Understanding backing track music copyright

Hi kenny,

My wife & I tour the folk scene, playing traditional & contemporary music – what some might call covers.

We know the traditional stuff is copyright free, but the other tunes aren’t.

As we play our own instruments & sing, we don’t need backing tracks. Therefore how do we allow for royalty payments on our own home produced CD, which we sell at clubs, pubs and festivals?

I know this isn’t stricktly in your field, but the MU (Musicians Union) didn’t give me much help, apart from saying use a professional studio to make the recordings – expensive!



Hi Bob

It’s not really the Musicians Union who deal with these sort of things – the responsibility for collecting royalties and giving licencing advice actually lies with the MCPS and PRS, not the MU.

In saying that, I would have expected the MU to have been able to advise you because they are in the music industry and should know about these things, even if they don’t have direct responsibility for music licensing.

At the very least they should have been kind enough to point you in the right direction to the local MCPS branch (which they must have regular dealings with and know about)!

It’s not a very good advert for MU membership. No wonder there’s only a small minority of acts I know who have bothered to join the MU!

I’ve written an article about music licensing for recording an album which should give you all the info you need:


Many old folk songs do not have any copyright attached to them because either the royalty period has expired or no-one knows who wrote the song in the first place. So if you are intending releasing an album of songs which are all traditional, royalty free songs, you won’t need any permissions from anyone.

But if you are going to include even just one song on your album which has been written by someone else and is copyrighted, then you will need a licence even though all the other songs on your album are copyright free. 


What songs are good for cabaret?

Thankyou to Thomas for this question about what type of songs to sing for cabaret type work…

Hi Kenny

First of all,thanks for sending me the fourtops track..

I need some advice from you..I am a baritone and I want to get from barwork top cabaret work.

I have bought many medleys from you and now my manager tells me that some of the songs would be better used for pub work and since he is trying to get me in cabarets with holiday parks he would like to see me perform songs that are better associated with cabaret.

Can you suggest me some very good cabaret songs which can prove my voice and is a good song on it’s own?

If they are from the 60’s and 70’s it’s better..

And if you have the backing tracks to them please tell me so that I can buy from you….

The more you might have,the better..

Thanks in advance


Hi Thomas

Your manager is quite correct when he says that there is a difference between songs you would sing at a pub gig and songs you would sing as a cabaret artiste.

However, there will be some songs which can suit both types of work…

One of the main things to remember is that it’s not just the songs that are important when you perform cabaret. How well you can sing each song is much more important than “how good a cabaret song” it might be.

For example, a friend of mine is a cabaret singer and ends his set with the Pavarotti song Nessun Dorma. It really shows off his voice, it has the “wow” factor which leaves audiences exasperated and screaming for more –  a real showstopper and a great way to end a show…


If I were to sing cabaret, I would NOT sing Nessun Dorma. I have a good voice but my vocal range and vocal style are not nearly good enough to sing an operatic type song like that and make a good job of it.

So, it’s every bit important that you sing songs that you are particularly good at, not just songs which are “good cabaret songs.”

Regarding the actual songs you should sing, if your manager has already mentioned this to you, then it seems he already has an idea which songs he feels are suited to pub work and what songs he thinks you should sing for cabaret.

As he is the one who is also going to be promoting you for this cabaret work, you should probably ask him his advice on which actual songs he would like you to sing.

Give him a list of songs you curently sing and ask him to pick the ones he thinks will be suitable.

Although I can’t pick your songs for you (because I wouldn’t be able to do that without hearing you sing each one), certainly I can give you a general idea of the TYPE of songs you should consider for cabaret…

Generally, the main difference between a cabaret singers songs and a pub singers songs are that the cabaret artistes songs are usually more “showy”. 

By that I mean more glamorous, more flamboyant, more extrovert, in other words really showing off your talent.

Cabaret “spots” tend to be more intense because you are on stage for a shorter period of time so your stage show should have a shock and awe effect.

A pub singer cannot possibly sing every song at “full blast” for the 3 hours his pub gig lasts – that would be too much for his voice to take.

So the pub singer will mix a few “big” songs in among lots of singalong songs, easy-going songs, and songs that the audience will dance along to (i.e. songs which are easier to sing).

The cabaret singer on the other hand has only a short space of time on stage to “capture” his audience and mesmerise them with his talents, so every song counts when you are a cabaret singer. Choose one wrong song in your cabaret set and your audience will lose interest in you and that’s fatal for a cabaret act.

