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If you’re planning on releasing a cover or remix of a song, or you want to use samples in your latest track, it’s important to purchase the necessary licenses to avoid any potential problems with the copyright owner.

Releasing these types of tracks without a license can have legal implications, and it’s vital to make sure you’re 100% covered. So, before you start to release music to iTunes, Spotify and other major music stores, let’s discuss the difference between a cover, a remix and a sample, and the licenses you’ll need to get hold of for each.

Licensing covers, remixes and samples

There are different rules for covers, remixes and samples when it comes to licensing and selling your own music. Here’s a quick guide to which license you’ll need for each type of track.

Cover songs

Covers are a re-recorded version of a song, replacing the original vocals and instrumentation with your own. Under copyright law, cover versions cannot change the underlying melody or arrangement.

In the UK, you won’t need any licenses to release a cover song. However, you will need to acquire a Mechanical License for sales in North America.


Remixes use elements of the original recording, but change the arrangement, melody, style or genre of the song.

You’ll need to purchase a Master Use License to release a remix worldwide.


Samples are small elements of the original track that have been altered, tweaked or looped to create a completely new song. For example, Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ sample Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman’; and Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ samples Chic’s ‘Good Times’.

If you’re planning to release a song that uses samples, you’ll need to get hold of both Master Use and Mechanical Licenses for worldwide distribution.

Where do you get music licenses?

You can purchase music licenses online from several different companies, including Harry Fox and Easy Song Licensing. Different companies will have different options, so find one that’s relevant to the track you’re looking to cover, remix or sample for your release.

Making sure you’re covered under copyright law

There are two types of music copyright you should be familiar with:

Copyright © – this refers to the copyright in the lyrics and melody

Phonographic  – this refers the copyright of the sound recording.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to make sure you avoid any possible legal action from copyright holders when releasing covers, remixes or using samples in your tracks.

  1. Identify the owner of the copyright. This could be the original songwriter, publisher or the label. You can find the copyright owner by searching on copyright databases like BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, US Copyright Office, SongFile or Harry Fox. In many cases, the copyright owner for the composition will be the publisher, while the label will own the sound recording copyright. In this case, you’ll want to get the name of the publisher, rather than the label.
  2. Double check that you’ve found the right version of the song you’re looking for. For example, there are many different songs called ‘I Want You’, ‘Changes’ or ‘Don’t Stop’.
  3. Send a letter of intent. You don’t need to worry too much about this, as most of the companies that provide licenses will do this for you once you’ve made your purchase. But to be safe, it’s worth checking that this service is provided, and making sure you get hold of your licenses at least a month in advance of your release date.

Releasing covers, remix and samples of popular songs is a great way to reach new fans and audiences across the world with a fresh version of a familiar track, but it’s important to make sure you do it the right way. Follow this advice and you shouldn’t experience any legal problems when you come to release your music.

This blog was written by Ditto Music.

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