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27th September, 2022

​​Cover Song Licensing Checklist

Cover songs can be fun and creatively cathartic to make. We all have favourite cover versions of some classic or popular songs, and as an artist–whether you’re a musician, singer or DJ–at some point you may want to release a cover song to your audience as well.

But you need to be careful not to infringe on someone else’s copyright. After all, you are covering and releasing a song that is owned by someone else (or multiple people). Apart from the legalities involved, you probably wouldn’t want someone ‘stealing’ your work by covering a song of yours without the right licensing, so it’s important you don’t engage in illegal covering yourself.

To help you, we’ve put together this guiding checklist so you can understand more about what licenses you need, how copyright works and how to go about covering a song. 

Introduction to Copyright in Music

As with all creations, when someone creates an original piece of music their creation is protected by strict legal rights and obligations. These rules dictate who can and can’t use the material and the ways in which those who can use it do use it. 

Often, in the musical industry, multiple parties hold the rights to a given track. Whether it’s the song writer or the record company representing them, there can be more than one owner. 

Exclusive Rights

The copyright owners of a song or track have the exclusive rights to a number of things:

1.The making of copies of the song.

2.The performance of the song in public.

3.The broadcasting of the song publicly and/or online.

4.The use of samples from the track.

5.An adaptation of the track.

It is this Item #5 about adapting the track that comes into play while making a cover song. 

Cover Song Licensing

To make sure your recordings of cover songs available on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play etc., you do not need an APRA AMCOS licence as APRA AMCOS licenses major Digital Service Providers (DSPs) within the territory of Australia & New Zealand.

However, if you are releasing your music on physical formats such as CD, cassette or vinyl, you will require an Audio Manufacture Licence.

What is AMCOS?

AMCOS is the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society and is one half of the larger trading entity called APRA AMCOS. (The APRA part stands for Australasian Performing Right Association.)

AMCOS is the organisation that manages music rights and pays royalties to the creators and owners of the music whenever it is played or copied whether in Australia or overseas. 

Understanding the Audio Manufacturing License

This license allows you to reproduce the music (i.e. cover the song) and sell your cover across retail outlets or at performances, and use it for demos, auditions, educational purposes or background music.

There are a few things that are not covered even with the license. 

1.Using the song in advertisements. 

2.Engaging in sampling.

3.Engaging in lyric changes. 

4.Sound recording copying. 

Express permission from the owners is required for these types of uses.

Link to form here. Screenshot of form title below:

Releasing Cover Songs for Free

Whether or not you make a profit from the release of a cover song, you still need to ensure you have the appropriate license. In fact, it doesn’t even matter whether or not you intended or sought out a profit. Even if you release your recorded cover song for free, you are still required to do so with the permission of the copyright owners. 

The Cover Song Licensing Checklist

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals about cover songs and licensing, let’s dive into a step by step checklist for producing a cover song. 

1.Choose the right song

Sometimes you’ll know from the outset what song you want to cover. In other cases you might want to cover a particular type of song or cover a track for a specific purpose but aren’t quite sure which is the right song.

There are a bunch of things to consider. Choose something that means a lot to you and that you want to share with your fans. Select a classic song that you can re-work or add something original to (within the confines of your license of course). Think of a song you can change the genre of in an impactful way. Or pick a song that’s going to improve your own skills and abilities, and pose a challenge to you creatively or technically. 

2.Keep it a ‘cover song’

As you cover the song of your choosing, you may want to play around with it a bit or add your flavour. Just bear in mind that your recording is still classified as a cover song so that your license (see the next step) covers you. (No pun intended there!)

A cover song, by definition, retains the melody, the song structure and the lyrics of the original recording. If you change these aspects, it might not classify as a cover song.

Remember: Remixes, samples and mash-ups are all NOT considered to be a cover song and are not included under the required licensing. 

3.Obtain a license

Getting the Audio Manufacturing License is both legally and morally the right thing to do. While the process isn’t necessarily a protracted or complicated one–and there are plenty of sources of help should you need–it’s important to cross the T’s and dot the I’s before you start recording a cover. 

4.Record, produce and share

Once you’ve created a fresh cover of an amazing song it’s time to share it with the world. Whether you incorporate it in your album, release it online, or use it in any other way, it’s worth spending the time and effort to think about distribution and promotion. 

Social media offers many opportunities to help you get your work out there. Plus, with streaming services like Spotify you can even begin to build a playlist around your cover song. 

At DJ City, we’ve got you covered!

The team here at DJ City are enthusiasts about all things music, mixing and DJing. Aside from our industry leading range in DJ equipment and gear, we’re also a leading source of knowledge and assistance for many other artists in the industry. 

So, whether you’re looking for a brand new Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) or need some more information about cover songs and licensing, make sure to contact us today.

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