Singing a cover song can be a great way to grow your audience and engage with your fans when you’re first starting out, helping them understand the kind of artist you want to be. It gives you the chance to show off your skills as a singer and you can be creative and make the song your own.
Performing a creative cover is about ensuring you understand the song and have the ability to showcase your talent to make it your own. Perhaps perform an acapella or acoustic version so it stands out. Just make sure you know how to record a cover song legally if you use it in YouTube videos.
If you’re singing for an audition, we always recommend performing your own original music. Whilst learning to write your own songs is a big part of being an artist, if you’re not quite there yet then you need to make sure that your cover of a song is as creative and unique as possible. With so many other people taking on this challenge, here’s how you can make your cover song creative enough that it really stands out.
How to record a cover song at home
There are a few pieces of essential equipment you will need to record your own music at home. You may or may not already have these but without them, you will struggle to get that quality you desire.
To set up your DIY home recording studio, the essential items are a Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), a microphone, a microphone cable and an audio interface.
Your DAW is a piece of software that you can use to record, edit and mix your music. Although you could use the microphone on your laptop to record your voice, it may not provide the best quality so investing in a microphone is probably a good idea, as well as the cable to go with it. The audio interface will convert your signal from your microphone to your computer.
Once you’ve got all your equipment set up, you’re ready to go.
How to cover a song legally
Despite many high profile legal copyright battles that you may have seen in the news over the years, covering a song is actually fairly straight forward. The key thing to note is that anybody can cover anybody else’s song. But simply, if you do, you must pay royalties to the song’s creator from any money you make.
You need to obtain a ‘mechanical license’. They are very easy to obtain and simply mean that you will pay the original owner of the song a ‘mechanical royalty’.
It is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted song that grants permission to release the song in an audio-only format.
A mechanical license is needed even if you only used a small portion of the original track.
To obtain a license you simply need to register the details online. Easy Song Licensing offers this service for just $15 and it gives you peace of mind knowing that you have taken the necessary legal steps.
Using cover songs in YouTube videos
People post cover songs on YouTube all the time. Thousands of new videos hit the website each month. But is it legal? Technically no, as you’re infringing someone’s copyright if you haven’t got permission.
The owner could complain and YouTube might then remove your video. We talked above about the mechanical license which covers the audio. But this doesn’t cover any accompanying video. To do this, you’ll need a synchronization license, which is also known as a ‘sync’ license. You need to negotiate a sync license with the copyright holder.
Copyright owners must grant mechanical licenses. However, by law, they are not required to give you a sync license and there is no set fee for it.
However, the good news is that many music publishers have already made agreements with YouTube that allow their songs to be used in exchange for a portion of the ad revenue generated. You can find out if there is already an agreement in place for the song you want to record simply by contacting the music publisher directly.
How to cover a song well
To start with, you need to sit down and decide what sort of track you want to record or perform. Do you want to simply cover it in the same way as the original singer? If you have a unique voice or a distinctive skill, this could work in your favour as it means people will listen to your cover version and recognise that it stands out from the original.
Or do you want to make a more personal rendition? Do you want to pay tribute to the original song while also showing off your skills and talent?
Either way, the most important thing is that your version is remembered so that people keep coming back to it and want to listen again and again.
Think about cover songs that stand out to you and ask yourself why they stood out. Why did you remember it? What was it about the cover version that stood out so much from the original?
How to cover a song on my phone
The music industry is ever changing. Nowadays, you can record songs on your phone using apps. It might not be the professional version you were hoping for but it’s certainly worth a shot and has become a popular way of recording songs.
Wurrly is an example of an app for recording versions of popular songs where you are given some options for songs to record. You have the choice of a pre-made accompaniment such as a full band, a piano or a guitar. You then set the key, the tempo and press record. Give it a go! It’s certainly good practice if you are just starting out as an artist in the music industry.
How to make a professional song cover
#1 What song do you want to sing?
