Recording a cover song can be a great way to attract attention and tell people what your music is about. However,you need to make sure you have cleared the rights to that song before releasing it to the world. Even if you are giving the song away for free you need to clear it.
This process used to be quite painful. You needed to find and get in touch with the songwriters and beg or bribe them to allow you to cover that song. Nowadays with services like Limelight, song clearance is fast and easy.
Why do you need to clear a song?
Whoever wrote that song, owns it and anyone who wishes to use it needs a permission to do so. This is done by getting a mechanical license, meaning that you have a right to make a recording of the song. The songwriter wants their share of the benefits that you will get, so they will give you that license in exchange for money. Sorry, no way out of it, even if you are offering that recording as a fun free download on your website.
How to clear a song?
Limelight is a handy service for doing this. Find out who has written the song and fill out the form on their website. The clearance process takes about two weeks and your license is posted as a downloadable PDF to you.
How much does it cost?
That depends on how popular your recording becomes! The license cost is based on how many copies you sell and in what format. There are different licenses for digital, physical and ringtone releases. You can start by making an estimation and then altering your licence if you sell or stream more. To give you an idea, ballpark is around 1 cent per per unit.
Now go and make that crazy version of your favourite tune!