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Releasing cover songs - any hard n' fast rules, or is everything negotiated? Studio Headphones
Old 11th August 2008
  #1
Releasing cover songs - any hard n' fast rules, or is everything negotiated?

If you do everything "properly" as it were, what's involved? What is the cost?

In "All You Need To Know About The Music Business" I found some parts about this confusing, mentioning "flat royalty rates" across the board.. I'm sure I've misinterpreted something.

Can the original publisher deny you to do a cover of their song (something that's previously released)?

Is there an upfront cost, as well as the backend?

Any definitive articles/books, and especially input here would be great!

One of the songs is big (Bacharach/David) and the other not so big. Wondering what's going to be involved to do it legitimately.

Btw, I'm well aware of the "under the radar" way of doing things... that's not really the answer I'm looking for, so no need to reply if that's your input.

Thanks folks!
Old 11th August 2008
  #2
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Ol' Betsey's Avatar
I may be wrong but I think that as long as you don't change the words you can record any song that you like.

I also think that it has to have been recorded once previously, by an elected performer, or else someone could steal your, or someone elses, hit song before you have a chance to get rich.

And again, I think because of the blanket agreements between the collection agencies and publishers you don't even have to pay, or even get permission for that matter, to record or release the song but you DO have to pay the mechanical license, which is automatically granted (at least it is over here in the UK) but still needs to be taken care of.

You shouldn't have any problem at all with a Bacharach song, that's for sure.

In fact, I was worried because one of my albums had a cover version on it and I got all stressed about paying for the mechanical licenses etc when I put it up on iTunes so I called the PRS/MCPS (UK collection society) and they said iTunes pays the mechanicals directly and that I didn't have to worry about dealing with anything. Not a single thing. No paperwork. No Nuthin'.

Cool, huh?

Have fun!

R.
Old 11th August 2008
  #3
Lives for gear
Oooh good thread -
What about a Carpenters song?
Would that be a similar situation?
Old 12th August 2008
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ol' Betsey View Post
I may be wrong but I think that as long as you don't change the words you can record any song that you like.

I also think that it has to have been recorded once previously, by an elected performer, or else someone could steal your, or someone elses, hit song before you have a chance to get rich.

And again, I think because of the blanket agreements between the collection agencies and publishers you don't even have to pay, or even get permission for that matter, to record or release the song but you DO have to pay the mechanical license, which is automatically granted (at least it is over here in the UK) but still needs to be taken care of.
Why would I need a mechanical license -- doesn't that refer to a recording? (you need a mechanical license when you sample something)

Yes, I've read in All You Need To Know About the Music Biz (Donald S. Passman) that you are exactly right about it being previously recorded by an elected artist.

I'm still iffy/unclear:

If I cover the Bacharach song (not me personally, I'm producing it, different singer) and it goes over well on radio (local, but Commercial!) and I'm selling albums independently... is it all good because my PRO will be sending performance Royalties to Burt??

I wonder who I need to talk to (in Canada specifically) to legitimately cover a song... on paper, that is
Old 12th August 2008
  #5
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If you record anyones music, and make copies/distrbute it you HAVE to pay a mechanical. Mechanical simply means you owe set price, determined ahead of time based off of length of song per copy made, Not sold, made. Not sure how to handle internet downloads and what not if no hard copy is made, best to contact harry fox agency to where you can work out mechanical details, or internet broadcasting handlers.

You don't necesarily "have" to get permission, though it is always common courtesy to try if you are going to release it on a decent scale. But if they refuse, you can get a compulsary liscence that will allow you to record the material, and pay the proper fees in doing so.

I believe all public performance royalties and such would still probally go to the original author.
Old 12th August 2008
  #6
CDS
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Energie View Post
If you record anyones music, and make copies/distrbute it you HAVE to pay a mechanical. Mechanical simply means you owe set price, determined ahead of time based off of length of song per copy made, Not sold, made. Not sure how to handle internet downloads and what not if no hard copy is made, best to contact harry fox agency to where you can work out mechanical details, or internet broadcasting handlers.

You don't necesarily "have" to get permission, though it is always common courtesy to try if you are going to release it on a decent scale. But if they refuse, you can get a compulsary liscence that will allow you to record the material, and pay the proper fees in doing so.

I believe all public performance royalties and such would still probally go to the original author.
Adding to this:

You have to get a mechanical license with the publishers of the songs you perform to gain the right to release on sellable media such as CD and digital downloads. The Harry Fox Agency then keep tabs on this and work with BMI, ASCAP and SESAC to disburse monies to publishers and writers of the songs you cover. An audit point may be UPC scans followed through Nielsen SoundScan or even a request to view a copy of your books.

