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Considering joining a cover band for some $$$ - any tips?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Kristopher, Sep 14, 2005.

  1. Kristopher


    Mar 13, 2005
    Tempe, AZ
    I've been playing in original bands off and on for about 8 years now. I've never made any money doing this and I keep hearing that the cash is in being a hired gun. So I figured the next step would be to join a cover band.

    If you've gone this route, how did you get started?

    I have decent chops and I can pick things up quickly but I don't know any cover songs. I have pro bass equipment (350 watt Ampeg head and 4x10 Ampeg cab + EB/MM Stingray and Fender Jazz) and a PA. I can read music well enough for 24+ hour preparation but I can't sight read on the spot. My biggest concern is that I'd need a band to work with me because I'm new to the cover scene.

    Or maybe there's another way to make some cash as a bassist?
  2. I don't think sight reading is a big requirement for cover bands...To me , what's important is the ability to learn songs very quickly, usually very close to the original recording--it doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be sorta close.

    Somewhere along the line you've got to decide what genre (style) you want to play, by the way...Party bands play a variety of danceable music, including rock, pop, disco, and new country. Maybe that's the direction you want to go, or maybe you want a high-energy classic rock, or country, whatever.

    So, in my opinion, you'll need to get a good core of covers built up, so you can audition for a working cover band that plays what you want to play.

    How to proceed...first, I'd make a comprehensive list of all the cover songs you know now. Now look carefully at all the songs on the list, try to objectively see if they're songs that you hear a lot, or are they relatively obscure. Move the obscure ones out, they'll waste your time.

    Look at the remaining songs. Do they fit the genre you're after? If not, move them out. Now look at the songs you have left on your list. How well do you know them? By knowing them, I mean a) what key it's in originally, b) what tempo it's really in, c) what the song structure really is. Intro-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-etc...

    This is actually more critical than having every single note in the song perfect. You may have the signature lick perfect, or the killer solo part down, but if you don't know when the bridge is coming up, you'll be sunk.

    Obviously, get a REAL recording of the song. I don't know how many times I've heard people claim they know how the song goes...but they never play it the same way twice, and it's obvious they haven't really listened to the song in years.

    So...make sure you've got every one of the songs on your list figured out enough to play all the way through without stumbling. It's OK to use charts, just be able to go through them all. If one particular song proves to be really difficult and time-consuming, forget about it for now and move on to easier songs.

    Now add more songs to your list, until you've got 50 or so songs down decently. Look at the "top 40" lists, or listen to other live bands that play your style of music--see what they play, see what songs the audiences respond to. Learn those songs!! Also see what's on the song lists that people here on this forum have posted.

    NOW you can check out bulletin boards, network, look at classifieds, and go to an audition. Walk in, look at their set list (if you're really lucky they'll fax you a song list in advance). If you've already got a good core of 50 songs down, chances are a couple might be on THEIR list. Auditioning on those songs will get your foot in the door.....

    Good luck!
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Dang, i would have liked to add to this, but it seems Nashvillebill got it all covered.
  4. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I have to say I'd apprioach it the oppostite way. I'd find the band first, ask them for a set-list and if there are any songs they specifically want you to audition, learn them, go along and see how you fair?

    Learning 50 or so songs on the basis that they might be in a prospective bands set list seems like a blinding waste of time to me? Apart than the musical benefit of learning songs from records of course :)

    As soon as you join a gigging band you'll have plenty of opportbuity to build a repatoire! :)

    If a band wants you to just turn up and see how you get on without any prep, then, if you're happy to do that, go for it. If not, keep looking.

    My other bit of advice is join a band that plays material you like. If you could enjoy playing any style then great, but you do have to be careful. Some types of music might seem wonderful in an audition because it's a breath of fresh air - something different from what you usually play perhaps? But you do have to watch out, will you enjoy playing it in siox months time? The last thing a working covers band wants to do is rehearse/ gig you in (usually more gigs than rehearsals) only to lose you a few months later.

