Cover bands, "tribute" bands and royalties

bpaluzzi

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As for bar bands doing cover tunes? I worked clubs doing covers for years and we never sent money to anyone so long as your union dues were paid up.
I've played cover music probably 95% of my music career. Never have I had an issue with a venue. And I started gigging in 1966 and have played thousands of gigs.
The venue handles the PRO obligations. Musicians / bands shouldn't ever have to deal with it.


Nor have I left setlists for collection purposes.
It depends on the size of the venue and how strict they are. In general, when I was playing bars / clubs I didn't have to worry about it. In theaters / arenas / outdoor sheds, we always had to submit our setlists.
 

MusicianMagic

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2 questions! This is a super interesting thread. Shout out to the squirrel man.

1. So, if a major artist (let’s say Michael Jackson) records an album of covers, he (his label) is paying a fee to the publishing companies and the only purpose of that album would be to promote Michael Jackson since he can’t make money off of it?
Michael Jackson (he's living with Elvis now:D) or any other band or artist still benefits recording songs not written by themselves. Whether past hits or new songs never recorded.
Elvis Presley never wrote a song in his entire career. He did get credit on two songs for changing a few words. I think Elvis did pretty well. Concerts, TV appearances, Merchandise & royalties of sales of records. All of which led to a movie career he would never have had without the music.
Even today there are some that do not write music or play an instrument with profitable careers.
There are also some that have written songs but the only actual hits were by other songwriters. Carlos Santana comes to mind. Covers by Fleetwood Mac, Zombies, Russ Ballard, Rob Thomas. Not sure any of his hits he wrote though he did write.
Did DF favorite Ringo Starr write any of his hit singles?

They lose out on a percentage of income and that income is paid from "Record One" as @dcrigger said not after first paying off expenses & advances to the record company.
But successful careers have been made relying on outside composers.
 

Squirrel Man

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Michael Jackson (he's living with Elvis now:D) or any other band or artist still benefits recording songs not written by themselves. Whether past hits or new songs never recorded.
Elvis Presley never wrote a song in his entire career. He did get credit on two songs for changing a few words. I think Elvis did pretty well. Concerts, TV appearances, Merchandise & royalties of sales of records. All of which led to a movie career he would never have had without the music.
Even today there are some that do not write music or play an instrument with profitable careers.
There are also some that have written songs but the only actual hits were by other songwriters. Carlos Santana comes to mind. Covers by Fleetwood Mac, Zombies, Russ Ballard, Rob Thomas. Not sure any of his hits he wrote though he did write.
Did DF favorite Ringo Starr write any of his hit singles?

They lose out on a percentage of income and that income is paid from "Record One" as @dcrigger said not after first paying off expenses & advances to the record company.
But successful careers have been made relying on outside composers.
Wrong, Elvis and DB Cooper run a comic book shop in Reno.

I've been there, Cooper is no worse for the wear but Elvis is having a rough go at it. Gout mostly.

They only take cash for the record, and no cornered ends too.

:p
 

Frank Godiva

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Elvis and The Colonel insisted songwriters give half of their publishing rights to Presley and Parker; known as “the rule” until the Guitar Man made “ Tupelo Mississippi Flash.”

 
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Jay-Dee

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Michael Jackson (he's living with Elvis now:D) or any other band or artist still benefits recording songs not written by themselves. Whether past hits or new songs never recorded.
Elvis Presley never wrote a song in his entire career. He did get credit on two songs for changing a few words. I think Elvis did pretty well. Concerts, TV appearances, Merchandise & royalties of sales of records. All of which led to a movie career he would never have had without the music.
Even today there are some that do not write music or play an instrument with profitable careers.
There are also some that have written songs but the only actual hits were by other songwriters. Carlos Santana comes to mind. Covers by Fleetwood Mac, Zombies, Russ Ballard, Rob Thomas. Not sure any of his hits he wrote though he did write.
Did DF favorite Ringo Starr write any of his hit singles?

They lose out on a percentage of income and that income is paid from "Record One" as @dcrigger said not after first paying off expenses & advances to the record company.
But successful careers have been made relying on outside composers.
How do you reckon that would be working out, Michael Jackson living with his ex father in law?
 

