There are some advantages to covering other people’s songs both in live performance and on recordings. Obviously there are some issues to consider – copyright being the biggie – but these aren’t difficult to overcome as I discovered recently. 

If I’m honest I’ve always been a bit negative about cover bands. Only covering other peoples songs and not actually creating your own seemed like a bit of an easy route. I especially dislike tribute bands. There’s just something weird to me about wanting to copy everything about another act from there music to their appearance. But hey, there’s clearly a big audience for them and money to be made. So who am I to judge?

The obvious advantage of covering well known songs is that they have a ready made audience. This can be really useful in a live situation when people are looking to be entertained. Giving them something familiar is way easier than introducing something brand new. Sprinkling in a few well placed covers Is a time honoured tradition. Sometimes covers are better than the originals IMO.

When my band Glass were asked to do a short tour in Italy, the promoter more or less insisted that we do some covers in our set.  Not wanting to pass up the tour on principle we agreed. We chose a handful of big hit songs from Blondie, Madonna, Duran Duran, The Foo Fighters, Donna Summer and The Eurythmics. An eclectic range for a band who had just played at the Whitby Gothic Weekend. 

We made absolutely no attempt to do faithful reproductions of the originals. We learned the basic structures and took them in our own direction. I have to say it was fun. 

Using Covers To Build Your Audience

Covering other people’s songs can also be a great way of building an online following for your own music. My partner and I decided to cover Prince’s song When Doves Cry for that reason. Again we paid almost no attention to the original or the many existing covers that have been done. Ours is a sort of alt rock approach. We also produced a video to go with it. You can see and hear it below.

We had everything ready to go to out Youtube channel, Bandcamp and Soundcloud when we thought about copyright. I did some research which you might find useful if you are thinking about doing covers. 

When it comes to live performance of other peoples songs, “mechanical” royalties are covered by the venues they are played in.  Things are different however when, like us you are recording them and making them available on platforms like Youtube.  

For a long time Youtube was filled with cover versions. Record companies, publishers and artists had no way of keeping up, policing or gathering royalties from them. Almost no one bothered to look for and purchase a license to use the songs. That has changed in recent years.  Some publishers let it go, reasoning that covers actually bring more attention to the original artists. Others went for lawsuits. At best your cover song was taken down at worst you lost your channel and/or got sued. 

Covering Other People’s Songs Legally

Luckily things are less fraught with danger now. Youtube has come to an agreement with a great many publishers, agents and artists whereby they get paid when their work is covered. Basically any advertising revenue generated by a cover video goes to the copyright owner rather than the Youtuber. This is great if you are doing covers just to get more eyeballs on your own work. But there’s an even better solution.

Traditionally if you wanted to cover other people’s songs you’d buy a licence from one of the many agencies that sell them. Alternatively you could approach the owner directly and ask their permission. Now though you can both cover yourself for copyright and earn a share of the revenue on Youtube.  And its free!

WATH (We Are The Hits) has, like Youtube, made an arrangement with huge numbers of publishers to allow everyone to benefit from covering other peoples songs on Youtube. You sign up free and register the channel you’ll be using. You then enter the song you are covering into their database. If its there (and it probably is) you’ll see the writers, publishers, artists details.  You can then upload your video to WATH. Soon after (about an hour in my case) they’ll email you to say go ahead and upload to Youtube. What ever hocus pocus has gone on in the background now means that you are good to go licence-wise and can also earn 40% of any ad revenue generated. 

Bear in mind that currently only channels with 1000 subscribers and  4000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months can earn ad revenue. But money aside, this is still a good way of helping get you there. 


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.