A Legal Way to Post, and Monetize, Cover Songs

For artists who aren’t Mandy Jiroux and want to cover their favourite song on YouTube or another platform, there’s a way to go about it without facing a takedown notice or lawsuit.

Over at DigitalMusicNews, Ari Herstand explains that there is a way to go about legally covering a song and even make a few buck (hopefully) from it.

Cover videos could be legally monetized if the song’s publisher found it on YouTube and asked to place an ad on the video. YouTube’s Content ID, designed to find songs uploaded by users and not labels or managers, has difficulty doing this because the covers often don’t sound exactly like the original, making it a hit-and-miss tool for this purpose (and, one could argue, also makes Content ID an inferior tool for one of its stated purposes: to find illegally posted videos and take them down as being in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

“Up until recently, the only way to legally obtain a synch license from a publishing company (the license you need to ‘synch’ their composition to your video) was to negotiate with them. Yeah, good luck even finding an email from someone at a major publishing company, let alone getting a response,” Herstand writes.

Luckily, there’s a better and easier way. We Are the Hits is a company started by Larry Mills, a former Sony/ATV exec, who in 2011 created the company to represent the three major song publishing companies and a handful of indie labels. Sign up for an account on his website and check to see whether the song you want to cover is one included in the We Are the Hits database. If the song is there, “upload your video to We Are the Hits and they will post it to your YouTube channel and monetize it. Best part is, both you and the publisher get paid for the ad revenue it generates. After YouTube’s 45% cut, WATH keeps 60% (to pay the publishers/songwriters) and you keep 40%,” he explains.

So if the payment is $100, YouTube gets $45, WATH gets $33 and you get $22. It’s not huge money, but it’s something, it’s easy to understand the division of dollars and everyone’s obligations are satisfied.

“It’s been estimated that monetized videos earn about $1,000 for a million views (after YouTube’s 45% cut). That works out to be about $0.001 per view. So, if your cover video goes viral and you get, let’s say, 10 million views (impressive!), after YouTube and WATH’s cut, you’ll earn about $4,000,” Herstand says. “Better than nothing I guess, but that works out to be $0.0004 per view…At that point, you should be sending your fans to Patreon or BandCamp to support you directly.”

For more information on how the process works and how to replicate it on other platforms, read here.

Learn more about We Are the Hits here.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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