Don't get sampling confused with re-performance covers. Sometimes artist themselves are forced to recut songs on new record labels because old record labels will refuse a "Master Use" license, which is also used to clear samples. Such case was the rap group EPMD who in 2000 did a "Best of" album but needed to redo a few of their classic songs because the Master Rights holder either refused license or just couldn't be found.

If you take only the lyrics of a song and recreate the music with your own composition, you will have to surrender 100% publishing and writers rights for works previously released commercially. Example, if you try to re-sing "Can't Buy Me Love" by the Beatles, just be ready to give up 100% publishing/writers on any "updated" music you add to the lyrics. But they can't stop you from doing it. If you so happen to run across a Lennon and McCartney original lyric sheet stuffed in the back of a picture you bought at a garage sale, and the song is unpublished... congratulations, you just became the 3rd writer of a Beatles song! The only thing you have to watch out for in rare cases like these are the watchdog companies set up to protect "legacies" of performers, in this case Apple Corps who would use their big pockets to send senseless lawsuits your way to either bleed you broke on legal defense or just break your spirit where you back down from releasing the song in fear of loosing your shirt to lawsuits.

back to the issue:
The great thing is there are no up front fees to cover any song as long as you do not change a published word.. adding performance adlibs like a "Whoo" or "Ha Haaa" are ok.

In your liner notes you have to print the publisher and writer credits to each song as good and safe practice.

When you submit to places like iTunes, you will need to have these licenses handy in case they request proof you have the rights to performed versions of published material.

There is a record label out in California named "Cleopatra Records" that would run somewhat of a retail scam by covering new albums, say "The Eminem Show" then have another rapper go in the studio with some general midi sounding replicas of the original music, then re-rap the entire album and sell it to retail as "Inspired by (in real small letters) The EMINEM SHOW"... and kids go to the store looking for the latest Eminem album and see this and buy it. They get home and catch the shock of their life. Because of the Copyright laws, buyers can't returned open "software" so consumers got burned. I say that to say this, because of the way song covers work, there was nothing Interscope/Universal records could do about it!

So go remake some classics like the great Tony Bennett and I hope you get great performance money for your work as the venue has to pay blanket fees, not you for live gigs .
Old 12th August 2008
  #7
Thanks for the insights!!

As for changing lyrics, what about keeping the lyrics exactly the same, but changing the arrangement.. for example, singing the hook twice at the end of the song instead of once..

And if you keep the lyrics the same, how much can you change the melody? Can you totally warp the melody if everything else remains integral?

As for getting the "license" should iTunes, etc. want it, whom do I get that from?

Does the original publisher issue that, or does Harry Fox do it for everyone?
I wonder what that costs, surely there is fees associated with anything you get anyone to do these days...
Old 12th August 2008
  #8
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Energie's Avatar
 

harry fox takes a small percentage from the mechanicals due to the artist.
Old 12th August 2008
  #9
CDS
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Quote:
As for changing lyrics, what about keeping the lyrics exactly the same, but changing the arrangement.. for example, singing the hook twice at the end of the song instead of once..
Yes you can do it, but again, if the song was previously released your version is labeled a "Covered Work" and you get 0% on publishing/writers..

Quote:
And if you keep the lyrics the same, how much can you change the melody? Can you totally warp the melody if everything else remains integral?
Sure, just don't change or insert any lyrics, if you do you are now committing copyright infringement. But artistry is artistry.. best way to understand this is to see how Blake Lewis YouTube - Blake Lewis - You Give Love A Bad Name(Bon Jovi) or David Cook YouTube - David Cook :: Final 10 :: American Idol :: Sings Billie Jean covered songs on American Idol.

Quote:
As for getting the "license" should iTunes, etc. want it, whom do I get that from?

Does the original publisher issue that, or does Harry Fox do it for everyone?
I wonder what that costs, surely there is fees associated with anything you get anyone to do these days...
If I remember correctly and as pointed out from another poster, The Harry Fox Agency can assist with this or you can contact the publishers directly to negotiate the rate (headache).. as a rule of thumb, most publishers are members with the THFA (like all actors and tv/film composers have a SAG card) and I believe they handle this process according to a industry standard scale.
Old 12th August 2008
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

No need for permission to make a cover tune of a published song, compulsory licensing allows you to do so. As long as you don't change the lyrics or the basic melody, you don't need permission. If you start making changes, the composer has to approve, because you are creating a derivative work. Tricky to tell how much change is okay for a cover versus making a new derivative, always a fact-intensive case-by-case thing.

