So, you’ve heard a song that you have to cover. Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, there is something called mechanical rights that need to be taken seriously. What exactly is a mechanical license and do you need one for a cover song? Let’s take a look at obtaining a mechanical license for a cover song, and why it’s important.
What Is A Mechanical License?
A mechanical license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted piece of music. This license grants the user permission to release the song in an audio-only format. Audio only simply means just sound, meaning streaming platforms, digital downloads, CDs and vinyl. This permission is also called mechanical rights.
Do I Need A Mechanical License For A Cover Song?
If you want to release a recording or cover of a song that somebody else has written then the answer is yes!
Mechanical licenses are most commonly used for covers of copyrighted songs. Even if you just use a portion of the song, you still need to obtain the license. If you want to release a medley, each song will also require a separate mechanical license. The only exceptions are songs that are in the public domain.
Let’s say you don’t want to cover the song, but want to use the original recording. In this instance, you would need:
- A mechanical license to pay the composer for the rights to their composition
- A master license to pay the artists for the right to use the recording itself
Sidenote: If you are creating a visual project such as a video, you will need a different type of license. This is called a synchronization license.
How Do I Obtain A Mechnical License?
There are lots of ways to obtain a mechanical license. These are:
- Identify the original songwriter, publisher or label, as they are the owner of the copyright. You can do this by searching the various copyright databases such as Songfile, or PRO’s such as BMI, ASCAP, SESAC or US Copyright Office. For signed artists, the copyright owner is usually the publisher. Labels rarely own the copyright in the composition, but usually own the copyright in the sound recording. It’s therefore important to make sure to get the publisher name, not the label. Once you’ve identified the correct people to contact, away you go!
- You can get a mechanical license from certain distributors such as TuneCore.
- Sites such as easysonglicensing.com allow you to license any song.
Who Gets Paid For Cover Songs?
Mechanical licenses pay royalties to the copyright holder of the composition (either the composer or their publisher). However, sometimes mechanical rights can be sold, meaning that the song might have a new owner. Due to this, it is important to locate the current copyright holders before making a mechanical request.
Don’t forget that songs are split into two components: the composition and the recorded audio, as mentioned earlier. These components can be owned by different entities, which is why there are two types of licenses.
Therefore, the royalties will be split between the relevant parties (yourself, the owner of the composition and the master recording).
We hope that we’ve answered your questions about mechanical licenses for cover songs, and wish you the best in your cover song creation! Be sure to do your research beforehand, contact the relevant parties and don’t release anything until you have the correct rights.