song is in the public domain it does not need a mechanical license to cover. To see if a song is in the public domain you can search the database at the Public Domain Information Project.
Looking for even more useful info about recording cover songs? Check out our article “Why Make Cover Songs?“
Now that you know the basics, let the world hear your covers!