Don’t think though that because a cabaret act sings for less time at his gig than a pub singer that the work is easier. Believe me, totally captivating an audience, even for a short period of time isn’t easy.

Also, a cabaret acts voice will be singing at its absolute peak for the full duration of his time on stage, so a 45 minute cabaret spot can take just as much out of your voice as a 3 hour pub gig.

Other things to consider when “doing cabaret” are your dress, choreography and the scripting (talk) in between songs.

In essence, you need to create a full mini stage show with you as the sole star of that show.

Your dress sense should be immaculate at all times and suit the cabaret image you are trying to portray. Wearing a nice pair of dress trousers and a good quality shirt may be fine for pub gigs but a cabaret singer should be really push out the boat and be dressed incredibly well. With the exception of dinner-suited types of cabaret acts where a dinner suit is considered a normal part of the uniform, a cabaret act should always wear clothes which you simply wouldn’t normally see in a High Street shop.

You should really stand out from the crowd.

If you search on Google you’ll find a few good clothes shops which specialize in stagewear.

Some choreography should be included in your cabaret act too. You don’t have to be Fred Astair or Madonna on stage, but at least you should use the space you have on the stage area to move around it a fair bit and have a few little moves that co-incide with the music.

Staying animated on stage also helps keep your audiences interest as they watch you move around.

Talking to your audience a bit and introducing each song is important. A pub act can get away with singing one song after another and maybe throwing in a bit of banter with the crowd here and there but a cabaret acts engaging with his audience should be a bit more structured.

Have a script in your head, even if you only stick to it loosely, and when introducing some of your songs tell some very short stories about how you came to find that song, what the song means to you, or what the song is about etc.

Try to make the song intersting to the audience even before you’ve begun singing it.

You get the idea.

Some cabaret acts will throw in a few jokes too. Personally I don’t, because I’m pretty bad at telling jokes on stage(!) Oh yes, I can have my friends in stitches telling them my funny jokes when we’re all out socially together, but on stage joke telling is a totally different talent.

Just because you’ve got a great sense of humour and all your friends find your jokes hilarious doesn’t mean that those same jokes will “work” well on an audience…so beware!

My final piece of advice when doing cabaret is to relax and enjoy what you’re doing.

This isn’t just for your benefit – it will help your act immensely. Audiences can tell when a performer is nervous or not relaxed or not enjoying himself despite your attempts to hide it. Audiences just pick up on these things.

So get dressed up to the nines, pick your biggest and best songs, move about a bit on stage, introduce each song with a few well scripted pieces of converstaion and engage with your audience. 

If you do it right, your audience will connect with you and warm to you…and you’ll have a successful cabaret act.

Just one last thing.

If your cabaret work really takes off and moves you in to the bigger league, you will find yourself in venues with a 8 or 10 piece band or an even a bigger orchestra.

Cabaret acts who do this sort of work MUST have their music written out ready to give to the band. And by that I don’t mean a list of songs written on the back of a piece of paper with the keys!

You will need to have a piano part, a drum part, a bass part, a brass part, a string part, a guitar part etc for EVERY song you sing. 

If ever you need these sort of specially written parts, just let me know. I have a colleague who specializes in writing out full band parts that I can put you in contact with….


Plugging a microphone in to Audacity

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a silly question – only questions you haven’t heard answered yet…

Thanks to Sophia for this question about Audacity – you are not alone and it’s certainly not a silly question…

Hi Kenny,

Thank you so much for the software, it’s fab. You will probably laugh, but I’m new to all things PC and net!

Where and how do I plug a mic in to use this software?

You see I told you you’d laugh!

I’d appreciate your help. Many thanks,


Hi Sophia

If you’re new to recording software you may first have to take a little time to learn Audacity and it’s functions but once you’ve gone through the initial “learning curve” and got to grips with it, you can launch it and record songs within minutes.

Your mic should be plugged in to the mic-in of your computers soundcard (normally at the back of your PC)…

Finding your key for a particular song

Thanks to Amy for this question about changing the key of a backing track:

I would like to know the cost to change the key of Haven’t Met You Yet by Michael Buble.  We would need to go higher for a female 2nd soprano voice.

