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How To Release Cover Songs with DistroKid

DistroKid makes it very easy for you to release cover songs on music distribution platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and the rest. In the past, this could be difficult because you’d have to go and secure the cover license yourself and ensure you kept up to date with your licensing. In this post i’ll go through the process and the rules surrounding releasing cover songs.

What is a Cover Song?

In case you’re new to the terminology, a cover song is a song that you performed & recorded yourself but the music was written by someone else. For example, if you wanted to record “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson and release it, you can do that as long as you secure the licensing (which DistroKid makes easy for you to do).

This is how Alien Ant Farm was able to cover Smooth Criminal. Essentially a portion of all the money the cover song makes goes right back to the original composer of the song. Its a win-win for everyone involved because the original artist gets money, the cover artist gets money, and the cover artist gets to capitalize on a song that people already know to grow their catalog and their potential audience.

Why Release Cover Songs?

Cover songs can be a great way to grow your audience due to three main factors:

  • Natural SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Familiarity
  • Easy targeting

People are already searching for the song you’re covering, if it’s a popular song. This means if you upload it to YouTube or the DSP’s, you may get some organic traffic as people search for the original.

When you post your cover song on social media (or YouTube), people will likely recognize the song. This reduces the barrier to entry that person needs to cross to maintain interest in your band / artist. It’s hard getting people to care about your original material as a new artist, but if you do a great cover of something they already know it’s much easier.

Additionally cover songs are easy to target. You know what genre the original song falls into, and you know who likes that artist and what other artists are associated with that artist. This means if you’re running a Facebook ad campaign, a playlist campaign or just figuring out which hashtags to use on social media, it’s a lot easier to figure out than for your original music.

What Cover Songs Can You Upload?

There are some caveats and rules that govern if you can release a particular cover song. DistroKid outlines these rules on their website, but i’ll break them down for you here:

Examples of songs that CAN be licensed:

  • A song that was released at some point on Spotify, iTunes etc.
  • A song that appeared on a vinyl record that you can purchase at a record store in the USA
  • A song that was made available as a promotional download on the artist’s website

Examples of songs you CAN NOT license:

  • A song used in a TV show, film or video game, but was not released separately from the soundtrack
  • A song that appeared on a CD compilation but only in a country that was not the USA
  • An old traditional song that is now in the public domain (more on this later)
  • Medley’s mashups, etc.

For the most part if you can find the song on the DSP’s, you can cover it.

How to Release Cover Songs on DistroKid

To upload a cover, choose the ‘Another artist wrote it’ on DistroKid’s upload form in the cover song section.

DistroKid cover songs

When you do this DistroKid charges a fee of $12 per year, renewed annually to manage each cover song license for you. Here’s what they do for that $12:

  • Obtain the licenses
  • Pay the original songwriters each month
  • Keep up-to-date on copyright laws affecting your music

You have to purchase one of these licenses every time you upload a cover song, even if you’re releasing the same cover song again. Additionally if you’re already handling cover song licensing yourself, you still have to pay the fee through DistroKid, so make sure if you’re using DistroKid’s cover song tool you don’t go and purchase your own licensing.

Outside of the annual fee DistroKid will pay the mechanical license fee to the original composer at the legally mandated rate of 9.1 cents or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time for downloads, whichever is larger. Streaming royalties are more complicated and vary between 11.4% to 15.1% of the gross streaming revenue, minus the cost of public performance royalties.

Releasing Public Domain Music

Music enters what is known as the ‘public domain’ when it the copyright on the recording or sheet music expires, around 70 years after the original artist’s death. You do not need to use DistroKid’s cover song tool or otherwise secure licensing to release a cover or reinterpretation of public domain music. For the most part, you can simply release it as if it were your own composition.

Keep in mind that while the composition may be public domain specific recordings of that song may not be. This means you can’t sample someone else’s recording of that song and release that as your own. No sound recordings are public domain in the USA due to the complexity of copyright law.

So just make sure the song is definitely in the public domain, and don’t sample someone else’s recording of that public domain song and you should be fine.

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