Some Context to the Budget Change Needed
I am new to subject of my releasing cover songs, but in preparation for this album, I’ve become incredibly wiser about how rights for cover songs work and for the industry in general. Having said that, there’s a lot that is evolving quickly with regards to what is available and how it is being used. For example, the Compact Disc will slowly, but surely go the way of cassette tapes and 8-tracks. More and more releases are skipping CDs altogether, particularly amongst independent artists like myself. But there is still a large enough percentage of the music-buying public that wants their music on CD that it can still be a factor. At the same time, companies like CreateSpace offering print on demand CDs lets an independent artist have it both ways—they don’t have to produce a printing, but their audience can still have that new music on CD.
Various companies have created incredible opportunities for indie artists by providing ways to obtain licenses and rights. The easiest is obtaining the rights to record and release a cover song. If you want to make a music video of that cover song, you’ll need a different license. If you want to perform your cover song live, you’ll need yet another license (though I should hope that you could perform it in a BMI/ASCAP space, such as a cabaret venue or certain bars). To even print the lyric of a cover song in your album liner notes, you need yet another license. And it can get more detailed than that.
On Monday, I happened to stumble upon information that made me realize that in actuality I need not 1, but 3 licenses for each cover song (for each format I want to be able to release: digital streaming (Spotify, Pandora), digital downloads (iTunes, Amazon), and physical CDs. If I wanted to put the album out on vinyl. there’d be a 4th needed). I’m not accusing the various companies that offer these services of having attempted to deceive me—I take responsibility for having discovered Monday what I should have earlier. But, I have expressed to them that they need to make this absolutely clear to artists–a great amount of language on this subject does indeed make it seem you you just need one license. Additionally, I got into a heated exchange with a representative of one of the companies I’m working with and/or exploring this subject. I was trying to get this information articulated, so I could move forward and was given the generic, incorrect answer that began this whole problem. One explanation for this is that these companies are trying very hard not to mislead artists or appear to be offering any kind of legal answers. The other reason is that we are constantly swimming in new waters with evolving technology and copyright laws. I now know to be clear in my questions that I am not seeking legal answers, only practical action steps.
How This Applies Specifically to This Album
Originally, I had budgeted for cover songs, but when I heard that the company I’m using to master, Landr, was now offering free cover song licensing with all of their subscription plans, I excitedly thought my budget went down $30 a cover song. (They also offer free digital distribution, making them a terrific place for indie artists to utilize).
My problem is more or less two-fold. I had already bought digital distribution through CDBaby, and I wanted to be able to offer the album on CD. The latter could be solved by obtaining the license for CDs at a separate company since Landr’s deal covers both digital formats. But the former was the bigger problem. The company (and I don’t blame them) only offers free cover song licensing for songs that are being digitally distributed through them.
You are probably thinking I should just release the album through Landr instead. There are a variety of reasons I am keeping the album distribution I purchased through CDBaby for this album (as opposed to saving it for a future release). The biggest reason is that with CDBaby, my release should be covered for digital distribution until the end of the internet. With Landr, I or my estate would need to maintain at least the release subscription.
The Solution & the Cover Song Choice
So, I’m just going to obtain all the licensing through one terrific company, easysonglicensing.com The cost is going to be just under $100 per song for 100 CDs, 100 digital downloads, and 500 digital streams (you have to pay royalties in advance). Therefore, I am starting with one cover song–the one that means the most to me as I’m dedicating it to my late Grandma Betty. And, that song is “Pretty Paper”. It was written by Willie Nelson for Roy Orbison. It was one of her favorites, and she is how I came to know and love the song. (Fingers crossed there isn’t a problem with my receiving permission (unlikely, but fingers crossed anyway)). UPDATE: The featured image is my proof of license! 🙂
Additional Cover Songs?
If there are to be additional cover songs, they will have to come out of the Next Level budget. the contenders are “Christmastime Is Here”, “The Secret of Christmas”, and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (which is currently on the working album cover art, but may or not stay there).