9 Ways To Make Money From Cover Songs (Even Though Facebook Is Ripping Them Down)

  • Save

You’ve probably heard by now that major publishers and Facebook are in a battle for legitimacy.

The major publishers (namely UMG) have been getting Facebook to remove all cover videos using their songs. Publishers want Facebook to pay massive upfront advances and share in the ad revenue from video ads in exchange for synch licenses for videos containing their songs. If they come to an agreement, the publishing companies will allow Facebook to keep these ‘unauthorized’ cover videos up. Until, then, though, they will continue to get ripped down.

+Facebook Is Aggressively Ripping Down Cover Videos

For the record, Facebook should pay for the use of songs on the platform. And songwriters should be compensated for this. The problem is, Facebook is not battling with songwriters for licenses and payment splits. Facebook is battling with major publishers – who are, of course, looking out for their own best interests (not their songwriters). Don’t believe me? Then why are so many songwriters suing their publishing companies for unreported (or underreported) revenue? And why are major publishers demanding up front advances (like they did with YouTube) that never get passed down to their songwriters? Why are the majors so damn opaque with their reporting practices? If they have nothing to hide, then be transparent!

+It’s Time To Completely Rethink How Songwriters Get Paid

I full-heartedly believe that Facebook (and every platform) should license and pay for the use of music, however there are more ethical ways to do this other than bowing down to major publishers and labels’ demands just because they hold the market share (leaving artists and songwriters out in the cold). It would be really great if we could come up with common sense licensing that helps songwriters AND publishers. Like how ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay 50% to publishers and 50% to songwriters directly. It would be kind of great if there was some kind of synch licensing organization that dealt with the new category of “mass-synch” videos like on Facebook and YouTube – because the current laws in place do not reflect the realities of the world we live in. The laws haven’t caught up. And will never catch up. So we need to figure out how to come to fair agreements without relying on the laws changing.

That being said, there are other ways to make money, legally, off of your cover song recordings. First off, though, you need to get a mechanical license to release the cover song (remember, not video, song). You can get one via Loudr, Easy Song License or HFA’s Songfile. Once you have this, you can legally release the cover song (without permission from the publisher or songwriter).

Here’s how to make money off of the song:

1) Downloads

Believe it or not, some people still download music. iTunes is still the most popular download store in the world and even though its revenue is rapidly declining (with rumors it may close up shop completely by 2018), some artists are still earning serious dough on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and the bunch).

2) Bandcamp

Bandcamp deserves to be in a category of its own. Whereas iTunes is like the Walmart of music, Bandcamp is your local, mom and pop shop where you drop off your discs to sell on consignment. Yes, Bandcamp has a digital download store (that you, the artist, manages yourself – without having to work through a distributor) with a “name your price” option (where someone once paid me $20 for a single and $200 for an album), but Bandcamp also has a subscription service (ala Patreon) where fans can pay you a bulk amount per year or per month, on an ongoing basis, and can receive all the music you release along with exclusive content.

+The Largest Independent Music Store Moves to Subscription Model

3) Patreon

Many YouTubers realized that the ad revenue they were getting from YouTube was impossible to survive on (even with their millions upon millions of plays), but they had many fans willing to support them directly. Patreon was created by Jack Conte (of Pomplamoose) for this exact reason. If you’ve built up a fanbase from your cover songs, you can get them to support you via Patreon.

+This Artist Is Making Over $25,000 Per Song (on Patreon) 

4) Pandora

Whereas you won’t get paid from AM/FM radio from your cover song spins, you will from digital radio platforms like Pandora via SoundExchange. Make sure you are registered with SoundExchange and that they have a catalog of your songs. It’s worth letting them know every time you release a song to make sure they are looking for it and know where to send your royalties.

+How To Get All of The Royalties You Never Knew Existed

5) Sirius XM

Like Pandora, you can get paid for your cover song on Sirius/Xm Satellite radio via SoundExchange royalties.

6) (Interactive) Streaming

Spotify, Apple Music and the rest will pay you, the artist (via your distribution company) for every stream. If you get your cover song included in a hot playlist you could generate millions of streams (which can really add up). Haley Reinhart got her cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” included in the Acoustic Covers Spotify playlist which helped propel that song to 33 million plays. Birdy’s Bon Iver cover of “Skinny Love” is also included on that playlist and has 178 million plays. Kina Grannis’s cover of “Chandelier” has 31 million plays on Spotify in part from her many playlist inclusions.

+Want To Know Who The Best Digital Distribution Company Is?

