February 19, 2009

A Word on Cover Songs

I am in a band called Fortune and Spirits, you may have heard of us (ha!). As a band we play a few cover songs, but on the whole, our live show is mostly original music. Which is how I prefer it. In part because I like to have people hear the songs that I write (ego), but also because I want the music we're creating to have as much face time as possible (strategy). In the long run the band, as entertainers, will have more loyalty if our fans are fans of our music.

Covers are still important though. People naturally gravitate toward the familiar, so someone who has never heard you play before will be more likely to think they like you if they recognize the song (the cover).

Which leads to -> people who think they like you are more likely you stick around while you play.

So here it is: your second song in a live set should be a cover. Why not first? Because your first song fulfills a different need. It needs to get the attention of the audience (since they are undoubtedly now talking, drinking, or leaving during the set-up time) and simultaneously make a good, positive first impression.

After that you're on your own. I'm no expert so I could be totally wrong about anything (or everything). As we all know, I don't really know anything about anything ;), so let me know just how wrong I am in the comments *wink*.

That being said, I've another bit on covers...

A cover that you perform faithfully to the original isn't your song. You can make it your own, but it's still not really yours. It's just sort of yours by association. So treat covers like the covers they are. Learn a handful of them, which is easier than writing the same number of songs, but leaves you with a large body of material. Now rotate them.

If you treat the covers like they're your own songs, you run the risk of giving them the kind of heavy rotation you should be reserving for your own original material. Again, your original material is what will bring you a loyal fanbase. It's also much less likely to get overplayed, and if/when it does, you'll be the one who stands to benefit!

I know many artists have truly MADE a song their own; Aretha Franklin comes to mind. And let me make it clear: I am a huge fan of doing covers adapted to your own style. It's possibly my favorite part of Weeds too :). But Aretha franklin didn't write the vast majority (or any?) of her own songs, which is a very different scenario from a band whose raison d'etre is writing music.

© 2008 Jim Robert