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A sound-alike is a recording intended to imitate the sound of a popular record, the style of a popular recording artist, or a current musical trend; the term also refers to the artists who perform on such recordings.
Sound-alikes are usually made as budget copies or "knockoffs" of popular recordings. The cost of writing and recording a new song that sounds similar to a popular song is usually negligible compared to the cost of royalties for playing the original recording or the licensing fees to record a cover version. If the sound-alike recording is dissimilar enough to avoid infringing the original writer's copyright, the user of a sound-alike can evoke the spirit of a song, or sometimes make listeners believe that the work being played has been recorded by a particular artist, without the expense of engaging a highly paid artist.
A cover version is sometimes referred to as a sound-alike, but in the stricter sense, a sound-alike must contain differences that are significant enough to suggest to a listener that those recording the song sought to perform a work different from the work to which it sounds similar. A recording intended as an interpretation of a work is not a sound-alike; it is a cover version, for which many countries require licensing for any performance or distribution.
Sound-alike recordings have been used in movie soundtracks and radio and television commercials since their origin, while sound-alike artists have long recorded jingles and other musical material for commercial use. In the 1980s, singer Bette Midler sued over a sound-alike version of her recording of "Do You Wanna Dance?" being used in a commercial which sounded too close to the original. "Old Cape Cod" was the subject of a 1990 lawsuit subsequent to a sound-alike version of the Patti Page hit that was featured in a 1989 commercial for American Savings Bank. Page sued the advertising agency responsible for the commercial alleging that the commercial implied that Page herself endorsed the bank. Also in the 1990s, guitarist Carlos Santana sued over a commercial music bed that closely imitated his playing and arranging style.
Sound-alike albums have also long been issued by small record companies, to cash in on the popularity of artists, movies or show tunes from hit plays. Lou Reed began his recording career working for one such company, Pickwick Records, but years later became a star in his own right, as an original performer. Other such companies were Hit Records of Nashville, Tennessee and Embassy Records of the United Kingdom. Bell Records of New York City also issued sound-alike budget records in the 1950s. Madacy Entertainment also releases sound-alike albums under the title The Countdown Singers; Drew's Entertainment currently releases sound-alikes through the name "The Hit Crew".
In 1971, the sound-alike album Top of the Pops, Volume 18 reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart. On February 3, 2012, a sound-alike version of the will.i.am track "T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)" by "Kings of Pop" which was available for download before the release of the original entered the UK Singles Chart at number 40, the first to do so, and other sound-alike covers of "Whistle" by Flo Rida and "Payphone" by Maroon 5 have also entered the top 40. Many of these sound-alike versions of popular songs available on download sites continue to generate strong download sales prior to the release of the original song.