Recording covers can bring you cash and lots of singers do it -says Leo Moracchioli.
You may have heard that singers can’t make money from cover songs (songs that you didn’t write and don’t own).
If you didn’t write the song, “Firework,” for example, you can’t record it and sell it, right?
Selling cover songs can absolutely bring you cash, and lots of singers do it.
Leo Moracchioli has been able to “quit his day job” and invest all his energy into doing what he loves – producing covers at the insane pace of one per week plus a ton of how-to vids for his enormous fan base.
He can do all this thanks to selling his heavy metal covers on stores like iTunes and the direct fan support he musters on Patreon (a crowd-funding platform).
Moraccioli has risen to YouTube fame with his cover-dominated channel, Frog Leap Studios, where he has garnered an impressive 170 million views.
Not only that, but his covers are selling like hot cakes in digital stores.
VoiceCouncil caught up with Leo to find out how he navigates the issues around copyrights and licenses.
“One day, I just got this idea to post a metal cover of “Poker Face” on my YouTube channel,” says Moracchioli, “it sort of went viral with a million views, and that’s when I decided to find out about monetization and licensing.”
He found out that any time you wish to make a recording of a song you don’t own, you must obtain a mechanical license. Even if you don’t intend to sell your recording, the rule applies.
This license permits you to create your own recording of the song, and distribute it as a physical record or digital download.
Moracchioli uses a service called Loudr.fm to secure a license for each cover song he produces.
Loudr.fm takes a cut of his earnings, plus he must pay the standard 9.1 cents per song for the license, which goes to the copyright owner.
He is happy with this arrangement, since Loudr.fm takes care of everything so he doesn’t have to.
“What is genius for me, is that all I have to do is upload my recording Loudr.fm, with some basic info on the song,” he says, “then they contact the record companies, arrange the licensing, and upload the song to the digital stores like iTunes”.
Uploading the tunes to a digital store is a service known as distribution, which means that Loudr.fm is offering two services: securing the mechanical license, and distributing the song.
Loudr.fm also collects Moracchioli’s earnings from the sales and transfers the money to him once a month.
For Moracchioli, selling his covers in this way brings in the majority of his money at the moment. Songfile.com is another popular service that secures licensing for cover songs.
With strong sales and fan support, you’d expect him to be making a corresponding amount of money from YouTube as well, but this is not the case.
Despite monetizing his YouTube channel (receiving a share of the money from advertisements) and having millions of views, Moracchioli receives no money from the majority of his covers on YouTube.
Song Licences On YouTube
“When I put up a new video on YouTube, the big record companies [who own the copyright] find it, claim it, and take over the monetization,” says Morrachioli, who gets nothing from a video that has been claimed.
He points out that some of his covers have not been claimed by the copyright owners, which means he does receive the normal amount from the monetization on those.
His cover of Adele’s “Hello” now has over 22 million views, which means the money he could have received from the advertisements would have been a good chunk of change. It all went to Sony, who owns the copyright on that particular song.
What!? But he has a license! Doesn’t that mean he has permission?
Videos are a whole different story. A mechanical license does not give you permission to put a copyrighted song in a video.
For use of a song in a video, you need a whole different type of license, called a synchronization license.
These are almost impossible to get as an independent artist, because the big companies who own all the songs you want to cover only hand these out for TV shows and movies.
An independent artist will likely not be given the time of day by the big companies, and will have to wait months and months for a response.
The Future Of YouTube Licensing
So how then, is it possible that there are millions of people posting covers on YouTube, if no one has the proper sync licenses?
“With YouTube, it is a big grey area,” says Moracchioli, “and they are working on it”.
YouTube’s work-around at the moment, is to let the big companies take all the money from ads on videos containing their copyrighted song.
Seems fair enough, since it is their song.
“I would rather find a way to do some sort of split,” says Moracchioli, “because even though the song is theirs, I have created the entire video and the new arrangement by myself”.
That’s an understatement.
Moracchioli is a far cry from the millions of YouTubers sitting in their bedroom shyly singing a cover while they stare at the floor.
He plays every instrument, records, mixes and edits the entire song and video ALL BY HIMSELF. And he publishes every single week. Like a machine.
He points out that if you are just a small channel, the record companies won’t claim your video, but as soon as you get big, you’ll lose the monetization on any video containing copyrighted music.
United Screens YouTube Network
“I’m part of a YouTube network called United Screens,” says Moracchioli, “I pay them a cut of my earnings on YouTube, and they help with the business and legal side.”
Aside from his cover videos, Moracchioli also posts instructional videos on recording, mixing and producing. He makes a little money from those too.
Not all YouTubers use a network. Some people like to handle all the business stuff by themselves.
“I am not about the business side,” says Moracchioli, “I am about the content and the music”.
Leo Moracchioli runs a studio on the west side of Norway where he does metal and acoustic covers on YouTube, gear reviews, records and produces bands, plays live shows and video work.