Can I upload cover songs to Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, TIDAL, Deezer, etc.

We offer free distribution of your music to all of the world’s top stores and streaming services, and we can send your cover songs of other artists too.

At RouteNote we make it simple and free to get your music online on all the top digital stores and streaming services so people all around the world can find and hear your music. We don’t just do original music though, you can upload your covers of your favourite tracks as well.

Before you do though there’s a few things you need to be aware of to make sure that we can put up your cover songs on the world’s biggest services and you can get paid legally for every play and download.

Licenses

For releasing cover songs online you don’t need a license and can just upload it and release it. EXCEPT in a few certain territories:

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Pakistan
  • India

You will need to exclude these territories to distribute your release to the rest of the world unless you have acquired a mechanical license to release a cover of the song(s) you have recorded.

However both Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Nuuday, Anghami, TIDAL and JioSaavn pay for their own licenses for cover songs. This means that you can distribute your covers to both of these services worldwide.

It cannot use any samples from the original recording, and cannot alter the melody, lyrics or original composition.

You can acquire licenses for the US and associated territories from Affordable Song Licensing or from the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) for distribution in these territories on all services.

Formatting

When you upload your release you will need to format it slightly differently for a cover release to ensure that the original artist is credited correctly.

You must credit the original artist in the ‘C Line’ (Composition Copyright) of the album details. This will be under Album Details when uploading your release through RouteNote.

Make sure that you credit the name of the performing artist and not the composers. For example, if you were to cover Don’t Let Me Down then you would need to list ‘The Beatles’ and not name ‘John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr’.

If you have multiple covers in your release then list each artist in the ‘C Line’ one after the other, separated by commas. For example: The Beatles, Elton John, Madonna, etc.

Only mention the original artists in the ‘C Line’ section and not anywhere else in your release, including artist fields, track fields, or in the cover art.

Samples and Backing Tracks

As with all releases you cannot use any samples or backing tracks unless they are original or you have the licenses/permissions required to use it.

This means that you can’t include any samples from the original track or any other songs without the correct documented permissions or mechanical licenses

Public Domain

If a composition is in the public domain then you may not need a license to cover it.

Works remain under copyright for between 50 to 70 years – depending on the country – after the original composers death. After this period of time, works become public domain and their stores/territory restrictions will no longer apply.

Likewise if you wish to sample a sound recording that is in the public domain, you may be able to use the recording without acquiring a license.


Cover Song Distribution Q&A

What counts as a cover song? What music is in the public domain? Do I need a mechanical license? Where can I obtain a license? How do I format my metadata for distribution? You’ll need to know all of these answers before uploading your cover songs to RouteNote.

We’ll answer the most common questions related to distributing a cover song to streaming services and download stores around the world below. If you have a question we haven’t covered then leave a comment or get in touch with us at support@routenote.com where we will be happy to provide more information.

What counts as a cover?

A cover song is when an artist plays, records, or recreates the composition of another artist. For example: All Along the Watchtower is a song originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan. When Jimi Hendrix re-imagined it in his own style and recorded a new version of the track, he created a cover song.

A cover can be any song that uses any of the original songs compositional elements; chords, key, lyrics, etc.. The term includes:

  • Original instrumental versions
  • Parodies: Using an instrumental cover with your own lyrics
  • A small portion of another composition’s musical elements or lyrics
  • One cover song in an album of originals

Note that you cannot include recorded samples from the original song without permission from the rightsholder. To use a karaoke/instrumental backing track to record vocals or individual instrument parts on a cover, you would need to check the rights of the recording you’re using.

Where can I distribute my music without a license?

There are a number of stores and territories in which you will not need to acquire a mechanical license to distribute your cover songs commercially, as the licenses will be arranged by other parties.

Without spending cash on a mechanical license, you can distribute original cover songs to:

  • All stores but excluding: USA, Canada, Mexico, Pakistan, and India
  • Or all countries for the following services: Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Nuuday, Anghami, TIDAL, and JioSaavn

To maximise your reach when distributing your cover song, you can upload your release in two separate version to RouteNote. Select the stores that are viable for distribution in all countries on one, then exclude those stores and the territories mentioned above for distribution everywhere else.

To distribute to all stores and all territories you will need to obtain a mechanical license for the legal distribution rights.

Where can I obtain a mechanical license?

If you are not associated with someone (like a record label or publisher) who is in charge of arranging your musical copyrights, you will need to purchase a mechanical license for your cover song yourself.

In more simple circumstances, you may be able to arrange permission directly with the original rightsholder. For example, if you’re covering a song written by a friend or a smaller artist they may be able to offer their approval to you directly. Ensure any written permission includes the terms of how and where their material can be used, features a date of signature, and that it is provably from the rightsholder.

For example, you could ask for an email from the artist stating:

I give the artist ‘Your Name Here’ permission to distribute unlimited downloads and streams of their cover version of my original composition ‘Song Name. This permission extends to any digital service and in any territory.

In many cases, particularly if the original rightsholder is a popular artist and/or has a major label representing them, you will need to obtain and probably pay for a mechanical license. There are agencies you can go through to save the difficulty of trying to reach the artist/label/representative directly.

