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Do you need permission to do a cover song?

Hey guys, it’s been quite a while. Thanks to this sprung-up crime brought about by a high unemployment rate, I was mugged in broad daylight and my stuff was taken; phone, laptop… But that’s in the past now. Star taffa! Let’s get down to business.

A while back, I talked about how it’s good to do a cover song. That’s one sure way of pushing your music career. However, I’ve received a couple of calls from musicians since then. Their worry was about copyright infringement.

Going back a little, the concept of cover songs in Uganda came to the limelight when Bruno K did a rendition of Juicy Juicy by Radio & Weasel in 2016. Bruno K’s rendition became so popular and sparked a war in which Mowzey Radio (RIP) accused the former of redoing their song without consent. The same fight was witnessed in 2015 when various contemporary Ugandan musicians redid songs of Elly Wamala (RIP) as a 10-year tribute.

Here is the thing; you do not need consent from the original artiste to make a cover song. How many artistes covered Adele’s Hello? Did they all first have to get her management’s permission? The answer is no; they didn’t!

Really? Are you sure?

Many artists do not know that there are two copyrights to a song. There is the Recording Copyright, the one you own at the time of recording unless you have just been hired. Then there is the Composition/Underlying Copyright which is on the lyrics that you have personally written before the song is recorded. When you record a cover song, you’ll own the copyright in that recording but you will need permission to use the song as you don’t own that composition copyright.

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But, that said and done you will need to brace up before publishing your cover song. It could be taken down by the major streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify, et al. I am glad to break it down for you. First up, you’re going to need to get Mechanical and Synchronization Licenses for the audio and video (if you plan to upload a video on YouTube) respectively.

What are Mechanical and Synchronization Licenses?

A Mechanical License is a permission you need to get from the publisher. This will enable you to record and distribute the song that they own rights to. For this, you will have to pay a royalty to that publisher. This royalty ultimately goes to the owner of the song you have covered. If you are lucky, you might not have to pay anything to anyone. This is in cases where the song you intend to cover is now in the public domain.

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For a song to be in the public domain, the song has to be of a certain age and no longer has copyright protection. This is usually 50 or 75 years after the death of the writer. After these years, the publisher no longer has rights to the song; it is now considered public property. You won’t need anyone’s permission here.

A Synchronization License enables you get the lyrics of your cover song synchronized with your video. So if you plan to release a video for your cover song, you will need to get a Synchronization License.

Where does one get these licenses?

Soundrop. The answer is Soundrop. After a lot of mind investment on how cover songs work, I landed on this one platform which is strictly designed for Cover Artistes. It is simple and easy to use, doesn’t have annual subscription fees, doesn’t have delivery fees, there are no upfront distribution fees, and there are no account fees.

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The only fee I discovered is a $9.99 (UGX36,876) charge for each cover song you submit. This fee is to secure the required licenses. After this is done, they keep 15% of the revenue you earn from your digital music platforms. In essence, they only make money when you make money. Fair game, right?

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The other thing about Soundrop is that you will release your cover song rest-assured that the licenses are properly secured and the audio, song artwork, and metadata have been manually inspected by the Soundrop team. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about, when, how, and how often you can pay your collaborators; Soundrop handles that for you and all your collaborators at no extra cost.

Why then do some artistes complain of copyright infringement?

Any artiste who whines about permission when their song is covered is simply ignorant/uninformed. If you copyright your music through the proper channels, cover songs work in your favor as the original artiste; that is more revenue for you.

So going back to our first article about cover songs, what are you waiting for to earn from cover songs? You realize you don’t need permission so get down to work.

That’s it for today guys. Let’s meet next time as I take a look at some of the good songs that didn’t get airplay in Uganda this year. I sign off for today. We will build this industry Brick by Brick.

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Don Andrea

Don Andrea is a journalist and data analyst with a passion for music and entertainment. "Opinions are mine, comments are yours." - Don Andrea.

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