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Justin Bieber singing Ne-yo's So Sick - a Youtube cover that kick started his career

Go to Youtube and search for your favourite song by your favourite band. Assuming the band is fairly well known, and you’re not searching for some obscure nu-metal-shoegazing-two-tone-grime artist from Skegness, you’ll probably find an official video by that band that has had thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of views.

What you’ll also find in the search results is a bunch of cover versions – by unknown artists – of that song. Or, alternatively, unofficial videos that fans have put together which combine the original band’s track and a bunch of random pictures of flowers that they scraped from Google Images.

What’s interesting about those ‘alternate’ versions is that however shoddy, they will have had a huge number of plays – certainly if the band being covered is extremely well known (think Beatles, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, U2 etc.). This highlights the fact that that there is a clear demand for this kind of content. And it presents independent and lesser-known artists with a great opportunity to raise their profile; after all, people may not be searching for your groundbreaking but unheard of act on Youtube at all – but you can be sure that somebody’s looking for a Cheryl Cole song every 5 seconds. Youtube lets you piggyback on Cheryl. Or any other number of famous popstars for that matter.

So, what do you need to do to have the best chance of a Youtube hit? Here’s some quick tips on how to get attention with a cover on Youtube – and make the most of any attention you get.

Pick the song you’re going to cover wisely

Firstly, ensure the song you’re covering is by a band that have a decent following and that people will be searching for. However,  it may be worth picking a slightly less-well known track by that band – for example a B-side or an album track – as there are probably fewer covers of that song by other artists to compete with (but still a lot of demand for the track, particularly if no other cover version of the song exists on Youtube).

Record a decent version of the song

Don’t be tempted to just slap your cover down quickly on a dictaphone – record the track you’re covering in an interesting, meaningful way that will genuinely appeal to people. You may get a lot of plays on Youtube thanks to people stumbling across your cover, but if your version of the song is rubbish then there’s little point in it being there – you’re not going to make any new fans.

Make an interesting video

Again, don't just sit in a bedroom and play your song into a webcam. If you can make an interesting video to accompany the cover - something simple but with decent production values, and - the holy grail this - 'viral' potential, you're far more likely to increase the likelihood of people sharing it on social media.

‘Tag’ the track correctly

Ensure that you’ve got the right keywords in the song title. It’s really important to get the original’s band name and the song title in the title, or you haven’t got much hope of appearing in Youtube’s search results. If you just have the song title and your band's name, but not the original artist's, this whole covering lark is generally a pretty fruitless business.

Capture data

Accompany your cover version video with a prominent link to a data capture form where people watching your video can subscribe to find out more about you. This usually works best when it’s incentivised – offer a free download or other juicy content in exchange for the email address.

Get the track up on iTunes

With the web, you just never know when something’s going to take off. If you’ve recorded a great version of a track, and it’s getting a shedload of plays on Youtube, you might as well be making a few quid from it.

Legal stuff

As for whether or not it’s legal or not to put cover versions on Youtube, it seems like a bit of a grey area. We had a trawl of Youtube’s legal section and it was pretty vague regarding covers. However, we did find the following statement:

Recording a cover version of your favorite song does not necessarily give you the right to upload that recording without permission from the owner of the underlying music, e.g. the songwriter (this statement can be found on Youtube’s Copyright Education FAQs page).

So the impression we get is that the original songwriter of your cover has to object to it being up on Youtube before it will get removed. If he or she does that, you’ll probably get a ‘strike’ against your account. Multiple strikes may result in your account being deleted, so if you’re planning on uploading a truckload of covers by litigious songwriters to Youtube, you may wish to proceed with caution. The Youtube copyright information is available at http://www.youtube.com/t/copyright_center for those of you who want to peruse.

Now, off you go to create your own very special Justin Bieber-style Ne-yo monstrosity.

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