For covers made under compulsory license, you pay the statutory royalty rate to the publisher, which is 7 cents per copy of the song sold, IIRC.

Here is the Copyright Office's page on compulsory licenses.

None of the above is legal advice, and ain't none of y'all my clients, dig?tutt Hire yer own personal lawyer.
Old 13th August 2008
  #11
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AllAboutTone's Avatar
 

Question, say a band wants to release a 10 song cover CD and take donations for the product at a club, can you do that ? I do not think you are allowed to sell the CD.
Old 13th August 2008
  #12
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Taproot's Avatar
 

www.harryfox.com

As long as you pay the mechanical, which is currently at .09 cents, per song, per unit, you can sell it all day long. The only problem I've ever incurred was someone covering a current "hit song" and we had to get special permission from the publisher.

So, if you make a 10 song cover CD and press 1000 copies, it will cost you $900+/-, depending upon song length.
Old 13th August 2008
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Taproot View Post
www.harryfox.com

As long as you pay the mechanical, which is currently at .09 cents, per song, per unit, you can sell it all day long. The only problem I've ever incurred was someone covering a current "hit song" and we had to get special permission from the publisher.

So, if you make a 10 song cover CD and press 1000 copies, it will cost you $900+/-, depending upon song length.
Why did you need to get permission for the current hit? Unless the law got changed since the last time I read it, compulsory licensing applies to all published songs, regardless of how new or popular. Or am I missing something?
Old 13th August 2008
  #14
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Jedilaw, It's been a while, so I can't really remember all the details, but it was not available for licensing through HF. I assume it just just because it was hot and new. I'm thinking you don't have to allow your licenses to be administered by a third party. They wanted to hear the version that was being recorded for approval, before they would grant the license. Not that big of a deal.
Old 19th August 2008
  #15
Here's a lil' twist...

What if someone wanted to cover a song with had cursing in it, but only release a "clean" version where those words were substituted.. is it now a derivitive work and can't be called a cover because of those word-substitutions?

Or in the same vein, a white boy covering an R&B song that contains the n-bomb... would this be considered a special case where that word could be substituted for a non-offensive word and still be considered a "non-change" to the lyrics ... ?

things could get weird...
Old 27th August 2008
  #16
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by coyotekells View Post
Here's a lil' twist...

What if someone wanted to cover a song with had cursing in it, but only release a "clean" version where those words were substituted.. is it now a derivitive work and can't be called a cover because of those word-substitutions?

Or in the same vein, a white boy covering an R&B song that contains the n-bomb... would this be considered a special case where that word could be substituted for a non-offensive word and still be considered a "non-change" to the lyrics ... ?

things could get weird...
In theory, once you change the lyrics you are creating a new derivative work and you need permission.

Take the music from "Happy Feet", wherein they combined various songs together. The segues from one melody to another might have been enough to create new derivatives, but the changes that they had to make to song lyrics in order to create effective mash-ups meant they had to get clearance from the publishers, even if the basic melodies remained the same. That's how Prince wound up doing a song for the movie: they had to contact him to get permission to change some lyrics from "Kiss", and in the process of negotiating he decided he liked the film enough to do a song.
Old 10th September 2008
  #17
I was listening to a cover of an Ann Peebles song the other day..

The guy who covered it, changed the lyrics so it was talking about a girl, instead of a guy (makes sense).

He changed the word "girl" to "guy" and also changed the word "playboy" to "playgirl"

According to the credits, it's just a cover.. not an interpolation or anything..

So are changes like that approved by the publisher on a case-by-case basis, or can one take a chance with "makes sense" changes like that and it shouldn't be a problem?
Old 18th March 2011
  #18
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CDS View Post
Sure, just don't change or insert any lyrics, if you do you are now committing copyright infringement. But artistry is artistry.. best way to understand this is to see how Blake Lewis YouTube - Blake Lewis - You Give Love A Bad Name(Bon Jovi) or David Cook YouTube - David Cook :: Final 10 :: American Idol :: Sings Billie Jean covered songs on American Idol.
Last year, I wanted to write a tribute song to an artist who inspired me with her song, but I wanted to use the melody of a song I didn't like and rerecord the song in the key of F Sharp, and the reason was because I wanted the artist to recognize my talent with copying a tune by ear. Unfortunately, I didn't know how the music industry worked, I really thought last year, that if I rerecord a song and perform it, I could get recognized.

YouTube - Natasha Hamilton

I honestly do not see why replacing the lyrics in your song infringes copyright, I personally feel that its stupid becuase music isn't about the lyrics, its about the music. As long as if you give credit to the original artist, which I did in my song, thats all that should matter.

