How To Release A Cover Song And Not Get Sued

I'm currently producing a bi-weekly cover series called Classy Covers to promote my business. It's an open invite for musicians in my area to get involved in recording who normally wouldn't be able to. I have found that producing these cover videos have helped younger artists become more confident in themselves and also assisted established artists in furthering their brand online.

 Grinding out a Classy Cover.

Grinding out a Classy Cover.

Cover songs are undoubtedly one of the most effective tools for artists to engage their audience. I would argue that performing covers is one of the most effective ways to market yourself as a musical artist on the web. Ever heard of the Pentatonix, Walk Off The Moon, and Boyce Avenue? You've heard of them because they covered one of your favorite songs.

Before you read on, take a quick look at this article from Digital Music News regarding the aggression of record labels against cover songs on Facebook and Instagram.

So, why not go to Wal-Mart and buy a $30 tripod with an iPhone mount and start recording your "Wonderwall" covers today? Problem is, cover songs are technically illegal unless you first secure a license from the label that represents the song/artist. I ran into this the hard way when one of my Classy Covers on Facebook ended up on Universal's radar with 8.5k views (this one). My account was locked out and I had to agree to a cease and desist before I was allowed to use my Facebook again. I proceeded to (cringe and curse) delete all of my cover videos from Facebook, which included 16 videos and the 15k+ views I had worked for since May 2016. I then began the tedious process of migrating them to YouTube via wearethehits.com over the next two days.

 This was all too tempting...

This was all too tempting...

The reason I used Facebook video is because their news feed algorithm throttles the visibility of non-native video content (YouTube, Vimeo, etc). I could technically get away with uploading directly to YouTube, but I am unable to monetize the video and I still don't have a license. This means the label could still rip down my video at their pleasure. Wearethehits.com makes the copyright claim on my video and they split the ad revenue between me and the label. Also, if there's a problem with the licensing, it's on them rather than me.

Learn from my struggle and do it the right way from the start.

Here's what you need to know in order to release cover songs:

1.) Don't upload them to Facebook (unless you're rich/signed and have a license already). There is no way to pay royalties to the label natively and they will rip it down from your account and give you a copyright infringement strike. (/flex)

2.) Make a YouTube channel dedicated to your artist brand, but don't upload your videos directly to YouTube.

3.) Set up an account on wearethehits.com, fill out their paperwork, and link your YouTube account to it. Upload your videos through wearethehits.com and get paid for your plays legally without buying your own blanket license.

4.) Hustle your videos on your Facebook page and Instagram account using a YouTube link. You should drop $5 (or more if you're rich/signed) into boosting the post to get some traction. This should boost your video's visibility to compensate for what Facebook's algorithm throttles. $5 is worth not getting sued, right?

What do you think of all this? Are recording labels still relevant in today's music industry?

PS-This does not apply to releasing a cover song on your album. That's an entirely different post which I will cover in the near future.

PSS-I do not condone covering "Wonderwall." Don't be that guy.