Hi Amy

Generally, female singers have a vocal range that’s 5 semitones higher than a male singer, so from that perspective I would expect a female singer to sing “Haven’t met you yet” in the key of G flat (which is 5 semitones higher than the Michael Buble original key).

However individual singers’ voices always differ. So although the “5 semitones higher” is a good general rule of thumb, it can’t be guaranteed because one female vocalist will sing higher than a normal female singer while another will sing slightly lower (and when it comes to kids the differences are even greater – female children usually have much, much higher voices than female adults).

The best way to find your key is to get a musician friend to work it out exactly for you and then let us know so we can produce your backing track in that key for you.

If you try to guess the key you could be lucky.

But…if you get it wrong it’ll cost you again to have the track re-done in yet another different key so it’s probably worth getting the key right before you make yourorder.

Have a look at an article I wrote about how to find your key:


Hope this helps….

Will the Bose L1 suit a solo singer with backing tracks?

Thanks to Tim for another question about the ubiquitous Bose L1…


just read your excellent article on the Bose L1 Classic PA system and wondered if you could answer a couple of questions.

I am a solo vocalist who currently uses MP3 backing tracks via a laptop running through a 500 watt Yamaha mixer and wooden cabinet speakers. Most of my work is in hotels and occasionally smaller clubs.

My questions center round whether you feel the the Bose L1 Model 2 PA System is a suitable alternative, as the classic is no longer available.

My reason for upgrading is with a view to aquiring greater clarity, something I have never been able to achieve with any of my previous equipment.

It is suggested that no additional mixer is required as there are 2 mixer points built into the base units, but as all my tracks vary slightly in volume, I assume I would need an independant mixer to adjust each of my backing track levels.

Also would I require an external mixer to add reverb to my vocals?

I would really appreciate your help as I seem to keep spending money on one set up after another trying to find that elusive clarity.

Very Many Thanks


Hi Tim

If you currently use a conventional 500w PA in the venues you work in, then without doubt the 500w Bose L1 is definitely for you.

With a Bose L1 you will still achieve the same volume as you are used to hearing from your conventional PA. In fact it will achieve higher volumes than your current PA if you want it to – this because of the unique way the Bose disperses the sound around the room.

As well as better sound dispersion, you will also notice a definite increase in the quality of your sound.

I’m sure you’ll be knocked out with it.

You are correct about the inputs on the Bose L1 being rather limited. If you buy an L1, you would be best advised to invest in the Tone Match controller as well because it will give you better control over the EQ and volume of the channels and reverb for your microphone channel etc.

If you don’t want to buy the Tone Match, you could consider using your current Yamaha mixer to do the job of EQ’ing and providing the effects etc.  Just be VERY careful how you connect your Yamaha mixer up to the Bose system though. From what you describe, the Yamaha is a POWERED mixer so whatever you do, DO NOT feed a powered output in to the Bose (unless you want to see your brand new Bose system go up in a puff of smoke)!

Most mixer/amps will usually have slave outs or monitor outs. Use these outputs, NOT the outputs which you would normally send to your speakers.

If in any doubt, don’t take a chance on getting this right…I can’t stress enough how important this is.

Instead, take your Yamaha mixer in to the music shop BEFORE you buy the Bose L1 system and ask the sales guy to connect it up for you so you can hear how it all sounds (and take a careful note of how he has wired your Yamaha mixer up to your Bose L1 for future reference).

If you do buy a Bose L1, I welcome you to the world of high quality live music – once you’ve used a Bose L1, you’ll never go back to a conventional PA.

The only people I know who don’t like the Bose L1 are those musicians who play at such high volume levels (they have 4/5/6kw PA systems) and they would have to buy multiple Bose L1’s in order to achieve the same level of volume they are used to. It simply becomes uneconomical for them to trade up to Bose L1’s – they would need to buy a dozen or more Bose L1’s at a cost of 10’s of thousands of pounds to achieve the types of volumes they are used to playing at.

The other musicians I meet who don’t like the Bose L1 don’t have a volume issue with it – they simply prefer an old-fashioned lower quality type of live music sound where the bass gives out a kinda woolly thud and hits you in the chest.

Many rock bands favour this old-fashioned type of sound so the Bose L1 is not for them (and that’s perfectly understandable).

But for high quality music which achieves the same fabulous quality of your home hi-fi system but large enough to fill a live music venue, the Bose L1 is unsurpassed…