7) YouTube

Unlike Facebook, YouTube is licensed by all major publishing companies and you can legally put your cover video up on YouTube (and get paid on the views) IF you go about it properly. We Are The Hits allows you to upload your cover video to their site, they will then post it to your YouTube channel, properly monetize it, pay the publisher of the song and pay you 40% of the ad revenue generated from the video. To my knowledge, they are the only company doing this right now that has agreements with all major publishers and many of the biggest indies. If you know of any others please let me know in the comments!

+How To Legally Release Cover Videos on YouTube

8) Synch Licensing

Contact the publisher of the song you’re covering and offer them the master to pitch for synch licensing. Since they own the rights to the publishing and you own the rights to the master, let them know you’ll clear the song for whatever they can get for the synch license (50/50 split). Who knows, it could be used for a Super Bowl ad like this Coldplay cover by Clairity. Guaranteed, Clairity earned a pretty penny for this usage (as did Coldplay for writing the thing).

9) TV Royalties

And, if your cover gets on TV (whether it’s in a commercial or TV show/movie), you can earn SAG-AFTRA royalties. And these definitely add up. I was once in a Bud Light commercial (as an actor – yeah I do a bit of that too, hell it’s LA, why not?), and in SAG-AFTRA residuals, I got about $10,000 A MONTH for as long as it was on the air. That was for hanging out at a (fake) barbecue holding a can of Limearita and laughing on cue a lot. If your song gets in a commercial, you’ll make about the same because you’re treated as a voice over actor. Many commercials run about 6 months, that could be $60,000 just in SAG-AFTRA residuals. If, however, SAG-AFTRA doesn’t have your mailing address they won’t know who to pay. You can check here to see if you have outstanding royalties. Or contact SAG-AFTRA directly and give them your info when you have music played on TV.

12 Responses

  1. Christy Crowl @promusicdb

    RE: TV Royalties

    Readers please take note that getting SAG-AFTRA royalties for singing on a song that is placed on a TV show requires you to be a member of SAG-AFTRA, and that the show be a SAG-AFTRA signatory show. It is expensive to join, and you must be a member to receive royalties. You also cannot join SAG-AFTRA without being on a SAG-AFTRA contract, so just seeing your song get placed on a show and calling them up and saying you’re on it won’t get you any $$ unless you’re a member, or were contracted for that particular show. Otherwise, it’s a licensed song on the show, which is usually under the Music Supervisor to clear. For info on joining SAG-AFTRA, visit their website.

    • Ari Herstand

      Yes, the show/commercial needs to be a SAG-AFTRA spot.

      But, you don’t actually need to be a member to receive residuals.

      I know, I was receiving residual checks before I was a member. I just got off the phone with SAG-AFTRA and I asked them specifically “If I am not a member and my song (that I sing on) is in a union commercial or TV show, can I get paid residuals?”
      “Just to clarify, if I’m not in SAG-AFTRA I still get paid?”
      “Yes. If you are singing, then you are classified as a principle voice over actor.”

      They said that if it is a union commercial or TV show and you see the commercial or TV show and have not been paid, then contact SAG-AFTRA (even if you are not a member) and they will get you paid.

      • Christy Crowl @promusicdb

        Ari, I served on the Board of AFTRA as a singer rep, as well as on the SAG Singers committee, and I do know how this works. I’ve also licensed plenty of my own library on TV, and have been a Music Supervisor. Technically, yes, they can get you paid if you were hired to specifically sing the song for the show – but it isn’t as cavalier as just calling them up and saying you sang on something that may have been licensed for the show.

        If you were hired specifically to do record vocals on the song for the show, and you delivered, then yes – you have more of a leg to stand on and SAG-AFTRA has grounds to pursue getting you paid as you were hired specifically for the vocals on the song that aired on the show, as you say. My guess is that whoever you asked at the union was assuming that you were hired specifically to do that vocal for the song specifically for the show, and weren’t put on the union contract. They weren’t aware if it was a licensed use of a pre-recorded cover (or original) song.

        BUT, if the song is licensed, the process will go a little something like this – the first time, you may have a shot at getting paid if the Music Supervisor will work with you to get the production company to put your recording vocals on a contract. If not, they will probably go after the Production Company (or whoever the signatory is) to get them to sign the Taft-Hartley for recording the vocals of a song on a SAG-AFTRA TV show and not putting the song’s vocals on contract. This will upset the Music Supervisor (who put the song on the show) who probably worked out the deal to license the song in the first place, and if you didn’t make them aware you would only license your performance of the song if you were getting paid SAG-AFTRA scale for the show’s use of it, good luck in getting them to use you again.

