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Cover Bands: Do the songs straight or make them yours?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by CultofJay, Jan 9, 2014.

  1. No changing from the original

    17 vote(s)
  2. Re-work the original

    18 vote(s)
  3. Both

    86 vote(s)
  1. CultofJay


    May 3, 2010
    NE Indiana
    Hey all. I just joined a working cover band after several years of just playing in my Bass-Cave* ("Bass-Cave" may be non-existent) so I'm pretty stoked. The first band I was in with my friends in High School ('94-'00) was a cover band and then I was in a few original outfits. In my youth, I always thought there was a stigma being in a band that only does other artist's songs but I've grown out of that.

    I like this band because they approach every song thinking about how to make it sound new. We have 3 gigs lined up in Feb and March so this'll be my first time on stage in a looong time. I'm very stoked though.

    So, to all the TB'ers who are in or have ever been in cover bands...do you do them straight or switch them up and why?
  2. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    My rule of thumb is that the less current a song is, the more you can get away with doing to it.
  3. 45acp


    Feb 5, 2013
    Texarkana TX
    Some we change/modify slightly. A few we change radically.

    Just IMHO... if I had to be in a coverband, and do 40 songs dead on to the original, well I wouldn't be in a cover band. :)
  4. Huge

    Huge Hell is full of musical amateurs. Like me.

    Dec 2, 2005
    This is how I think all covers should be done:

    The guys I play (drums mostly) with, are straight ahead guys though. To be fair, we aren't good enough to do something like that ^^.
  5. Capitani


    Nov 25, 2013
    I've been cover bands a long time. Here's what I find works for us. Signature parts generally have to be played as close to the original as you can. A good example is the Pretty Woman riff. It not only identifies the song to your audience, it like an anchor. Most of the rest of the song can be played as it was originally or better. Here's where you need to honest. Was it decided to play it differently because the new way is really better, or the musician can't replicate the part? This formula always works for us and we can book almost as many top paying gigs on Long Island as we want. There's that much demand. Good luck
  6. Itzayana


    Aug 15, 2012
    Oakland Ca
    Always make it your own.
    If (pick any big name star) were going to record a cover for their next CD do you think that they would try to make it just like the original? Of course not. So why would you?
  7. CultofJay


    May 3, 2010
    NE Indiana
    I think if you're going to be in a cover band, make sure you can't be replaced by a jukebox.

    Before my wife and I joined this band, she sang in a local cover band that mainly did classic rock songs note-for-note. They only started getting attention as soon as people heard her sing Me and Bobby Mcgee in her own way.
  8. CultofJay


    May 3, 2010
    NE Indiana
    Gotta agree with you too Capitani. If you're changing it just because you can't play it, then pick a different song. Despite what I said earlier, I tend to learn a new cover the way it was recorded before screwing with it.
  9. Stinsok

    Stinsok Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2002
    Central Alabama
    In the case of using a substitute, playing them straight leaves less room for trainwrecks.
  10. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    I've gone back and forth on this for many years. Currently, for me, The One True Way(tm) is:
    Learn the cover exactly like the record - riffs, changes, bass-part inflections. Hell, be able to play the horn riff on the bass, along with the vocal line, exactly like the record.

    Once you've got that down, once you know the WHOLE song, then you've 'earned' the right to f*ck with it and make it your own. But you have to have the discipline to be able to play all parts of the song, to "really know" it, before you start slicing and dicing it.

    Granted, this way is exponentially more work, but I've been revisiting the hundreds and hundreds of tunes that I can 'perform on', and while I only "Know(tm)" (to the standard above) about 30 of them that way, my playing is measurably better and the groove more informed - bandleaders and audience members alike compliment me more readily when we're doing a song I Know(tm) vs a song that I just know.
  11. RobbieK


    Jun 14, 2003
    Well I've played in covers bands for years. I think the key is to be with musicians who feel the same about this as you. If the drummer wants to try out a different groove, and the guitarist is hellbent on keeping it authentic, you'll be stuck in the middle. (Possibly playing "Stuck in the Middle" at the time!)

