in today´s blogpost I would like to take a look behind the current trend of putting out “covers” of famous songs. The article is based on my personal observation and by no means to be taken as a fact. The purpose of the post is to make you get creative and find ways to write songs that will get cut in a market that it is making it harder for new songwriters to cut through the noise. So let´s start at the top:
Have you noticed the many covers that major label artists are putting out as of lately?
While it is easy to just believe in random “trends”, it is wiser (imo) to look into the reasons behind the trends.
If you have been following updates from websites like “Music Business Worldwide” this year, you might have noticed, that a lot of iconic songwriting catalogues have been sold either to major labels or private equity companies. Among the biggest deals were the entire catalogues by artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young to name just a few. Metallica recently sold the rights to their “Black Album” to UK based music investment firm Hipgnosis Songs Fund.
The streaming market allows for evergreens to be re-monetized time and again and the investors -seeing the potential – were willing to pay high multiples for these popular catalogues. No wonder, some of those artists signed off their entire bodies of work.
Understanding the motivation behind the deals
What´s interesting though is, that a lot of major labels (labels usually focussing on producing and promoting sound recordings) now expanded their publishing entities as well or founded these entities in the first place. I want you to understand the reason behind those moves.
With decreasing ticket sales during the pandemic and various other setbacks, major labels probably saw their main income streams in danger. The industry had to adjust many times over the course of time, for example when the markets shifted from CD sales to streaming. These days, next to live shows, merch and brand partnerships, labels, songwriters and artists can still make quite a lot of money from sync licensing.
For film production companies or ad agencies it is always easiest and most convenient to license songs “one stop”, meaning one contract to acquire both the sync- (songwriting) and master- (recording) licenses. It is therefore very smart for labels to acquire publishing rights (songwriting copyrights) for a variety of songs and thus gaining full control over those songs, once their artists record covers.
But sync licensing opportunities aren´t the only stream of income for such evergreens. One other way to make money quickly with few upfront costs, is to have your artists re-record popular songs and releasing them to streaming platforms and via radio stations. Not only do labels save time and money in scouting new hits, but they also will earn the songwriting royalties when using songs from catalogues they now own. What a game changer!
Songwriters need to sharpen their profiles
Sadly, as with most things, there´s always a winner and a loser. These recent developments are kind of bad news for songwriters. It means it will get harder and harder to get song cuts by major label artists. They will most probably keep looking for ways to monetize their existing catalogues and invest less money into new songs.
I want to make clear, that I am by no means affiliated with any major label and so my analysis is pure speculation based on observation. But take a look at some of the covers that have been released in the past two years and look into the ownership situation of those songs:
Kacey Musgraves did a cover of Coldplay´s “Fix you”, a song owned by Universal Music Publishing. Kacey´s label is a subsidiary of Universal music as well.
She also did a cover of Elvis´ iconic “Can´t help falling in love”. A song recently acquired in a deal by Universal Music and ABG (see here)
Sophia Scott covered Wham´s X-mas song “Last Christmas” in 2022 (a great cover by the way!). Scott is with EMPIRE Nashville, who recently signed a couple of artists in conjunction with Warner Chappell Music Nashville. Warner Chapell owns the rights in “Last Christmas”.
There are countless other major label artists that have released covers and let´s keep an eye on the development in the future! If we´re being unbiased, the idea to re-introduce songs is a good thing. From a songwriter´s perspective (money-wise) it isn´t.
Keep creating songs, no matter what! Let´s take on the challenge to write our best songs ever – songs that simply need to get cut!
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