To make a cover of a song means making your own interpretation of a song. While people in all genres and styles sing tunes that are created by someone else, a cover means that you have created a version that gives the song a new feel because of the way you sing and perform it.
A cover is often done acoustically with a guitar. You will see several singers performing covers on sites like Youtube and Tik Tok. While the original song has a full instrumental production, the cover version can be done acapella, with piano, with guitar, or even using the song's instrumental version. Your interpretation of the song can still be unique based on your vocals, not the music.
Cover versions of a song were first coined for describing songs that someone would make in order to compete with the original version of the song. This was popular in the 1940s and 1950s for example with Paul Williams' 1949 hit tune "The Hucklebuck" and Hank Williams' 1952 song "Jambalaya" which was the cover version. This was seen as "covering up" or taking the profit of a popular song to spotlight your own version.
Cover songs also have a dark and racist past when we consider the acts of musicians and labels around the 1950s and 1960s. Many original songs created by African Americans were "covered" (and therefore covered up) so that white artists and bands could take the credit and spotlight for the hits that were made.
Another word for a cover song is a remake, but there is a small distinction between the two terms. While cover songs give a new interpretation to the original, a remake takes it a step further and creates a fully different production with new elements and ideas presented.
A remake can loosely use some of the original song's ideas, but make it so that there is enough originality with the song's instrumentation and lyrics to where it feels like more than just a cover. A popular song that is often remade is "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In order to release and distribute a cover song or a remake, you have to make sure you realize that you cannot register this work as your own. Covers can be uploaded to streaming services like Spotify and Apple music, but you will need a distributor like Distrokid who can cover certain rights agreements for you. The license you will need is called a compulsory mechanical license.
Cover songs are also hard to upload to a site like Youtube due to copyright limitations. Some copyright owners don’t mind YouTube covers, while others require you to get that mechanical license through a company like the Harry Fox Agency, which can be costly for an independent artist.
This blog was written by singer, songwriter and producer Yona Marie. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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