    Having said that, once I turned 30, I said goodbye to playing in bands who were anal about getting the covers note for note. There comes a time when you have to believe in your own abilities, judgement and taste. It's great to knuckle down and get parts exactly right while you are getting it together in your 20's, and I still do it with parts that really interest me, but I've got plenty of other music I'd rather spend time with than katy perry's latest - one ot two listens on the way to the gig, and that'll do it for me.

    that's a great way to look at it, but of course, there are some basslines that I love playing as original. Billy Jean is one that springs to mind...
  12. CultofJay


    May 3, 2010
    NE Indiana
    If a song revolves around a hook then, yes, you gotta play that hook. We do AWOLNation's Sail. We don't have anyone to play the synth hook so I play that part to keep it recognizable for an audience.
  13. obimark


    Sep 1, 2011
    "Hook" type bass part, YES. Redundant derivative bass playing- Maybe, maybe not.
    Some of the songs my band does have very simple basslines, and I add in some of my own fills at different spots (ie U2 songs) etc. Some songs that either you can't hear the bass on the original, or it just isn't a PART of the song, I go hogwild, and make up something different.
  14. Flyingfrets


    Dec 25, 2011
    We're more than a cover band, but maybe not a tribute band in the truest sense of the term (we don't do costumes). We do endeavor to recreate exactly what you hear on the recordings though...and we've been very successful musically & financially.

    This is the first year we've done gigs in the fall & winter (though far fewer than our peak season Memorial Day - Labor Day). They've been a bit more casual & to break up the monotony, we've been throwing in a few power trio instumental arrangements of some of the tunes and they've been real crowd pleasers, but I doubt we could sustain our audience with 3 1/2 hours of that. They pay us to entertain them, not indulge ourselves.
  15. BassCliff


    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.

    Most of the music we cover has 4 guitars, steel, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, a few keyboards, 6 or 8 vocalists, etc. Since we don't have a band that big we take the signature riffs, be they vocal or instrumental, and play/sing them so the song is recognizable to the audience. Then we distill the rest of the tune down to what we have to cover to make it sound good to the listener. So we are not "note for note" but we do capture the essence of the original tune. Most of the arrangements are like the recording so that a sub can come in and do the gig after listening to the mp3s that we send him/her.

    Thank you for your indulgence,

  16. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    I once heard a classic rock station call-in poll regarding covers (by established bands).
    Half the callers didn't like them because they were not faithful to the originals.
    The other half didn't like them because they contributed nothing new musically.

    So - _somebody_ isn't going to like it no matter what...

    IMO - if you are a Tribute Band - you -better- be completely faithful to the original.
    Otherwise, you are expected to make it your own.

    Do you think David Lee Roth and Van Halen agonized over covering 'Pretty Woman' ?

    As long as we're posting YouTube's of bands 'making it their own' I offer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F4uD6zv48M The Stones, they ain't - but I can tell you which version gets more play in _my_ car...
  17. 39-Bassist


    Jul 7, 2010
    Endorsing Artist for: Brace Audio; Duncan Pickups; Line6, Hipshot, GHS Strings
    I feel that if the song is "popular or well known" then try to do it as close to original as possible, BUT, if the song is a "B" side type of song then try to put your own spin on it. Sooooo I voted for BOTH.
  18. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Cover bands will make more money playing the songs as written in my experience. People have heard some solo a million times, not your guitarist wank in A minor, they expect to hear it as they know it.

    An original band doing a cover is a totally different story, in that situation you should be putting your spin on it.
  19. Robus


    Aug 25, 2013
    Chicago Area
    In my opinion, The One True Way(tm infringed) is: Entertain your audience and yourself.

    There is something to be said for learning a song note-for-note as a way of honing your skills. But that's between you and your personal muse and has zero to do with the audience, who won't know or care that you played it note-for-note. They will care that you rocked.
  20. CultofJay


    May 3, 2010
    NE Indiana
    Yes. This.