I guess my cover version can't be sold because it infringes copyright of Say Anything's Wow I Can Get Sexual Too. But really just for changing lyrics shouldn't be counted as infringement especially since tune is the minor thing in songs these days.

I personally believe that artists who make cover songs should be in the charts. In my case, I believe that I could be able to sell this as a cover song, with a mechanical license, even though I changed the title and the lyrics.

But my song was really a tribute song, to promote my talent to Natasha Hamilton, so I have no intention of selling it at this point of time. However, I would like to add it in my album if I release one.
Old 19th March 2011
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
Last year, I wanted to write a tribute song to an artist who inspired me with her song, but I wanted to use the melody of a song I didn't like and rerecord the song in the key of F Sharp, and the reason was because I wanted the artist to recognize my talent with copying a tune by ear. Unfortunately, I didn't know how the music industry worked, I really thought last year, that if I rerecord a song and perform it, I could get recognized.

YouTube - Natasha Hamilton
well - it looks like you would do well to learn more then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
I honestly do not see why replacing the lyrics in your song infringes copyright, I personally feel that its stupid becuase music isn't about the lyrics,
tell that to the lyricist!

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
its about the music. As long as if you give credit to the original artist, which I did in my song, thats all that should matter.
the artist should have control over their song - if someone wanted to change all the lyrics of beatles songs to be about farts would that be cool as long as they said they were beatles songs? would you want someone changing the lyrics of a love song to be about death? think about it a little more, and a little less personally...

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
I guess my cover version can't be sold because it infringes copyright of Say Anything's Wow I Can Get Sexual Too. But really just for changing lyrics shouldn't be counted as infringement especially since tune is the minor thing in songs these days.
uh... no. sorry, you're completely off base here... see the beatles reference above...

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
I personally believe that artists who make cover songs should be in the charts.
and they are - they just don't change the lyrics... whitney houstons massive "I Will Always Love You" is a Dolly Parton Song...


Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
In my case, I believe that I could be able to sell this as a cover song, with a mechanical license, even though I changed the title and the lyrics.
you are confusing two issues - you can sell it w/ a mechanical license if you don't change the lyrics, and you can sell it w/ a mechanical license if you get permission to change the lyrics (think Wierd Al - which is technically covered parody/fair use but he get's permission anyway).

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
But my song was really a tribute song, to promote my talent to Natasha Hamilton,.
it looks like you've learned there are better ways to promote your talent than bumming out an artist by changing the lyrics to their song...

Quote:
Originally Posted by nihal View Post
so I have no intention of selling it at this point of time. However, I would like to add it in my album if I release one.
good luck with that...
Old 19th March 2011
  #21
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by rack gear View Post
well - it looks like you would do well to learn more then.



tell that to the lyricist!



the artist should have control over their song - if someone wanted to change all the lyrics of beatles songs to be about farts would that be cool as long as they said they were beatles songs? would you want someone changing the lyrics of a love song to be about death? think about it a little more, and a little less personally...



uh... no. sorry, you're completely off base here... see the beatles reference above...



and they are - they just don't change the lyrics... whitney houstons massive "I Will Always Love You" is a Dolly Parton Song...




you are confusing two issues - you can sell it w/ a mechanical license if you don't change the lyrics, and you can sell it w/ a mechanical license if you get permission to change the lyrics (think Wierd Al - which is technically covered parody/fair use but he get's permission anyway).



it looks like you've learned there are better ways to promote your talent than bumming out an artist by changing the lyrics to their song...



good luck with that...
Hey thank you for your reply, yes I didn't know how this work, but I hope my opinion didn't offend you, but everything you said was true. I should probably ask the songwriters permission whether I can use this tune. Yes, I do have a lot to learn, last year I didn't know anythng about copyrights, I thought sampling tunes was only infringing.
Old 26th April 2011
  #22
Here for the gear
 

digital releases in Europe/Asia

rack gear, you've been so helpful here and on other threads that i'm hoping you can help me out too. i'm a canadian artist indepentently releasing an album that has a cover song on it. I've already obtained my licenses to release physically and digitally in Canada (from the CMRRA) and digitally in the US (Harry Fox). Now i'm trying to figure out how to get those equivalent licenses for Europe and Asia (for iTunes in the various territories, spotify, etc.). I've read, and re-read the links that you posted earlier (and done extensive googling), and they seem to be speaking more about physical CDs. I've contacted the CMRRA in Canada, thinking that they should be aware of their equivalents in other parts of the world... sadly, they are not. For the UK, I've looked into PRS (which now includes MCPS), but anything on their site that talks about digital downloads/streaming seems to be geared to online music providers - i've contacted PRS twice to ask for clarification, but have never had a response. I also understand that there is the possibility of pan-European licenses... but this too is unclear. I know that if nothing else, i can contact the publisher directly, but i thought i'd try to go through the rights societies instead (I understand that going through the publisher isn't necessarily any less time-consuming). Any light you can shed on this or direction you can suggest would be very very appreciated! Thanks!!
Old 27th April 2011
  #23
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In the context of this discussion there is no such thing as a "cover" song; they are simply songs.

