Stories Tips & Tricks Want to Release a Cover Song? Here's Your 6-Step Licensing Checklist

Side hustles are growing in popularity as people look to capitalize on their talents and passions. Some hope they serve as a gateway to a career. If you are someone blessed with a golden voice, you may be wondering how to achieve this in the music industry.

Many artists have been discovered through cover songs. From alerting the copyright owner to music distribution, the process may seem overwhelming. However, there is a straightforward path to releasing a cover song. Here is a six-step checklist to license a song and release your cover.

1. Identify Your Song

Many people fail to appreciate how much thought this step should receive. The following steps require time and money, so you should have a plan for your cover. That begins with identifying an appropriate song to maximize your return on investment.

What are some popular songs with your target demographic? Are any songs climbing the charts and likely to remain popular for a long period of time? Is there a certain artist that best matches your music style and voice? These questions will identify a song to showcase your talents to your ideal audience.

2. Ensure You Are Doing A Cover

In order to legally cover a song, your version needs to stay close to the original. It doesn’t matter what you think the melody should do or if you can sing it differently to show off your range. If you are publishing your cover with a mechanical license, you need to stay true to the original.

3. Acquire A Mechanical License

After reading the second step on our licensing checklist, you may be asking what the heck a mechanical license is. If that’s the case, it’s a good thing you’re reading this checklist! Some people falsely believe that published cover songs require permission from the original artist.

In the United States, you are simply required to notify the copyright owner that you are covering their song and then pay a royalty rate for each purchase or download of your version. Although it can vary based on the song’s length, the rate was typically less than 10 cents in 2022. There are many companies that can help you obtain a mechanical license and set up the proper payment structure with the publisher. Since their fees and services change, you are best to conduct an online search and compare their current rates.

4. Find A Service To Distribute Your Song Online

While conducting your research for step three, you’ll want to explore services that distribute your cover song to all of the streaming platforms. Make sure that your chosen company can place your music on major platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and iHeartRadio. Additionally, look for services where you can upload an unlimited number of songs for a low annual fee.

5. Acquire An International Standard Recording Code

An International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) is a unique code that differentiates your version of a song from all others. In fact, they are so unique that they differentiate between different versions by the same artist. For example, a singer may have an ISRC for their studio version of a song and a different ISRC for a live performance of that same song. An ISRC is mandatory for digital distribution to ensure all parties are compensated properly for each digital download.

As with the previous steps, you’ll want to conduct an online search to identify which service meets the standards and fees you desire. However, be cautious that the one you select is an official ISRC manager. Some companies will generate a fake ISRC or one that is already assigned to another song.

6. Follow The Proper Procedures On YouTube

YouTube is well known for its never-ending catalog of cover songs. If you’re wanting to add yours to the list, make sure to properly point out that you are publishing a cover when YouTube’s Content ID system asks. This system is automated and enables copyright owners to monetize and track any uploads that include their content.

The system is a valuable asset for you as long as you follow the rules. You will have far greater problems if you try to circumvent or manipulate YouTube’s Content ID. As a bonus, when the copyright owner chooses to monetize your content, you are eligible to receive part of the revenue as well.


Now you know the steps to properly license and release your cover song. While they are simple, remember that they are all necessary, too. Do not skip any steps or think you can do one after you have already published your content. Everything will be much easier if you follow these six steps to release your cover and let the world discover your talent.