I mostly hear questions about how to license and release cover songs, but I don’t get many questions on how to promote cover songs. A lot of the focus is on becoming a “covers artist” or taking the Justin Bieber path to fame and promote cover songs on YouTube. There are many more creative ways for releasing cover songs. After releasing over 200 cover songs totaling nearly a billion streams as a part of the “Punk Goes Pop” compilation series, I want to share my 5 Tips for Promoting Cover Songs.
TIP 1 – PROMOTE COVER SONGS USING THE ORIGINAL ARTIST OR PUBLISHER.
Of course you’ve dreamed of using the original artist to promote your music. Usually people say, I’m crazy, they’ll never respond. You won’t know if you don’t try.
I’ve done it from cold emails. But usually it’s a roundabout connection. Like talking to their publisher or label and then someone from the publisher mentions it to the artist. “Have you heard this new cover XYZ artist did?” You never know what can happen.
The publishers have money to gain, but also promotion of their song extends the life of it, and it helps sustain the original song.
The original songs you are covering are most likely owned by one of the major music publishers. Warner-Chappell, Universal, Sony, BMG Rights, Kobalt. All of these publishers and their label counterparts own song rights and masters. But what you might not know is they own blogs, YouTube channels, media companies, services, agencies, merchandise and e-commerce platforms, etc. And those are all roads into the mothership.
For example, the YouTube channel CoverNation is owned by Warner. They feature covers of songs owned by all record labels, but since they make more money from Warner owned music, they are more likely to promote those cover songs on their YouTube channel. Or on their blogs. Warner owns the heavy music blog “The Pit”, so they might feature your cover of a Warner music artist on their blog just because it’s “in the family”.
Google search “warner music acquires” or “universal music acquires” and click the “News” tab. This uncovers tons of companies you never thought might be owned by a major music company. You can look at Wikipedia too, but typically they only mention the labels that have been “acquired”.
Are you really ambitious or a well funded artists? This is a great tip for promoting your cover song. If you can pay to get the original artist involved, perhaps a cameo in the music video, or somebody famous in your music video, there is a good chance you will have a huge cover on your hands. At Fearless, we did this with Falling In Reverse and their cover of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio was in the video, and also made an appearance at the Alt Press Music Video Awards.
TIP 2. TAP INTO POP CULTURE / TRENDS / TV.
People are searching cover songs on YouTube and it’s obvious you should try to get playlisted in covers playlists on Spotify and Apple Music too. But what about Tik Tok Trends, TV, movies, and games?
For example, Awake At Last covered the classic rock hit song “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas – and that was the theme song for the TV Show “Supernatural”. There is a huge fan community that talks about that show. So we tried to plug the cover into that community and let it spread. By the way, Kansas did tweet about it.
On any given week on TikTok there are songs that are trending, and there are sometimes dances to those songs. The trends are a little short lived, but you could quickly perform a one minute cover version.
You can use YouTube in-stream ads to target listeners of the original song and for a low cost get your cover song in front of it. And since it’s very relevant to what that person was trying to watch, they’re usually happy when they discover a clever cover version of it. So your clickthrough and view rate is higher when you promote cover songs than when you promote your original music.
You can do the same thing on YouTube for communities and interests. We did that with the Kansas cover and targeted all of the Supernatural videos on YouTube.
TIP 3. CONSIDER THE TIMING OF YOUR COVER SONG.
Releasing your cover song while the original is new and at its peak popularity is ideal.
For example while at Fearless I worked with the artist I Prevail. In 2014, they had an inside tip form a radio promoter when Taylor Swift’s next single “Blank Space” was going to radio. Taylor’s full album had already been released, so it wasn’t like I Prevail had to wait to learn the song the first day the radio played it. They recorded it a week or two before the radio campaign kicked in, and released it as the song was running up the charts. Basically a piggy back strategy.
It worked big time, and this track now has well over 200 Million streams. Fans embraced the cover song, and since I Prevail also had an EP of original songs, those fans could check out their original music. It turns out they really liked their original music as well, and I don’t believe they’ve released a cover song since. The band is now one of the most popular rock bands.
TIP 4. MAKE IT FUN OR MAKE IT SERIOUS. ANYTHING ELSE IS JUST KARAOKE.
I notice a lot of cover songs end up somewhere in the middle, between fun or serious.
If you’re a solo artist or singer, and your vocal performance or acoustic performance is your strength, then let your talent shine through in a passionate performance of your cover song. A sort of X-Factor scenario. Those types of cover songs do quite well.
Making it fun is my choice. There is so much more you can do. Your cover version is already going to be measured against the original. So unless you think yours improves on the original and makes it better somehow, you better not take your cover song too seriously or you may end up with a karaoke version.
TIP 5. SONG CHOICE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH MARKETING YOUR COVER SONG.
Next time you are debating which song should I cover?, consider these song choice tips.
- If you choose to cover a song that was only popular for a year or even just a few years, and had a short lifespan, then your audience will be significantly reduced.
- Also, if you choose a cover song that only appealed to a narrow age group at the time (a teen idol for example), then when you release it, it will most likely only appeal to that narrow audience that were teens when they heard it.
- Covering the BIGGEST songs is a better strategy than covering BIG songs. Like a song that never goes above #5 on the chart, won’t leave as big a footprint as one that spends a few weeks at #1.
- And keep in mind the longevity of a song. There’s a good bet a #1 song will last a while. It’s so competitive at the top of that chart that you can almost guarantee the song will have a long life.
Check the Google Trends graph on a song. Is the song on it’s way up, or on the way down?
Speaking of trends… are cover songs still in style? Google Trends says yes.
Try to find historical #1 songs, looking at historical charts. Songs from decades past already have such a huge footprint, and it spans generations.
Try this Google search “most played songs on radio all time”
This is an example of one of the search results. Dave’s Music Database.
I hope my tips gave you a better understanding of how to promote cover songs. Cover songs are a great way to reach a different audience than your original songs might reach. If you’d like to learn how to release cover songs read this blog article. Take action, get noticed, and start to make money releasing cover songs.
What questions do you have? Leave a comment below.