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Musicians of MakeUseOf Learn The Basics Of Any Instrument With YouTube [Stuff to Watch] Learn The Basics Of Any Instrument With YouTube [Stuff to Watch] YouTube can teach you to do just about anything, and that includes playing an instrument. Today we'll focus on piano, guitar, bass guitar and drums. Read More , you’re always wanting to build up your popularity, aren’t you? Of course you are.

A popular method for those desiring a quick-and-easy rise to stardom is by posting cover songs of popular music on YouTube YouTube Music: Easily Discover New Music Videos on YouTube YouTube Music: Easily Discover New Music Videos on YouTube Read More . With covers like this Taylor Swift mash-up even getting support from the original artist, it’s no wonder they are abundant.

But consider this: what are the legal ramifications of your song?

To The No-Name Artist


First, let’s be clear: I’m not condoning breaking the law. I’m not condoning breaking the law. I’m not condoning breaking the law. But the reality is that – with the constant flow of unsolicited uploads and covers of popular music – yours is likely not going to be caught in the music business fishnet.

In the past, this was certainly more of an issue, but these days, due to the sheer amount of existing similar content, it’s akin to playing a quick cover at a small college house show. Let’s put it this way: Do you expect to get over 100 views? Maybe 1000? While there are guidelines for these numbers, you’re probably going to be okay.

Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer. But also keep in mind that I haven’t ever been sued. Yet.

The reality is that if you’re just getting started, your one or two Sam Smith webcam covers probably aren’t going to get taken down. You likely won’t even receive legal contact from the publisher. However, once you start garnering some attention, this is where things get tricky.

To The Moderately-To-Very-Well-Known Artist


What’s your YouTube view Want More YouTube Views? 5 Key Tips To Follow Want More YouTube Views? 5 Key Tips To Follow Here’s the situation: you've been putting out YouTube videos for a while now and you aren't sure why your viewership hasn't skyrocketed. It’s not uncommon, and people ask how to increase video views all the... Read More count? Maybe 7000 to 10000 views? More? Awesome. Well… this means you’re getting some attention, and this also means there’s more of a chance that your covers will get some legal attention.

You should know that there are two forms of copyright for songs. First, there’s copyright to the song’s words and music as well as for for performances, and then there’s something you might be a little more interested in (even though both matter), the copyright for the actual sound recording.

Now, if you’re just recording the cover and selling it online Great Sites To Sell Your Own Music On Great Sites To Sell Your Own Music On Have you decided to sell the music you so painstakingly create? However you decide to distribute your music, MakeUseOf has got you covered! The websites here have tried and true services to help you. Read More , this is incredibly easy to do. All you need is to obtain something called a mechanical license from a licensing company such as the Harry Fox Agency or Limelight. Typically, you just need to pay something in the realm of ~$0.10 per (estimated) sale.

The issue is that we’re posting videos on YouTube, and this means we’re pairing the audio with a video. This requires something called a sync license. Sync licenses – in layman’s terms – are these nasty little mystical nuggets belonging to the music business dragon that absolutely no one likes.

Acquiring The Sync License


So typically, in order to acquire a sync license, you just need to ask the publisher. Unfortunately, there are no set prices for this kind of thing – we don’t even have a pricing scale available! Sometimes you can get it for free, and other times it’s going to cost you dearly. Hopefully, it won’t be the latter.

Below are two of the biggest music publishers out there and links to sections of their website which will help you acquire a sync license.

  • SESAC: This will allow you to directly submit a request to the publisher.
  • ASCAP: This is more of a how-to section of the site targeted at independent filmmakers, which technically you are if you’re uploading a cover song to YouTube.

Copyright Covered

So there you have it. In order to properly upload your cover, you’re going to need the sync license. In order to sell and distribute your cover, you will need a mechanical license.

Granted, we’re always open to receiving input from our readers, so if you have anything to add, we’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever acquired a sync license? How much did you end up paying?

Image Credits: Ethan Hassick, Sasha Willins, Mark Runyon, jm3 on Flickr

  1. Hugo
    May 9, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    I bought the mechanical licenses for two songs back in the 90's for my 2nd vocal CD. They were "Get Right Back to Where We Started From" by Maxine Nightingale and "I'm a Believer" by Neil Diamond/The Monkees (Neil Diamond wrote the song but both band's publishing companies own the rights 50/50 - part of the deal made when the Monkees covered the song). They cost me $11 each and an additional 6 cents each for every CD or single sold. Well Smashmouth released "I'm a Believer" a month before my album was complete and the Maxine Nightingale tune didn't come out the way I wanted so neither made it onto the release.
    I knew a couple bands around the same time that purchased mechanical rights for various songs for their albums (same deal) but followed up with an internet release as well. It didn't take them long to receive a letter from the associated publishing companies to demand they take the songs down. They had no interest in letting them purchase the required licenses to post the tunes online. The internet was still quite new and I suppose the publishing companies (and/or the owners of the songs) realized the covering bands could connect with far more people than they could have with the mechanical license they previously purchased. They were told to take the songs down immediately or face legal action...period. They maintained their mechanical rights in both cases but dropped the songs entirely from their follow up CD orders.
    I think today it's much easier to acquire the proper licenses than it used to be. It's a win win for both parties. The band makes it big with a familiar tune to help push their own new material and the song is revived and makes a ship load of writing royalties for the writer and their publishing company.

    • Paul
      December 22, 2016 at 8:10 pm

      Thank you Hugo for educating us brother. I want to upload a rough draft cover song on youtube man. Now I know what's up bro.

  2. Michael DiLillo
    May 5, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Joshua,

    We have a small band that performs some cover songs. We would like to post some recorded samples of us playing covers on our website just so people could know what we sound like. We would not be selling these recordings, and also we are not performing for a living. We just do some very small local gigs in a small town.

    We would have less than 100 views would be my guess. Just to hear a few clips. Probably just 30 second clips, not the full song anyway.

    I contacted Loudr and they said since it is a personal website they didn't even license that. They said ASCAP or BMI. We aren't making any money except for some tips, so can't afford an ASCAP license.

    Do you think it is a big deal to post these on our website? Worse case we just need to remove them from the website? Basically only some locals in our town will be looking at this.

    Thanks for any info,


  3. Riley J. Dennis
    February 25, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    i wonder how many youtubers who do covers actually get sync or mechanical licences, because cover videos are everyyyyywhere and i bet they aren't just getting licenses all the time. but, then, why do they never get taken down? idk.

  4. Pavel Batehin
    August 26, 2015 at 8:58 am

    But what does youtube say about that? Coul you give official link on that subject?

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