IIRC, the songwriter basically gets to choose the first artist to publicly "perform" the song, either live or by recording. But after that, anyone can perform or record it providing they obtain the proper compulsory license and pay royalties.

There is quite a bit of leeway regarding changes to the lyrics providing you don't try to claim credit for the changes.

Assume a lyric sheet that reads, "My dog bit me and my girlfriend left me".

You are pretty much free to sing it "My dog bit me (pause) my girlfriend left me" or "My dog bit me, huh, my girlfriend left me", or something similar.

Go back about 40 years and you'll find songwriters who simply write songs, and do not perform them, and performers who play/record songs written by songwriters.

Cut "cover" out of the discussion and it's really not that complicated...
Old 27th April 2011
  #24
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Ol' Betsey's Avatar
I wrote this earlier in the thread...

"... because of the blanket agreements between the collection agencies and publishers you don't have to pay, or even get permission for that matter, to record or release the [cover] song but you DO have to pay the mechanical license [on physical product] which is automatically granted (at least it is over here in the UK) but still needs to be taken care of.

In fact, I was worried because one of my albums had a cover version on it and I got all stressed about paying for the mechanical licenses etc when I put it up on iTunes so I called the PRS/MCPS (UK collection society) and they said iTunes pays the mechanicals directly and that I didn't have to worry about dealing with anything. Not a single thing. No paperwork. No Nuthin'."

So stick it up on iTunes/Spotify and they'll pay the royalties directly to the relevant collections agencies out of their percentages.

R.
Old 27th April 2011
  #25
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ol' Betsey View Post
I wrote this earlier in the thread...

"... because of the blanket agreements between the collection agencies and publishers you don't have to pay, or even get permission for that matter, to record or release the [cover] song but you DO have to pay the mechanical license [on physical product] which is automatically granted (at least it is over here in the UK) but still needs to be taken care of.

In fact, I was worried because one of my albums had a cover version on it and I got all stressed about paying for the mechanical licenses etc when I put it up on iTunes so I called the PRS/MCPS (UK collection society) and they said iTunes pays the mechanicals directly and that I didn't have to worry about dealing with anything. Not a single thing. No paperwork. No Nuthin'."

So stick it up on iTunes/Spotify and they'll pay the royalties directly to the relevant collections agencies out of their percentages.

R.
thanks ol' betsey!! not sure how i missed that in your earlier post... i suspect that my brain was already overwhelmed with information! i actually just got a response from PRS today confirming the same thing. Do you know if that applies to the rest of europe as well? and do you have any experience with asia, japan specifically?
Old 27th April 2011
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelatrice View Post
thanks ol' betsey!! not sure how i missed that in your earlier post... i suspect that my brain was already overwhelmed with information! i actually just got a response from PRS today confirming the same thing. Do you know if that applies to the rest of europe as well? and do you have any experience with asia, japan specifically?
Hi Pixel,

Well I put some of my back catalogue (including the two album that had a cover version each on it) out on iTunes via Tunecore and this includes Japan and there's been no mention of anything by anybody.

Unless anybody around here has any other information I would say you're good to go.

I think one of the reasons the publishers/labels like iTunes is that Apple is pretty on the ball regarding keeping this all above board.

Like I said though, that's just my experience.

R.
Old 23rd August 2011
  #27
Here for the gear
 

help - copyright laws ????

hi ...myself and my friends band ( punk covers ) went into the studio to record a few songs just for a laugh ..... we ended up having such a ball that we recorded 12 cover songs in total covering bands like the sex pistols , the clash , the damned , the vibrators , the adverts , etc etc etc ...... we then thought hey why dont we stick them on a cd and make a few copies ourselves , make a cover up for it and take them to some of our local pub gigs and either sell them for a few quid ( 2 or 3 pounds ) or give them away to people who come to see us ........

none of us have any idea whether this is legal or not , we are based in the north east of England (UK) and would appreciate some advice from any one who can ..... thank you

Robb
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