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

mad dog

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Depends on what you mean by "cover band". Where I live, that typically means classic rock covers. Such bands are not for me at all. I do love covers, but more of the relatively unknown and quirky variety, freely interpreted rather than slavishly copied.

The idea that covers have to be note for note, as exact as possible recreations is alien to me. Go ahead and go there if it suits you. It does not suit me. Other than excluding me (by choice) for duty in most cover bands, my approach has not hindered my band experience or musical development.
 

fretWalkr

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It's not necessarily the only way, but somehow you have to learn your craft and learn to play with others. If your music is exceptional, you know what you're doing, and your songs are killer then go for it. But if you feel there is a lot you need to learn, covers can help you understand how songs are constructed, different types of song forms, and most of all improve your playing chops.

Years ago when I was making a living playing, I also did a lot of transcriptions of originals to create lead sheets for copywrite. I did this for a couple of publishing companies and individuals. It was easy to tell inexperienced writers from seasoned pros.

I ran across so many strange asymmetrical song forms, dropped beats in measures (did he really intend for this to be all 4/4 with one measure of 3/4 in the whole song?), repeating sections with inconsistent numbers of measures, and other oddities. Newbies can make it a real headache to come up with some kind of consistent structure so the lead sheet wasn't 8 pages for a 3 minute song.

On the other hand, knowledgeable, experienced writers had a solid grasp of song structure and form. They songs were easy to put down on paper because they were logical and followed an internal structure. When they deviated from that structure it made sense in the context of the song.

There are no rules about how you go about it. But your odds of success are greatly improved if you have played a lot of music written by the best. And pay attention to what they are doing. When you know what the norms are that's the best jumping off point for doing something really creative.
 

beyer160

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It’s writing. You’re writing your parts and collaborating.
Legally, only lyrics and melody qualify for copyright. Everything else is considered "arrangement".
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?
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Even if you're "putting your own stamp" on pop/rock/country cover tunes, you still have the original to fall back on or work off of. It's like wading into the ocean from a beach- you can go out to your ankles, your knees, your chin, or swim out over your head depending on your comfort level. If you get tired, you can always come back to the beach. Playing originals is like being dropped into the middle of the ocean- you have no choice but to make your own way.

And there's a limit to how racy you can get with the arrangements of cover band standards- sure you can play a different solo in "Louie, Louie" but a lounge version of "Born To Be Wild" might be fun to play, but I don't think most audiences would dig it. So there are some guardrails built in.
 

beyer160

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Correct - someone who’s a better writer. Someone who probably wrote 109 bad songs before the hit.
...and it's a song everyone's heard before. I like hearing new music, but I know a lot of folks stopped being interested in anything new the year they graduated High School and just listen to the same songs over and over for the rest of their lives.
 

cyclopean

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Legally, only lyrics and melody qualify for copyright. Everything else is considered "arrangement".

Even if you're "putting your own stamp" on pop/rock/country cover tunes, you still have the original to fall back on or work off of. It's like wading into the ocean from a beach- you can go out to your ankles, your knees, your chin, or swim out over your head depending on your comfort level. If you get tired, you can always come back to the beach. Playing originals is like being dropped into the middle of the ocean- you have no choice but to make your own way.

And there's a limit to how racy you can get with the arrangements of cover band standards- sure you can play a different solo in "Louie, Louie" but a lounge version of "Born To Be Wild" might be fun to play, but I don't think most audiences would dig it. So there are some guardrails built in.
Legalese aside, writing is writing. If someone comes in with lyrics and a melody and you write your own guitar part, you’re writing, and a lot of the time, the song would be borderline unrecognizable without those other parts. Try playing a sleater Kinney song with just the vocals and chord changes and making that work.
 

cyclopean

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...and it's a song everyone's heard before. I like hearing new music, but I know a lot of folks stopped being interested in anything new the year they graduated High School and just listen to the same songs over and over for the rest of their lives.
If you wanted to really troll an audience, you could start a band that only covers awful, poorly written songs. “Someone else wrote it” is no guarantee of quality.
 

cyclopean

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Legally, only lyrics and melody qualify for copyright. Everything else is considered "arrangement".

