How To Release A Cover Song Legally

In the world of the music industry, where laws and rules are constantly changing, artists often have to deal with a multitude of legal intricacies, especially when it comes to releasing cover versions of songs. However, understanding all the nuances of the legal process allows musicians to discover a whole world of opportunities to expand their audience and repertoire.

Why Release a Cover Song

The decision to release a cover version can become a strategic step for artists seeking to use existing audience attention and introduce themselves to a wider audience. Moreover, cover versions have significant attractive potential for music supervisors looking for tracks to use in TV shows or films, providing artists with a chance to showcase their talent on a larger platform.

Top Tips for Releasing a Cover Song

  1. You Don’t Need Permission for a Cover: Contrary to common belief, artists do not necessarily need explicit permission from the original composer to record a cover version. Compulsory licensing laws in the US allow artists to release covers after notifying the owner and paying the prescribed royalty rate for purchase or download.
  2. Obtain a Mechanical License for Online Releases: Obtaining a mechanical license, facilitated by organizations such as the Harry Fox Agency (HFA), is critically important for online releases, ensuring the ability to legally sell digital copies of cover versions.
  3. Make Sure It’s Actually a Cover: To avoid legal complications, artists must adhere closely to the original structure, lyrics, and melody of the song they wish to cover, ensuring that their interpretation qualifies as a legitimate cover.
  4. Digital Aggregators Handle the Main Work for Streaming Releases: Major digital aggregators such as CD Baby and DistroKid simplify the process of releasing cover versions on streaming platforms, handling licensing fees and distribution seamlessly.
  5. Obtain an ISRC Code: Obtaining an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) is necessary to distinguish between different versions of a song and ensure proper payment distribution, especially in the realm of digital distribution.

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Additional Considerations

While the process of legally releasing a cover version is relatively simple, artists must navigate additional nuances when incorporating their covers into visual media or distributing them on platforms such as SoundCloud, Facebook, or Instagram, where licensing requirements may vary.


Releasing a cover version can be a rewarding and prospective endeavor for artists, providing a pathway to increased visibility and new opportunities. Understanding the legal aspects and consistently following the relevant requirements will allow musicians to confidently share their interpretations of beloved songs with the world.

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Read also: How Much Does Tidal Pay For 1 Million Streams?

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