Luke Combs Cover making money for the original creator but not himself

How the Luke Combs Cover Made Tracy Chapman $500,000

Feb 22, 2024

“You’ve Got a ‘Fast Car,’ I Wanna Take It To Number One.”

One of the benefits of registering copyright for your original songs is that if anyone covers that song and makes money off of it, they owe you a portion of that success. These are called royalties, and songwriters often receive as much as 50% — including performance royalties, even if they aren’t physically there to perform.

A recent example of a cover that earned the original composer considerable money is Luke Combs’ rendition of “Fast Car,” first released in 1988 by Tracy Chapman. In this blog, let’s talk about the success of the cover and how it ended up renewing success — and financial gain — for Chapman almost 4 decades after the original release. 

Fast Car: 1988

“Fast Car” was hardly a sleeper when it released in 1988. It was a hit single from singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut album. She went on to be Grammy nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and she won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The song would go on to become a classic, as well as Chapman’s most popular single. Her career would also be a long and successful one, and she still has an active career today. 

There have also been many covers of “Fast Car,” which has helped to earn Chapman songwriting credit…and plenty of money, too. But few have been as popular as the 2023 Luke Combs cover.

Luke Combs & a Faithful “Fast Car” Cover

Luke Combs has already well-established himself in the country music world, so his album Gettin’ Old was looked forward to with some anticipation. On that album, he covered one of his favorite songs, a song he had grown up listening to in his father’s truck: “Fast Car.” 

The cover took off, and the song hit number one on the Country Airplay charts, making Chapman the first Black woman to ever achieve that rank for a solo composition. It won “Song of the Year” at the Country Music Awards, and earned Chapman over $500,000. In 2024, she even played a duet of the song on stage with Combs at the Grammy Awards.

One thing that has stood out about Combs cover was that he left the lyrics completely unchanged. The reference to working “in the market as a checkout girl” was sung just as it had been originally, which led to some memes and laughter within the country music world. But for Combs, it was about being “mega respectful of the original song.” He didn’t want to change any of the intent or make it his, but rather to shine a light on the song. 

Bringing It Back to Copyright

What’s important to this story is that Chapman had a registered copyright listing her as the composer and creator of “Fast Car.” Because of this, no other musician can legally profit off of the song without her consent and credit. Chapman has to be credited as the original composer, she receives royalties for the song, and she decides whether she will give out the license to play that song. 

It worked out well in Luke Combs’ case. The country singer was a fan himself and wanted to make sure she got all the credit she was due. She also happened to like his cover quite a bit, as well as the money she’d earned from it. By protecting her song legally, it has been able to remain relevant in pop culture for decades, long after she initially released it.

If you want to protect your music so that it can grow for decades to come, let Garcia-Zamor help. We have over two decades of combined experience in intellectual property law and we’re here for you. Contact us today to learn more.