Too much to say here!
For all you want to know, visit our FAQ: TuneCore: FAQ
But just in case you want to read it right here, take a peek!
Cover songs involve "publishing." Publishing issues can be complex. Here is a quick background on how it works in the United States. Laws vary from country to country. NOTE: Please don't take this as legal advice.
Just like your computer or your car is your property; a song is property. It's a particular kind of property: "intellectual property." Just as you have a right to determine who uses your property, the owner of a song also has rights. So, you must get the right to use the song from the owner.
The particular right you need is the right to make copies of the song: the "copyright." Only the owner of the song has the right to make copies or to grant the right to others to make copies. So you need to get permission to copy the song. You get that permission by getting a license, just as a driver's license gives you permission to drive. In some cases, song writers and owners of songs do not take care of their own songs. They turn to someone else to deal with giving permission and doing all of the administrative stuff. This person or company is called a music publisher.
In either case, you must contact the publisher of the song in order to get the license. The license is called a "mechanical license." The mechanical license gives you permission to mechanically reproduce (copy) the song. Of course, in this case the song is being reproduced digitally, but it's the same principle: every time someone downloads the song, a copy is being made. And for every copy that is made, the owner or publisher must be paid. Remember, the publisher is simply someone taking care of the song for the owner. The amount of payment is established by the United States government under copyright law. The amount being paid is called the "statutory rate." Statutory is a fancy word meaning required by law. The current statutory rate the song owner or publisher must be paid is 9.1 cents per copy (going up in January of 2008, watch out!). So every time the song sells, you owe the owner or publisher 9.1 cents. This rate, you will discover, will be written in the mechanical license.
In addition, instead of getting a mechanical license from the publisher or song owner, you could make use of a provision in the copyright law called a "Compulsory License." However, there are so many requirements for both notifying the copyright owner and accounting to the copyright owner or publisher for sales of his song, it is not recommended that you try this method. The best and easiest way to get a mechanical license is from the owner or the publisher directly.
For example, let's take Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton wrote a song called "I Will Always Love You." Whitney Houston sang it and Sony Records released it. The song went on to sell 14 million copies on a CD single. For each copy made by Sony, Sony had to pay the owner of the song the statutory mechanical royalty dictated by the US Government. Multiply 14,000,000 times the mechanical royalty rate and you can see Dolly Parton was a very happy lady.
Some people in the U.S. talk a lot about a company called the Harry Fox Agency. What is the Harry Fox Agency? The Harry Fox Agency is just a company that gets hired by the people that own the rights to the song. The Harry Fox Agency now gets to deal with the administration. Harry Fox gets the license signed and sent back to them (which means a ton of paper work) and then they run around trying to find anyone that has used their clients' song and collect the money owed to their clients. In return, the Harry Fox agency takes a percentage of the money owed to their clients. This is called an "Administration Deal" as the Harry Fox Agency administers the licenses and collects the money on behalf of its clients.
The Harry Fox Agency does represent tens of thousands of people, but not everyone. For example, TuneCore founder Jeff Price has run spinART Records for the past 15 years and released bands like The Pixies. The creator of the songs for the Pixies (one of the band members) did not hire the Harry Fox agency. Neither did the songwriter(s) for the Apples In Stereo, The Dears, Michael Penn, Kaito, Clem Snide or many others. So, if you want to "cover" a song, the Harry Fox Agency may or may not be the place to go to get the license and pay.
YOU HAVE TO FIND THE SONG OWNER
You need to discover who owns the song. Setting this up takes a little one time work, but after that, you're good to go. How are you supposed to figure out who to pay? That's a very good quesiton. Places like BMI - BMI's site, or ASCAP - ASCAP's site, can you help you discover who wrote the song and who to contact to pay on their behalf.
TuneCore is also happy to report the Harry Fox Agency has recently launched a new site called "SONGFILE," for full download mechanical licensing for covers. It is a tool for artists and labels who need limited quantity physical and/or full download (also called DPD) licenses. It can be found at www.songfile.com
. This service is unconnected to TuneCore, but may prove a valuable resource for our clients.
Harry Fox has also posted a new Digital Licensing FAQ which you may find useful.
Note: ASCAP and BMI are public performance societies, not publishing companies--but that is another ball of wax.