This is an excerpt from Holiday Music: A Guide to Copyrights, Mechanical Licenses, and Christmas Songs. To download the whole PDF for free, click HERE.
Recording your own iconic versions of familiar Christmas carols or holiday songs might be the perfect way to catch the attention of new fans or thank your existing fan base with a free download or limited-edition CD. If you’re planning a release to coincide with the holidays, including a seasonal cover can give your album extra timely relevance and be a focal point for your promotions, or could be a great live track to add as a bonus.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to choosing a classic holiday number to cover. Which is the right track for your style, mood, and personality? And while it might seem that holiday songs have always been part of the musical fabric, the truth is a lot of seasonal favorites will require a mechanical license before you can legally record and release them as album cuts, singles, or downloads.
Any time you reproduce and distribute a recording of a composition you did not write – and that is not in the public domain – you need a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are issued by the owner or controller of the composition (typically publishers) acting on behalf of songwriters or composers. Basically, this is a royalty payment to the copyright owner for allowing you the use of the composition.
A good many Christmas and holiday songs (like “Deck the Halls”) are public domain, but many of the more popular tunes (like “Frosty the Snowman”) are modern compositions that are copyrighted and need a license.
One important point to remember: Even though a song may be found in the public domain, a copyrighted arrangement of that song may not be, so always check first. An excellent rule of thumb: if you used sheet music to learn it, you can find the copyright information there.