Music is a common topic of conversation among my family and friends. So it was no surprise when I woke up the other morning with a flurry of texts and Twitter DMs urging me to watch Kelly Clarkson’s cover of ‘Purple Rain’ during her concert the night before.

Some of my friends praised her royal cover, while others called it blasphemy. But Kelly isn’t afraid to do them, she performs a different cover each night at her show, because her career isn’t reliant on them. Celebrity musicians use cover songs as a form of tribute, while thousands of independent artists are counting on them to get discovered.

The cover song strategy has become a standard in the music industry. Some call it the musical equivalent of search-engine optimization manipulation while others argue technology has simply leveled the playing field for artists who aren’t signed to major labels. But no matter which team you bat for, there’s no denying covers can help spark stardom.

Giving a boost to cover songs these days is the fact that, if done right, they’ll turn up in music magazines and blogs with “best cover” accolades, and a select few will even get a thumbs up or a retweet by the original artists themselves (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.) But for every one artist stealing the limelight with a clever cover, there are thousands of others whose valiant cover efforts go unnoticed and they stay undiscovered. So what is the magic formula for hitting the view count lottery? Here are some simple tips and tricks new artists tend to overlook.

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

Sure, Kelly Clarkson can get away with covering a 30-year old song because she’s not trying to build a fan base. But the success of your cover song getting spotted in the crowd is dependent on the search. Therefore, YOU have to turn up in it. The cover strategy should start with picking a song rising with a bullet; a song music fans are frantically searching for on YouTube or digital music services right now. Yep, that means cutting emotional ties to your favorite songs, or the classics you love to perform, and giving the people what they’re seeking.

Make The Cover Your Own

The best way to get your cover song to stand out in the crowd is to create a fresh take on it. Don’t rush it and create a copy-cat version of the song; that’s Karaoke, not a cover, and it won’t keep anyone’s interest for long. Put your own unique twist on the song and make sure it offers something the original doesn’t. This is also your chance to put your stamp on a song that isn’t normally in your orbit. While many artists believe they should “stick to what they know” for covers, genre-bending is a great way to get noticed (rockers covering rock isn’t all that special) and introduce yourselves to a new audience that may never have given you a double take. Once you get them hooked, then you can deliver your style of music to the masses (and I venture to say even Kelly Clarkson won over some new fans with her Prince cover.)

The Devil Is In the Description Details

In order for your cover to have a shot at going viral, don’t treat the description box as an afterthought. That’s where many artists go wrong. Remember, if your video doesn’t come up in a search, the game is over before it begins. So I’m going to play a little game of show ‘n tell to make this point.

Unsigned punk band, I Prevail, released a cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space,” shortly after Swift released 1989. They weren’t the only ones of course, not by a long shot, but they made all the right moves in the description.

Take notes; they included the song name, the original artist’s name, their name AND they included a brilliant golden nugget; a tag line to pique curiosity. “Punk Goes Pop” – that’s what we call a tease! And, it’s a great example of the genre-bending I was talking about. Of all the ‘Blank Space’ covers out there, how could you not want to watch a punk twist on the pure pop anthem?

And it paid off. A month after I Prevail’s cover was posted, they were charting on 24 different Billboard charts and soared to #1 on the Emerging Artists Chart. To date, the video has almost 14 million views.

Prepare And Promote

The YouTube description box isn’t just a search engine tool, it’s also there to encourage engagement and build a fan base. So before you post your cover; make the song available for download, create and/or make sure your website and social media pages are up-to-date and include links to all of them in the description. It’s also a good idea to have press materials ready and available in case you hit viral video gold and the media comes calling.

Make It Legal

The point of your cover is to get the clicks, and the more you get, the more attention you draw. So don’t try to sneak past legalities, getting the rights to cover songs is important. Now, if you’re just recording the cover and selling it, it’s pretty cheap and easy to do. You just need to obtain a mechanical license from a licensing company such as the Harry Fox Agency or Limelight. But posting to YouTube means pairing the audio with a video. This requires a synchronization license, and for that, you need to ask permission from the publisher. I’ll do a little of that leg work for you.

·        SESAC: This will allow you to directly submit a request to the publisher.

·        ASCAP: This is more of a how-to section of the for  independent filmmakers, which technically you are if you’re uploading a cover song to YouTube. 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 on YouTube. But you won’t know until you ask.

Covering the right song at the right time can catapult your music career, so covering all your bases before posting it is essential.  Hopefully, the strategy will pay off and you’ll be partying like it’s 1999 after your cover goes viral.


Author: Reina Carbetta

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