This is obviously key to your success. We all have songs that we love and we can’t stop singing. However, you need to make sure that it will work with your voice and that you can make it stand out so that people remember it. They might even start to associate that song with you as an artist in your own right.
Don’t just pick a song by Rihanna because it’s been number one in the charts for eight weeks and you think other people will like it. Pick it because it works for your voice and because you believe that you can make a unique version of it.
#2 Make a cover song your own
A good example is Leona Lewis’ now famous version of Snow Patrol’s Run. Leona recorded this in the Radio 1 Live Lounge and went on to release it as it proved such a huge success. She hadn’t planned to release it as a single but when she did back in November 2008, it became the fastest selling digital release in history.
Leona’s voice is distinctly different from the lead singer of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody. She took advantage of that and recorded her own version by using a different key and different instruments. It changed the song from a rock song to a pop ballad. The track reached number 1 in the UK charts whereas the original only made it to number 5.
#3 Use your strengths within your voice
Consider what you believe your strengths to be and use them to enhance the song. Perhaps you sing in a lower key than the original artist. Perform the song your way and it will make it stand out from the original. Perhaps you could also use lower harmonies to give the track some power and make it memorable.
#4 Ensure you understand the song
As an artist, you will develop more and more understanding of music and how a song is put together over time. But the better you understand it now, the easier it is to interpret and work out how to put your own stamp on it.
If you understand the rhythm, time and groove of a song, you can learn how to manipulate these elements to make it your own. Look at creative opportunities in the song when you are playing and arranging it. How can you make this work for you so that people will remember it?
#5 Use a decent camera
It sounds obvious, but if you’re uploading a video, you want it to be a decent quality to ensure that more and more people watch and listen to the song. If you’re filming with an old camera or an old mobile phone, the quality may not be as good.
Equally as important is the lighting and sound quality. Make sure you’re sat or stood in the right place and that you can be seen and heard clearly.
#6 Scrap the instruments
Consider doing an acoustic or even doing an acapella version. It’s another way to make your version stand out from the rest. Sometimes, the power of an instrument can hide the beauty of a voice. If you’re just starting out in the industry, you want people to hear your talents clearly.
Look at recording a couple of different versions – some with instruments and some without and show it to your friends and family and see which one they think works best. You might just surprise yourself.
#7 Take inspiration from other artists
There are many cover songs that people have recorded over the years which are now not recognised as cover songs in their own right. For example, Sinead O’Connor’s hugely successful track Nothing Compares 2 U was originally written back in 1985 by Prince.
Also, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You was originally recorded by Dolly Parton in 1974. But again, it’s Whitney’s version that most people will remember.
Use these examples to inspire you to success. Sometimes cover songs can change an artist’s career and one day, that could be you. Keep believing in yourself and keep the faith!
Why are cover songs important within the music industry?
For a lot of people, cover songs stand as a pathway into the music industry. For people just starting their careers, it’s an excellent way to showcase their talent. It’s a great way to grow your audience as an artist. People are more likely to be able to understand the type of artist you strive to be if you are singing a song they are already familiar with.
For you as an artist, it’s also a good way for you to learn more about the art of songwriting and how a song is written and produced. Covering a song means that you get to know the original inside out and can get an insight into how the original artist wrote and recorded it.
It’s also an easy way for you to get started in the industry. You may not have the time right now to start writing and recording your own song from scratch, which can certainly be a very lengthy process. But working on a cover song is a quick and easy way to begin to make your mark in the industry.
Of course, that’s not to say that you won’t go on to record your own material in your music career. But creative cover songs stand as an introduction to the music world and are likely to win you fans if you do the original song justice and of course, make it memorable.
Ready to press record?
Hopefully, by now, you feel confident enough to go ahead and record your own creative version of a song. There are so many different ways to get your voice out there and to put your stamp on an already popular song and now you have an idea about how to get started making a creative cover song.
We would love to know what some of your favourite cover songs are. Let us know in the comments below.