Even if you're "putting your own stamp" on pop/rock/country cover tunes, you still have the original to fall back on or work off of. It's like wading into the ocean from a beach- you can go out to your ankles, your knees, your chin, or swim out over your head depending on your comfort level. If you get tired, you can always come back to the beach. Playing originals is like being dropped into the middle of the ocean- you have no choice but to make your own way.

And there's a limit to how racy you can get with the arrangements of cover band standards- sure you can play a different solo in "Louie, Louie" but a lounge version of "Born To Be Wild" might be fun to play, but I don't think most audiences would dig it. So there are some guardrails built in.
Have you heard death in Rome?
 

beyer160

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Legalese aside, writing is writing. If someone comes in with lyrics and a melody and you write your own guitar part, you’re writing, and a lot of the time, the song would be borderline unrecognizable without those other parts. Try playing a sleater Kinney song with just the vocals and chord changes and making that work.
You're talking about arrangement. It's a semantic difference that doesn't have to matter if you don't want it to, but one that has broken up bands and cost people millions of dollars. Ginger Baker argued until the day he died that he should have been given songwriting credit on White Room for suggesting the 5/4 bolero section. Maybe he was right, but he wasn't entitled to it by law.

Have you heard death in Rome?
Yeah, I don't think you could get away with that sort of thing at O'Malleys Sports Pub on half price wing night.
 
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4pickupguy

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I have seen lots of original bands with fantastic material! Who in the world says only famous people can write good songs lol?
The best live acts I’ve ever seen were original bands.
In fact, many if not most popular cover tunes were/are craptacular songs (remember Achy Breaky Heart?).
The “original bands suck” crowd probably only say this because they can’t write songs.😂

Back to OPs question. Follow where your muse leads you…. Well, once you have a career that can support her...😉
 
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cyclopean

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You're talking about arrangement. It's a semantic difference that doesn't have to matter if you don't want it to, but one that has broken up bands and cost people millions of dollars. Ginger Baker argued until the day he died that he should have been given songwriting credit on White Room for suggesting the 5/4 bolero section. Maybe he was right, but he wasn't entitled to it by law.


Yeah, I don't think you could get away with that sort of thing at O'Malleys Sports Pub on half price wing night.
Some kinds of music are just strum strum strum and a vocal melody. Some aren’t. You’re not going to break down master of puppets to something like that.

Who’s playing O’Malley’s sports pub and where is that the only option for a gig?
 

beyer160

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Some kinds of music are just strum strum strum and a vocal melody. Some aren’t. You’re not going to break down master of puppets to something like that.
Sure you could. It may not be very good, but there's no reason you couldn't do it.
Who’s playing O’Malley’s sports pub and where is that the only option for a gig?
No one said it was. We were talking about how most cover audiences (say, the one at O'Malleys on half price wings night) wouldn't tolerate straying too far from the original arrangements of well known classics the way Death In Rome does. That's one of the reasons your average bar band doesn't do it.
Or take Peter hook out of joy division and tell me it would still be the same band.
Maybe not, but "Love Will tear Us Apart" and "Transmission" are still the same songs-








That's the difference between songwriting and arranging.
 
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cyclopean

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Sure you could. It may not be very good, but there's no reason you couldn't do it.

No one said it was. We were talking about how most cover audiences (say, the one at O'Malleys on half price wings night) wouldn't tolerate straying too far from the original arrangements of well known classics the way Death In Rome does. That's one of the reasons your average bar band doesn't do it.

Maybe not, but "Love Will tear Us Apart" and "Transmission" are still the same songs-








That's the difference between songwriting and arranging.

It wouldn’t really be master of puppets anymore, and I’ve seen neofolk bands play bars.
 




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