How to Sell & License Cover Songs, YouTube, Pomplamoose & More

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I just posted part one of a great two-part interview with Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn of the duo Pomplamoose. They explain how they’ve used a combination of cover songs and originals to attract more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers and 60+ million video views.

They also sell more than 100,000 digital music downloads a year through iTunes and their own website. These online sales are comprised of both cover songs and originals.

Which has led to a ton of questions from artists wondering:

How does Pomplamoose (and many other musicians like them) legally post cover songs on YouTube and then sell them?

Some of these cover song issues will be addressed in part two of the Pomplamoose interview. But since a lot of people are asking now, here is what I know about this topic …

There are two separate aspects to this:

1) Recording your version of someone else’s song and POSTING it on YouTube – where anyone can watch it for free

2) Recording your version of someone else’s song and SELLING it on iTunes, Amazon, your own site, etc.

Regarding #1 … Admittedly, this is a gray area with no clear-cut answers. YouTube probably has a blanket license from BMI and ASCAP for this purpose. Much like a live music venue should have a license that allows you to play cover songs in a club.

Based on my research of this topic, the main reason a cover song video might be removed from YouTube is if someone files a complaint or the copyright holder objects to it. This has happened with some videos. But considering the thousands (if not millions) of cover songs on YouTube, it is rare to have such a video pulled.

There’s currently no easy system in place to get permission or purchase what’s called a “sync license” before posting your rendition of a popular song on YouTube. So most indie artists simply upload them for the world to see. If an artist, record label or publisher does object, it seems the worst that happens is that YouTube deactivates that video.

Warning: There is some evidence that YouTube has a “three strikes” rule — meaning that after three such copyright deactivations they will shut down your entire channel. So if you’ve had complaints in the past, you might want to steer clear of cover songs on that channel.

(Note: All of these guidelines pertain to YOUR RENDITION of a song! Do NOT post the original recording of someone’s else song. THAT is a definite no-no.)

Thanks to Suzanne Lainson who provided this link to a much more in-depth overview of this topic.

Regarding #2 … To SELL your recorded version of someone else’s song, you must purchase a mechanical license. As Jack and Nataly will point out in part two, this is incredibly easy and affordable to do — especially for digital download sales in small quantities.

Pomplamoose uses the Harry Fox Agency, which you can find at or simply

Many indie musicians use Limelight at — which some have said is even easier to use.

Using either one of these sites, you could buy the mechanical rights to sell 100 digital downloads of a cover song for as little as $24 USD. (That includes a $15 fee to Limelight or Harry Fox, plus $9.10 for royalties to the publisher.)

Pretty simple, huh?

Note that there are different rates and rules for songs over five minutes in length, sampling, parodies, etc. But for a simple rendition of a cover song, it’s pretty easy.

If I missed anything, please leave a comment below.


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  1. Zain says:

    Great videos of Youtube, thanx bob

  2. love what pomplamoose do… heard of them a while back and they inspired us to get on and do a similar thing. We did our own twist on a rihanna song. you can check it out here
    or by clicking my name above this message

  3. Ziggy G. says:

    Dear Bob,
    once more some very useful “first-hand” information.
    Thank you for that and your encouraging actitvy all the way.

    Best wishes for your further work and success from germany


  4. “(Note: All of these guidelines pertain to YOUR RENDITION of a song! Do NOT post the original recording of someone’s else song. THAT is a definite no-no.)” But this seems to occur in the millions (of videos), including an abundance of people just posting a video of one still image with the song playing from beginning to end. I believe this kind of play is something covered in Youtube’s blanket license that you mentioned. In other words the original audio content creators should start to receive royalties based on view counts, in the not too distant future, paid by Youtube the broadcaster, not by the youtube user who posted such videos.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Bob. Regarding selling covers on itunes etc, do you know what people in the UK should do? Can we still go through Songfile and Songclearance?

  6. Trevor says:

    Hi Bob,

    That has cleared up a lot of wondering. The question I have for you, is how does this work for people in the U.K, or other countries for that matter?

    If someone from the U.K wants to cover a song from an American artist, does the artist from the U.K still need to acquire a license via Harry Fox/Lime light, or the U.K equivalent?

    Also, how does this potain to remixing (original longs yrics with one’s own music)?

    Great post!

  7. Thanks Bob! I always find you interviews and written material insightful and applicable!!!

  8. Mr. Stolting says:

    Last year I did a Dance Remix and performance of the Christmas classic: “oh holy night” and uploaded it to Youtube.

    When researching, from what I gathered, the cover version I’m doing (lyrics and melody) was and is in the public domain.

    Since I had no complaints from Youtube, or itunes, and any other outlets that I have it available on, I will keep it online this season as well since folks seemed to enjoy it.

    Merry early Christmas 🙂

    Mr. Stolting.

  9. You didn’t explain synchronization licenses which is what you are supposed to have when you perform someone else’s song in a video. There are a lot of people who don’t obtain one when they make YouTube videos, but it would be good to at least explain how it is supposed to work. YouTube recently announced an agreement with publishers, so perhaps in the future synchronization licenses will automatically be built into the system. Here’s more on the subject: Music, Copyright, and YouTube

  10. Great post as usual Bob… Just wanted to thank you for all the work you do for us!

  11. Kat Boelskov says:

    Very useful overview!
    I’ve been thinking about doing some covers for Youtube, (am also massively inspired by Pomplamoose), but was daunted at the prospect of what I thought would be an expensive and complicated affair of obtaining the rights to do so.
    Thank you for explaining it in a simple and straightforward manner. No excuses to not go ahead now!

  12. Rob says:

    Thanks Bob!

    I was actually looking for this information just before this post came out. It seems that so many people each have a different idea of how this works.

    When I was at music college I did study a bit about copyright, but I was still confused about the YouTube stuff. I thought YouTube had a license for covers (something to do with the i-Tunes link and/or the ad by the video), but I just needed someone else to confirm it because I was just guessing from what I’ve heard.

    Thanks 🙂


  13. Dave says:

    Bob, you made a point about Jack’s technical training with sound production being a factor — and it seems also video editing — awesome stuff he’s pulling off!

    And the rooms are don’t look acoustically friendly for recording either.

    I have a lot more learn techie-wise to produce video/audio of that caliber!!

    Kudos to Pamplamoose, though! — I’m very happy for them 🙂 Thanks for the inspired work.