Recently I received a mass-emailing from CD-Baby. I am on their mailing list because we tried getting our music onto iTunes through them last year, an effort I quickly abandoned. We then went with AWAL instead.
The email mentioned that the head of CD Baby suggested this:
Aha! It’s cover songs! The artists who have a cover song on their
album are selling the best, all-around. Of course! Most of these programs have a SONG-BASED SEARCH, so people go to iTunes or Rhapsody or Napster and search for their favorite SONG – and in the search results, they probably see their favorite artist on top, but then they see a few below it that they’ve never seen before!
So now, I’m advising musicians to do a creative cover song on their next album. Find something that hasn’t been done TOO much. (Example: CD Baby has 762 versions of “Amazing Grace”. Really!) Find something that you can add your unique twist to. Then make sure to include it on a full-length album, so that people who discover you by that song can get turned on to your own music, and buy the whole collection.
Hm, that all maybe true. But, it is also true that through these searches one can easily find songs that have been covered, where the artist/publisher/label are not paying the composer to use the covered composition. Anybody can cover a song, but royalties have to be paid to the composer. These royalties are fixed and are the same for every composition. I have always contacted the publisher of a composition I wanted to cover as a courtesy, to let them know that there is another version out there and so they can track the sales if they like. I think to sell a cover-version of a song and to hope that no-one will notice is pretty low. It can happen out of ignorance, but I think a lot of guys also simply hope that they can get away with it.
I think a cover song can be a great tribute and I have recorded a few of them, but to suggest that one should record them simply to be found in a song-based search seems like used-car-salesmen tactics to me.