How to Obtain A Mechanical License To Legally Record Any Cover Song Ever Released!

???????????????????Front_and_Inside_Cover_0001Do you want to record a song that was written and released by a well known artist or group, also known as a cover song?

Perhaps you want to sing the song and release it on your own CD?

Yes, it’s legal provided you obtain what’s known in the industry as a Mechanical License.

If you intend to record cover songs at Nashville Trax you can file the necessary mechanical license request before or after recording, we do not require you have one to record or mix. we can even handle the process for you.

Why? Songwriters and publishers need to make a living. The money you pay for your license will help compensate them.

If you release a cover song recording without a license it is not legal and can result in extremely costly fines and possibly even prison time. If you don’t look good in orange jump suits, don’t do it.

When? If you are cutting a demo with no intention of making a profit, but rather, simply using the recording to demonstrate your talents to music industry professionals and/or other prospective employers of singers and entertainers, you probably don’t need a license.

Once you’re certain you’re moving ahead with a public release of the recording and intend to offer it for sale on CD, as a download or via any other means, you should immediately file for a mechanical license. Most licenses are issued very quickly but some can take months. You don’t want your CD to be on hold waiting for a license to be issued.

The good news is the publisher has no choice but to issue a license. A songwriter or song publisher retains the right of first release and may refuse to issue a license only until the song is released publicly. After that they are compelled by law to issue a license to anyone who requests one, providing royalties are paid.

How Much?

The current rate is 9.1 cents per copy for any song up to 5 minutes long.


Where to file depends on how many copies you intend to sell.

Here are two easy-to-use options for selling up to 2,500 CD copies or 10,000 digital downloads:

Easy Song Licensing

Song File

If you know for sure you are pressing more than 2,500 copies then you must contact

the Harry Fox Agency via e-mail:

Outside the U.S A. you will need an import license

If you want to use a cover tune in a video you’ll need a sync license

A non-commercial sync license is available here.

The CDs pictured to the above left (Dan Thompson from Canada) and above right (The Greatest Gift from Main) were recorded here but both contained self-penned songs so no mechanical license was required. Now if other artists or groups hear their songs online, on the radio, or elsewhere and wish to record them, those groups would need to file a mechanical with Dan Thompson or The Greatest Gift. They would be paid, as opposed to having to pay to use other songwriter’s works.

How likely is that? If you make a CD and let it sit in your basement, not very. But these groups are working their product. The Greatest Gift is setting the Gospel world on fire using the tracks we cut here to perform with. They’ve won local and regional Christian original song contests, are about to compete nationally and perform regularly at churches and other venues, moving CDs and downloads as they go.

Dan Thompson is performing in Canada and getting airplay in the U.S., Canada, Australia and several European countries. On November 3rd, 2015 he had 23 radio adds in one day!

The Right of First Release: It’s Importance to a Songwriter


When you write a new song you automatically have an intangible, yet potentially valuable, right called “the right of first release.” It simply means you have the right to determine the when, where and who of the song’s first public release.

After that first public release that right is forever lost. From that point on it’s open season. Anyone who wants to record the song after the initial release can simply notify you of their intention and request that a mechanical license be issued. You do not have the right to refuse that request. If you fail to honor it, and they have proof they requested a license but were ignored, they can proceed without it, and if you pursue them, pay you at that point.

You have the option to grant a license for up to 10.000 copies with a small sum paid in advance to cover the first 2,000 copies downloaded or sold. The current statutory rate is 9.1 cents per copy so it totals $182.00. Get it, if it’s an independent release it may be your only payment from that version.

Yes, this means if you are a singer and want to record a cover of a hit song by a famous artist you may do so provided you obtain the mechanical license.

Giving up your right to first release can affect your options later. It may limit the number of outside artists who will be interested in your song. If you have a “big name” artist interested, but a less popular artist releases it just prior, the big name may lose interest. That situation isn’t common, just possible; many songs have a first release plus multiple covers by many different artists. Some songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists.

Also rare but possible, a music publisher may decide to pass on signing a song that doesn’t have the right of first release attached- b.e.

Did You Know? The Revenue Stream From Songwriting

ist1_4647415-money-pile-100-dollar-billsAre you aware there are numerous ways a song can can produce income? It’s true. There are mechanical royalties; airplay royalties; foreign publishing; synch licenses; sheet music income; download income; ringtone revenue; YouTube views; jukebox and bar band cover tune revenue from licensing fees collected by ASCAP and BMI … it’s a long list and I have to question the wisdom of the songwriters who decide to self-publish. For a few it makes sense, For most it’s, “What are they thinking?”

It’s highly unlikely that most songwriters with no publishing experience have the contacts or experience to fully promote their work. In many cases the money generated by a major label release is the tip of the iceburg with the bigger money being made on covers of the tune by other major label artists; “Greatest Hits of the Decade” type packages; foreign language releases by top artists in other countries and other avenues.

Some songs make substantial money from repetetive upfront licensing fees paid by aspiring artists. When I produce a singer who doesn’t write on a Nashville Trax project I search for suitable songs from our own Play It Again Demos catalog as well as the catalogs of song publishers and begin running them by the artist. In order to be legal to sell downloads or press CDs the artist or their backer has to pay the songwriter(s) upfront according to the type of project. The minimum is a limited release license payment for 10,000 CDs or downloads.

One reason to consider pursuing publishing deals for your songs is it frees you from copyright administration and promotion. You’re most likely a creative type and not particularly good at exploiting a song copyright so why not hand the reins over to a pro while you focus on increasing the herd?- B.E. Watson