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Your personal experience with covers of non PD material?
Old 6 days ago
Gear Maniac

Thread Starter
Your personal experience with covers of non PD material?


To come straight to the point: I'm just working/arranging an Avicii song for a live orchestra sounds damn good, but I wonder if it's really worth it at the end. I covered a lot already, but practically only PD music, and never any newer music.

Anyone of you folks here who has any experience with covering a )non-public domain) track, and then selling sync licenses, put it on your own youtube channel, etc.? (in other words, turning the cover to $$!)
How are the fees and cuts as a rule of thumb?...or are some publishers/artists even do something like a buyout deal?

I also came across a sheet music portal (sheetmusicplus), where they give you the option to legally arrange tracks they have on a certain list... but the chunck you get is even far lower than the (already low) cuts you get for the mojority of microstock music libraries - it's only 10% (...) is it THAT BAD with covers in general, and just not worth the hard work at the end, or might it even be a clever approach for gaining more potentional exposure? (and possibly a bit of pocket money) Because youtube seems absolutely floated with covers in all instrumentations and styles, so there has to be a reason after all...(or are those folks simply just not creative as us , so have to rely on just arrangements? ) I wonder...

Old 3 days ago
Lives for gear
Sam Watson's Avatar
In the U.S. you cannot sell a sync license for your cover or arrangement of copyrighted material without the original songwriter & publisher agreeing to each & every specific sync use unless they have done some pre-clearing ala what is happening at sheetmusicplus.

Honestly - by U.S. copyright law - all those YouTube videos of people covering songs are not legal. But I think the copyright holders have learned how to extract some profit from it so they allow it. However, if Spielberg wants to use your arrangement of Avicii's song in his movie then all the parties are coming to the table and they could decide turn it down - you will have no power. I think it might be a good attention getter. Maybe it gets a couple extra bucks in the pocket? Because 10% of something is more than 100% of nothing.

Best of luck,
Old 3 days ago
Once a song has been released publicly ANYONE can do a cover of it.

Remember, there are TWO copyrights... one for the musical composition and one for the master recording of that specific version of the composition.

When creating a cover, you are creating a new master. You own that master and can license ONLY THE MASTER recording for sync (called a "master use" license).

Whoever is licensing your cover will also have to contact the original publisher or publishers and license the underlying work separately from your license.

This is how it is actually normally done in the "real world" of hit songs. The record label never has the right to license the underlying work into a film/TV production, only the master. The publishing company never has the right to license the master into a film/TV production. This is actually what the majority of a Music Supervisor's job is. It isn't picking the music, it is "clearing" the music. Sometimes a music supervisor will have to call and negotiate with 2 or 3 record labels and 4 or 6 publishing companies to license a famous recording of a famous song.

For example... the song "The Middle" by Zedd feat Maren Morris and Grey... That song is written by... wait for it...

Jordan Johnson (BMI)
Anton Zslavski (ASCAP)
Sarah Aarons (APRA)
Kyle Trewartha (BMI)
Stefan Johnson (ASCAP)
Michael Trewartha (BMI)
Marcus Lomax (BMI)

(SEVEN composers!!!)

Each composer has their own publishing and publishing deals... the publishers involved are....

1916 Publishing (ASCAP)
Kobalt Music (NS)
R8D Music Publishing (BMI)
Solo Ace Publishing (BMI)
Songs of BBMG (BMI)
Sony/ATV Allegro (APRA)
Zedd Music Empire (ASCAP)
BMG Platinum Songs (BMI)
Songs Of Universal (BMI)

(NINE publishers!!!)

Zedd is signed to Interscope. Maren Morris is signed to Columbia Nashville. Grey are signed to Republic Records.

So... If a movie or TV show is using the original recording of this song, the music supervisor for that film/show has to contact NINE publishing companies and THREE record labels to negotiate the licenses for this use.

If Freshdax were to do an orchestral cover of this song for licensing in TV/Film... he does not need permission from anyone to do it (in the US, you only need permission to SELL physical copies. and that permission is usually granted by Harry Fox as a statutory/compulsory license) But if you aren't going to sell any copies then you don't need permission.

BUT!!! If a film or TV show decides to use Freshdax's cover of The Middle... they still need to contact all NINE publishers and negotiate the sync license and contact Freshdax to negotiate the master use license.

