How do I record and sell copyrighted harp music?

Do you frequently have people at your performances ask if they can buy your CD (except you don’t have one)? While the thought of recording a CD to sell may be daunting, it is less difficult than in past years.

If you will be recording your own original compositions, public domain pieces, or your own arrangements of public domain pieces, there is no copyright license needed. However, if you plan to record either a copyrighted piece or someone else’s copyrighted arrangement of a public domain piece, you must pay a copyright licensing fee.

When someone plays a song that someone else owns, it is called a Cover. This is where the term Cover Band comes from (a band that plays other people’s songs, rather than their own original works). There is nothing wrong with playing covers. In fact, many people prefer listening to cover songs, as they are familiar with the music and lyrics and they have an emotional connection with the piece because they have heard it before in other contexts.

To obtain legal permission to record and sell your cover of someone else’s copyrighted song, you must obtain a Mechanical License. This means you have permission to record and sell the piece (with credit given to the composer/arranger). It does not mean you have permission to create your own arrangement of the piece and sell the sheet music to other musicians. This would fall under a different type of license. The good news is that Mechanical Licenses are compulsory, meaning the copyright owner cannot deny you the right to record and sell your cover. They also cannot dictate the price as it is already set. In the case of selling sheet music, the owner can deny you the right to sell the sheet music, or limit where, how, and for how long you can sell it. To learn more about music copyright law, check out these articles.

For all of my harp CDs I have used Easy Song, which (as the name suggests) I have found to be the easiest and most economical solution to mechanical song licensing. You can license a single song or a whole album. When the copyright information is clear, you can get the proof of licensing in 1-2 business days. I have had some take a little longer when the copyright holder is a harpist who self-published and is a bit difficult to track down or the music was part of a larger collection and copyright holder information is difficult to obtain. One time I had to scan and send them the sheet music, and they were able to track down the proper copyright holder. They have always been helpful and willing to answer my questions or concerns in a timely fashion.

Before you purchase your license, you should be finished recording and editing your tracks. They will need the exact time of each track (down to the second) to be included with the license. This helps distinguish your recording of a song from someone else’s. You can start entering your information ahead of time (I put it all in as soon as I have finalized my song list), but do not complete your purchase until you are sure there will be no more changes, as nothing can be changed once the licenses are paid for.

The cost will depend on how many tracks you are licensing, the track lengths, the format you wish to release them in, and how many copies you want to license to sell. There is a flat fee per track per format (CD, digital download, streaming, ringtones, etc.). The more tracks you license at once, the less you will pay. Easy Song also runs occasional sales for 15-25% off the licensing fee (their cut). Fees charged by Easy Song are $16.99 per song or less (discounts for licensing more songs at once). They also collect and distribute the royalty fees that are to be paid to the copyright holder. For a CD or digital download, this is 12 cents each (so 100 digital downloads would be $12 in licensing fees plus $16.99 for a total of $28.99). Ringtones are 24 cents each. There are also discounts for reordering (Easy Song drops their fees to half since the copyright holder research is already done, while the royalties remain the same).

Once your CD is completed, get it produced by the company of your choice online. You will pay much less per CD if you order in bulk (at least 100 or 200) over just a few such as 30. Just be sure to get everything submitted to them in advance, as it usually takes about 2 weeks to get your CDs after ordering, unless you pay enormous rush fees. (Yes, I learned this the hard way, when I took too long to finish a CD and had to pay double to get my order in time for my CD release concert). Create a timeline and stick to your deadlines for each stage of the project.

Feeling overwhelmed with the thought of creating a CD? Start with just 1 track and release it as an mp3 download only. Success breeds confidence!

I would love to hear about your experience with recording a CD! What tips and tricks helped you? Do you have questions about creating a harp CD? Share your comments below.

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  1. I have a question… I have put together an arrangement of Mannheim Steamroller’s “Stille Nacht”… I want to record it… and thought that a mechanical license was the key… sounds like it’s not… where do I go from here?
    Thanks for your input, and for this article! I learned a lot!!!!

    Debbie Fink

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