Do Real Bands Play Cover Tunes?


Here’s the video transcript:

YES! Bands that do not play cover tunes are either already famous (so other people are covering their songs) or aren’t playing out much at all. Even if your band never intends to perform live, there are still many great reasons to learn cover tunes. One of the most important reasons to play cover tunes when your band is starting out is to build a fan base.


Reasons why your band should learn cover tunes:

● Learning how other musicians write songs will help you write better songs. When you take apart someone else’s song to learn how to perform it, you see songwriting techniques that can be applied to your own music. Maybe it will be a new way to play a riff or how to handle an odd tempo change, but there is almost always something to learn from every song.

● Your band will learn to play together without the stress of songwriting. There is nothing better than a tight band. It really shows on stage. But this takes time spent playing together to accomplish and there aren’t many shortcuts. When you learn and perform cover tunes, the focus changes from putting out your own music to playing the song extremely well. This precision playing causes the band to learn to be tight all the time. After a while, your band will automatically play well together—even while writing your own music.

● Each musician in the band will expand their knowledge and skills on their own instrument. Have you taken your instrument skills as far as you can on your own? Stretch a little by learning what someone else does. You will be amazed at how this inspires creativity in your own music.

● Fans love to hear songs they know. Everyone likes familiar things—your own room, comfort foods, your favorite shirt. “Familiar” makes us feel safe and relaxed. Songs that we already know are the same way. We are drawn to songs we know when we want to feel comfortable enough to have fun.

● Your original songs will stand out in a set of cover tunes. Use cover tunes to attract a crowd and get their attention. After you have people listening to your band bring out your original music for maximum exposure of your own songs. Switch back and forth between cover tunes and your own songs to keep the audience’s attention and attract new people.

● Cover tunes are easy to learn so you can be performing quickly while writing your own music. It is always so sad to see very talented musicians stuck in their garage practicing because they never write enough original music to play a full set. Often these bands get discouraged and break up without even one live performance. Cover tunes are quick to learn and easy to perform. Don’t put off playing for an audience—they want to hear you!

● The band can find out what their fans like by their response to cover tunes. Is your band still refining and defining your music style? Learn cover tunes from a variety of possible styles that might suit you. Play them and see what your fans like best. You will get a feel for which songs you like to play and what the audience likes to hear before spending huge amounts of time writing your own songs.

● It is much easier to book shows with a list of cover tunes that your band is able to play. Promoters like to book what they know. If they know your band and know that you will draw a huge crowd for them, great—you can do all originals. But, if they do not know you, it is much easier to get booked with a list of cover tunes you can play than if you say you will play all originals.


How do you choose which cover tunes to learn?

Don’t just pick any song that you happen to like. It does not benefit your fans when you perform a cover tune they do not know. Face it, most musicians like obscure music because it is usually more intricate and interesting. Fans like what is popular and memorable.

To find the best songs to learn check out the Top 20 charts for your style of music. This will give you the newest music to try. But, more importantly check out the playlists of the radio station that most closely fits your genre. These lists can be found on almost every radio station’s website. Playlists include the more classic songs that may not be showing up on the charts but that everyone knows and loves. These classic songs are the first covers to learn because they will never fade away. Once you have learned a few classics, experiment with a few new songs from the charts. Then you can add a few of your own originals to your set list and you are ready to play out!


One big caution:

Make sure the entire band is learning a cover tune from the same recording. Many songs are recorded by more than one artist, and some artists’ record different versions of the same song. Don’t waste band practice time finding out that one of your members learned the wrong version.

Performing cover tunes does not make you less of a musician. In fact, it increases your music skills and makes your band easier for your audience to remember.


This article is an excerpt from The Christian Band handbook.


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