You can purchase mechanical licenses from the following sites:

You will need to provide an estimation of the copies you expect to sell and stream to select the correct pricing for your release. Bear in mind that if you exceed your listed units then you will need to arrange another license. You’ll be able to keep track of your sales and streams with in-depth reports when you distribute your music through RouteNote, thanks to our monthly reports.

The current standard royalty rate is $0.095 for a download of a track. This must be paid on top of a processing fee, which for Harry Fox is $13-15.

Unfortunately it’s not that simple for streams, as there is no fixed rate on the revenue earned by a stream. Mechanical Royalties from streaming are calculated as 11.4% to 15.1% of the gross streaming revenue of the company, minus the cost of public Performance Royalties. These rates are set by the Copyright Royalty Board and may have changed as you are reading this, as the recently launched Mechanical Licensing Collective is trying to return rates to pre-2018 times when the rate stood at 10.5%.

If you’re distributing through RouteNote, you can attach your license in an email to moderation@routenote.com so that we can approve your release and upload it to your chosen destinations.


You can upload your music for free through us at www.routenote.com to all of the top stores and streaming services.

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27 comments

    Does this mean that for a cover of “Cheek to Cheek” one should use Fred Astaire instead of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra etc…? The writer Irving Berlin remains invisible, I presume?

    What if you want to upload a cover (although we called it a remix, but there’s no stems from the original recordings) so that people can stream for free? We aren’t uploading to iTunes or any service that requires the listener to pay to downloadthe track. We already offer them as free downloads on Bandcamp.

    So, would it cause trouble to just upload said covers to streaming services only (not download services) so that people listen for free, and without us getting any revenue for it?

    Hi, your music automatically earns money when it is on streaming stores. There’s no way to make it un-monetised when it’s on a streaming service. You will be able to upload it with no issues assuming the cover doesn’t feature copyright content as you say it doesn’t however there are some rules as to how we can release covers – for more information on this get in touch at support@routenote.com or on social media.

    When I upload a cover to Spotify: 1) Do I have to identify the original song and copyright owner, and if so, how? 2) Do I receive money for each play, and if so, how much? 3) Does the original copyright owner receive payment also? 4) How does all the above work with Itunes, if I want to sell downloads as well as stream?

    Hi Pete, you will need to credit the original artist in the ‘C Line’ of your release. You will receive earnings for your streams the same as you would if you uploaded your own original music. The copyright owner will receive payment for streams but they won’t come out of your earnings.
    You will need to purchase your own mechanical license or exclude certain territories for iTunes as they don’t pay for their own licenses globally. The stores that do take covers without a license are: Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Anghami, Juke & JioSaavn.

    Hi, may I clarify, to upload cover songs without a mechanical license:
    – I can select all stores, then use the “Territories” section to exclude US/Canada/Mexico/Pakistan/India for all stores except Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Anghami, & Saavn?

    Hi Darius, yes you can but you may not be able to monetise your cover song if it isn’t covered by any licenses.

    Hi, am I allowed to upload a cover to Spotify if I used GarageBand’s software instruments to write the tracks? I made a string cover on Spotify by writing out the score as MIDI files but I’m not sure if those count as “samples”.

    Hi,
    up in the post it says “it cannot use any samples from the original recording, and cannot alter the melody, lyrics or original composition”.
    I recorded a Kylie Minogue cover; no samples or phrases from the orginal are used, lyrics and harmonies are the same. But the mood is changed completely, and (of course the vocal melody is different (no chance for me to sing like Kylie does). Would this still be a legal cover to be uploaded on Spotify or Deezer?
    And:
    would I have to take the extra route through HFA for posting at Tidal or soundcloud etc.?

    Hi Lothar, yes this would be a legal cover to release so all of the details mentioned above will apply. If you have re-created the elements of any copyrighted song, be it melody, chords, or the lyrics, then the cover song rules will be applicable.

    thank for being so quick to reply!
    Now that the “will this be regarded as a cover” question is settled: if I say to start out on Spotify and Deezer, relying on the fact that I don’t need a mechanical license here. Then later on decide to also upload my cover songs to maybe Tidal, Google and soundcloud: I assume that I would then have to head over to someone like HFA to get a mechanical license, correct? What would be the steps in regards to your service?

    If I cover a song on spotify, can I use that songs original instrumental?
    Also, can I use the instrumental to a song and write my own lyrics to it and release it on spotify?

    Hello Akshay, you cannot use existing content unless you have the rights to use it. If you’re covering a song but use a non-original backing track you will need to acquire the rights to use that backing track for your own commercial gain. Likewise if you use any other instrumentals for any purpose.

    RE : “To maximise your reach when distributing your cover song, you can upload your release in two separate version to RouteNote. Select the stores that are viable for distribution in all countries on one, then exclude those stores and the territories mentioned above for distribution everywhere else.”

    Hey! So when I release two versions of each album/song, do they need to have different names? Is there anything else that needs to be considered?

    Hi Adam, they can be formatted the same as long as they are not being released in the same place as each other.

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