I’ll Cover You…

Today’s blog post features a song from Jonathan Larson’s hit musical Rent.

I recorded it several years ago with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer for a CD called If I Loved You.

You can find it on Spotify if you are curious by clicking here.

It is an appropriate choice for today’s blog post because — in addition to learning how to release my original songs — I am learning how to release cover songs.

As you probably already know, a cover song is a new interpretation/recording of someone else’s song.

It was once a much more common phenomenon than it is today, with several versions of a new hit song – recorded by singers such as Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, and Doris Day — climbing the charts at the same time.

Then came singer-songwriters, rock bands who write their own material, and producers who co-write hit songs with/for pop stars… so nowadays it is less common for major recording artists to release cover songs.

Pianist Doug Hammer has a wonderful recording studio in the lower level of his home, and I have been recording all of my rehearsals with him for over twenty years.

If you are curious to learn more about Doug and his studio, you can click here for a lovely interview with him.

Every now and then he and I come up with a particularly fun or moving interpretation of someone else’s song.

In recent years I’ve shared a bunch of these recordings via my blog…

Now, during this period of Covid-19 isolation, we are polishing/tweaking many of them — with me listening at home via Zoom and Doug in his studio — so that I can distribute them to anyone in the world who has access to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and other digital platforms.

In order to distribute a cover song, one needs to pay for a mechanical license to the person who wrote the song.

This income is often split with the songwriter’s publishing company.

Originally a mechanical license allowed someone to reproduce a song in mechanical form — starting with player piano rolls, wax cylinders, and early phonographs.

Nowadays, even though it is still called a mechanical license, there is very little “mechanical” left in the process — since most of the music sold and listened to these days is distributed digitally in streams of zeros and ones.

You can read a terrific historical summary of how recording technology has evolved over the past 100+ years on Wikipedia by clicking here.

Money paid for a mechanical license goes to the songwriter and possibly their publisher.

There are at least three organizations in the USA where one can purchase mechanical licenses — the Harry Fox Agency (which has been around for a long time), Songfile (which I think is affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency) or Easy Song Licensing (which is the one I am using).

The US Government sets the rates for mechanical licenses, which started out in 1909 at two cents — meaning the songwriter and publisher each earned a penny — and remained unchanged for 67 years.

In 1976 Congress created a Copyright Royalty Tribunal, which decided that mechanical rates should be raised to 2.75 cents.

In 1987, the Music Publishers Association, the Songwriters Guild Of America and the Recording Industry Association of America successfully filed a joint proposal with the Copyright Royalty Tribunal to ask that mechanical royalty rates be increased every two years, based on U.S. inflation data.

Currently the statutory mechanical royalty rate is 9.1 cents per song per unit for recordings of compositions up to five minutes (5:00) in length. If your recording is longer than five minutes, you have to pay additional 1.75 cents per minute or fraction thereof.

The next song I am releasing was written by a fellow songwriter named Barbara Baig whom I met twenty years ago at open mics I used to host in Harvard Square.

My recording of her song is 5 minutes and 39 seconds long; so I paid her and her personal publishing company in advance for 100 digital downloads — (100 x 9.1 cents) + (100 x 1.75 cents) = $10.85.

If all goes well, my recording of her song will be available for streaming and downloading next month.

Once it is released, I will need to register my recording with a non-profit organization called SoundExchange — which was first created by the Recording Industry Association of America and then expanded by Congress — to collect and distribute digital performance royalties for sound recordings. 

And I think Barbara will need to register her song (and my recording of it) with an even newer nonprofit organization — the Mechanical Licensing Collective which will soon be issuing and administering blanket mechanical licenses for eligible streaming and download services in the United States. 

The Mechanical Licensing Collective will also collect royalties due under those licenses and pay them to songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers.

I may write more about both of these organizations in future blog posts.

Basically they are attempts to keep up with the ever-changing technologies of how we purchase and listen to recorded music.

