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5 Tips for Covering Songs on YouTube

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Looking to get discovered, connect with other artists, or just express your artistic talents online? Become a YouTube cover sensation!

Before you grab your mic and camera to launch your own cover music channel, here are 5 tips to help you connect with some of YouTube’s nearly 2 billion monthly users!

#1 – Pick the right song, then add your own creative touch

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the wrong track or a lack of originality will discourage viewers from returning to your YouTube channel. Ideally, you should choose a song that brings out your biggest strengths as a musician and has a decent amount of search traffic. While a deep dive into your favorite artist’s body of work is ideal for super fans, it won’t necessarily generate clicks or help you go viral.

On the flip side, if today’s most popular YouTube sensations have all covered a song you love, make sure your contribution adds to the “dialogue.” Do you have a truly unique take? Go for it! But if not, seek out a song that still has some room for a fresh interpretation.

The wrong track or a lack of originality will discourage viewers from returning to your YouTube channel. Click To Tweet

It’s not enough to create a flawless rendition of a well-loved song. What viewers are looking for is truly creative expression, and your ability to build on someone else’s creation will make or break your success. Keep in mind – this isn’t karaoke. You need to go beyond a wonderful recreation of the original recording. In fact, the best covers give an old song a “facelift,” giving the listener a chance to re-hear the original in a fresh light. What are some tricks of the trade in terms of cover song originality?

The most popular is to “unplug” the original, creating an acoustic version that slows down the original while stripping away instrumentation to just your voice and your instrument.

Another popular approach is to deviate significantly from the composition of the original band. Was it created by a large ensemble? What can you do with it on your own? Was the original performer male? What is a female spin like? Or was the original by a solo artist? What happens when you put a full band behind it?

Remember, if fans wanted to hear the original, that’s what they’d seek out. So your version needs to offer a fresh perspective, adding value and your unique artistic expression and showcasing your talents.

#2 – What you say and how you say it matters, too

Unfortunately, even the best cover won’t get discovered if you don’t make it easy to find. A number of small details add up to big differences in how much traffic your video garners.

First, use the right keywords in your title to grab the reader’s eye. If you’re covering a popular artist or track, be sure that information is in your title and tags. A boring title will get overlooked – this is a key opportunity to extend your creativity beyond your sound.

The viewer’s first impression will be the thumbnail for your video, so choose an image carefully. You want a great image that never offends and draws the eye. Think of your thumbnail as a small ad for your sound and your image as an artist.

Also, don’t neglect the description box for your video. This space allows you to add tags related to your content, a description of you and your work, and even a personal message or signature sign off for your viewers. You can also use this space to engage users and gain their repeat viewership. Be sure to link to your social media accounts and give them the option to subscribe to your channel. If you want users to return, you need to make it easy and you have to request their engagement.

Think of your thumbnail as a small ad for your sound and your image as an artist. Click To Tweet

In that same vein, be sure to connect with viewers through comments, keeping the online community positive. Being attentive to your comments lets you earn users’ allegiance and interest.

#3 – Start with the right technology

The quality of your audio and video can be significant differentiators between you and other YouTube cover artists trying to get discovered. With so much competition and traffic, it’s important that every viewer impression is a good one.

Here are a few key pieces of advice from leading YouTube artists. First, don’t make your cover in your messy living room or bedroom. Spend some time creating an uninteresting, not-distracting backdrop that won’t draw attention away from you. Decide whether you’re going to record the audio and video at the same time, or if you’re going to record the audio first, then lip sync to that recording for the visual portion. Both have pluses and minuses, but if you don’t have the right equipment to sync or edit, then plan accordingly and play to your strengths.

Most successful YouTube cover artists have taken the time to study how to produce their own music. Music production classes help you get the edge in producing high-quality content. If you don’t already have a music degree, greater knowledge in terms of production and vocal recordings can be hugely beneficial, and can also contribute to your growth as an artist.

For most starting YouTubers, your smartphone or laptop has a sufficient camera to capture the video you need. However, it’s worth investing in a high-quality microphone for premium audio. Remember, you’re selling your sound, so the tools you use matter.

#4 – Keep it legal

While the technological aspects of creating a YouTube cover song may seem complicated, perhaps the trickiest part is keeping it legal. There are a number of opinions online about how to best approach the legalities of creating cover versions of copyrighted material. Our advice – do your homework!

While the topic is intricate, here are the basics of the legal issues around covering the work of other artists. First of all, it’s likely that most cover artists you see on YouTube are not jumping through all of the correct legal hoops. However, even people who avoid getting the right licenses for songs may still have their YouTube income claimed by the owner of the original copyright.

Because you’re not creating a sound recording to sell, you don’t need what’s called a mechanical license. That type of license is only important when you’re going to distribute your own version of previously published material. However, to stay in the clear, you technically need a sync license, which gives you the right to use someone else’s published song synchronized with your own video images. A sync license is granted by the publisher of the original song. Important note – these can be hard to get!

So, what’s the work-around? YouTube has its own system to identify content that’s already been published called the Content ID system. If YouTube sees that your video content contains copyrighted material, the system automatically places a claim on your material on behalf of the publisher. Some or all of the ad revenue you make may be paid to the rights holder, not you. Once your content has been tagged by YouTube, the publisher may do nothing, they may ask you to stop, or they may choose to place advertising before or after your content for their own income.

As mentioned above, this is a complex issue. We recommend you dig more deeply into YouTube’s Content ID system before you post your first cover, so you know how it works and what to expect.

#5 – Get started, keep going!

Your biggest hurdle to getting started as a potential YouTube cover star? Inertia! It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the to-dos outlined above, but don’t let that stand in your way. Each day is a new opportunity to begin. Many successful YouTubers started out with few followers and just a post a week.

To jumpstart your future, identify what you need – equipment, education, support – and take one step in that direction now. Start a list of songs you might like to cover, other YouTube stars you enjoy, and ideas of how to execute your vision.

Whether you post daily or just weekly, a consistent posting schedule helps to generate consistent followers. Click To Tweet

Once you have your channel created and the social media accounts you need to support your efforts and gather followers, one of the most important jobs you have is to stay consistent. Whether you post daily or just weekly, a consistent posting schedule helps to generate consistent followers. Users like to know when to expect new content – it gives them something to look forward to. One key element behind successful YouTubers and bloggers is an organized and thoughtful approach to timely content creation.

As you’ll see once you create your first video, it takes considerable time and energy to put together even five minutes of video content. You need a weekly plan to practice, record, edit and upload, plus time to follow comments and create positive online relationships with viewers.

Producing your own YouTube covers is a great opportunity to get out there as an artist! Get started today and develop a routine that allows you to create new content for online viewers to enjoy. Good luck!

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