You can perform any song you want- but, if you record a song and then sell the recording (CDs, MP3s, etc.), you’ll need a mechanical license.
“You are free to perform songs that are in general release without permission of the writer or publisher. If you choose to record the song and sell the music, then you would be required to obtain a mechanical license from the publisher or the publishers representative.”
- J.W. Johnson, Artist Relations Executive & Songwriter101 Faculty Member
Nielsen SoundScan is an information system that tracks sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada. Sales data from point-of-sale cash registers is collected weekly from over 14,000 retail, mass merchant and non-traditional (online stores, venues, etc.) outlets. Weekly data is compiled and made available every Wednesday. SoundScan is the sales source for the Billboard music charts. You can register your CD at http://www.soundscan.com/register.html
You must contact the song’s publisher or publishers to get permission to sample a song. Publisher information can usually be found in the Performing Rights Organization websites. You’ll likely have to search within the PRO with which the song is registered.
No. This is a common misconception. PROs collect royalties for songwriters, composers and music publishers from radio, television, the Internet, restaurants and thousands of other businesses that use music. In effect, a PRO acts as a representative so writers can get on with the business of creating new music while their royalties are collected for them. There are three in the US: BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, and one in almost every country you can think of. (See “What does a publisher do?”)
Be smart, do your homework! Take advantage of the resources that are available to you, such as organizations like TAXI or Circle of Songs. There are great classes and seminars offered by organizations like BMI that can further help you develop your songwriting skills. In addition there are several trade magazines, such as Performing Songwriter, that offer valuable information for the beginning songwriter.