    I play in a coulpe of covers/function bands... the main one plays mainly soul, disco and funk, which I enjoy. Personally, I dont think I could play top 40 material for very long. It's just a preference of course :)
  5. bassbully43


    Jul 1, 2005
    I agree with Howard. I just had two tryouts for all cover bands in the last month...i got offers to be in both :D Joined one left after 2 weeks to join the other who were more experienced and better players. When you get a lead for a band call and ask .....first question what type of music do you play and what should i know at the tryout.The first band gave me a week to know 6 songs gave me the names and i played them when we met....I knew what type of music and bands they covered by asking. Band 2 said just show up we cover such and such and will go over a few songs when we meet. Band 2 which i am a member of now...asked me what songs i would like to play and then we did them they joined in...this was impressive and showed they were players ...band 1 stood around and looked at the floor when i gave them a song to play. I guess there is no right and wrong way but i agree there is no reason to learn songs the bands might not play...both bands i tryed out for play classic rock and some blues...right up my ally but a 16 year old kid might have problems with old covers before his time. Me and the whitehairs dont ;)
  6. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    The reasons I think it's good to learn a huge repertoire of tunes if you want to play covers for a living is:

    1. It never hurts to know more than you need, and knowing a buttload of tunes can only improve your playing, so it's good from a personal standpoint.

    2. There are a lot of common tunes that bands in certain areas all play and it's kind of expected that you should know these tunes.

    But the most important reason is that when you hire yourself out as a musician, you are inevitably going to get that call...

    "Hey this is ____ and we need a bassist for this weekend and the gig pays great but we're not going to have a chance to rehearse with you so you'll have to play it cold."

    This scenario happens to me all the time, at least once a month. So when you know a lot of common tunes that everyone plays, situations like this become much easier, and every tune on their setlist that you already know is just one less tune you'll have to learn in a crunch. Contrary to popular belief, I've discovered that the amount of work a band gets is inverse to the amount of time they spend rehearsing. The busiest and best paying bands I've been in never rehearse at all, while the bands that do a lot of rehearsing and preparing hardly ever work, and when they do, it's always less money than these thrown together bands. Go figure why, but it's the truth.

    So the more prepared you are and the more tunes you know off the top of your head, then you don't have to turn down these wonderful offers you get just because you need to rehearse for a month before you think you're ready.
  7. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    A good point.. I agree in an ideal world..

    But the poster is not hoping to turn full-time, or set himself up for sessions. He wants to join a covers band.

    To achieve what you say, you would need not only to learn a bunch of tunes, but be well practiced in every key and be able to transpose on the spot. Sure that's not too hard given most pop/rock songs, and it's something we should all be able to do anyway. But, being honest, I cant remember my entire repatoire of songs well enough top transpose them all on the spot. I'm no pro, I like to be given a set list in advance of the gig, that isnt too much to ask in most cases.

    Also, why spend weeks woodshedding in the hope that you find the right band, when you can find the band, put in the hours and turn up to first rehearsal ready to go? Of course some bands will expect you to gig without rehearsal, but this is the poster's first covers gig, he's probably not going to go for that particular band.

    And 'the reapatoire' is endless, you could learn 100 songs and find a band that play none of them!

    EDIT: plus, MOST pop/rock songs played in covers bands are so easy you can learn them by listening through once or twice making a few notes. When I prepare new tracks for my function band I usually average about 10 to 15 mins per tune, which I'm sure is pretty slow compared to some :)

    "Contrary to popular belief, I've discovered that the amount of work a band gets is inverse to the amount of time they spend rehearsing."
    This I agree with entirely. Rehearsing can be very counter productive. Many originals bands seem to pratice 5 nights a week.. often they are learning parts in the rehearsal room, which is a no no as far as Im concerned.
  8. Kristopher


    Mar 13, 2005
    Tempe, AZ
    Thanks for the replies guys! Some great info to think over.

    I agree that learning a lot of commonly covered songs definitely couldn't hurt and would most likely learn me a few new tricks along the way. I did TB search and found a few cover band's set lists and saw that there seems to be quite a few standards like "Hard to Handle", "Brick House", etc.

    I assume I'll probably be playing mainstream rock or middle of the road songs from the last 40 years, and I have no problem with that. I never really learned to slap, although I'm sure I'll have to pick up some basics. And I know won't be signing up for any death metal cover bands.

    My main concern is that I don't know if bands would go for "hey, I've never done this before and I don't know many tunes but I think you should hire me anyway." I suppose the answer to this is to just ask the bands that are looking. They should be nice enough to chat about it a bit, right? It's just one of those things I've never done before so I'm a bit nervous it. :ninja:

    Two other points:

    I pretty much know that in 10 months I'm going to move to a town two hours away, effectively making me have to quit any in-town band I'm in (thanks to current gas prices). Do cover bands switch players often or is it bad form to join a band for 9 months and then split (even if this info is made known beforehand)?