High on Stress

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So here’s a scam that I’ve seen in recent years playing live at a few clubs. Playing for a percentage of the door, reduced by a few things. OK, the club wants some of the door. I get that. Wait, some money comes out of my cut for the sound guy? Alright, whatever. Hold on, ten bucks deducted for PRO fees?

What next, prorated liquor license fees? Bartender fee? I think it’s outrageous for venues to try to pass the buck on PRO fees to the performers. I’m sure folks will chime in here on how hard it is to survive in the bar/club industry but if you can’t afford to pay bands (or your employees for that matter), maybe that’s just how the capitalism cookie crumbles and you don’t get to have live music driving thirsty customers into your business. If we are now business expense partners for the night, I want a good chunk of the food and liquor sales in addition to some door money.
 

Pat A Flafla

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So here’s a scam that I’ve seen in recent years playing live at a few clubs. Playing for a percentage of the door, reduced by a few things. OK, the club wants some of the door. I get that. Wait, some money comes out of my cut for the sound guy? Alright, whatever. Hold on, ten bucks deducted for PRO fees?

What next, prorated liquor license fees? Bartender fee? I think it’s outrageous for venues to try to pass the buck on PRO fees to the performers. I’m sure folks will chime in here on how hard it is to survive in the bar/club industry but if you can’t afford to pay bands (or your employees for that matter), maybe that’s just how the capitalism cookie crumbles and you don’t get to have live music driving thirsty customers into your business. If we are now business expense partners for the night, I want a good chunk of the food and liquor sales in addition to some door money.
I hate playing for the door. I'll take a modest guarantee any time.
 

High on Stress

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I hate playing for the door. I'll take a modest guarantee any time.
Around these parts, that generally doesn’t happen for original bands unless you are further up the food chain than most of my acts. It can suck but I don’t have a big issue with it because if nobody wants to come hear and see my band’s songs, it seems fair that I don’t get paid much. But it irks me when the club wants to skim off the door, especially for what I view as their costs of doing business not mine.
 

esooy

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Wow, nice discussion. I knew it was complicated but had no idea of the ins and outs of this side of the business.
 

Pat A Flafla

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Around these parts, that generally doesn’t happen for original bands unless you are further up the food chain than most of my acts. It can suck but I don’t have a big issue with it because if nobody wants to come hear and see my band’s songs, it seems fair that I don’t get paid much. But it irks me when the club wants to skim off the door, especially for what I view as their costs of doing business not mine.
Ah, original bands. Yeah, guarantees are harder to come by in that realm. That's one reason I avoid it. The other reasons include the rehearsal-to-gig ratio, and sitting in a rehearsal space debating other dudes about whether bridges are stock instead of spending time with family.
 

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Slightly off topic but funny. I worked at a famous showcase club in Manhattan a long, long time ago. Every so often the local music union rep would show up to shake down the musicians for "dues". It seemed shady to all involved, but the usually the band would pay them something to go away and so they could perform there for a few of days. The first night of a run with Sun Ra and his Arkestra the union guys showed up. They cajoled and mildly threatened Sun about proving they had paid their dues or they wouldn't be allowed to go on. I don't think anyone believed they would actually do something like that, but an intense discussion was had. Sun Ra stuck to his guns. He claimed that he and his band were from Saturn (the planet) and therefore were not liable for terrestrial obligations like money, dues, etc. They went back and forth for quite a while until the union guys threw up their hand and left without any "dues".
 

K.O.

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As far as tribute bands, a successful band can trademark their name and logo but they can't do anything about the way they look, act, and perform. Musical arrangements are not copyrightable. So if you play covers while looking like and sounding like a particular big name band you are okay beyond someone needed to pay for the use of the songs (generally that falls onto the club or venue owner as the easiest person to track down). As long as you aren't trying to pass yourself off as the "real" band using their name and/or logo you should be okay. I was in a Blues Brothers tribute for 10 years and we never had any issues and we were called "The Late Nite Blues Brothers" so we actually were using part of the actual name. Granted we were seldom playing in big venues in major cities so maybe we just slipped under the radar.

I'm unsure how this applies to an actual person such as Elvis or Michael Jackson but in that case people should know that the person they are going to see is not them.

Some tribute bands do apparently seek an arrangement with the actual band. Usually these are the big name "tributes" that are playing big venues almost as if the real band was coming to town. I suppose they work out some sort of deal with the "real" band to impersonate aspects of their show on stage. They gain the comfort that they aren't going to get a cease and desist letter in the mail and it certainly can't hurt to be able to advertise that they are sanctioned by the band which adds an extra layer of "wow they must be good" to the proceedings. Whether it was actually required in order to put on their tribute is another question.

