While remixing songs is a fun way to gain exposure, it’s important to follow the correct paths, or you may find yourself in some tricky legal trouble.
To get permission, you need to contact the original copyright owner for approval. The copyright licensing is at the center of the matter.
As well as potential legal trouble, publishing unofficial remixes can hurt a career before it even gets started.
If you upload a remix to YouTube, SoundCloud, or another platform, something called Audio Fingerprinting Software is there to catch you out. This program scans to find files with a similar sound as those labels have uploaded to the database.
When they find a copyright infringement, the host site is alerted and the remix removed. You shouldn’t be legally viable, as the website takes responsibility, but your channel may be shut down.
Understanding Copyright Law
Before asking for permission to remix, you should probably understand copyright law as it relates to music. Each recording generally has two levels of copyright.
First is the master recording. This is the original recording itself and is generally owned by the label. The song copyright is often owned by the publisher, and refers to the composition and lyrics, rather than the recording.
Any remix, official or unofficial, is known as a derivative work. Because of this, it falls under the same copyright as the original song.
Any remixes and edits you make are technically owned by the same owner of the original copyright. Uploading without their permission is sharing property that isn’t yours, and against the law.
Tip To Get Permission From The Owner
If you’ve made a killer unlicensed remix you want to publish, you may be wondering whether to go ahead and try anyway.
Occasionally, an artist supports an unofficial remix. This happens when the remix has managed to gather hype, and it’s benefitting the original song by increasing listens.
If you’ve made a great remix, then this could potentially happen to you. An artist may hear your track, and love it so much they sanction it as an official remix. For this to happen, you’ll need to have created something special, and marketed it well.
Fair Use Copyright
There is, of course, Fair Use. Put simply, Fair Use allows works to be remixed without permission, as long as it isn’t done for money or publicity. There are a few caveats to this, and Fair Use can be difficult to navigate.
Practicing in your room will fall under Fair Use, but only because no one can hear it. Once you take that remix public, Fair Use no longer applies.
It is potentially possible to argue a remix fell under Fair Use, if it didn’t damage the original owners copyright, but this would be discussed in court.
On Spec Remixes
Remixes are sometimes made ‘On Spec’, or on a speculative basis. This is when the original copyright holder will request remixes. Generally, the remix artists are paid a flat fee for their creation, and the artist may accept it or reject it.
Either way, anything made then becomes the property of the original copyright owner. However, some labels choose to share the copyright for the remix, for a fairer partnership.
If you already have a name for yourself, you may be contacted by an artist to make a remix. This will be officially licensed, although you should probably communicate with the artist about the permissions you have.
An artist may license a remix because they want to reach a new audience, or bring more attention to a track. For smaller artists beginning to gain interest, this is a great way to get exposure.
Reaching Out To The Owner
Otherwise, you need to contact the owners of the copyright themselves. Pitching to the label, the artist, and their manager covers all bases.
Even if you need to contact someone else, it’s a solid starting place (and you can generally get a nudge in the right direction). By looking online you should be able to find all the details needed.
Once you’ve decided who to contact, you need to write an email. Be open and friendly, but retain some formality. After all, this is technically a work inquiry.
Make sure the artist knows you love their work, and why you want to remix – but don’t be too excitable. You want to present yourself as an artist, rather than a fan.
Give examples of past successes, if you have any. If you don’t, leave it out, and talk about your skills/what you’d like to achieve. Always link to any music you have. Even if you’re just starting out, give an artist an example of your work.
If you can’t find any email addresses, you may want to contact the artist directly via a DM. This is often less formal, but remain clear with your interest and ask for a better point of contact.
After a week, reach out again. It’s a tricky area, because remixes are a strong part of artist development, but it’s hard to get remixes without a good fan base.
For the best response, wait a few months after the tracks release, when an artist will be looking for a boost in streams. Look for smaller artists who won’t be flooded with inquiries, and contact several for a better chance at a yes.
Once you’ve struck a deal, discuss the terms of release, and any money that may be made. Ask for a written agreement, so you have proof in case of future troubles.
What To Do If The Owner Turns You Down?
If the copyright holder turns you down, inquire after ‘upload rights’. This will allow you to distribute your work for free, and you can negotiate the use of a ‘download gate’.
This is set up to require anyone interested in your work to interact with the original copyrighted material in a predetermined way. That way, both the remix and the original track get exposure.
To get permission to remix a song, you need to contact the original copyright owner. They are the only ones who can authorize a remix.