Cover bands tend to get a bad rep, certain musicians look down on them thinking there really isn’t that much to them besides learning to play someone else’s chord progressions and mimicking another band’s stage persona. And yes, that sounds completely uninspired and boring, and it also doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of most cover bands.
In reality, cover bands have to carefully study the source material experiment how much of their own twist they can add to it (jury’s still out on whether a cover should be an exact replica or can deviate from the original), still work on their stage presence and the cohesion of the band as a whole. Not having to write original material from scratch doesn’t really ease off the workload of designing a live performance. If anything, it adds the pressure of having to honor the original songs, showcasing their talent, and still please a crowd that expects the songs to sound a certain way and can easily turn on the band for any perceived faux paux in terms of quality. There’s nothing easy about any of it. Part of the belief that having a cover band is so easy it’s lazy comes from thinking songwriting requires more hard work and deserves more praise than performing. The other part stems from the fact that most cover bands make a living as “event bands” and people who -mistakenly- think it’s easy to live of off indie gigs in local bars always look down on bands that “sell out” to play birthdays, weddings or graduations.
So yes, having a cover band is not, in any way, taking the easy way out or “selling out”. But, if it’s just the same amount of work but without the glory of hearing an audience chant your own songs or the street cred of having original material, why even bother?
Don’t rule them out just yet, there are a couple of reason why you still might want to start one:
- They’re great practice: the first time you play with friends, you’re not going to attempt an original. Chances are you are going to be jamming or you’re going to be playing a song that everyone knows. Choosing a source material that everyone is familiar with and enjoys allows you to play off of one and another, get to know strength, weaknesses, and styles.
- You can make money faster: if you’re lucky, talented, privileged and savvy, you can produce great original music that people will want to buy right away. But frankly, you’d be the exception, not the rule. Usually, you have a day job, bills to pays and lots of responsibilities, so you can’t really spend every waking hour producing and distributing hit after hit. So, your only way to make money as a musician might be joining a cover band and playing events. If you’re good and behave professionally, you can quickly develop a reputation and soon be playing every weekend.
- Experiment your stage persona: audiences can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to mistakes, but cover bands give you sort of a get out of jail free card. If you get out there, try out a bit, and it fails miserably you can still bounce back by playing a song the audience loves and enjoy. You can get off relatively easy.
All in all, cover bands should not be viewed as less than anything. They offer a great opportunity to get your name out there and showcase your talent. What’s best, if you do decide to create some original material you can showcase it with the audiences that already know you.