How to navigate copyright permissions for a CD by a small a cappella group?
August 2, 2011 8:28 PM   Subscribe

My small a cappella singing group is recording a CD and needs to know about licensing of copyrighted songs before we sell copies of our CD.

I'm in a 7-person a cappella singing group in Pennsylvania, and we're recording our first CD. Several of the songs are still protected by copyright. So basically these are a cappella covers of mostly still-copyrighted songs. (We do our own arrangements.) We'll probably sell a few hundred copies.

What do we need to do before selling the CD? Assume we would like to be thorough and above-board but also don't have a whole lot of money to throw at this problem. Also assume I know nothing about this topic. Thanks!
posted by palliser to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
See Limelight.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:34 PM on August 2, 2011

An old acquaintance of mine started a group called A Cappella Records, which handles digital distribution for you, including licensing. It looks like they want a flat $100 fee for the album and split the resulting revenue with you 50/50, distributing your music through iTunes and maybe other online music stores. You can always sell download cards at your concerts so that people pay up front and download the album when they get home, which gets you out of the physical media business entirely (you don't want to be in the physical media business). If you wanted to do CDs in addition, I bet the folks there would be able to help you deal with the licensing aspect. I've never worked with them and haven't talked to Chris in years, so this certainly isn't an informed recommendation, but I suspect they would be a good resource to talk to whether you wind up using them or not.

Otherwise, DIY through Limelight is a good option.
posted by zachlipton at 8:46 PM on August 2, 2011

Best answer: You'll need mechanical licenses for everything still in copyright. Harry Fox is the big society in the U.S. for that, but only about 40% or so of publishers actually go through them for mechanicals these days. Many opt to license those rights directly anymore. You can either negotiate with HFA/publishers on a song by song basis (which may be cheaper for such a small run) or send notices for a section 115 compulsory license (which has stricter payment requirements). First you need to know who owns rights to those songs though. Here's a start:


Or you could do as others suggested and pay someone to do it. They'll take a cut, but may negotiate better rates.

Feel free to memail me for more info.
posted by fishmasta at 9:04 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

PledgeMusic recommend Limelight to their musicians who are looking to do cover songs.
posted by jannw at 2:50 AM on August 3, 2011

Check Harry Fox first. If the songs are on their list, it's easy and inexpensive to go through them.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:41 AM on August 3, 2011

You can always ask the people on the forum run by RARB (Recorded A Cappella Review Board) and CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society): Lots of a cappella people post on it. You can also announce your new album there.
posted by odin53 at 8:11 AM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: Check Harry Fox first. If the songs are on their list, it's easy and inexpensive to go through them.

It looks from a cursory review like they have the same rate as Limelight for a limited release ($15/song) -- maybe that's a change? If so, I guess I'd as soon go through Limelight for all of them, since they have a discount on multiples.

Thanks for all the responses! Very helpful.
posted by palliser at 6:40 PM on August 3, 2011

It's my understanding that you can reach a certain threshold with an arrangement such that you are creating a new work and you actually need to get permission to arrange someone's work too. The process I used for a choral group I worked with was to find out who holds the copyright and get their permission for the arrangement. In a couple cases the composer wanted to see the arrangement. I'm not covering everything on the issue of arrangements, but it is something to consider.
posted by Prayless at 7:06 PM on August 3, 2011

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