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How to Release a Remix of a Song Legally

How to Release a Remix of a Song Legally
February 20, 2024
There’s no doubt about it, releasing a remix is one of the best ways for DJs and producers to find new audiences and get great exposure off the back of an already existing hit. Not to mention it could get you on the radar of some of your favourite inspirational artists!

But when it comes to the legal stuff, you need to make sure you’re doing everything by the book. Especially when it involves the use of someone else’s intellectual property. So here’s how to release your next awesome remix without getting - you know – sued.

Release a remix legally: What you need to know!

So what is a remix?

Well, by definition:

"A remix is sound recording that has been edited or 're-worked' to sound different from the original song."

Unlike a cover, a remix differs in that it uses the original recording, and is not just a re-creation of it.

This means to release a remix legally, you must seek copyright permission from the original artist or band who created the song or the sample you want to remix or reuse.

Music remix music copyright law explained

I know copyright can be a tricky (and pretty boring) subject.

But if you’re looking to release your own remix, it’s really important to have a grasp of the associated copyright and legalities.

So let’s break it down.

Any track that you want to remix, is made up of 2 types of copyrights:

1. The master recording

2. The song copyright (the actual written composition and lyrics)

The master recording rights are usually held by the original artist of the track, while the song copyright is usually held by a music publisher.

Now the reason the whole copyright spiel matters, is because a remix is considered a derivative of the original work.

I know what you’re thinking – “a ‘derivative’ what?”

Basically a derivative just means an altered or edited version of the original song or music.

And if you know anything about music copyright law, you’ll know it very heavily stipulates:

The owner of the original work holds all rights to the publication, distribution and sales of the work, making any derivative versions of it – illegitimate.

In simple terms, you can only release or publicise a remix you’ve made, if the copyright holder has granted you the rights to do so.  

If you’re not looking to actually publicise or monetise your remix, then it’s all fair game to go ahead and start mixing without any legal permission or licensing. What’s legally known as fair use policy.

But for independent artists who want to get their music out there, make a name for themselves and earn a living from their craft, the fair use policy probably won’t apply. Which means further actions must be taken.

What’s the deal with the deal?

Remix licensing usually works using a ‘work-for-hire’ based contract: this means the copyright of the remix master (and the original song within it) will both be owned by the original artist.

When you release a remix, the royalty split will be between all the rights holders – so that’s the artist, music publisher and you.

To keep things financially simple, the original artist will usually pay a DJ an upfront one-time flat fee for a remix, in exchange for the licensing contract.

The rate of the flat fee is very much dependent on the popularity of the artist in question, but on average they can range anywhere from $100 - $20,000.  

If you’ve opted against a flat fee you can instead divvy up the earnings through a royalty sharing agreement. But beware, these can be a bit nightmarish in terms of accounting. So make sure you’re registered with the appropriate performance rights organisations so you get all the royalties owed to you from the remix.

Usually, the royalties generated from the remix master are split down the middle, between artist and remixer. The original artist gets 50% of the royalties, while the artist who releases the remix (in this case – you) gets the other 50% of the earnings.

But like the flat flee, this is negotiable caste to case, and will be outlined in the licensing arrangement.

How to get permission to remix a track

To remix a song legally, you’ll have to get permission to use the song from the original songwriter(s), publisher(s) and owner(s) of the song recording. This is the best route to avoid any legal trouble.

1. Search for the track on Spotify

How to release a remix legally - search on Spotify

First, you need to find out who the copyright owner of the song is. For example, the song may be owned by multiple songwriters, and you’ll need permission from each of them before you can do any mixing of the sorts.

If you don’t already know who owns it, locate the track on Spotify. You’ll be able to tell from here whether the original artist is signed to a label or whether they’re working independently via a music distributer.

2. Find the artist’s contact details

How to release a remix legally - find the right contact details

Once you’ve found out who the rights-holder(s) are, try and contact them directly.

Usually the artist (or label) will have contact details on their official website or in their SoundCloud description.

Ideally you’re looking for an email address of the artist or an A&R manager if they’re signed to a specific label.

If they’re a more well-known and established artist, direct contact may not be the best way to approach this.

Instead, it may prove better to find the artist or songwriter music publisher or collection society and get in contact with them to seek permission to use the artist’s music.

3. Send them a strong pitch

How to release a remix legally - send a strong pitch

A strong remix pitch is a value proposition to both the label and the original artist.

Remember - there’s value to be gained for both parties in terms of royalties cash-ins.

So when it comes to writing and sending the actual email, the key is to simply be clear and forthcoming. By seeking permission to remix their music, you’re asking them for a favour.

So be upfront and honest about what you want – but also confident in your own ability.

A strong remix pitch might read something like the below email template:

How to release a remix legally - email template

If you don’t have a previous release that did well, substitute it with another success story of yours. And if you don’t have that, just leave it out altogether.

But do make sure you’ve included a link to either your Spotify, SoundCloud or another music platform they can check you out on.

What if they say “No.”?

If an artist doesn’t vibe with your remix or they don’t wanna release their stems, then simply move on brother.

There’s no point wasting valuable creative time trying to bargain with an artist who just isn’t interested. Not when there’ll be another who is.

Remember – it’s the rights holder’s approval that matters. So even if a signed artist has granted the majority of their rights to a label (boo), they can usually still grant approvals for remixes and uploads, without the label’s knowledge (woo).

But let’s say both label and artist say no - you might be tempted to upload it anyway  – but we’d highly recommend against doing that

The potential gain you could get from releasing a ‘bootleg remix’ is more often outweighed by the associated risks (unless you get as lucky as Kygo).

Although bootlegging has definitely seen its heyday, today platforms have much more developed audio-fingerprinting. Meaning the chances of your bootleg cut of Ed Sheeran’s latest track getting pulled up, are high.

Plus you’ll have to transfer every dime earned back to the original artist.

Benefits of getting permission:

- Your remix will be sellable: this means you can upload it, publicise and share it on your own accounts and gain money from it, without the fear of it being taken down for copyright infringement.

- You can get provided with stems of the track: this gives you a lot more flexibility and creative freedom when actually making the mix.

Social-only remixes

But all may not be lost!

Oftentimes an original artist will only accept a remix deal if they like the actual remix themselves – meaning most remixes will only be accepted on a ‘speculative basis’.

This can make it more difficult when it comes to asking for permission, as some artists may just not like your version and give it a cold hard “No.”

But – while an artist may not really vibe with the remix you’ve made for them ‘on spec’, you may still be able to get upload permission for YouTube and SoundCloud – what’s known as ‘social-only remixes’.

If you politely request the use of the song for social-use only and not for an official release, there’s a chance the artist will allow it. You’d just need to clarify in writing that it would be for non-commercial use only.

What about live or public performances of a remix?

If you’re planning on spinning the DJ decks on Friday night with your latest remix, a performance permit will typically be required.

However it is usually the responsibility of the bar and/or club owners to pay for these permits, not musicians.

Even so, make sure you check up on the performance rights situation with the venue you’re performing at before you start dropping any beats, to avoid getting into legal trouble.

Putting out a remix can be a great strategy for new audiences to hear your music. However – do not ignore the legal procedures for this type of release. The information in this post will keep you on the straight and narrow and out of any sticky legal situations!

How to Release a Remix of a Song Legally

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