Releasing cover songs, remixes and tracks which use samples is a great way to help your music reach new fans. However, it is important to make sure you are doing everything legally and above board when it comes to creating your own version of someone else’s intellectual property. First of all, you need to understand what exactly constitutes a cover, remix or sample. You should also know about the licenses that each requires before you release your music. In this article, we will look at remix, sample and cover song licensing so that you can use them correctly.
Cover songs or ‘covers’ are re-recorded versions of a song. In a cover, artists will replace the original vocals and instrumentation with their own. According to copyright law, cover songs cannot alter the underlying arrangement or melody.
In terms of cover song licensing, there is good news! If you are releasing a cover song in the UK, you don’t need to purchase any licenses. Unfortunately, for North American releases, a Mechanical License is required.
Remixes are tracks that use elements of an original recording but alter the melody, arrangement or the song.
So, can you sell remixes? Can you remix a song legally? Well, the short answer is that you can. However, wherever in the world you plan to release a remix, a Master Use License is required.
Samples are small elements of a track that have been altered, tweaked or looped to be used in a new song. For example, Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ samples Ray Charles’ ‘I Got A Woman’; and Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ samples Chic’s ‘Good Times’.
If you are planning to release a song that uses samples, you will need to get hold of both Master Use and Mechanical Licenses for worldwide distribution.
Wondering how to get a license to remix a song? Have you got a brilliant idea of how to sample a song, but aren’t sure how to go about it? Are you in North America and need to know where to go for cover song licensing?
There are a number of reputable companies from which you can buy the necessary Mechanical and Master Use Licenses. These include Harry Fox and Easy Song Licensing. Each licensing provider will offer different options and licenses. So, you may need to search around and make a few enquiries to find the one you need.
Generally, Master Use Licenses can be hard to acquire for certain original recordings. So, it is worth taking this into consideration before creating a track that requires one. This is especially true if you plan to sell your music on iTunes or streaming platforms.
Here are some of the various forms of copyright that artists need to be familiar with:
Copyright © – this covers the lyrics and melody of a song
Phonographic ℗ – this covers the audio recording
If you are releasing a cover, a remix, or are using samples in your tracks, there are certain precautions you must take to protect yourself from legal action.
This can vary depending on the track, but it will typically be the original songwriter, the publisher or the label. The owner can be found on dedicated databases such as BMI, US Copyright Office, Harry Fox, ASCAP, SongFile or SESAC. It is common practice for the copyright to be held by the publisher, and the phonographic copyright to be held by the label. If this is the case, then make sure to contact the publisher, not the label. Be aware that there may be multiple songs that share a name. Sounds simple but double-check that you are looking at the right song!
Once you have got the right song and copyright holder, send a letter of intent. Luckily, most companies that provide licenses include a service to do this on your behalf. To play it safe, you should check whether this service is actually offered. It is also advisable to acquire your licenses at least a month prior to the release of your own track.
Putting out remixes, covers and sampling popular music can be a great strategy for new audiences to hear your music. One advantage of releasing a cover, remix, or using a sample is that familiarity can make it more accessible and instantly recognisable to audiences. However, you mustn’t ignore the proper procedures for this type of release. The advice in this guide should provide you with the knowledge you need to enter this area without any issues.
We hope that our guide to remix, sample and cover song licensing has cleared up any questions you may have. It is always best to check the procedure and make sure that you follow correct legal procedure. For more information on rights, check out our article on music rights.
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