Recording a cover version of a song and shooting a video for it could help get you quick recognition in a crowded marketplace, especially if you’re an unknown artist. However, if you do not get proper authorization to cover a song and/or publish a music video for it, you could find yourself in deep trouble.
Anyone can do a cover of someone else’s song, without their permission, as long as the right licenses are acquired and associated royalty fees are paid. This kind of authorization is easily accessible to anyone who wants to do a cover song, but any misstep can come back to haunt you in the future.
Here’s how to go about licensing a cover song for a music video, ensuring you don’t step on any toes and saving you unwanted embarrassment.
Step 1: Get a Mechanical License for Song Distribution
So you’ve gone ahead and recorded a cover of another song and you want the world to hear your version. You want to distribute it on an appropriate platform to get the kind of exposure you’re looking for, such as on SoundCloud. Getting a mechanical license can help make that possible. This is the easiest part of the process of acquiring the rights for a cover song and the first thing you should do. Acquiring a mechanical license gives you the power to distribute your cover, whether you’re going to be selling it or have people download it for free.
There are a few online portals that can help you get a hold of one of these licenses for a reasonable cost. Among them include the Harry Fox website and the Lime Light website. These sites are well-known within the music fraternity for providing appropriate mechanical licenses for cover songs. You can also pay the statutory royalty fee via these websites. This fee is actually calculated based on the estimated number of sales or downloads of the song.
Step 2: Acquire a Synch License
Your ability to distribute your cover song by way of the mechanical license does not give you the authority to create and publish it to YouTube or any other video-sharing site. You see, the license that covers the words of a song is entirely different from a synch license, which gives you the permission to pair visuals, such as a recorded or live public video with that song.
Getting a synch license is not as easy as the mechanical type, which just requires you to go to a website. You have to get in touch with the copyright holder(s) of the song and let them know your intentions to cover their song (if you haven’t done it as yet), and how and where you plan to use it. Contacting a license holder can come in different forms, with the most popular way being to send an email. Your request for a synch license will need to be detailed, outlining the usage of the video for their song. Depending on what your plans are, they can demand any information from you about the video, such as the cost of your music video, whether it will be available for download etc.
Step 3: Enjoy
Now that you’ve acquired the appropriate licenses, you are free to distribute your video but it has to be within any parameters outlined by the copyright holder. For example, they may grant you permission to record and distribute the video on YouTube, providing you’re not a business, or may ask that you provide them with a link to view the video.
Licensing a cover song for a music video can be a bit tedious but may be well worth it if you get the attention you were looking for based on using someone else’s already popular work.