Original Band switching to Cover Band?

Marc Morfei

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I've played in many cover bands starting in the early 80's, though it's been a couple of years since I gigged. I don't know what your local market is like, but generally speaking:

If you intend to play in public, the key to success is simple, but seldom understood by musicians. Ready? Here it is: Venue owners are not in the music business. They are in the beer and food-selling business. If the venue owner sells lots of beer, they will be happy, and you will be invited back. Period. Venue owners don't care if you play ska-punk or ambient jazz-fusion. They don't even really care if you tune your instruments. They care if you get people into the venue. And never forget that it is your job to get people into the venue. If the venue was already full of people, the venue owner wouldn't need you.

Marketing will be different for each type of cover band, but be ready to make a website, FB profile, email list, etc.


Don't worry about sounding "just like the record" as long as it sounds good. Live performances should not be "just like the record." The only band I've ever heard sound "just like the record" in concert was Rush and frankly, it was boring. I've almost always been the only guitarist in the band, and many of my bands have been just guitar, bass and drums, so "just like the record" was rarely on the table. Work with what you have. The important thing is to have band members that get along, sound good, and have fun onstage. Try songs, and be prepared to move on if you can't make it work with what you have.

With a few exceptions, music is for dancing. If people don't/won't/can't dance to it, get rid of it.

There are many types of cover bands that can work. If your audience is Boomers, then you probably have to play classic rock or country. If you want to book weddings and such, then learn "Cha Cha Slide" and "Wind Beneath my Wings." A tribute band, whether it covers a specific artist, a specific style, or a specific era, can work. In the 80s and 90s I played in bands that covered then-current radio hits, and both went over very well. I don't know how viable that would be today.


Whatever kind of band you choose, you don't necessarily need to play the "standards." But you do need to play music that feels familiar and that makes people want to dance. For instance, a good blues shuffle will make people want to dance whether or not they know the song. In contrast, everybody knows and loves "Kashmir", but unless you are a Led Zeppelin tribute band, you don't want to play it at a bar. If you are a Led Zeppelin tribute band, your audience would probably love some deep tracks that never get played on the radio.
Great post. 100% agree. Can you please phone up my bandmates and tell them this?
 

Marc Morfei

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I have this long-standing fantasy that it doesn’t matter if the audience knows the songs, as long as you’re playing good songs and playing them well. But I have to concede that the worst most overplayed dumb songs - which I only grudgingly agree to play on occasion - always get the biggest audience response.

Example: exactly two single times ever, under great pressure and extreme duress, I went along with playing Sweet Caroline. Both times the whole place went ape**** bonkers with ecstatic joy.
 

beyer160

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I have this long-standing fantasy that it doesn’t matter if the audience knows the songs, as long as you’re playing good songs and playing them well. But I have to concede that the worst most overplayed dumb songs - which I only grudgingly agree to play on occasion - always get the biggest audience response.

Example: exactly two single times ever, under great pressure and extreme duress, I went along with playing Sweet Caroline. Both times the whole place went ape**** bonkers with ecstatic joy.

It's hard for musicians to understand, but most people just don't think about music the way we do. They may not know who "sings" their favorite songs, they may not have favorite artists, they may never have gone specifically to see a live band, they may not own CDs or intentionally listen to music at all. It's kinda like me with the visual arts- I know that Rembrandt and Monet are painters, but I couldn't tell you which of their work was which and I certainly couldn't name any of their pieces. It just doesn't interest me enough to know much about it. When I see the Mona Lisa though, I think "hey, I know that one!" The average person is like this with music.

I managed a corporate event once where the client gave me a bizarre music playlist she wanted to play as pre-show music. A lot of the songs were slow, quiet tunes you wouldn't generally use to pump up a crowd. My co-worker looked at the list and said, "this is probably just a list of the only 20 songs she can name". I used about half of them along with my usual pre-show playlist and no one said anything.
 

EugeneWeemich

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did the full cover thing once. never again.

you'll get gigs. so if that's you, run with it.

last band I was in did a cover or two, wanted to add more. we'd customize a bit, which helped me to cope with the feeling that everything we played a cover tune that I was eating an airplane meal.

alternative is original music...which needs instant likeabilty for 1st time listeners to engage. that's hard.

band eventually settled for practices where we bbq'd and loved our own creations. created lots of great times.
 

MilwMark

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When I read threads like this I’m really glad I live in a town with 10 clubs of various sizes that I can name without trying, which feature original bands every weekend. And only original bands.

With regulars who are there because they want to see live original music. And other fans who read the local music rags and seek out bands they want to see

Yes, usually we’re playing for 15-50 people and “make” $15 a pop, which we hand over to the “touring” band to help with gas, breakfast and hotel. But that’s ok. We end up with 1-2 $500-600 show a (normal) year that we use to kick start the record fund.

I guess we’re very fortunate.

