Millions of covers are recorded and posted to YouTube on a daily basis by musicians. In 2015, a great, but not guaranteed, way to break through the digital noise and to build up a fanbase is a cover that goes viral. But it’s not as easy as it seems, of course. What is? Here are some factors to consider before you decide to jump into the fray and record a cover of your favorite song.

Have A Long-Term Plan:

Covers should be a part of an overall strategy, NOT just “let’s capitalize off an already established hit!” It’s very important to make sure that not only are you going to do a cover of a successful song that is familiar, but that the cover fits into your overall artistic vision in some way. If the cover sonically sounds great and is well done, you can often include it later as an album track or sell mp3’s of the performance.

Before you begin the recording process it’s important to understand:

–    What’s your target audience?
–    How will you grow your audience?
–    How will you maintain your audience?

Use It As Bait:

A cover should be used to lead back to your original content. If you’ve already followed Step 1 above, then this will be pretty simple, especially if your cover has a visual attached to it. For example, while you’re performing your cover on video,  make sure to include annotations and youtube cards with information on how viewers can see more content from you. The cover is free for them, but you can easily turn it into actual cash and/or new fans if you’re using it to grab attention quickly.

Strategic Song Selection:

Sure, everyone knows and loves Stevie Wonder and Nirvana. However, your choice of cover should be strategic in that it can be used as leverage. For example, covering a song that is currently on the charts not only increases the chances of it going viral, but it also leverages the current fans of that song and turns their attention to you.   If you can access industry trade sites like FMQBMediabaseand All Access, you can see what songs are big and/or growing at radio currently. Billboard and Spotify are also good resources relating to charts and airplay.

Song Fatigue:

The downside of doing a cover of a hit song is that there are probably a billion other versions floating around. A quick search on YouTube will give you great insight into if a song has become over-saturated. Most popular songs reach over 600K covers. At this point, you may want to consider another song choice. The chances of your cover going viral have decreased drastically.

Originality:

Will this cover allow you to make a great, original and fresh version of the song? There’s a number of ways to make sure your cover shows off who YOU are as an artist while delivering a different & unique take on a popular song. For example, say the genre of the original song is pop. Perhaps doing a jazzy take with sparse instrumentation is a good way to approach your version. Flipping a song on its head with respect to the original and doing it well will definitely be sure to make someone perk up when they are considering sharing the cover with a friend. Trying to be too different and performing the deep album cut of your favorite artist might not be the best move to take. Why? Because no one will know it. If that was the point, you’d be better just sticking with original material — because no one knows that either.

Legal Matters:

Technically, under the copyright laws, anyone can do a version of a song, but there are still reasons that doing a cover of a particular song might not be the best idea. The bigger the song, especially if it’s an older “hit,” the more you are exposed to some form of somebody being unhappy. It’s sometimes customary to ask the original artist who made a song popular for permission to do a cover of their song. Of course, this may only apply to larger, established artists — but say your Maroon 5 cover song goes viral and you decide to sell it and it “establishes” you as a force in the music business– the more traction you get, the quicker you should reach out and let Maroon 5 know what’s happening. Recording a cover and uploading it to YouTube is one thing– YouTube has deals with most major and indie publishers to cover their catalogues. When you decide to sell your own is when things hit another level.

If you’ve taken the time to plan your cover using these steps, I guarantee you, you are 95% ahead of the other thousands of artists who are debating the same thing you are. Make sure you leverage all those fans into your future projects.

Nathan G. Meaux
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