And they are a perfect example of how many important details there are to learn when one is beginning to share one’s music with the world…

Thank you to Bobbi and Doug for their contributions to our recording of “I’ll Cover You” — and to Jonathan Larson for writing it in the first place!

Thank you to Pixabay for the great images.

Thank you to everyone who has registered to vote — and may even have already voted! — in our upcoming election.

Thank you to all the folks who are engaged with our electoral process — writing postcards, donating money, making phone calls, sending texts, helping to get out the vote, and much, much more…

Thank you to everyone who is educating herself/himself/themself about the challenges facing all of us here on planet earth.

Thank you to our extraordinary health care workers, who are again in the midst of a pandemic hospital crisis due to rising cases of Covid-19 here in the USA.

Thank you to everyone who cares enough about their neighbors and neighborhood to wear a face mask in public.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to yet another blog post!

38 thoughts on “I’ll Cover You…

    • You are very welcome, Brad. You are the swiftest blog reader, listener and commenter! Thank you for your warmth and enthusiasm and support!!! Bobbi recently agreed to let me take on responsibility for mixing/fixing/tweaking/polishing/mastering a bunch of fun duet recordings that she and I identified a couple of year ago from our audio archives. At the time we thought we’d do a second CD called “In Perfect Harmony,” but now we understand that a string of single releases is the new reality for sharing/releasing music. I am SO grateful for the far-flung WordPress community that gradually coalesces as one reads other bloggers, leaves comments, and shares one’s own blog posts…

  1. The licensing and royalty information is complicated and interesting. I knew rates were low, but they are really low…I suppose it adds up eventually on the various platforms. I’ve heard people say a song paid for surgery or other things. It seems like you have it all down, though and know how to use the different avenues. I’m very retro and will still listen to a whole album…

    • Hurrah for your retro, album-long mindset! Lots of thought and care goes into the song run order for most albums. If one is Taylor Swift or another musical superstar, all of those fractions of pennies DO add up…

  2. Another interesting and fascinating post, Will. A really nice version of I’ll Cover You by you and Bobbi. We are currently watching Anthony Rapp on Discovery (as we are sci-fi fans, but we love musicals too – so, in a way, it ticks both boxes).

  3. Congrats! It’s also good to learn about the ins and outs of this part of the music industry. I know a bit about the book publishing industry, but realized how little I know about the music industry. (Plus, you got me at the furry musician – a handsome chap/gal.)

    • Everything — including the music industry — continues to change month by month, year by year… I just watched an hour-long presentation about this new Mechanical Licensing Collective organization which is getting up to speed right now for an official debut in 2021. I loved finding that image of that singing animal (prairie dog? wood chuck?) on the Pixabay web site. Thank you for reading and listening and commenting!!

    • As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the USA, the only thing I can do to pitch in and help is to wear a mask… And not host any parties. I understand, however, how tired many folks are of social distancing, wearing masks, not hugging extended family members, etc… But I always remain mindful of the EMTs, nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff who end up risking THEIR lives and the lives of THEIR families in order to take care of folks who end up in the hospital (even folks who were mask-deniers!)

  4. So nice, Will! I’m one of the five people in America who never saw “Rent,” so the song is new to me. I liked it. Also loved that photo of you and Bobbi which looks like it was taken well before you were born. What fun!

    • Yes. Bobbi is a photographer who also collects photography. She found that vintage photo for the cover of our CD. I saw the movie version of RENT; so I now have a sense of what it is about and why so many people love it. Thank you, as always, for dropping by!

  5. Fabulous post, Will! I can’t believe how complicated the industry is. The fact that you’re staying on top of things is a testament to you. The first thing that came to mind when I read “If I loved you” was the wonderful musical “Carousel”. That song was in “Rent” (a show I never wanted to see)? Interesting.

    • “If I Loved You” is indeed from CAROUSEL. It is the title track of our CD from many years ago. RENT has a bunch of lovely songs, too. I SO loved your recent post about children dancing and moving and learning!!!

