Copyright law states in effect, that, as long as a song has been commercially recorded and released by a music publisher(s), other parties/artists can record and commercially release their own "audio-only" version of the song, as long as you account for payments of each copy to the publisher(s) at time of initial manufacture, plus every quarter thereafter for additional units. Because you can do this yourself in most cases, here is some free information to get you going.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO ANY AUDIO-VISUAL PROJECTS SUCH AS DVD'S, FILMS, HOME VIDEO, INTERNET, DOCUMENTARIES, DIGITAL MEDIA USAGES, ETC. YOU MUST OBTAIN PERMISSION FOR THESE USAGES DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS AND LABELS!
1. You need to obtain a mechanical (aka compulsory) license to record and release your cover of a song. Mechanical licenses can be obtained from the Harry Fox Agency for most songs.
2. Go to www.songfile.com and follow their instructions. The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) maintains this site, which is specifically set up for indie projects and now has a newly lowered initial 25 unit minimum (announced 1-15-08 and reduced from 500 units) and a 2500 unit maximum. This is for audio only CD's as well as DPD's (digital downloads). You can always revisit the site and pay for more units/cd's later as you manufacture them. They accept credit cards as well as a new electronic check payment option.
Simply visit the site, create an account, search HFA's catalog of almost 1.9 million songs and complete their mechanical licensing transaction easily and quickly. Royalties are calculated at the statutory mechanical rate, which is currently 9.1 cents per copy for songs 5 minutes or less. There is also a small processing fee on each song licensed. If a user just wants to conduct research, there is a separate Songfile public search tool on the Web site free of charge.
3. If the song you are looking for does not show up on the Harry Fox website, or shows up with some percentage less than 100% ( which means that not all publishers are represented), then search the databases at www.ascap.com, www.bmi.com and www.sesac.com and contact those publishers directly.
4. If you still are unable to find the information you need, please feel free to give us a call at The Music Bridge, and we can then discuss providing clearance services for you for those hard to find copyrights that you cannot complete mechanical licensing on yourself.
Meantime, much success with your music and projects!