4 Ways Musicians Can Make Money With 'Happy Birthday' Now That It's in the Public Domain

Posted by Bruce Houghton on Sep 29, 2015 10:00 AM

birthdayImage via news.yahoo.com

A version of this article originally appeared on Hypebot.


In a stunning reversal, a federal judge ruled that all copyright claims against "Happy Birthday" are invalid and declared that the song is in the public domain and free to use. It's a huge loss for Warner Chappell Music, which bought the rights in 1988, but it's a big win for enterprising musicians.

Now that "Happy Birthday" is in the public domain, anyone can record and release their own version of the track and keep 100 percent of the royalties. Here are four ways you can make money from the song.

1. Record and release a unique version that fits your style

"Reggaeton Happy Birthday," "Hard Rock Happy Birthday," "Happy Birthday Country Style"  the possibilities are endless. Consider releasing similar versions using different search-friendly names ("Indie Happy Birthday," "Happy Birthday Indie-Rock Style," "If My Morning Jacket Sang You Happy Birthday"). Some of your fans will be willing to buy or play the track now, but it could also provide small ongoing income as friends and family search iTunes for the perfect birthday song to share.

2. Shoot a quick YouTube video

Not only is it a great promotional tool for your new track, but it could also lead a small (or not-so-small) ongoing income stream. To collect funds, you'll need to sign up with a sync-collection service like those offered by CD Baby. Make sure they also make your version of "Happy Birthday" available for use by others on YouTube.

3. Offer fans a customized version

Once you have the basic tracks recorded, it's not much work to sing a customized version that uses the fan's name. You could charge  many fans and their friends would be happy to pay to have their favorite artist sing to them  or you can offer it as a prize or premium to an uber fan.

4. Offer it on Fiverr

Warning: you won't be the first, so get creative.


Spice up your version of "Happy Birthday" (and your other cover songs) with these five easy tips!


Bruce Houghton is the publisher of music business sites Hypebot.com and MusicThinkTank.com. He is also the founder and president of booking agency Skyline Music whose 60+ clients range from Zoe Keating and Darlingside to 10,000 Maniacs and Roger McGuinn.

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Topics: Legal & Money, Music Business 101


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