Is It Necessary To Cut Your Teeth In A Cover Band?

Trenchant63

Tele-Meister
Joined
Oct 23, 2022
Posts
249
Age
59
Location
Detroit, MI
I’ve never encountered a cutting contest for a slot in a cover band… (“alright, you know the drill - solo over Mustang Sally - whoever can play outside better wins the slot! May the best guitarist win! Imina count it off … One, two , a one-two-three-four..”)
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
8,089
Location
innsmouth, MA
One thing that the “I’ll never play covers” crowd doesn’t seem to consider is that there’s a very great chance that almost any cover song you play is probably going to be a better song than anything you wrote. That doesn’t mean you should not write and play originals - you can’t get better without working at something - but maybe dip your toe in the water a bit first, and not dive right into the deep end. I write and record my own songs at home, but I’d never bring one to my cover band and suggest we do it, even though I like my tunes and think some of them are good. And I expect the same from my band mates. That’s not what we do or who we are. I’ve heard original-only performers who were very good, some that were laughably derivative, and others who were not good at all. I find the laughably derivative group the most egregious - they’re just taking someone’s song they like and writing one just like it - a cover song, in other words. But they changed the words so now they think it’s an original. It ain’t.
Edited to answer the question in the OP: no, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s advisable.
And a lot of recorded songs are going to be worse than anything you write.
Why say anything original and not just quote film dialogue every time you talk to someone?
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
8,089
Location
innsmouth, MA
Even with my city having been the victim of a semi-hostile takeover of our best venues by livenation/ticketmaster, there are still venues to play without dealing with those. Some DIY popup venues have been extra fun, but there are plenty of established venues that are not hard to book. I can do all the shows I and my band can make time for, which unfortunately isn't much right now. Hoping to make time for more next year.
It also doesn’t hurt to just approach places and ask if they’ll book live music or what their room fee is.
 

beyer160

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 11, 2010
Posts
5,595
Location
On Location
Unless you play music YOU personally wrote, it’s all covers…
Not at all.

When you play covers, the arrangement is already there- intros, outros, bass lines, solos, drum fills, all nicely laid out and yours for the taking. When the guitarist comes in to rehearsal and starts singing along to a riff he just came up with, the rest of the band has to figure out their own parts. It's not "writing" because that only consists of lyrics and melody, but it's an entirely different thing than just copying what somebody did on a record. That's what makes great bands great, the way the individual styles of the members complement each other. Playing covers is a mechanical exercise, playing originals requires creativity from everyone, not just the songwriter.
 

Marc Morfei

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Posts
4,072
Age
57
Location
Wilmington, DE
Pretty much everything has already been said in this thread. I will just add one observation from my own modest experience in a minor local cover band. It really does teach you skills in working with other people. I suppose you can learn this from just playing originals. But someone earlier pointed out that covers give you a "common frame of reference." Even if you are trying to put your own spin on a cover, the established song is the framework or starting point that holds it together. It really helps a lot to have that. I know from working in an originals band, when you are inventing stuff out of thin air it's much harder. You have to really know what you're doing to pull all the pieces together as a group and have it sound coherent.

It also teaches you to manage the inevitable compromises that are needed between people. (Some people never learn that and then wonder why their bands never sticks together.) I have learned a lot by being forced to learn songs I never would have chosen. There are songs I don't like at all, but was surprised to find out have really good guitar parts that are fun to play, and it exposes me to a style I never would have explored. All knowledge is good knowledge.
 
Last edited:

bottlenecker

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Dec 6, 2015
Posts
7,206
Location
Wisconsin
There is probably some truth to that. In my geo the few venues we did have have been largely closed down, sold, or are now a rite aid.

Leaving the bars and the casinos...both can pay decent, even well, but hire cover bands..

I recently had a discussion like this with a new coworker from a more rural area about 100 miles north of my city. He's only played ib cover bands and is totally new to the idea of original bands and venues.
I've played in rural bars, but not often. The reason is that for it to happen, someone has to do something different and put together a multi-band bill, or a cover band has to ask us to do an opening set.
I've never played a set longer than an hour. Cover bands are expected to cover the whole night. Original bands open for touring bands, and often play only 45 minutes.
When I've played rural bars it's been great. People flip out. It's been with primitive, rowdy rock and roll bands, and no one needs to know the songs to know what to do. People get down. I'd love to do more small town shows.

