When Vanilla Ice ripped off the Queen/David Bowie classic “Under Pressure” for his 1990 single “Ice Ice Baby,” there was an outrage. Vanilla Ice tried to tell Queen and David Bowie that his bass line was a little bit different from theirs, but many—fellow musicians, fans, critics—disagreed. Fast forward to today, when thousands of musicians upload cover songs to YouTube. It seems that we’re constantly repeating Vanilla Ice’s mistake… but we really shouldn’t.
To avoid a similar debacle, you might want to brush up on your understanding of licensing and royalties.
Who Gets Royalties?
In terms of music licensing, the original creator is paid royalties by the person wanting to use the music. The price of using it can vary depending on the song, the creator, and the intended use.
If you are considering sampling anyone else’s work, you are responsible for getting permission first. Don’t count on your lack of superstar status to protect you. If you don’t obtain permission, you can face serious trouble. There is nothing more devastating than pouring your time, money, and heart into a song only to find out that you can’t use it because you didn’t obtain permission first.
Ask the Right People
With remakes and cover versions floating around, be sure that you get permission from the original creator. Either search online or pull out the original recording’s CD/album and check the liner notes. Then, reach out to the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) or EMI. These are two principal players in music licensing, and most professional artists work with them. These groups can tell you what’s required to get the rights to sample, cover, or otherwise use this song.
Flipping the Tables
If you have original content, you have the option of licensing it for use and being paid royalties. There are hundreds of sites that can work with you on this. American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) or EMI are both great sites to start researching this process.
Now that you know more about music licensing and royalties, head out and make your music with confidence, knowing that you’ve taken the steps to protect yourself.
Have you licensed your music for others to use? How did the process go for you? Do you have advice for those considering licensing their music? On the other side, have you paid to use someone else’s work?
See also: Copyright Your Music: The Why and How