How To Properly License A Cover Song

1Recording cover songs can be a good way to create music that is easily accessible to fans, but doing so also enters into tricky legal territory. Here we look at several important steps to follow in order to avoid running into issues with licensing.


Guest Post by Desi on Bandzoogle

PRO, licensing, synchronization, royalties – learning the language of music publishing can be daunting. But it’s important to take advantage of all of the revenue streams available to you as a musician and songwriter!

In Part 1 of this series, we covered what a performing rights organization (PRO) is, what they do, and how they can collect royalties for your music. In Part 2, we talked about eight different royalties you can collect from your songs.

For the third post in this series, we’re taking a look at cover songs. Recording and performing cover songs are a great way to build your fanbase, but it’s important to do this legally to protect yourself from litigation. Plus, as a musician, you know it’s important that the rights holders and creators be recognized for their work!

Releasing cover songs for free

1 (1)When licensing covers that you’ll just offer for free online (streaming or download), you will still need to obtain a license so that the original songwriter(s) get paid.

When applying for a license, you’ll have to estimate how many downloads you’ll give away and streaming sites you’ll distribute the track to. Because streaming services like Spotify already pay licensing fees, you don’t have to cover them on your license. You would count services like Bandzoogle, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and other similar sites.

Including a cover song on your album

If you’re planning to release your own version of a song on your next album, you’ll need a mechanical license. These licenses pay 9.1 cents to the songwriter per download (or physical purchase of the album.)

One thing to keep in mind is that if you’d like to release two different versions of the same song (for example, a punk rock version and an EDM version of "My Girl"), you would need two separate licenses.

Playing a cover on YouTube

Since YouTube is a video platform, you would technically need a synchronization license to legally post a cover there. But because it’s so difficult for independent artists to get a response from large publishers, and would be even harder to negotiate a synch rate, YouTube just displays ads on cover videos and pays the revenue to writers. So, if you’re just going to release a cover song on YouTube but won’t be selling it, you don't need to obtain mechanical license. YouTube will simply pay royalties to the publishers from the monies collected through ads displayed on your video.

Where do I get licenses for cover songs?


Loudr files the proper paperwork with publishers in order to lawfully license the song for you. They take into account the distribution methods of the song, and provide you with a mechanical license that allows you to record the song. They charge a $15 service fee, plus the publisher royalties (9.1 cents per download).


Harry Fox Agency’s Songfile is another very popular service that provides mechanical licensing including the tools to license copyrighted works. Songfile charges $16 per song, plus publisher the royalties.

We hope this helps you legally release covers of your favorite songs to share with your fans!

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  1. You actually can get paid for youtube video covers but must sign up through https://www.wearethehits.com/ . I believe they are the only site with the proper rights to allow this without trying to get a license yourself. $ is split with publishers.

  2. You can also license cover songs on YouTube via OnRamp Digital (onrampdigital.com) – the service also facilitates mechanical licenses for other digital distribution.

  3. Would this work the same if I were to sample a portion of a song and distribute the final recording on my album for profit?

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