The digital era has opened numerous doors for artists to showcase their talent, and releasing cover songs is a great way to bring more exposure to your skills and your brand. However, as exciting as it may be to share your rendition of a popular track, it's crucial to understand the legalities involved in covering and streaming songs. This post aims to guide artists through the process of legally licensing and streaming cover songs.
Understanding Copyright Laws
First and foremost, it's important to grasp the basics of copyright law. The original creator of a song holds the copyright, which includes exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and perform the song. When you cover a song, you're essentially reproducing and performing someone else's copyrighted work, which requires permission.
Obtaining Mechanical Licenses
To legally release a cover song, you need a mechanical license. This license allows you to record and distribute your version of the song. In the U.S., mechanical licenses are typically obtained through agencies like The Harry Fox Agency (HFA), Music Reports Inc, Easysong.com, or through the song's publisher directly. These agencies handle the paperwork and ensure royalties are paid to the original songwriters and publishers.
Digital vs. Physical Releases
The process differs slightly for digital and physical releases. For digital releases (like streaming on Spotify or Apple Music), services often secure mechanical licenses on behalf of artists. However, for physical releases (like CDs or vinyl), you must obtain the license yourself.
Performance Rights and Streaming
Streaming a cover song live (like on YouTube, Twitch, or Facebook Live) involves performance rights. This is usually managed by the platform you're streaming on, as they typically have blanket licenses with Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the U.S. Always check the platform's policies to ensure compliance.
Sync Licensing for Videos
If you're creating a music video for your cover, you'll need a synchronization (sync) license in addition to a mechanical license. Sync licenses are obtained from the copyright holder and give you the right to sync their music with your video content. (Again, websites like easysong.com can facilitate this process.)
Royalty Payments and Reporting
When you stream or sell your cover song, you owe royalties to the original songwriter. Through your mechanical license, these royalties are typically calculated and distributed by the licensing agency. Ensure you report your sales and streams accurately to avoid legal complications.
Covering and streaming songs is a fantastic way for artists to connect with their audience and pay homage to their musical influences. By understanding and adhering to the legal aspects of licensing, you protect not only yourself but also respect the rights of the original creators.