Sell Your Cover Songs Legally & For Free

Distro Sync mandates that all partners secure proper licenses before distributing any recording. This article discusses common scenarios and frequently asked questions regarding cover songs and remixes.

Cover Song FAQ

What is a Cover Song?

A cover song is a new recording of an existing song by a musician who is not the original composer or recording artist. It must be a “faithful rendition,” meaning there can be no changes in melody, arrangement, or lyrics, including translations. Additionally, the original song must have been distributed or offered to the public by the original artist or their record label before the cover version is recorded.

A cover song must not include any part of the original master recording, regardless of the duration. Using any part of the original would classify the song as a remix or mashup, which requires a “master license.”

Mechanical License for Cover Songs

Whenever an artist records and releases a cover song, they need to obtain a mechanical license to secure the payment of mechanical royalties to the original songwriter(s). Cover songs may be eligible for compulsory mechanical licenses, which means that the digital service provider (DSP) is responsible for obtaining the license.

What is a Mechanical License?

A mechanical license covers the reproduction of songs in physical formats like vinyl and CDs, and digital formats such as interactive streaming and downloads. Mechanical royalties derive from the composition copyright.

Do Users Need to Obtain a Mechanical License?

Mechanical licenses are necessary if you plan to release your cover song on download stores like iTunes or Amazon’s download store. You do not need a mechanical license if you only distribute your cover song to streaming DSPs, provided the following conditions are met:

  • The cover version is a “faithful rendition” of the original song, with no changes to the melody or lyrics (minimal arrangement changes are allowed).
  • The cover version does not include any part of the original song’s recording.
  • The original song was already distributed or offered to the public by the original artist or any record label.
  • The original authors of the composition and lyrics and the publisher of the original song are correctly listed and credited in the cover song metadata.

To distribute your cover song to download DSPs in various territories, you may need different licenses. Here are some resources:

  • USA: EasySong
  • Canada:
  • Mexico:
  • Japan:
  • India or Pakistan: Contact the rights holder directly

Releasing a Cover Song on YouTube

Given that YouTube is an audiovisual platform, distributing a cover song on the platform requires a synchronization (sync) license in addition to the mechanical license. YouTube’s licenses cover the reproduction and performing rights for most publishing catalogs. However, you must obtain synchronization rights separately if you are uploading premium music video (PMV) content. For audio-only content delivered to YouTube, including user-generated content (UGC), you are not responsible for publishing licenses.

Remix & Derivative Work FAQ

Distro Sync requires all partners to ensure their clients obtain proper licenses for the distribution of any remix or “derivative work.”

What is a Remix?

A remix is a reimagined or altered version of an existing piece of music, created by modifying elements like tempo, key, instrumentation, or vocal arrangements. It’s an artistic reinterpretation where a producer or musician uses the original recording as a foundation to create something new and distinctive.

Remixes can vary widely, from subtle alterations to radical transformations. Common types of remixes include:

  • Extended Mix: Lengthens the original track by repeating sections or adding new elements.
  • Radio Edit: A shorter, concise version for radio play, often omitting longer instrumental sections.
  • Club Mix: Tailored for nightclubs, emphasizing the beat and bass.
  • Acoustic Remix: Strips away electronic elements, emphasizing acoustic instruments.
  • Instrumental Remix: Focuses solely on the instrumental elements by removing vocals.
  • Vocal Remix: Enhances or reworks the vocal elements of the original track.
  • Mashup: Combines elements from two or more songs to create a new composition.
  • Bootleg Remix: Unofficial remixes are often created by fans or amateur producers.

What Licenses Are Required for Remixes?

To properly license a remix, you need permission from both the songwriter (or music publisher) and the artist (or record label). There is no compulsory license for a remix, and securing a proper license ensures the payment of royalties to the original artists and songwriter(s).

How to Obtain a Proper License for a Remixed Song

The recommended way to license a remix is through the record label and publishing company of the original recording/song. Most companies have a process for such licensing. Here’s the typical process:

  • Labels obtain permission from the respective labels and publishers to create the remix/mashup.
  • Once permissions are secured, they can distribute the remix/mashup through DSPs, which will obtain the mechanical license.

Generally, DSPs acquire mechanical licenses for content distributed on their platforms. Therefore, remixers only need to obtain permission from the record label to remix the master recording.

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