What is a Cover Song?

What is a Cover Song?

Simply put: a cover song is a re-recording of an original song. And the original song has to have been recorded first and in most cases, released on some recognizable format be it vinyl, video or digital. It’s sometimes splitting hairs as there have been many songs that are written and recorded but not released by the record company. Said company may give that song to another artist who may release it first. Technically, there is no formal legal definition of a cover song, and one could even argue the first recording is now a cover song once it is released. I will talk more on that in a bit. Regardless, after a song is released it is now free game for anyone to obtain a mechanical licence and cover it. I gave an example in a previous blog where Bruce Springsteen blocked Bette Midler from releasing one of his songs, that’s because he had only performed it live and he nor anyone else had released it yet. Though as soon as it’s recorded, the artist would lose that veto power.
A cover can include what some refer to as a remake, revamp, adaptation, revival, “cover version” or even a copy. I run across people referring to original songs as a rendition, but that’s incorrect. A rendition is, by definition, a performance or interpretation of a piece of music. There, I said it and quite frankly I feel better for it! It can include the recording of a live performance but would not include the version you hear in your local club. Even if you heard the tune from a ‘cover band’, if it hasn’t been recorded and released, it’s not a true ‘cover’. While I’m still on the fence regarding cover songs on YouTube and other social media platforms, I can’t deny there are legitimate artists releasing some good work and Secondhandsongs.com, based on certain criteria, is adding some of them to their database.
A cover can also include songs that take melodies and/or words from other songs to a substantial degree. That can include just the lyrics, just the music or both and with a new arrangement it can sound like a different song completely. Still the best example is Aretha Franklins reworking of Otis Redding’s “Respect”. If you listen, the two songs are different in tone, perspective and lyrics, yet not enough of a change to get Franklin song writing credits nor the millions of dollars in royalties from her own recording. So, it qualifies as a cover song as it still retained the core words and most of the music to make it ‘legally’ a cover version. Otherwise it’s just an issue of copyright and payments if it does not really sound like the other song. Again, there is not a standard legal definition of how much or how little is reused but, in most songs, you know it when you hear it.
In the case of sampling, it means using any sized portion of the actual recording itself.  In all instances, the original songwriters would need to be co-credited on the new song but it would not be a ‘cover’ song. If you use a cover version of the original in your sample, you will also have to pay royalties for that as recording artists still own their performance part of a song.  A remix or mashup is more likely to fall into this category as well. As mentioned, regardless, if copyright is violated and you don’t have legal permission, the owners of the song can sue for damages. There is no such rule that says you can legally use a portion of a song and not pay for a mechanical license and or royalties. However, people still get away with it.

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Isn't it Ironic

Isn’t it Ironic?

Sorry, I’m not talking about Alanis Morissette! But there are artists who have been eclipsed by their own songs. Many of them are amazing songwriters but, ironically, their chart-topping hits were written by someone else. As I pointed out in my series, I Write the Songs, many great songwriters are not well-known, yet their songs are easily recognized by most people. Today I will point out the contrasts in popularity for some singer/songwriters. When I say ironic, I mean that things turned out the opposite or in an unexpected way from what one might have expected.

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Music Icons, is it all just DNA?

Music Icons, is it all just DNA?

Some well-known recording artists come from families who have a strong musical background. It makes perfect sense, having the exposure and a bit of musical DNA most certainly helps. And how do the offspring of musical legends fair? In the inset photo I love the expression on Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s daughter’s face: it looks to me like a classic “oh dad, just let me play!” But then he is not just any old Dad. Here is a song by father and daughter, David Gilmour with Romany Gilmour – Yes, I Have Ghosts.  Another example is Jakob Dylan. I don’t need to explain who his father is and it is a stretch well beyond my imagination as to what it might be like for him to be in the family business.

Growing up with one or both of your parents as musical icons must be very difficult. I can imagine it’s hard to find a way to have your own life and career whether you stay in the world of music or not. At the same time, you have inherited some serious musical DNA, so yeah there is that! Read More »