Here is where covers can bite you in the behind... just because you can make it, doesn't mean the publishers will say yes to a license request for it. You could have an amazing cover... but the artist or publishing company for whatever reason does not want to allow the licensing of covers or the licensing of that song in a particular instance... so the publishing company can say no. I had this happen to me personally with an amazing cover we did of "It's The End Of The World As You Know It" by R.E.M. It was being used in the Xmen Apocalypse Superbowl Premier trailer. HUGE LICENSE!!! Fox loved it. Warner Chappell (who owns REM's publishing) said no. when the band sold the rights to W/C (back in the 80's), they put a clause in the contract stating W/C could never license the music into any commercials of any kind. I even called REM directly and talked to their lawyer. The band was really interested and was open to the idea of doing it. W/C again said "no". End of story. It never happened. So now I have this AMAZING dramatic orchestral hybrid cover of "It's the End Of The World As You Know It" that I'll never be able to license.

The other sticky area is when you want to take a cut of the songwriting and publishing. When doing arrangements that are different from the original recording, it is considered a derivative work. In doing so, the arranger can get a percentage of the songwriting and publishing. But in order to get it, the original songwriters and publishers have to agree to it and agree to the new percentage splits for that version. And that NEVER happens. The publishers and songwriters would rather just say no than to give up even partial ownership.

But if you call it a 100% cover song, even though you completely rewrote the thing and it sounds nothing like the original, then you aren't claiming any writer's or publisher's share and you only own the master recording of the new version (as though you were the record label). In that scenario the original publishers and songwriters can't stop you from making the cover and releasing it... you just can't sell it retail or put it up on any "retail" type web services like spotify, apple music, etc. But you can try to license the master and cross your fingers that the publisher will say yes to a sync license request for your version when you do get it placed.
Old 3 days ago
Originally Posted by Sam Watson View Post
Maybe it gets a couple extra bucks in the pocket? Because 10% of something is more than 100% of nothing.
If you can get a cover version licensed it is Waaaayyy more than a couple extra bucks.

typically for a cover done by a music library, the master use license will be around 50% of what the publishers are asking for.

so for example, the licensing for the publishing alone for a bob marley song or a rolling stones song STARTS at $250k and goes up from there. For a blockbuster film trailer placement it might be $350k~$500k. That means the license for the master starts at around $125K. But it's all negotiable. There is no MFA clause when doing this, which is what makes it so attractive to film and TV companies. The Publishers might ask for an MFA, but if they do, the film/TV studio will 100% of the time ask you to exempt yourself from the MFA. If you push to be included in the MFA then the film/TV studios will just walk away because then it's going to cost just as much to license your version as it would the original.

This is why you see so many Kanye West covers in movie trailers. The publishing sync license for a Kanye song is $900k. And the master use for an original Kanye Song is $900k. So that is basically $2mil. The covers still cost the $900k for the publishing, but then the master use is anywhere from $100k or $450k, which makes it significantly cheaper to use the cover version instead of the original.
Old 21 hours ago
Lives for gear
Sam Watson's Avatar
I did not properly consider the master sync license. Excellent point, Derek. The trick seems to be: HOW do you market your cover? You just have to hope that someone sees it on YT or SC and likes it and wants to put it in a film/commercial and jump through the licensing hoops.

West World is doing a lot of these type tracks and killing it with them. But consider the business model there: The director loves incorporating and repurposing popular songs into the soundtrack via the onset player piano (diagetic) or simply through the underscore (non-diagetic). However, they don't just hunt down random cover versions. They have Ramin Djawadi put together amazing versions that sound exactly the right way for the story space. I just think most cover versions are used in promos / movies because the director actually wants the REAL recording and the label turns down use of the master rights, but says they can license the tune and make a cover version. And then they hire a music shop to create exactly the kind of cover version they want for their brand/film/show.

I suspect that a random cover version is a super long shot for money return. Although apparently if your ship comes in then it is big. Maybe a director loves your cover and hires you to do music for their project that isn't a cover though. Positive things can come out of it that aren't cash directly related to the cover.

Interesting topic. (And I LOVE Djawadi's covers from Westworld. Season Two promo to Heart Shaped Box was fantastic!)
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