I play piano covers of popular songs on Youtube and have reached around 60,000 subscribers. I constantly get asked for the sheet music. I'm thinking I can monetize this by transcribing the songs and selling them on my own personal website. My question is, how do I get the copyrights to do so legally? Who do I contact? What are the legal complications?
Disclaimer: I'm not an intellectual property attorney - and I am not attempting to, nor qualified to give legal advice.
That said - here is what I know on the subject. Copyright was once explained to me as a bundle of sticks, where each stick was a different right. Two sticks that might be important in this situation would be:
1. Distribution Rights: Creating the sheet music in itself may be harmless, but copyright does cover right to distribute - and so your idea to distribute for profit may infringe upon this right.
2. Derivative Works: Copyright also gives the owner the right to create derivative works based on the original - so even if your version is different - it becomes an issue of "how different" - so you may also be infringing on this right.
One path forward is to determine who owns these rights (the original artists or label often sell the rights) and license the right to produce and sell the sheet music. My guess is this could be cost and time prohibitive.
Another would be to see who is already selling sheet music for these songs - and simply act as an affiliate, taking a portion of the revenues per sale.
Consider trying the affiliate route first, to determine how many of these sales you generate from your audience, before going to the trouble of licensing the content etc.
I'd be happy to discuss ways that you can validate demand within your population before you do either, and recommend doing so with or without my input.
You would have to find out who the publishers are for each and every title, and then write to them to ask them for permission to a) create a transcription, b) sell it in territory X, and c) charge money for it.
There is no middle man I am aware of that can get you those permissions and licenses en masse.
Publishers are under no obligation to grant you permission, so you are most likely to get a standard rejection from all of them. They would rather not create competing products that would deliver them less revenue than the transcriptions being sold by companies they have already licensed, like Hal Leonard.
Without written permission form ALL of the publishing rights holders (there can be multiple publishing rights for single titles), and without a valid license agreement, the only way to legally sell transcribed sheet music is to make sure the original compositions you are transcribing are in the public domain.
For certainty, seek legal advice from a music rights attorney.