    And I am also in an original band, so the two will have to co-exist somehow.

    Thanks guys.
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I wouldnt worry about this so much. as long as you're confident you can do the job and let them know that, you should at least get to audition.

    Re: orginals band vs covers band. Just manage it 1st come 1st serve, unless you'd rather give one priority? You'll always have other priroties in life, work if you do a 9to5, or family, so 'other bands' are no different.

    I would advise against joining a band you'll have to quit in a short period of time, that wastes your time as much as theirs. why not wait until you move and look for a new band once you get there? Cue: time to build a repatoire (he said, perhaps eating his own words!)

    Please dont whinge about pertrol prices. I live in the South east of England! ;)
  10. bassbully43


    Jul 1, 2005
    I posted for help before my tryouts last month and i have not played in a band since high school 24 years ago. I worked on my original music recording and playing to cd every now and then to do something diffrent. I nailed both cover band tryouts based on the following...a good ear, knowledge of 43 years of rock and roll, dedication and practice...knowing my bass...decent equipment, clean living and great looks :D Ok.. im kidding on the last one.Both bands said i was one of the best bassists they have heard or had for quite a while. Its all about dedication and attitude as far as they were concerned and if you are a decent bassist you will get more offers then you can handle by attiude and dedication alone...Tbers here told me i hade attitude and they were right...go for it.
  11. They'll have you learning a bunch of new songs fast with minimal rehearsal time if they're gigging. If you're not used to that, time spent learning a bunch of songs ahead of time to "build a repetoire" will teach you how to learn songs fast. I learn tunes in the car on the way to work now. Very handy.

    So I think its a HIGHLY useful exercise even if you don't end up playing a single tune you learned on your own.

    Highly unlikely they'll have you sightread anything. More likely is play you a song, you try to play it. You need to be able to play by ear proficiently more than read music proficiently.

    +1000 on the "bands spending the most time rehearsing spend the least time gigging". I believe a fundamental law of bands is the law of Conservation of time spent with the band. You will spend so many hours a week with the band. The more of that time is spent gigging, the less they spend practicing. Don't know why, that's the correlation I've always seen.

    With more than 2 weeks worth of practicing to get ready for the first gig, the less likely ever HAVING that first gig becomes.

    Should mention this applies to working bands, not bands that are just forming, composed mainly of people that have never gigged before.

  12. adam on bass

    adam on bass Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2002
    New Braunfels, Texas
    Endorsing Artist: Spector, GK, EMG and D'Addario
    Exactly. Learn all the tunes you can and write them down when you have it down. I have such a huge "database" of tunes that I can't remember if I know some songs half of the time and have to go to my notes. Also it's good to have it (the list o' tunes) on your resume.

    I did a gig last weekend that the keyboardist was telling me changes as we were playing. It was fun, a great way to remember notes and progressions.
  13. I play in three cover bands currently and have played in many over the years. Although some tunes thread their way into alot of set lists, most of the bands cover different tunes.

    So i wouldn't learn a huge rep. just in case they might do them. I'd wait and see what the band you are auditioning for are doing and learn those.

    Of course if it's a rock cover band "You Shook ME" by AC/DC will probably be on the list and if it's a funk band you'll probably see Brick House on the list, but short of that there are millions of tunes and you can't learn them all.

    Now the plus of learning random tunes is, it'll improve your ability to learn tunes quick. Get you ready for when you join a band and they hand you a list of 50 tunes and the gig is in three weeks.

    I've learned more from being in cover bands than just about anything else. I'm always forced to learn stuff I probably wouldn't have left to my own devices. I never tried to slap until I had to learn "Higher Ground" by RHCP and "thank you" by Sly. Never played country until I had to learn Folsom Prison Blues. So cover bands have added alot of tools to my chest.

    One of the best bands around, The Late Night Band, is a cover band. There is no shame in playing covers.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yeah, good point, I missed that. I'll second that actually, you do get better at working out songs quicker within a short space of time.

    I did a gig a few weeks back wher I "learnt" half the set in the car on the way there, they were all blues numbers so I didnt really learn anything, but the format, style, stops all that sort of stuff. Just learning to immitate by listening is a valuable skill I guess.

    VERY true about making time with the band count, nothing pisses you off quicker in any band than spending too much time with a group of people. I refuse to rehearse weekly with most bands, unless there is a specific goal, a whole bunch of gigs and new material, new singer (bah), for exmaple. It gets very boring, very quickly if you turn up and run the set week after week.