Don’t get me wrong. I did (and enjoyed) the cover band thing for years. I enjoyed it because we had a narrow niche and were to be honest really high quality.

But creating good music with friends that people connect to (a bonus) is my bliss.

Last full length released in 2020. Used last of the “big gig” fund to cut it to vinyl 6mo later for fun.

13 strong (in our view) originals written since and getting refined at shows. Big $ gig coming up to seed the studio time maybe next year.
 
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pbenn

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For covers, only a minority of average singers can handle the original keys. Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Neil Young.
So if you can't get a pro singer, you can capo up and sing baritone. There's probably one key that will work for you.
 

drumtime

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I've played in several bands with a friend who has written a bunch of good songs that fit right in with a bunch of covers. We typically did about half originals, 25% covers, and the rest improv. Kept the bars full and rocking.

I've also played in a "band" that did neither covers or originals - only improv. We played to support the venue on weeknights. The crowds were obviously small, but they totally dug it. Lots of dancing and cheering.

Anything can work, but I think if your band wants to be a money-making business, there's lots of good advice above for how to make that happen
 

bendercaster

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I'm in a band that does a mix of covers and originals (mostly covers though). In my experience, keep the melody and the recognizable riffs, and you'll be fine. If you can do that with your own arrangement, even better. The songs we have given original arrangements to are the ones that we get the most compliments on.

As for gigs, we mostly play outdoor gigs at breweries, wineries, charity events, and that sort of thing. If you can get some regulars that like coming out to see you and will buy a few drinks, it's easy enough to get gigs. Even bringing 20 people that wouldn't otherwise be there, buying food and drinks for a few hours is enough to make it worth it for the venue.
 

lil scotty

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People like music they're familiar with. I've written a lot of songs. Some are good, some are crap. I throw them in with the covers, say every 5 songs, if I get a negative reaction I never play that song again not even at home. You've got to watch your covers also. People love Like a Rolling Stone, but not many are familiar with The Grooms Still Waiting at the Alter. You've got to have a lot of repeat gigs for people to start liking your originals.
Dude, don’t let a negative reaction stop you from ever playing your own tunes! Be honest with yourself about them. You must have an innate sense of their quality. Just because you can’t play them in the live settings you’re accustom to does not mean they’re no good. Maybe you don’t have the fire in your belly to do original music? But if you do, you owe it to yourself to soldier on, chin up etc., please.
 

lil scotty

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I like this story, the patron who probably also believes songs like spaghetti grow on trees.
We used to play a resort in San Diego. We played lots of original music. One day a drunken women kept yelling at us to “play something good.” What she meant was something she recognized.
 

GreatDaneRock

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I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum, I play in an all-original band and have no desire to play covers.

It can be a challenge when playing with others who are cover players. I like to play with people willing to jam, willing to agree on a chord progression like a I, iii, ii, V, or your typical I, vi, IV, V and vibe it out. But I know the vast majority of guitar players want to learn songs dear to them, songs from their guitar heroes. For me, after learning a bit of theory, that desire went away. I can write good tunes, figure most things by ear, and I'm developing a solid sense of chord progression direction.

I enjoy performing live and watching people connect to the songs. I also abhor bars, and bar gigs for that matter, small cramped up stages, accidents left and right with drinks and equipment, no thank you. I'm playing around 3-4 festival gigs a year, plus some big breweries around town, and I'm content with that. We have a modest following as pop-rock trio.
 

Red Ryder

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I
Dude, don’t let a negative reaction stop you from ever playing your own tunes! Be honest with yourself about them. You must have an innate sense of their quality. Just because you can’t play them in the live settings you’re accustom to does not mean they’re no good. Maybe you don’t have the fire in your belly to do original music? But if you do, you owe it to yourself to soldier on, chin up etc., please.
I play the good ones but there is no reason to keep crap in storage. That would be like playing stairway to heaven.
 

2HBStrat

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did the full cover thing once. never again.

you'll get gigs. so if that's you, run with it.

last band I was in did a cover or two, wanted to add more. we'd customize a bit, which helped me to cope with the feeling that everything we played a cover tune that I was eating an airplane meal.

alternative is original music...which needs instant likeabilty for 1st time listeners to engage. that's hard.

band eventually settled for practices where we bbq'd and loved our own creations. created lots of great times.
That's cool, but doesn't fulfill the need/desire to play for people and get that feedback of folks dancing and partying.
 

nickmsmith

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The other guitarist in our originals band wants to learn a bunch of covers so we can book bar gigs. I'm all for it, but here are my issues:
1. Who is going to book the band?
2. Playing enough of the right covers that will guarantee repeat bookings without playing the songs every band seems to hate to play.
3. Learning the songs like the record, as close as possible, and not just half fasting them.
Can it be done?
Who's done this?
Yeah. You’ll probably book more paying gigs as a cover band, Depending on your local market. Not very many places want to pay out for original music. And most original bands don’t have 2-3 hours of material.
 

boxocrap

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Well, it's hard to play live with originals.
Booking is the hardest part of being a live band. A terrible sounding band with a good booking guy can be more popular and more booked than a great band. I've seen it time and time again. Had an acquaintance who was a Pepsi Representative. His job was driving around to bars and restaurants and helping them with info,, taking orders etc. His band was not great, but they were the busiest around because he'd book gigs while working!

