Trusted And Experienced
Maryland Client Advocates Since 1950

When does a musician need to obtain a mechanical license?

Probably one of the most popular covers of a hit song in recent memory is country singer Luke Combs’ recording of the 1988 song “Fast Car,” which won its composer/singer Tracy Chapman a grammy back in 1988.

Combs, who said he loved the song so much that he didn’t even change the gender in the lyrics, was asked if he had gotten Chapman’s permission for the remake. He explained that he didn’t need to because he abided by the licensing requirements for recording and performing it. When Chapman finally made a statement about the cover, she said, “I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’(The two performers’ duet of the song, of course, was a highlight of this year’s Grammy Awards.)

What does a mechanical license do for the licensee and the copyright holder?

So what kind of licensing rights are needed to “cover” copyrighted music? You need to obtain a “mechanical license” before releasing any copyrighted song. That might sound like a strange term for something in the music world. It’s a legal agreement between the person who’s going to use the music and the person(s) holding the copyright for the piece of music. That’s generally the composer.

The mechanical license allows the licensee to reproduce and distribute the music, but typically only via audio. That means they can record it and make it available via download, for example, but they can’t make a music video of it. (Generally, that requires a separate synchronization or “sync” license.)

Obtaining the proper licenses helps ensure that those who created the music are compensated appropriately for its use and any profits generated in its new iteration. It also prevents copyright legal issues and unnecessary conflict with others in the industry.

This is just a very brief overview of mechanical licenses. It’s best not to try to navigate the music licensing world on your own. Having experienced legal guidance can help you focus on your music while helping to ensure that your interpretation and sharing of someone else’s work is beneficial for everyone involved.