Trademarks are something that can be bought and sold so things could get interesting down the road as these various bands age out and either stop touring altogether or die off. A lot of bands will just cease to be but I can imagine a band like Kiss having several officially sanctioned "tributes" out on the road putting on Kiss shows. Especially since the band members are almost more characters than particular musicians (at least half the band) and anyone in the makeup will tend to look the part. It would be harder to pull this off in a band where the band personalities are well known and identifiable (someone like the Beatles or Stones or Led Zeppelin) but in the slightly lower tier bands where most or all of the members are somewhat anonymous to all but the hardest core fans someone might buy the rights to the band name and field a band that has no one from the original (or a later version) of the original hit making group without anyone really noticing as long as the material is presented well. This has been an issue with many of the Motown style singing groups where most people have no idea who was actually in the band beyond 4 guys or 3 chicks and there have been multiple fake groups out there presenting themselves as the real deal. That is not okay unless a particular phantom group actually has the rights to the name.

I once did a sound job at an outdoor festival where the headliner was "Bill Haley's Comets" . It turned out only one person in the group (an old guy playing bass) had ever even met Bill Haley. He claimed to have been the bass player on the big hit recordings of the 1950s but that simply wasn't true. If anything he might have briefly worked for Bill during the twilight years of Haley's career in the late 1970s. But at some point he bought the name so he was able to put together any sort of band he wanted to and call it that.

Another time a band I was in opened for "BTO" . I talked briefly to drummer Robin Bachman who, along with C.F. Turner, was in this version of the band. He told me that they had the rights to tour as "BTO" while Randy Bachman owned the rights to use "Bachman Turner Overdrive".

I'm no lawyer but, bottom line, as long as you don't push it to extremes like impersonating the real band (as in that is who the audience thinks they are seeing or the venue owner thinks he is hiring) you'll probably be okay. And if you aren't initially you'll just get a letter telling you to stop it.
 

MusicianMagic

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Musical arrangements are not copyrightable.
Sorry this is wrong. I deal with this quite often myself.
The original Copyright includes the original Arrangement when either a recording or sheet music is created of the original music. Copyright technically begins at that point, not when later registered. If you should want to record or play that original song and arrangement you are fine without prior permission as long as the license fee is paid.
Its when you want to do a different arrangement its complicated. That is called a Derivative work. You need permission from the Original copyright owner which by the way may not be the songwriter. Permission is not guaranteed. You also may be charged a separate fee for permission. You then have the derivative work with a new copyright which is limited to changes and includes the original copyright holders & those that did the changes. The rights for other derivative works remains with the original holders.

I once did a sound job at an outdoor festival where the headliner was "Bill Haley's Comets" . It turned out only one person in the group (an old guy playing bass) had ever even met Bill Haley. He claimed to have been the bass player on the big hit recordings of the 1950s but that simply wasn't true. If anything he might have briefly worked for Bill during the twilight years of Haley's career in the late 1970s. But at some point he bought the name so he was able to put together any sort of band he wanted to and call it that.

I'm no lawyer but, bottom line, as long as you don't push it to extremes like impersonating the real band (as in that is who the audience thinks they are seeing or the venue owner thinks he is hiring) you'll probably be okay. And if you aren't initially you'll just get a letter telling you to stop it.
There have been bands not tributes, touring without any original members. As long as it is Operated by someone that owns the band. Often in the 1960's & 1970's it was a Manager.
 

dcrigger

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Sorry this is wrong. I deal with this quite often myself.
The original Copyright includes the original Arrangement when either a recording or sheet music is created of the original music. Copyright technically begins at that point, not when later registered. If you should want to record or play that original song and arrangement you are fine without prior permission as long as the license fee is paid.
Its when you want to do a different arrangement its complicated. That is called a Derivative work. You need permission from the Original copyright owner which by the way may not be the songwriter. Permission is not guaranteed. You also may be charged a separate fee for permission. You then have the derivative work with a new copyright which is limited to changes and includes the original copyright holders & those that did the changes. The rights for other derivative works remains with the original holders.
This is the whole area where things get real confusing.