You need on person in the band with "the gift of gab" A good talker friendly guy, who doesn't mind making cold calls.

As far as songs, you can mix in originals maybe one a set or two. Offset those with driving songs with a good beat.
We play odd ball arrangements of many popular songs, or some 'known', but not super popular songs that are catchy and can get by as a "cover" band that way.
As far as songs, you can mix in originals maybe one a set or two. Offset those with driving songs with a good beat. yep that seems to be the way
 

El Marin

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It's hard for musicians to understand, but most people just don't think about music the way we do. They may not know who "sings" their favorite songs, they may not have favorite artists, they may never have gone specifically to see a live band, they may not own CDs or intentionally listen to music at all.(...)

Absolutely

Is the same kind of people that ask you for the song that is now in the TV from a car or soft drink add...

Saddly, is the only song they can name
 

G.Rotten

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My answer ( as someone who is NOT a songwriter, maybe a few original acoustic folk and blues patterns)

Is I do play all cover-music and always have.

But I NEVER thought of what I play as calculated, we are a 'cover band' or 'let's be a cover band!' BS, it kind of offends me, as someone who loves great music, and wants to keep it alive

I play the styles of music I like, perform it in front of folks who want to hear it, and surround myself with very good musicians that want to play it-
Musicians may come and go over the years with me to do other things, but never in a situation than members 'hate the songs they are playing' - if someone really doesn't like a song, we won't play it.

I use to be in separate blues, Country, Classic Rock, and Bluegrass bands,
and now our band's strength or marketability is the variety of all these styles, that patrons are going to hear with us.

It's small potatoes brewpubs, Cafe, and Winery gigs, with a lot of baby-boomers that love what we play- steady, repeat gigs...

But it all started with a love for the music, from me, and bandmates ( that are great friends)

With the exception of the likelihood you're a better player (with a diverse genre pallet) this pretty much sums up my musical life.

@2HBStrat

There are so many songs available to cover, there's no reason to pick any you hate to play. There are standard songs everyone loves to hear but again there's a lot of them so it's not hard to find a balance.

I simply love music/playing guitar and everyone in my bands become close friends.

The beauty of a cover band (or adding covers) is that your only task is to make sure everyone is having a good time. There's no need to play songs note for note, there's no need to try to capture the essence of every band. Have fun, make sure the crowd is having fun and promote the bar.
 

Telenator

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If you're asking questions like, "Is this even possible?" You are about to embark on the greatest learning experience of your life!

I grew up in the 70's and learning to play cover tunes was very difficult. We had to actually learn to listen and know if the the chords we were playing we right or wrong. We had no internet or tabliture.

I remember learning guitars solos from the vinyl albums by setting the turntable speed at 16 RPM, which cut the speed in half, and dropped the pitch almost a prefect octave.

Learning the brilliant chord changes and song structure from pro players will increase your skills 10 fold in a fairly short period of time.

You can do this correctly, or you can skimp on it. If you skimp on really learning the changes and arrangements, you will only develop bad habits that will haunt you for the rest of your playing career.
 

chris m.

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Goals matter. If you and your band mates have different goals then there will be friction even if you are the nicest people in the world.

Is the goal to play music that you love to play?
Is the goal to make money?
Is the goal to play lots of live shows to big audiences?
Is the goal to write and perform originals?
Is the goal to have fun?
Is the goal to actually make a living playing music?
Is the goal to pick up chicks and party hard?

Depending on how you rank these and other goals you will tend to go in a different direction. It also depends a lot on the music scene in your area.

As an example, a lot of musicians really like playing in worship bands. It's a regular gig in front of lots of people that are singing along to the music,
and often the level of musicianship and production is pretty high. Some worship bands even get paid. And people may actually have spiritual/religious reasons
to move that direction as well. But I could totally imagine someone who started out happy playing in a worship band becoming miserable-- maybe they are tired
of playing the same songs over and over. Maybe they wish they could write and perform originals. Maybe they don't like the hierarchical structure and the domineering
band leader's bossy style. Maybe they want to make more money, etc.

People can be in incredible bands and still walk away. It happens all the time. Think of all the great bands that broke up....

If you're really, really lucky, you will find yourself in a band that is meeting most of your goals. Then the question becomes whether you will let the perfect
be the enemy of the good. If you try and shift the band more towards your goals, you might be upsetting the balance and shifting the band further away from
a band-mate's somewhat different goals. Ideally everyone in the band can all know and respect what every member's goals are, and then strive to strike a balance that
reasonably satisfies everyone.
 




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