Cover songs are a way of helping singers to build an audience however you may require a mechanical license in some situations. It is important to recognise the laws surrounding cover songs before you start covering over artists.
You have to get a mechanical license from the original writer or publisher in order to record and release cover songs. But, musicians do not have to get a mechanical license to cover a song live, as this is down to the responsibility of the venue.
What Is A Cover Song?
You are probably wondering how to release a cover song. But first, you need to know that one is. A cover song is known as a performance/recording of an existing song that is performed by someone that isn’t the original artist. You shouldn’t need permission when covering a song live. Performances in the UK are protected by a venue’s PRS license however cover songs do need their own license. You can gain permission from the rightsholder through MCPS. Copyright is credited to the original songwriter when a song is written or recorded, as long as there is tangible evidence.
What Is A Mechanical License?
New recordings of songs that are already existing need cover song licensing. If you want to record your own version of a cover song and release it, you will need what is known as a ‘mechanical license’ which is the right to make copies of the song’s musical composition such as the lyrics and notes. If you want to release a cover version and get it distributed it is possible. You just need to make sure you register the song with the performing rights society as your version with the original songwriters attributed.
The original owner of a song has the right to regulate who makes the first record. They don’t have to grant a mechanical license when there is no previous recorded version of a song. If a song isn’t commercially released as a record then you won’t be able to get a compulsory mechanical license. The mechanical license is only for a recording. This means that the mechanical license doesn’t cover music videos or performance videos of the cover. You also won’t be able to make any significant changes to the lyrics or melody however there is scope to make your own interpretations of the performance.
Cover Song Copyright Law In The UK
Cover song licensing laws are also known as Copyright laws are in place to protect the original artist, so they gain the recognition they deserve as well as payment for their creative property.
There are two types of copyright: One for a specific recording and another for protecting the underlying lyrics and musical composition. The cover song licensing can be held by different people. Copyright for a particular recording is held by the producer of that sound recording and the rights to the underlying song will be in the hands of the songwriter, or publisher.
How To Release A Cover Song
Social media and music publishing platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube have seen an increase in cover song licensing requests, with artists wanting permission to cover the songs they want to release. Some artists gain popularity by gaining exposure through publishing cover songs in order to help them be discovered. It can lead to legal complications so you need to understand, how do I release a cover song legally?
Here are some simple steps for cover song licencing:
1. Gain cover song licencing which allows you to record and release the original composition
2. Gain an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) to determine your cover version from any others
3. Ensure you are set up to gain performance royalties
Music In The Public Domain
Many artists sign away their master rights to a record label, either for a set time or the length of the copyright (which is currently 70 years after you die). The label will then offer the artist an advance payment on future royalties, which is recouped over the period of the contract. If you want to cover a song in the Public Domain, you won’t need a license to use it. You should always check if you suspect the song you wish to use is in the public domain but keep in mind a song may have more than one creator, so it only enters the public domain seventy years after the death of the last original creator.
How Do I Release A Cover Song Legally?
Reinventing an existing song in your own style is lots of fun and can be a significant career move. But, you need to comply with all the cover song licensing procedures.
Although live performances do not require cover song licensing as this is down to the responsibility of the venue. YouTube cover songs are usually sorted by their content ID system. Usually, other uses for copyrighted music including cover songs on an album do require more work to ensure you are distributing songs legally. To be on the safe side, you should get cover song licensing in play prior to working on any cover material. This will save you a lot of time and stress in the long run, especially if you run into copyright complications.
If you want to use copyrighted material for audio recordings such as digital streams, ensure you get a mechanical license in place. If by chance you want to use copyrighted songs in a video, then you will require a synchronisation license.
In summary, plenty of artists begin their careers by putting out cover songs, especially since the rise of reality music shows and YouTube channels. Covering songs is a great way to get you noticed within the music industry and to discover your own style before putting out original tracks. Make sure you have the correct cover song licensing and mechanical license in place.
If you are searching for a producer for your cover. Music Gateway is here to help. We can offer representation for cover versions, plus if you want to promote a cover version check out our music promotion page.