#092: Roundtable – Cover Songs As Marketing Tools

Income from performance royalties is on the rise according to ASCAP.  YouTube is working on a new streaming-video rental model.  Facebook now allows users to “unlike” things.  The Podcasters revisit last week’s interview with Scott Sellwood and discuss how cover songs offer unique marketing possibilities. Plus, calls and emails from our incredibly talented and intelligent listening audience.




  • Perfect timing!! I’m planning on doing some covers to get my YouTube channel going. I hope this podcast helps. Thanks guys!

    Catch me on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/TonyValleMusic

  • Add a Facebook “Like” button to your website:


  • Technically, isn’t posting a cover on youtube illegal? Stream royalties and whatnot? Not that I wouldn’t (or haven’t) done it, but it seems like legally your hands kind of tied with a cover song: it can’t be shared, only by CDs/paid downloads. It’d be nice if youtube would set something up where all the advertising revenue could go through the PRO to the songwriter…

    Anyway, I’d love to hear an episode about indie label deals. It seems like the nitty-gritty of major label deals is already out there, but I have no idea what is ‘normal’ in the indie world, whether it’s a ‘big’ indie like Matador or Merge, or a tiny label.

  • One other thought I had, in response to the caller talking about torrent vs. via free on your website. What if *you* post the torrent? Then at least your have that platform to say something about the music, link to your website, etc. It could be argued that by ‘condoning’ it, you’re encouraging piracy of your own music, but I would assume anyone that has bothered to land on the torrent’s page probably feels free to download it whether you like it or not.

    On mininova.org (which I believe is now ‘legit’, in that everything is supposed to be submitted by the creator), there are musicians doing this. I’m curious to know how it works out for them — do they get a lot of web hits that way? Is there significant ‘conversion’ to paying fans?

  • Your podcast has educated me greatly on how to do this indie music thing with great poise and confidence. I have saved so much time having learned from your successes and failures and for THAT I am thankful.

    Concerning Covers:
    Check out Kina Grannis. I think she is a perfect example of how to do a cover that gets more fans listening to your music. Plus she had some shout-outs from her fans to their friends at the end of her cover of “Baby” by Justin Bieber. That’s something I don’t think I’ve heard you guys mention yet but I think the idea is genius.

    Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r-Y7QR1kcM&feature=PlayList&p=B4C10143ECAB0B37&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=65

  • Great episode. That’s a particularly great idea to do a radical reworking of a cover song, then gradually writing your own new song over it. The jazz community has done this for years, with people like Charlie Parker writing new melodies (“Anthropology”) over other chord changes (“I Got Rhythm”), and it’s a great composition technique, which teaches you a lot about form and writing in general (reharmonize a song, then write a new melody) because the new song still retains the architecture of the old one.

    Another thing a cover song does, has always done, is tell your fans something about your influences, which maybe they wouldn’t notice initially, and also fills listeners in on what you have to offer as creative people (“Wow, I know this tune by Peter Gabriel, but these guys do it so differently…”). The equation can become “Your cover song MINUS the original version = YOUR STYLE.”

  • There are so many great songs that have been written and recorded. It makes complete sense to cover some of those and provide a tribute in your own style. Doing so also helps you realize how high the bar is set if you are a songwriter.

    As Dave from Pampelmoose said: “Be amazing or get out of the way”

  • Thanks for the great podcast! Here is some + energy for Kevin.

    Cover Song Topic:
    I don’t have any cover songs out there but I have an original song titled Happy Birthday Song. It gets lots of hits due to the title, and I don’t think you can copyright a song title.

    I also use my bulldogs in my videos, people seem to like bulldogs.

    Thanks again.

    dan’s acoustic garage http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dans-Acoustic-Garage/321380668240?ref=ts

  • Hey Neil – there actually was an interview with the head of a prominent indie label (Badman Records) earlier on in the history of the podcast. Episode #16… good stuff.

  • RON


  • Hot topic! Extremely relevant for myself. Even though I’m a “new” artist at CD Baby, I’ve been earning my living as a full time independent musician here in Toronto for 15 years now 🙂

    I have been buiding a massive website with high quality free guitar lessons for the past 2 years. With my teaching I’ve run into the same issues with YouTube and other video sites as far as Synch licensing.

