There is always a point in an independent artist career that you plan on recording cover songs. A lot of reasons such as:
1.) You still don’t have enough original and quality songs in your catalog.
2.) You want to be associated with your favorite artist by covering songs.
3.) An artistic expression or rendition of a popular music piece.
To be completely legal, it is recommended to read this guide so that you will know the important aspects in covering songs. Before you read the following checklist, make sure you understand copyright. Copyright of music is different from copyright of sound recording. They are two different entities.
Actually when you are covering songs, you are exploiting the following rights:
1.) The rights to use the music or composition.
2.) The rights to use the lyrics.
3.) The rights to alter some part of the composition (such as a change of key) or even change a portion of the lyrics.
In this case, you would only be asking permissions from the music publisher/songwriter because they own the rights to the songs and lyrics. Do not ask permission to the recording label because they do not own the rights to the song and lyrics only the recording they release.
Take note that you would not be asking permission directly to the music publishers or songwriters when covering songs, there are some situations that you should know. It will be discussed below:
Checklist#1: Are you using it commercially or for non-profit?
It is not a big deal to cover songs then use it for yourself. In this case, you should not re-publish it or re-distribute it to your friends both offline and online. There are many reasons why you will be doing this, for example you are still practicing recording at home and you have no choice but to record some covers (because you do not have an original song) as a demo. In this case, the use of the music is non-commercial. I would not be requesting permission or pay for a license to do this.
However, if you are a producer/indie label with a project for an artist to do cover songs with intent of releasing and distributing it to the public for sale; there is some legal procedure that you should follow( this also applies to an indie artist alone wanting to self-produce and record covers then selling the covers as records):