There's not very good pay from original venues, unless you're the touring headliner. Even then, they are still relying on merch. If you want money, make merch. It's a different scene. It's the one a lot of the music I like has been coming from since the 80s, but not all of it.
 

Wildcard_35

Tele-Holic
Joined
Feb 3, 2012
Posts
574
Location
Austin, Texas
Not to be snarky, but does anyone here have any originals we may have heard of?
I wrote and performed a song called "Snakefarm" for a few years about the Snakefarm on Highway 35, south of Austin. A couple of years later, I heard a song called "Snakefarm" by Ray Wylie Hubbard on the radio with different music and lyrics. Does that count? Probably not...at least I know it was a good idea, whether I had Ray Wylie's marketing team on my side or not.

Anyway, to answer the original poster, I'm a believer in learning how to play other people's music before you play your own, unless you emerged from the womb a fully-formed, awesome player and songwriter, which doesn't happen very often, any more than someone emerges from the womb speaking perfect English or Mandarin Chinese. Music is a language that you have to learn the vocabulary of if you want to create something that is pleasing to the ear. Maybe someone like Elizabeth Cotton or Daniel Johnston can get going doing an "outsider artist" kind of deal, but most of us have to learn how to do it by studying others. And I doubt most outsider artists come completely from a vacuum, either. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the question, though.
 

Blue Bill

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2014
Posts
10,269
Location
Maine
It all depends on one thing: If the songs are great and the performances are great, then, no. Otherwise, learn to play a few great cover songs first.


Sorry, I haven't read the whole thread, so forgive any redundancy.

(Edit) OK, two things.
 
Last edited:

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
8,089
Location
innsmouth, MA
Not at all.

When you play covers, the arrangement is already there- intros, outros, bass lines, solos, drum fills, all nicely laid out and yours for the taking. When the guitarist comes in to rehearsal and starts singing along to a riff he just came up with, the rest of the band has to figure out their own parts. It's not "writing" because that only consists of lyrics and melody, but it's an entirely different thing than just copying what somebody did on a record. That's what makes great bands great, the way the individual styles of the members complement each other. Playing covers is a mechanical exercise, playing originals requires creativity from everyone, not just the songwriter.
It’s writing. You’re writing your parts and collaborating.
 

NeverTooLate

Tele-Meister
Joined
Sep 9, 2022
Posts
243
Location
AZ
Philosophically, original always beats cover but philosophers tend to struggle with real life....

The primacy of originality assumes ceteris paribus, but while being a pioneer is very difficult, being one of the million who came too late is arguably worse. Obviously, nailing the sweet spot in the history of a genre or a paradigm is a matter of luck as much as of desire, work ethic, and ability. Right person, right time, etc. There is nothing one can do about that. The electric guitar is no longer a new instrument that makes teens go nuts.

So it is easy to tell people "do your music" but the days when two cool sounding power cords made money were gone before I was born. If freaking John 5 has to settle for an old Vince Neil, how is any "normal" artist going to fare?

I know what I would pay for. There are some great young boys and especially girls who can sing and play extremely well classic hard rock songs. I would totally pay full fare to see a cover band that does classic hits without feeling they have to recreate them 100% which is nonsense to start with since this ain't classical music and the soul and heart matter more than technical perfection that was not necessarily there in the first place. When Whitesnake released the Purple Album I thought it was awesome. By 2016 Coverdale was no longer good live but still fine in the studio and the instrumental re-interpretation was spot on for me. There is a Machine Head tribute album that is pretty good.

Things like that would be far better for me than paying for an old David Lee Roth or Vince Neil (I would pay but only because of John 5). Instrumentalists are fine. Satriani is still great. Tommy Aldridge hits as hard as ever. But for how much longer? 3 years? 5? Ten is a stretch for most of "my" guys.

But would I pay to hear ONLY the originals of the younger artists I want to see perform the music of the 1980s? Of course! But wait, the kids have projects...I got a lot of work emails...spent quite a bit on crap this month...the venue sucks and is far away....I know it is not fair but it is life.