    It’s tough when I see other people ( one guy in the UK in particular ) bragging about how he’s an Internet marketing genius who’s getting rich. But he’s selling ‘how to play” DVD’s/downloads of famous songs!

    The 1st video I ever made on YouTube was how to play Angie by the Rolling Stones. It has now hundreds of thousands of views and I didn’t lift a finger to promote it. I did a follow up and same got similar results. YouTube still contacts me about joining their Partnership program.

    Since I’ve been buiding my teaching site, I spoke with CMRRA here in Canada about synch licensing as well as a music lawyer…and tempting as it is, I’m still playing it safe and creating my own guitar lessons.

    It’s interesting to note how copyright issues are changing, though…
    I love the podcast and will continue to tune in to stay abreast of current trends etc. As well as feel the sense of camaraderie with other folks doing the same thing.


  • PLEASE interview someone from ASCAP! Another PRO would be good too if you can’t get someone from ASCAP. Your last podcast on licensing for cover songs was very informative for someone like me who has always shy’d away from recording a cover because I was afraid I would do something wrong and get sued. But on the other end, I don’t understand how the PRO’s work to make sure we as artists get paid performance royalties, like how they keep track and which streams of revenue we should expect. I am about to release my first album and I’d love to better understand the process. Thanks! btw, LOVE your podcast CDBaby!

  • Dear cdbaby – Re Podcasts #091 and #092.
    I have listened carefully to both podcasts and tried to research on my own the answer to this question,
    but I still don’t know the answer.
    I want to put video recordings on YouTube of live performances of my group TRIO performing original songs, that include exerts of “cover songs” within them. (These are not music videos, but videos of live music performances). Do I need a synchronization license to put these songs on YouTube? And what
    about posting a “Derivative” song on YouTube, specifically City of New Orleans written by Steve Goodman, performed by my group TRIO, but with a 3rd verse added that was written by us and pertains to the situation of Hurricane Katrina? Does this also need a synchronization license to post it on YouTube? Or can I just put these songs on YouTube (without a license) since I am not distributing the tracts in a “tangible form,” which I think means, selling them on YouTube? Can you please explain the above to me as I am getting several different answers from so-called knowledgeable sources.
    If I do need synchronization licenses, how do I obtain the and do I pay fees for them?

    Gratefullly yours

    Jeri Hilderley

    My CD, “12 Meditations on Love” is for sale on cdbaby.

  • Alright…thoughts on the caller who mentioned torrents…There are SO many more people that don’t go to torrent sites, that don’t even have a clue that you can get music outside of iTunes, etc. So, letting it go wild through there is not cool for them. Also, there are people that like to feel the music they have has been legally acquired. Another problem I see with the torrent/”darkside” promotion strategy is that you don’t have a solid way of tracking those. Whereas if listeners/fans can get music free from you, say by “paying with a tweet” or by signing up for your email list, then you can send them cool new stuff…that doesn’t happen with torrents, etc. I don’t think it downplays the value of your music to give it away free. Many awesome musicians have done this before. Radio Head a while back did this for a while, They Might Be Giants did it as I recall and others have. Reference the Seth Godin podcast: His idea of spreading ideas (in this case tunes) instead of selling songs is a pretty cool one. Find new ways to benefit and spread your music by giving it out for free.

  • Habaka Kfj

    If you recorded a CD and released it through an independent record label, aren’t they responsable for getting the clearance to do those songs? Love the Podcast
    Thanks Habaka

  • andrewapeterson

    Eh… Looks like no one is responding to these comments. Well here goes anyway. Question: Is a sync license required for a cover song that isn’t synced to a video, but is uploaded as a video to youtube? Two examples, which may have different outcomes. 1. I do a cover version of a song and I upload it two youtube with a static blank screen as the ‘video.’ 2. I do a cover version of a song and I upload to youtube with a picture I created (in photoshop especially for the video) as the “video.” In both cases, there is’t a video per se, since there’s only one frame, even though there technically is a video because the file I’m uploading is a .mov file.