Monday, February 21

Cash for Cover Versions

This week we have an in depth guest blog post from our friends at Limelight. It's all about making money from releasing cover tunes and how to do it legitimately with all your necessary licenses in order. It's a good read so check it out below. Also, drop a line in the comments with any of your own success stories and tips around doing cover versions....

Cash for Covers: Three easy ways to make money from releasing cover songs on digital music stores

It’s no secret Justin Bieber’s ascension to pop superstardom started with a cover song (a version of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”). Could he have achieved an “underdog to celebrity” rise without one? Maybe, but Bieber performed a new spin on a decades-old formula readily available to any recording artist looking to acquire new fans and make additional money from their recordings.

Cover songs (a.k.a. “remakes”) provide an easy path to building audiences. Releasing one is similar to getting introduced to a new person by way of mutual friend (the song) rather than through a chance encounter (an original tune found on a Bandcamp / MySpace page). A positive introduction is more likely when there is immediate common ground. Cover songs also provide a unique way of tapping into alternate revenue streams for only modest expense (i.e. money spent securing the required mechanical license and paying royalties via Limelight, time spent learning the song, etc.). So why is this an effective way of promoting your music? Let’s explore…

Recording Cover Songs to Meet Demand for Incomplete Catalog:
Digital music services offer instant access for consumers to a 24-hour music warehouse that never runs out of stock. The downside? Two words: incomplete catalog. Not every track you have (or want) in your vinyl or CD collection is available to buy in digital format for any number of reasons (including licensing issues, artist reluctance, wrong brand of dijon mustard at deal signing, etc.). Just as one person gathers what another spills – “incomplete catalog” represents a simply supply and demand market opportunity for savvy artists and labels.

If an artist’s music isn’t available via an online store, other recording artists can take advantage by recording and releasing their own cover versions to meet market demand.

For example, if you search for Kid Rock’s music on iTunes (one of several mainstream artist catalogues that aren’t available), you’ll notice an early 1990 release, a live recording of “Bawitdaba” from Woodstock ’99, and surprise, surprise, several tribute records. Why? iTunes search focuses on track popularity related to song title, artist name, album name and a variety of keywords. Since the majority of Kid Rock’s catalogue is unavailable, the closest matches are tribute recordings and cover versions of his repertoire. In fact, two separate cover recordings of Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” charted on the Billboard Top 100 in 2008 (The Hit Masters, The Rock Heroes) based primarily off digital sales alone. The same principle applies for AC/DC, Garth Brooks, and several other marquee artists whose catalogues have not seen digital release.

Recording Cover Songs to Compete with Album Only Tracks:
From a consumer viewpoint, a digital release’s major advantage over its physical counterpart is the ability to purchase individual tracks without spending money on unwanted tracks. While the majority of online releases allow for a la carte downloading, many online retailers give record labels the option to carve out certain releases as “album-only” — the motivation being to increase full-album sales at the expense of individual song downloads (though sometimes done for rights clearance purposes). Needless to say, “album-only” tracks deny consumers the opportunity to download individual tracks without purchasing the entire record.

Once again, obstacles presented by some labels represent a chance for entrepreneurial-minded artists and labels in releasing cover versions. Since digital versions of television and movie soundtracks (such as
Twilight and The Hangover) are routinely offered out as “Album Only”, recording cover versions of those songs in particular can present another opportunity in capitalizing on simple supply and demand. If titled via an easy search terms comparable to the soundtrack, the cover versions will appear in search results alongside the original soundtrack.

Selling Cover Songs (and Originals) By Association:
Physical retailers are limited – staff on hand, hours in a day, and especially by the product real estate available to them. While Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and other brick-and-mortar shops can only shelve music via singular genre / artist name fashion, digital music stores offer sophisticated search mechanisms, including track title, album name, release year, and even lyric focus.

While many artists may already be familiar with the term “search engine optimization” for purposes of their websites, less have extended that thinking to online music stores.

In the digital age, cover songs provide simple, effective music search engine optimization, especially for covering artists who don’t currently appear on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc.

The sophisticated search mechanisms afforded by online stores over their brick-and-mortar counterparts grant artists an easy tool to sell more music. In instances where an artist’s repertoire (such as Journey, Beyonce, Katy Perry) is available via digital music stores, cover songs can benefit by way of song title searches. While common song titles are unlikely to provide any benefit in enhancing search results, cover versions of songs with distinct titles can eclipse the original recordings in search results. For example searching for “99 Problems” (Jay-Z) on iTunes actually results in a unique cover rendition by the artist Hugo ahead of the original. Users who listen to and enjoy Hugo’s cover version are also likely to check out Hugo’s additional repertoire (including originals).