      • What a great title track! Oh, I wish you had been a fly in my classroom today as I was singing away to each child. I sent you a comment. It’s a great story. I’m so glad you liked my post about moving and dancing and learning!! We both know how important this is for children. Best to you, Will.

        P.S. My mother was a strong woman. The first time I ever saw her cry was when we watched “Carousel” and she heard that song. I was 15. Wow!

      • Hammerstein was a big fan of the “conditional love song.” And “If I Loved You” is one of his greatest examples. There is a very poignant story about a young Stephen Sondheim — who as you probably know was informally adopted into Hammerstein’s family when he was a teenager spending time in Bucks County, PA not far from Hammerstein’s farm — crying into Dorothy Hammerstein’s fur coat when he saw Carousel (probably on opening night). Hurrah for you singing to each child in class! What a validation/recognition/communication of love and respect from their teacher…

      • I would have cried seeing it live on opening night, too. No, I didn’t know that story. Thank you for telling me. I think music does wonders for children, especially when it comes from a teacher. I know you do, too. I tell other teachers it doesn’t really matter to the child if you have a good voice. Still, other teachers aren’t comfortable singing spontaneously.

      • If I understand correctly, the whole reason two people (a musician and an academic who loves music) started the Music Together program thirty years ago was to jumpstart/inspire/encourage/support families to sing together, and dance together, and pull out some pots and pans and play music together at home. The MT founders had seen how we were becoming more and more passive consumers of music rather than active makers of music. And yes, everyone can sing. And yes, children love to hear their parents sing. And yes, it doesn’t have to sound perfect. However, I understand why many people prefer not to sing. Singing connects us with our feelings and can make us feel vulnerable. And many people have been shamed/humiliated by choir directors and music teachers somewhere in their past who were in pursuit of some sort of standard of quality… However, let us continue to encourage others to sing. And dance. And make up their own words to familiar tunes. And write completely new songs, too!

      • Will, your words (well, and your thinking) are just perfect. I read what you write many times, because you ‘get it’ and you love it… and you’re spot on. Thank you for the history, the whole reason for MT. So, when the founders saw you were becoming more passive consumers of music instead of active makers of music…what happened? The singing piece is so important for children. And we both know why it can be hard for parents and also teachers. So yes, let’s encourage others to sing to children, make up any and everything tunes. And for the best, like you, write completely new songs. You’re one in a million Will.

  6. An interesting post about the music industry, Will…I think everyone should have music in their lives I always sung my little granddaughter to sleep from a tiny baby and it was interesting that when she was a tiny toddler who was just learning to speak we caught her on video one day singing that same song to her dolly…it was magic 🙂

  7. I learn so much from your posts! Thank you for revealing the complexities of the music industry. You, Bobbi, and Doug sound so wonderful on that magical song!

    • Thank you for making time to read and listen and comment, Molly! I feel like I am halfway towards understanding what is going on in the music business these days… or at least what I as a sing-singwriter need to know.

  8. Lovely number; sounds like something from a musical, Will. And a fascinating article. Your election – what can I say except, ‘Good Luck!’? From over here it’s fascinating, but worrying too.

  9. I love that song! I don’t know “Rent” at all – living out in the middle of nowhere means we don’t get to the theatre or concerts very often!
    I have always known that royalties are tiny but I hadn’t realised they were that small! You have to already be a star to get any decent income that way, obviously.
    Thank you for all the lovely music,Will!

    • You are very welcome, Clare! I first learned about this song when I was asked to sing it with the groom’s sister at a friend’s wedding. Then Bobbi and I worked on it for a show we did about different facets of love — and ended up recording it for our CD. Performance royalties for a song vary widely depending how it is heard. Streaming pays fractions of a cent — but if one’s song is broadcast on a satellite radio program (at least here in the USA) one can earn many DOLLARS per play. I think this may be the result of different entertainment companies having different amounts of clout and political influence at different moments in legislative history. Thank YOU for reading and listening to and commenting on another one of my blog posts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s