How do I release a cover song? (Updated)

What you'll learn in this post:
  • When is a song a cover version and when not
  • How you can legally release a cover version
  • How the revenue of a cover is distributed

Note: This is an updated version of the post from December 8th, 2020. There were some adjustments in 2021, which we have now added to this post. In case of any uncertainties, it is always advisable to contact the responsible collecting society first.

Many artists get a lot of attention by uploading their versions of well-known songs to YouTube, Soundcloud and so on. But it’ also possible to release cover songs officially. We show you how.

Releasing a cover song is tricky because you are neither the composer nor the lyricist of the song and therefore you have no rights to the track. But with a successful cover version you can quickly win new listeners. Fortunately you only have to consider a few points to release your version legally.

When is my song a cover?

Your song is only considered a cover if you stick very closely to the original. This means that melody, lyrics and song structure may not be changed. If your version differs too much from the original, it’s considered an adaptation and then you have to get the permission of the copyright holder in any case. It’s also not allowed to use samples or release a remix without permission.

Difference Streaming and Download / Physical

It also depends on which platforms you want to make your cover version available. If the song appears exclusively on streaming providers such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer or YouTube Music, they are obliged to take care of the licensing with the collecting society. You only have to consider these points:

  • Enter the composers as well as lyricists of the original song when you add the song to your distributor.
  • Also mark the song as a cover when you register it (but not in the song title).
  • Register the song with the responsible collecting society
  • The original song must be registered with a collecting society. If not, you must obtain the permission of the rights holders.

If you also want to make the song available for download, e.g. via iTunes or Bandcamp, or release the track physically on CD or vinyl, you need a separate license. You can obtain it from collecting societies. Important: If you want to cover the song of a British artist, for example, you do not necessarily have to contact the British collecting society. The collecting societies are all linked to each other, so you can simply contact the one you are already working with.

Furthermore, the points mentioned above for streaming must also be taken into account.

Revenue sharing

It is also important to know that the copyright share (publishing rights) is paid out in full to the authors and composers of the original. The sales revenue (master rights), however, remains with you.

If you follow all these rules, all you have to do now is find out which song would suit you as an artist.