5 Secrets to Successful Cover Song Licensing

If you want to release a cover song, it’s important to do your due diligence, especially as an independent artist. Understanding the process is key to making sure you don’t get in any trouble. The good news is that cover song licensing is not super complex!

Recording your cover song is a blast and that’s the easiest part of the process. But when it comes to sharing it and getting it out there, you need a distribution strategy that will help you succeed. To accomplish that, you need cover song licensing.

When you do a commercial release of a cover song as an independent artist, things can be a little more difficult, but not impossible. There’s no need to stress about it because we will explain cover song licensing and how you can release your cover songs legally without too much hassle. All you need to do is follow 5 simple steps!

1. Choose the Right Song to Cover

Choosing the perfect song to cover for a commercial release is very important. Now, we can’t say there’s a formula you can follow to make the right choice. However, you can choose a cover song based on many different reasons. Such as:

  • Sharing an influence with your followers that they didn’t know you had.
  • Making a statement by re-imagining a well-known classic track.
  • Change the genre of a song to reveal its deeper meaning or give it an alternate meaning.
  • Challenging yourself and improving your skills as an artist or exploring new skills.
  • Sharing a song that has been stuck in your head and that has inspired you.

Whatever reason you may have to cover a specific song, make sure you choose it wisely. Mull it over a bit! Don’t pick a song just because it’s popular or because you think you’ll get many streams.

Instead, choose a song that inspires you, that will help you learn something, or that you’re passionate about reimagining. Change the cover enough to make it your own, but still try to honor the original artist. Your audience will respond well to your passion and respect.

2. Don’t Change the Cover Too Much

One of the most important things to understand about cover song licensing is that you need to make sure what you’re doing is indeed a cover. A cover consists of recording an existing song without changing the composition of the original track, which includes lyrics, structure, and melody.

If you go overboard with changing the cover, it will no longer be considered a cover. Cover song licensing doesn’t cover remixes, mashups, or samples. So, you need to maintain the original composition for it to be considered a cover. Following this step is key because it will save you a lot of stress when you release the song.

3. Get the Correct Mechanical License

When it comes to cover song licensing, a mechanical license is required for the legal distribution of your cover songs. A mechanical license is an agreement where the copyright owner grants permission to someone else (you) to make a cover of the original composition.

This allows you to legally distribute that cover and it ensures that all the people that should be getting paid are receiving the revenue that they deserve. The issue with cover song licensing is that it can be difficult when you don’t have any help.

It’s definitely a time-consuming process if you’re on your own and it can be confusing when you don’t have the experience or the know-how. However, digital distribution has made cover song licensing easier and quicker.

When it comes to getting a mechanical license, there are many great options you can choose from. You just have to do your research and compare prices to get the best possible deal. Many companies offer this service, just make sure you work with a trustworthy one.

4. Get Your Details in Order

When dealing with cover song licensing, you need to provide some important information and it’s important to get it right. So, you have to do your research to get those details in order before you release your cover song because you’ll have to enter that information. Luckily, there are many great resources you can use to find accurate information about the song you’re covering.

The first thing you need to do is get the original song title right. Though you might be tempted to edit the original title of the song you’re covering, don’t. Keep it as it is and there’s no need to add “cover” or “cover version” to the title. You also need to know who the original songwriter is.

When you’re covering a song from a band, make sure you know who the songwriter is. Don’t assume that the band wrote the lyrics, do your due diligence. It’s very important to make sure this is accurate because it will determine who will get paid from what the cover song makes.

If you don’t attribute the track to the right songwriter, it will become a big issue. The next thing you want to determine is who the original artist is. This is an easy detail to confirm, just make sure you write their name correctly when you input the details of your cover song.

5. Determine Where to Distribute Your Cover Song

Once you’ve recorded your cover song, you need to determine where it will live so you can promote it effectively. Whether it’s a single, a Christmas song cover, a deep cut on one of your albums, or is it meant for a playlist? Once you determine that, you have to choose a platform because that will help you determine the release date and promotion efforts.

If your cover song is a deep cut on an album, your promotion strategy should be the same as your album release strategy. You just have to make sure to choose a good spot for that cover song on your album. If it’s a single, you can promote it by building a story or playlist around it. Get as many ears as possible!

It doesn’t matter how you choose to release your cover song, just make sure you choose a good home for it. If you are working with a tight budget and you want to release your cover song as soon as possible, license it, and distribute it on all streaming platforms, DistroKid can help with that.


Creating a cover of a song is a great way to have fun as an artist, polish your skills, and exercise your creativity. It’s very important that you choose a song that will add some intrigue to your existing catalog.

Make things interesting for your followers and they will respond well to it. Also, make sure the song you cover is one you’re passionate about. Once the fun part is over, you have to obtain cover song licensing for legal distribution. Don’t forget to check out DistroKid, if you are looking to distribute and license your cover song fast!

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be able to secure cover song licensing without too much trouble. This way, you can profit off your cover song without violating the rights of the original artist.

Indie Bible / Indie Spotify Bible / International Booking Agents Directory banner