        So yes, Ari, SAG-AFTRA will get you paid if you were hired to specifically sing on a song on a TV show, but the context needs to be clear. It’s very fuzzy with licensing in Film/TV, especially with vocal songs, even moreso with covers, and more often than not the licensing fee is expected to be it, because the singer/songwriter is getting backend from their PRO. However, with covers, it would be a different case altogether. If you’re hired as a session singer to do the vocal of a cover song that the show has already cleared, which is probably the frame of mind that the SAG-AFTRA rep was in, they will get you paid.

        And in the end, you may get your residuals the first time this happens, but if you’re not a member, and it was a licensed use of the song (and not a specific recording session for the show), you’ll be asked to become a member, and SAG-AFTRA will probably send a letter to the production company, making your future chances of working with them again pretty slim. And after the first set of residuals, you will need to become a member to get any more, or if you want to make any residuals on future shows 30 days past your Taft-Hartley date.

  2. Sam

    youtube now recognizes cover songs and splits revenue, do you know how that compares with wearethehits

  3. Red

    Advice from someone who makes no money from music or online covers on how to make money. Great.

    • Jealous much?

      What are you talking about? Quoting from his Wikipedia:

      “He has played with various major artists including Ben Folds, Cake, Sister Hazel, Phil Vassar, Matt Nathanson, Joshua Radin, Eric Hutchinson, and Ron Pope.[2][3][4] His music has been played on popular TV shows such as The Real World,[5] One Tree Hill,[6]”Friendzone”,[7]”I’m Married To A…,” The Real L Word,[8] The Hard Times of RJ Berger.[9] as well as a GMC commercial.[10] He has received airplay on NPR’s program All Things Considered[11] and Cities 97… The blog is based on Herstand’s experience as a touring musician (with 600+ shows)”

  4. Anonymous

    “For the record, Facebook should pay for the use of songs on the platform. And songwriters should be compensated for this.” Thanks for this. I think some of the criticism from before was because your articles seemed to make the argument that this wasn’t your position. As far as I’m concerned, this was all you had to say.

    You brought up two points which I think are worthy of further discussion and investigation. The first point is that the major publishers don’t have the best interests of the songwriters in mind when they’re demand when they negotiate with music users. It’s probably fair to say that most companies in any industry would prioritize themselves first, and their clients second. It’s probably true that songwriters don’t receive any benefit of any advances they are able to negotiate. Major pubs do it because they can, legally and contractually. That said, I tend to think that the major pubs do want their songwriters to receive all royalties that they are owed, and to the extent they don’t, it’s more due to bureaucratic inefficiencies rather than any attempt to actually screw over songwriters. (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are also subject to those same inefficiencies, by the way.) Songwriters change publishing administrators all the time, and I would think administrators would want to do their best to keep as many of their songwriters from leaving as possible. That said, there are a lot of publishers out there, so it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of them happened to be shadier than others. It’s worth looking into, at any rate.

    The other point is if there should be an organization that handles licensing and accounting for “mass sync” videos. You mention We Are The Hits as a company that does this to some degree, but since that licensing is on a voluntary basis, they would never be able to get licenses for all the music out there. It sounds like the solution you’re describing would be for Congress and the Copyright Royalty Board to expand the compulsory license to cover this type of use. The compulsory license currently only covers audio-only streaming, which is why it’s not used for Youtube or Facebook. I have a feeling that option wouldn’t be terribly popular with this crowd, since with compulsory, publishers and songwriters don’t get the option to say no. That said, I do think it would make for some worthwhile discussion if you were to post an article about it.

  5. Moses

    Are you able to recommend someone I can hire with expertise to handle the set up of digital music marketing on all digital platforms?

  6. Cubber

    I am really appreciated with your blog, such a great cover song given I would like to say keep sharing your informative content.
    Thank you.
    Life time earning opportunity app: – goo.gl/k7hSXE

  7. Antinet

    Facebook is a straight up piece of shit, just like Google. Film and video have big pockets lawyers, and people are working like hell to give musicians a slice of the pie again. You know who is next? Graphic designers and photographers who get totally slaughtered on these websites. Facebook built its billions funnelling to a crew of smug little shitheads on the back of creatives across the planet, and they need to be imploded or start paying up immediately. The world is really overdue for class actions against these online thieves.

  8. April

    Interesting page but legal aspects are changing all the time. Bandcamp definately do not allow you to sell covers without permission but it’s a good site for original songwriters and musicians. Hard to get songwriters permissions- lots of no responses from music companies and red tape for those who just want to interpret songs and share their singing talent with others.