What you've written I believe is quite true, except... traditionally arrangement isn't considered part of the song - at least as far recorded variations go. Print publishing and other media use is of course different. But I believe for me to do a cover of a Jimi Hendrix tune - I just have to pay the mechanical license. I need not ask, nor acquire permission.

And yet if I'm writing an orchestral medley of Gershwin tunes for a live concert - (as a friend of mine had been hired to do) - I need permission (and yes, he didn't get it - so the commission was canceled).

As for the original arrangements go - traditionally they are not considered part of the copyright - which is what the controversy of so many of the recent lawsuits have been. Trying to prove copyright infringement based on arranging elements - applied to new (similar) songs.

In the past, I've played on "sound-alike" projects - where everything from a record was copied to the point of making a clone - none of which was infringement, nor needed permission - as long as the writing credit and royalties was all attributed to the original authors.

I believe making a derivative work requires modifying or adding to the original core work - not merely changing the arrangement - changing the feel, reharmonizations, etc.

I think creating an entirely new set of lyrics might qualify. Or using a main musical phrases from work as the basis from which to build a new work. Eric Carmen taking part of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto and weaving it into "All By Myself" (Believing, I've heard, that the Rachmaninoff was public domain, only to learn after the fact that it wasn't. A very expensive error - that writing credit and royalties forever split between Carmen and the Rachmaninoff estate).

Anyway - it all gets very confusing.... luckily for bands and musicians covering pop songs in bars and weddings, that isn't the case.
 

ludwigmod72

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For the record, I'm not advocating the enforcement of this nor am I criticizing the ignoring of these laws if that's the case, I'm just curious how this all is supposed to work.
Squirrel Man this is actually a great topic and discussion. However, please don’t tell Mr. Densmore I’m playing a Mod Orange kit and doing a few Doors tunes at our gigs. Don’t need to be added to his list of lawsuits haha!!!
 

K.O.

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Sorry this is wrong. I deal with this quite often myself.
The original Copyright includes the original Arrangement when either a recording or sheet music is created of the original music. Copyright technically begins at that point, not when later registered. If you should want to record or play that original song and arrangement you are fine without prior permission as long as the license fee is paid.
Its when you want to do a different arrangement its complicated. That is called a Derivative work. You need permission from the Original copyright owner which by the way may not be the songwriter. Permission is not guaranteed. You also may be charged a separate fee for permission. You then have the derivative work with a new copyright which is limited to changes and includes the original copyright holders & those that did the changes. The rights for other derivative works remains with the original holders.


There have been bands not tributes, touring without any original members. As long as it is Operated by someone that owns the band. Often in the 1960's & 1970's it was a Manager.

My point there was just that you can play or record a perfect copy of someone else's arrangement of a song without it being a copyright issue (as long as the appropriate performance or mechanical fees are paid to the publisher) so a tribute band can play a note perfect rendition of a song made famous by someone else without fear of them being nailed for "copying" them. The copyright is in the song itself not in the way it was played. If you're rewriting the song into something new that's a different thing, but outside the scope of what any decent "tribute" band would wish to do.

On the second point I think you are reinforcing what I meant to say which is that a band's name and trademark(s) are a commodity that can be bought and sold. Theoretically with enough money one could buy the name "The Beatles" and as owner of such tour a band under that name. Whether the public would accept such a travesty is another matter but someone could do it if they had enough money and the current owner (Apple Corps, I assume) would agree to sell. I think this may become more prevalent with somewhat lower tier bands as original members die off or retire but where the band's reputation and name will still draw. Consider that somewhere at this very moment the Glenn Miller Orchestra, or the Tommy Dorsey band are likely getting ready for a gig, decades after the band's namesake has passed on and not containing a single member that even met those band's founders. If these "ghost" bands can still make a go of it after all these years who's to say that an ersatz Bad Company, Night Ranger, or Foreigner couldn't at some future point? At that point the only real difference between the "real" band and a very accurate tribute would be the ability to use the actual name of the band.

Speaking of the Beatles it's an interesting thought that in another 20 years there are unlikely to be any surviving Beatles and the name will belong to a corporation that is free to do with it what it will. It will still be in the hands of the original member's heirs no doubt and they will maintain control and probably continue in the same manner as has been done, but move ahead a couple of generations and that may change. The potential earnings may create all sorts of oddball offshoots when the lure of quick and easy profits takes precedence over good taste.
 