Mixing a few original songs into a set of proven winners is a good way to test the waters and offer something to each type of listener. Then if the originals take off, that changes things. Speaking as a consumer.
 

nojazzhere

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Feb 3, 2017
Posts
19,033
Age
71
Location
Foat Wuth, Texas
Philosophically, original always beats cover but philosophers tend to struggle with real life....

The primacy of originality assumes ceteris paribus, but while being a pioneer is very difficult, being one of the million who came too late is arguably worse. Obviously, nailing the sweet spot in the history of a genre or a paradigm is a matter of luck as much as of desire, work ethic, and ability. Right person, right time, etc. There is nothing one can do about that. The electric guitar is no longer a new instrument that makes teens go nuts.

So it is easy to tell people "do your music" but the days when two cool sounding power cords made money were gone before I was born. If freaking John 5 has to settle for an old Vince Neil, how is any "normal" artist going to fare?

I know what I would pay for. There are some great young boys and especially girls who can sing and play extremely well classic hard rock songs. I would totally pay full fare to see a cover band that does classic hits without feeling they have to recreate them 100% which is nonsense to start with since this ain't classical music and the soul and heart matter more than technical perfection that was not necessarily there in the first place. When Whitesnake released the Purple Album I thought it was awesome. By 2016 Coverdale was no longer good live but still fine in the studio and the instrumental re-interpretation was spot on for me. There is a Machine Head tribute album that is pretty good.

Things like that would be far better for me than paying for an old David Lee Roth or Vince Neil (I would pay but only because of John 5). Instrumentalists are fine. Satriani is still great. Tommy Aldridge hits as hard as ever. But for how much longer? 3 years? 5? Ten is a stretch for most of "my" guys.

But would I pay to hear ONLY the originals of the younger artists I want to see perform the music of the 1980s? Of course! But wait, the kids have projects...I got a lot of work emails...spent quite a bit on crap this month...the venue sucks and is far away....I know it is not fair but it is life.

Mixing a few original songs into a set of proven winners is a good way to test the waters and offer something to each type of listener. Then if the originals take off, that changes things. Speaking as a consumer.
Is that you, ping-ping? ;)
 

knockeduptele

Tele-Holic
Joined
Dec 15, 2017
Posts
723
Location
London
Having never played covers, well not since i was a kid 50 years ago i recently joined a covers band and its been a real eye opener.

You are put in a position where you have to play outside your comfort zone
 

loudboy

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
May 21, 2003
Posts
1,419
Location
Sedona, Arizona
u2 have done plenty of covers; maggie's farm, springhill mining disaster come to mind. 'van diemen's land' is a direct steal of 'the river is wide'.
They do them now sometimes but when they started, according to them, they weren't good enough to figure out other people's songs, so they wrote stuff that they could play. They were never grinding out covers in Hamburg.
 

BrazHog

Tele-Meister
Joined
May 24, 2019
Posts
470
Location
CA, USA
It seems to me that there are many that think that you need to pay your dues doing covers before you can make the jump to doing originals.
Is that the right approach?

Why not just do your originals right out of the gate? Blow everyone away.

I can imagine 2 advantages:

1) People will be more interested/ more willing to lay down the moolah to see a band playing music they already know

2) Playing other people's music teaches you useful ideas, so you don't need to reinvent the (square) wheel.

Good luck with your musical endeavors!
 

SRHmusic

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Oct 19, 2020
Posts
1,943
Location
North Carolina, USA
I don't understand the all or nothing approach many commenters are taking on playing covers. There is certainly room for interpretation and modifying arrangements, changing instrumental sections, etc.

In the band I've been playing in most recently we put our own stamp on the songs as we work into them. It takes a while for them to become "our own" version, where the groove and dynamics are happening and the music flows. Before that, at least the first rehearsal working on a new song, it feels like we're trying to play someone else's song. So I don't think playing covers is about trying to reproduce a studio recording with great accuracy.

Lots of solo artists play their own versions of cover tunes. Bands should feel free to do the same, allowing their own character to come through.

Maybe this is why some cover bands feel "flat" to me. They're trying too hard to be another band?
(edited)
 
Last edited:




New Posts

Top