A cover, involves the intellectual use and is the reinterpretation of a pre-existing composition. If you want to record and release (specifically for physical or download release) a cover song that doesn't fundamentally change the lyrics or melody of the original composition, you first need to obtain a mechanical license from the owners of that composition. If you merely want to perform someone else's work in a live setting, you needn't obtain a license; it's the owner of the performance space's obligation to purchase a blanket performance license for the venue.

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