MusicianMagic

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This is the whole area where things get real confusing.

What you've written I believe is quite true, except... traditionally arrangement isn't considered part of the song - at least as far recorded variations go. Print publishing and other media use is of course different. But I believe for me to do a cover of a Jimi Hendrix tune - I just have to pay the mechanical license. I need not ask, nor acquire permission.

And yet if I'm writing an orchestral medley of Gershwin tunes for a live concert - (as a friend of mine had been hired to do) - I need permission (and yes, he didn't get it - so the commission was canceled).

As for the original arrangements go - traditionally they are not considered part of the copyright - which is what the controversy of so many of the recent lawsuits have been. Trying to prove copyright infringement based on arranging elements - applied to new (similar) songs.

In the past, I've played on "sound-alike" projects - where everything from a record was copied to the point of making a clone - none of which was infringement, nor needed permission - as long as the writing credit and royalties was all attributed to the original authors.

I believe making a derivative work requires modifying or adding to the original core work - not merely changing the arrangement - changing the feel, reharmonizations, etc.

I think creating an entirely new set of lyrics might qualify. Or using a main musical phrases from work as the basis from which to build a new work. Eric Carmen taking part of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto and weaving it into "All By Myself" (Believing, I've heard, that the Rachmaninoff was public domain, only to learn after the fact that it wasn't. A very expensive error - that writing credit and royalties forever split between Carmen and the Rachmaninoff estate).

Anyway - it all gets very confusing.... luckily for bands and musicians covering pop songs in bars and weddings, that isn't the case.
There is a copyright law (I think its called Section 101 but not sure of that name, this law is correct tho) that allows anyone to perform Publicly a copyrighted song Even with a different arrangement. As long of course the PROs are paid by the venue. That section covers public performance, Not recording, copying or distribution in any form which still requires licensing & permission if derivative. So yes, you performing a Hendrix song is permissible. But a CD, sheet music, etc. even based on that performance you would need permission from the copyright holder as I described previously.
Changing even just a few words, not necessarily a new set of lyrics is derivative. There really is no exact definition of derivative for a song. The law has only non-specific things like basic melody & fundamental character. I have a couple of large books on copyright & music law since I have to deal with such things at times. This is why there are attorneys that specialize in Copyright law. It is very complex.
Many things that determine what is a derivative work of a song or music is by previous cases. Most famous Chuck Berry, (Sweet Little Sixteen) vs the Beach Boys (Surfin USA). Led Zeppelin (Whole Lotta Love & Bring it on Home) vs Willie Dixon (You Need Love & Bring it on Home). Each of these are separate chapters in one of my books they are so relevant. The Beach Boys case was interesting because they argued "Everything is just 3 chords!" But there have been many, many cases, each had to be interpreted separately.
I compose, produce & record music for movies, TV, commercials, video & other things. I both get requests to use derivative music in whole (with changes) or part (the Theme of the piece) and sometimes I discover someone "Borrowed " without asking.

Make note that "musical arrangements" is the second description of common derivative work Below by the copyright office.
The following is all quoted exactly from the US Copyright office document:
(Including only what's relevant to music)

A derivative work is a work based on or derived from one or more already exist-
ing works. Common derivative works include translations, musical arrange-
ments
, motion picture versions of literary material or plays, art reproductions,
abridgments, and condensations of preexisting works.

To be copyrightable, a derivative work must incorporate some or all of a
preexisting “work” and add new original copyrightable authorship to that work.
The derivative work right is often referred to as the adaptation right. The fol-
lowing are examples of the many different types of derivative works:
• A motion picture based on a play or novel
• A translation of an novel written in English into another language
• A musical arrangement of a preexisting musical work

Right to Prepare Derivative Works
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to pre-
pare, or to authorize someone else to create, an adaptation of
that work.
 

MusicianMagic

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The copyright is in the song itself not in the way it was played. If you're rewriting the song into something new that's a different thing, but outside the scope of what any decent "tribute" band would wish to do.
The way a song is played is by definition An Arrangement. Thereby a Derivative Work.
 

bassanddrum84

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All the places we play have to pay ascap and BMI every year. For cover bands or djs
 

repete

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I've been in cover bands and I can only recall being told at one venue that we couldn't play our own music between breaks - customers had to use the jukebox.
We were told it had to do with BMI and or ASCAP
 


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