Cover me, I'm going on stage...
Its a funny world we musicians put ourselves into when we hang out the shingle to declare ourselves artists. Those of us who write songs and perform them live will either enter a phase and go through it, or enter it and never come out of it, wherein we declare that we are songwriters and don't do "covers."
That's a slippery slope, folks, to use a term I can't stand to usually use. Here's the deal. I don't care if you're the next Bob Dylan, there is no reason not to perform cover songs as part of your concerts. Even Bob Dylan, perhaps the greatest single songwriter ever born on this earth, started out singing covers and continues to play covers to this day in his live concerts.
Ok, so you're an AMAZING songwriter. I get it. And you might be able to put on an entire concert of riveting original songs that everyone in the room loves and leaves singing after you've planted the latest ear-worm into their unsuspecting heads. But in most circumstances, you'll never get the chance to book these concerts, club dates, frat parties or anything else you want to do without putting some covers into the mix. There is a psychological reason behind this, which I'll hopefully explain here to you.
People are less threatened by things they are familiar with, so you're more apt to get your shot at playing a blues club, for example, if you let on that you pay homage to the greats Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon while making those covers all your own. And that's what its all about. You get a gig at a blues club and open the show with Wang Dang Doodle (and knock it out of the park), and people are going to be more receptive to your original blues tune about your poor lost dog.
Now, I'm not saying you have to become the dreaded "cover band" and learn songs note-for-note from album versions. I'd only advise that if you were a corporate party band (see earlier entries about that kind of gig). What I'm saying it, think about the entire show you are putting on and what your job is on that stage. Your job is to entertain the people in that room, and if its a club, make it result in beer and booze selling for the owners. Your job is to create a party for the people who show up. Make them excited, make them dance, get them off their seats and on their feets. And how can you shoe-in do that? Songs they already know and love.
Back in the day, Mr. Crow's Garden, now known as the Black Crows, mixed it up with original songs and classic greats like Otis Redding. How many people do you know who might actually think that "Hard to Handle" was a Black Crows song, a cover song for the Black Crows, vs. a song from Redding? They made it their own. It was a huge hit for them. And I am willing to venture that had that band not had the good sense to select some appropriate covers to the groove their originals laid out, we would not have seen them signed and succeed. The public would not have given them the shot they had were it not for them making "Hard to Handle" an amazing cover of a classic Otis Redding tune.
This is one example, and I'll expand on this thought in another upcoming post, but for today, the word is "cover." Learn some songs that fit with what you write. Make them your own. If your band is a new group and you want to go play clubs in popular party towns or college gigs, you need to create a party scene that people will want to be a part of, and you can do that by throwing down some cool covers.
Our rock music history is full of greats who played covers while mixing in their originals. You're not too good to play some covers. If it was OK for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the King himself, its OK for you. So get off the high-horse and think about the "holding the crowd" entertainment experience of your concerts, and how to engage your audience's trust in your never-before-heard originals by giving them what they want.
Posted: 2/4/2009 5:01:38 PM
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