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!