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Here’s How to Get a Mechanical License to Cover a Song

Cover of a song with mechanical license

How to Get a Mechanical License to Cover a Song?

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, or so they say.


You need to learn how to get a mechanical license to cover a song before it reaches your niche audience in the entertainment industry.  Without the right licenses, you can wind up in a legal battle against artists you admire.  Not only do these cases cost a lot, but they also bring you into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Therefore, taking a straight and narrow part serves you better. We show you how by outlining essential licensing steps and sharing other tips.

Here’s what you should know:

Mechanical License Rulebook: How to Obtain It?

The Copyright Act (1909) makes it mandatory for aspiring artists and businesses to receive a mechanical license. It’s a paid permit that allows you to create a cover song (or album) in an audio-only format and distribute it under your name. The original artists receive credits and a pre-decided fraction of your sales in the form of royalties.

Here’s how you can obtain a mechanical license for your cover song:

Method 1: Ask, and You Shall Receive

Check the public domain to verify if the song is copyrighted. Then use official copyright databases like PROs (i.e., ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, US Copyright Office) to search for the original copyright owner. There are three parties involved in the creation of most tracks. Therefore, you need to find out:

  • Who wrote the song?
  • Who produced the song?
  • Who recorded the song?
  • Did the copyright owner change over the years?

Once you have the answer, you can contact the relevant person. Send them a formal request to apply for a mechanical license. Remember to explain the purpose and scope of your project. Wait for their response before you take the next step.

Method 2: Work with an Intermediary Agency

These days, some music distributors have the power to grant mechanical licenses to independent artists. You can contact these agencies to receive the rights of your chosen songs (and soundtracks) for your project.

Here is a list of top-tier databases that have the privilege:

These authorized spaces allow you to receive the right license for your audio-only projects. If you plan to create a music video, you should ask for a synchronized license to create visuals for the audio song. On the other hand, if you want to record a live and studio version of the track, you need two mechanical licenses instead of one.

We recommend consulting a legal advisor beforehand to ensure you make the right licensing choice when negotiating a deal with the distributors.

Method 3: Take an Alternative Route

Music streaming sites like Apple Music and Spotify pay royalties to publishers through the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). This agency was established in 2019, and it allows artists to release covers on affiliated streaming sites without holding them liable for payments. Instead, the music apps, where they share their cover songs, pay the royalty fee on their behalf.

Always go through the terms and conditions beforehand if you use this option. That way, you will know whether you need to learn how to get a mechanical license to cover a song or not.

Music Hack: Need some more guidance? Watch How to Get a Mechanical License To Release Cover Songs on Apple Music, Spotify, and More

The Price: Is a Mechanical License Expensive?

Covering a song with a mechanical license

The cost of a mechanical license varies from project to project. The length of the original song plays a pivotal role in the final calculation.

The American copyright laws charge $0.91 for short songs (i.e., tracks that end within five minutes) and $0.175 for longer songs. Authorities multiply this amount with the number of copies you plan to produce. For example, if you create a cover of Non-Stop from Hamilton, you will have to pay more than a cover for the 1:32 minute track “The Story of Tonight” because the former is longer than six minutes.

The formula should look something like this:

[Length of the Song] x [Designated Amount] = License Fee

[Number of Copies You Plan to Distribute] x License Fee = Total Cost of a Mechanical License

You can use this formula to figure out the exact amount you need to obtain your license. If the cost exceeds your budget, you can stick to method three. This can allow you to share your content with your niche audience.

Licensing Done Right

Lastly, learning how to get a mechanical license to cover a song can give you a good idea of how copyright claims work. One misstep and your chances of garnering interest and attention are met with copyright strikes. Always ensure you have traced the correct copyright owner and holder before signing a contract. Understand that the right license allows you to share your cover albums without hesitation.

Moreover, you can market and sell your rendition of popular tracks in the future.

Best of luck!

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