Next Step: Clear the Rights and Sell!

Before recording and releasing cover songs, you’ll need to secure a mechanical license (also known as a DPD license for digital downloads distributed via iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, etc.), which provides permission to legally record and distribute the song. For artists looking to record video versions of their cover songs for purposes of YouTube, Vimeo, and other user-generated content sites, a separate synchronization license is required.

Several entities exist to help artists and labels clear mechanical licenses and ensure songwriters get paid, including Limelight - a simple, one-stop shop to clear any cover song and secure mechanical licenses for digital downloads, interactive streaming, ringtones, and physical albums. Artists, bands and other musical groups can clear any cover song and ensure 100% of royalties are paid to the appropriate publishers and songwriters via Limelight.

Jango Airplay artists get 10% off on their first order:

Just use promo code LLJANGO


tojona said...

This is an amazing article. I have SO wanted to come across such POWERFUL content. You've covered it all. Thank you!

Rene Labre said...

A cover song is a major arsenal tool for an emerging artist.I like the term and introduction from a popular friend."In the new music business digital frontier you can go places with this.Many now famous original material artists started like this.On business terms however you have got to both credit the songwriters and publishers and pay them their fair share of royalties via appropriate licensing.(mech and/or sync)You can go directly to the publisher to do this as well or use a service.The sharing of the wealth makes the music industry go around and you do not want to get on the bad side of a copyright infringment lawsuit.A very popular song is prob published in some form by a name like Sony or UMG.Personally I go to the Harry Fox Agency (NMPA)You will have to report all of your sales and make quarterly payments to the publishers.They will be more than happy to collect their rightful share and you will be riding the crest of your hit song.An extra note here would be that you want to get a form SR copyright of your rendition of the want to own the rights to your edition of the work.Reason being is that if the seed you planted springs forth bodly you own an entitlement to mech/sync royalties for your version of the work, although you will still have to pay stat royalties for it's commercial exploitations.There are some tricks to this though.If you don't know them your copyright will be

RockRose said...

Lets say we want to cover a snowpatrol song. Only using the music, putting 'dutch' lyrics on them. What do we do in simple steps to do this legit ??

Vlad said...

How about remixes?


This was very informative. Thanx.

Anonymous said...

Great article, very clear and useful!!

Denver Music Scene said...

If you cant come up with your own material what makes you think you should be in the music business?

If you were a painter would you spend your time re-painting Picasso, Dali or whoever?

covers are for hacks

Elle said...

So Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, etc, etc, etc are all hacks?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion yes any artist who didn't have the permission from the original songwriter/ or beneficiary of that songwriter after death, etc. are hacks. The industry is full of people who can sing an already performed tune better than they can do an original one, so what could they possibly bring to the table? NOTHING! We need raw new talent not old recycled stuff (fyi recycling music does not help the environment in anytype of way. We need people to be original in there writing and overall sound. Don't come with something that sounds exactly like sombody else, thats not original. You can get inspiration from someone without sounding exactly like a copy of them, thats not flattery that downright disgusting, lame, and utterly boring. There is so much music out there to be discovered that people like Jango are trying to give people that varity, that freshness. Being a seasoned artist yet newly solo I'm still discovering new things in the music world. And I am truly grateful to be given a chance to control and showcase my music on a broader scale and to a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

If you release a 'cover song' with your album of 'originals' ... there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, that could/would open a door for you that wouldn't be there if you didn't record that 'cover song'. What most artists don't understand in the music business, is, IT'S A BUSINESS!!! Give something they can say "Wow! I remember that song!" also gives them more time to listen to more tracks on that album. And, in return, discovering your 'originals'.

Anonymous said...

I do not see a problem doing covers, as long as your style is in the music.

Steph said...

I agree.... Doing a cover or a couple of covers is fine. Like the article says... it provides a good intro for people to discover your original works. Being a COVER BAND... perhaps with exception of jazz musicians, since they do many standards.. is another thing entirely.

Lee Fox said...

Covers can be useful, yes, and Limelight provides an easy way of securing the appropriate licencing for non-video usage.

Is there a service that handles cover tune licensing for use on YouTube, etc.?