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The problem with digitally distributing cover songs

I’ve just finished producing a fantastic new cover song for Heather Doré’s Pop music debut. I’ll tell you more about it soon when she launches it. She is a 21st century artist, so she is releasing her music, as it is completed, from her website, and you don’t have to wait, you can get it right away!
But releasing a cover song for digital distribution only from her own website has proven to be complicated as many simple things are in the music industry as it is overrun with paranoid obsession and unbelievable bureaucracy…

If you want to release on CD, or on iTunes within the country it was produced, then it is much more simple, but on your own website, where anyone in the world can buy it? Problems.
This is because the music industry works on a per country basis, that’s why it took forever to get iTunes in most countries because of all the deals and paperwork they had to do for practically every song.

That’s right, the corporate music industry complains, bitches, moans, publicizes and sues about losing money, but they make you jump through hoops and practically give up your first born child to help them make money with their music! Just give us what we want! How simple is that? It’s what, the first rule of business or something? Give the customer what they want. How could scores of billion dollar corporations worldwide forget that rule? It seems intense greed and lust for power blinds one quite severely, and this is why they’re losing money, NOT because of downloading. They would rather destroy their entire business before making it easy for you to give them money.
Good, change is good, and this is all causing music business to move back in the hands of the artist, making the importance of good music key. And that is a very good thing! Ok, rant over.

Basically I am still on the phone with the Canadian Music Rights Reproduction Agency and the song publisher regarding the song, so I don’t have any definitive answers for you. (The CMRRA doesn’t even have anything about digital distribution on their website, but at least we have such an agency to make some things a bit easier than they would be with payment of mechanical royalties in Canada)
What I can tell you is iTunes has done a deal where they pay out royalties as required for sales in each country for cover songs sold, so that simplifies things when releasing cover songs digitally this way.
But if you want to sell the songs on your own website to the world, which is my recommended method of selling music (NOT on myspace or facebook, but on www.yourname.com personal website), you have to obtain special rights for the world to sell the song, AND pay monthly royalties to the publisher yourself with detailed financial statements. And you may have to negotiate with different publishers for different parts of the world. Imagine having to negotiate with 3 or 4 publishers for each country in the world just to sell a song digitally from your website! Within 5 years, most music will be sold electronically!

So you think, ok how hard can that be, you just pay online at the publishers website with a credit card, right? Sorry, you must be taking about an industry that is efficient, progressive and meets the needs of it’s customers, and that’s not how the music industry works, and that is one of the many reasons why they are losing money.

Needless to say we aren’t going to work on many cover songs any more, as fun as it may be.

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13 Responses to “The problem with digitally distributing cover songs”

  1. Heather Dore » Blog Archive » The Wait Is Almost Over Says:

    […] Jarome and I had hoped to make the song available on my own website for everyone to hear, and possibly download, but since venturing into the world of digital distribution of cover songs, we have encountered a few bumps, to say the least. The word Bureaucracy as defined by Wikepedia, is: “the structure and set of regulations in place to control activity, usually in large organizations and government.” Well, being an indie artist really opens your eyes to a whole array of new examples of bureaucracy, and Jarome wrote an excellent Blog Post on just this subject. He details some of the obstacles we have faced just trying to release one cover song, in his latest post, entitled The Problem With Digitally Distributing Cover Songs. It is definitely worth a read, and will help many better appreciate why things can take so long in this industry. You can access Jarome’s post here. […]

  2. Jarome Says:

    Update: If you sell songs on iTunes or a similar music store in Canada, all the law dictates that the online retailer has to pay the royalty fees. So that makes life much easier releasing a cover song in Canada, however, it’s a different story in every country!

    In the US, and other countries, the online stores like iTunes DON’t pay royalties for you, so you have to work out the license with the publisher, and may be able to go through the Harry Fox Agency to obtain an online license…

  3. jarome Says:

    Final update on this:
    After weeks of bouncing back and forth between Canadian Publisher, CMRRA, Harry Fox Agency, US publisher, and getting NOWHERE, because the publisher of the song DOESN’T EVEN KNOW WHERE THEIR MONEY IS COMING FROM (#@%*$&# !II), I have confirmed the following:
    If you sell cover songs through iTunes in Canada, UK, and Japan, iTunes calculates and pays the royalties! This is a HUGE accounting and administrative headache gone, and the cover artist doesn’t have to do anything!
    But in the US, you have to go through Harry Fox Agency, and they will have nothing to do with anyone outside the US. If you talk to anyone there, they will tell you to get a US distributor, like theorchard.com, but another way is to just get a US address and use ‘songfile’ on their site.
    Remember, this is for Digital Distribution, not CD’s, that is a slightly different process.
    Hope this helps you avoid the time, expense and headache I went through.

  4. Thomas Says:

    question on your final update
    “I have confirmed the following:
    If you sell cover songs through iTunes in Canada, UK, and Japan, iTunes calculates and pays the royalties! This is a HUGE accounting and administrative headache gone, and the cover artist doesn’t have to do anything!”

    how did u confirmed on this? I submitted 2 songs through Tunecore and I only select iTunes Canada. All I do is upload the song, enter song name and pay the fee. I don’t even need to enter the original song information like, song writer, publisher…etc Then how could iTunes know it’s a cover song or not.

  5. jarome Says:

    I confirmed this through the CMRRA in Canada, and through the Harry Fox Agency in the US. iTunes has a huge database they reference for each song, just like the CMRRA website does. Your version would obviously have a different person listed as the artist!

  6. Thomas Says:

    thanks for your info, but today i got an email from CMRRA, they told me HFA is changing policy, and will accept non-US resident to apply for mechanical license.

  7. Luc Says:

    Thank you so much for this article, and to others who have posted comments with additional details. I’ve been struggling with this issue for a few years now without much success at finding the information (Canadian cover song being sold on iTunes in the U.S.).

  8. Thomas Says:

    I think you can buy digital license through HFA for Canadaian now….

  9. MIke Says:

    “But if you want to sell the songs on your own website to the world, which is my recommended method of selling music (NOT on myspace or facebook, but on http://www.yourname.com personal website), you have to obtain special rights for the world to sell the song, AND pay monthly royalties to the publisher yourself with detailed financial statements”

    Check out a service called Limelight (http://limelight.rightsflow.com). They can license ANY song for you no matter what country you are from. Fill out the form on their website, just answer a few questions about the original recording and your recording, and you are on your way. Their licensing fee is $15 (or less if you are licensing multiple songs) and you pay the royalties upfront based on how many copies you plan on selling. Limelight pays the publishers for you, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. If you sell more copies than you had planned, you can just go back and re-new your license. You will be able to sell these songs on your website legally. Hope this helps!

  10. jarome Says:

    This seems like a much needed solution to a major problem in the music industry! My label Pro Soul Alliance is trying it out and I look forward to seeing how it works out.

  11. Lone Says:

    Good info thanks Jarome =) Any new updates now?

  12. Andy LaPointe Says:

    Where are we on this in 2013? I want to release an EP cover and distribute digitally in Canada only. I’ve been scouring the internet and info is so limited! Sounds like itunes will pay mechanical, but how do I get my single to itunes? Tunecore website says they do US releases only.

  13. jarome Says:

    The update is that not much has changed from what was written before, Andy your information is a bit confused, Tunecore distribute internationally. But if your selling cover songs in the US, iTunes does NOT pay your royalties, you need to use Limelight which is now and it works very well.