With the holidays fast approaching and holiday tunes playing all around, it’s a time of year where artists can add their own twists on classic holiday hits. While it may seem simple to record and release your own version of “Let It Snow”, there are a few specifics to keep in mind prior to distributing a cover song. Stem wants to make sure you follow all appropriate guidelines. Read on to learn the nuances of covering a holiday song.

Public Domain vs. Mechanical License

As you may already know, certain holiday songs are part of the public domain. On the other hand, other songs need a mechanical license in order to be released. These licenses help make sure that you and the original songwriters, artists and producers all get paid.  

What is Public Domain?

Copyright and public domain go hand-in-hand, because public domain references creative works that are not protected by copyrights, trademarks and patents. Any work that falls under public domain is available for public use. Typically public domain applies to songs with a valid copyright from 1922 or earlier.

However, it’s important to note that while individual creative works may be public domain, the whole collection of works may be protected, via the “collective works” copyright. Therefore, it’s integral to do your due diligence with detailed research. In other words, verify all possible legalities before working on a cover song and make sure that you have all your ducks in a row. Some holiday songs available via public domain and without a license are:

  • “Joy to the World”
  • “Deck the Halls”
  • “Jingle Bells”

For more information on public domain and a holiday cover song’s status, read more here.

When and How to Get A Mechanical License

If it isn’t under public domain, the cover song requires a mechanical license to distribute to the streaming platforms, iTunes store and retail stores. As mentioned, mechanical licenses ensure that all collaborators in the song’s original creation get paid. In addition, a license ensures that those who cover the song also receive payment. 

One way to get a mechanical license for holiday cover song distribution is through Stem’s integration with Loudr. You can read about this integration here, but below are some key points to remember:

  • There’s no up-front cost. The $10 fee-per-cover comes from the royalties earned from the cover song.
  • Mechanical licenses auto renew. If you’re releasing a holiday cover song that requires a license, this encompasses next holiday season too.

As you may have guessed, a vast amount of holiday related music, like the songs below, requires a mechanical license:

  • “Last Christmas”
  • “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
  • “Let It Snow”

Importance & Timing

Above all, do your research online and talk to your team ahead of time when you brainstorm songs to cover. Remember that you need a mechanical license early on, before you make it to the distribution phase of the process.

If you currently distribute through Stem, you can obtain a mechanical license in the dashboard as you go through the distribution upload process. All you have to do is tell us if it’s a cover or not.

From there, it takes one to two business days to process your license request. Once your license request is confirmed, your music can distribute your cover song to the major platforms. We recommend setting up your release ahead of time, to confirm everything runs smoothly.

With the holiday season upon us, if you’re looking to distribute a cover song, check to see if it’s part of the public domain or if it’s copyrighted. If the song is copyrighted, make sure you get a mechanical license, because this way all parties involved will get paid for their collaboration and creative work.