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SoundCloud states:

You'll still need permission from the original copyright holders of a song before you can post your cover on SoundCloud, even if you provided the vocals and played all the instruments. After all, the song itself is still someone else's.

This is obviously not specific to SoundCloud. But then how on earth should a musician contact a band to ask for permission to do a YouTube bedroom cover?! CDBaby states that a sync license is needed but doesn't explain any typical way to approach the music publisher.

  • If multiple music publishers are listed in the liner notes, does one administer all rights in a particular song, or does a reuser have to negotiate individually with each one?
  • Do music publishers tend to require a recording artist to have the backing of an established label before granting a sync license?

(Based on a question by Mr. Boy on Music: Practice and Theory that was closed as off-topic and is too old to migrate. It was recommended in a comment to ask here on Law Stack Exchange instead.)

  • "Creating the new tag 'music' requires at least 150 reputation. Try something from the existing tags list instead." Which tag should be used for questions about law as it pertains to music? – Damian Yerrick Jul 21 '15 at 23:58
  • It's a question about what license you need to obtain from the copyright holder, so tag it "copyright." – chapka Jul 22 '15 at 12:21
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There are two different types of licenses at issue here. Under U. S. Copyright law:

You may record an audio cover of any song under a compulsory mechanical license. You must pay royalties in an amount set by statute to the song's copyright holder; this is normally done through a clearinghouse such as the Harry Fox Agency.

The mechanical license gives you permission to record audio only. If you want to combine the audio with a moving image, you need a sync license. There is no compulsory sync license, so you will have to negotiate a sync license directly with the copyright holders, or, more typically, an agency representing them, such as ASCAP or BMI.

  • And how should one begin to negotiate a sync license? – Damian Yerrick Mar 23 '17 at 15:44
  • "BMI Doesn’t License Mechanical and Synchronization Rights" bmi.com/licensing/entry/… – Johann May 22 '17 at 2:02
  • The Harry Fox agency has a website called Songfile which provides an automated online system for getting a mechanical license if you expect to sell less than 2,500 copies of the cover song or for limited streaming. songfile.com – peacetype Jul 25 '17 at 2:49
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First of all, if you are recording a performance (i.e., not using pre-existing audio) then you need the permission of the copyright holder of the written music, i.e., the composer, lyricist, arranger and/or publisher; not the performers.

You have not given any jurisdiction but if you are publishing on the internet then you must comply with the copyright laws of each and every nation that has access to the internet: all 196 of them. However, 168 of them are covered by the Berne Convention and the others include places like Burma, Somalia and Afghanistan where prosecuting you is unlikely to be a high priority.

You don't nominate your jurisdiction so here is a fact sheet for Australia; other Berne convention signatories will be similar.

If you have sheet music then the names of the copyright holders will be written on it; you can approach them directly or through the relevant industry body in your country.

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