DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended as legal advice, for specific information pertaining to your situation consult an attorney who specializes in entertainment law.
Copyright often remains in effect long after the death of a song’s writers: U.S. copyright protection currently lasts 70 years beyond the life of the writer. Most songs you will wish to perform and record are still copyrighted. Songs protected by copyright earn money for their owners (even after the actual writer has died.) To perform, record, or alter copyrighted songs you and your band will need to seek licenses from the song owners, and/or the publishers and agencies that administer their copyrights.