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Question on cover songs

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by jpark, Apr 5, 2006.

  1. jpark


    Feb 2, 2006
    We play around 30 cover songs, but we play them all our "own" way. We don't play them exact but we don't butcher the song, we put our own twist on them.

    My question, when doing covers do you guys play them note for note, or do you put your own twist on them?
  2. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    The band I just joined plays covers as they were originally recorded.
  3. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    This queston is the source of many arguments in many bands. Personally, I would prefer to do it like your band does, but that isn't always the case.

    In the group I'm with now, they will demand that it be played 'just like the record'. That sort of dedication demands that everyone do it. We just got finished putting together "Heard it throught the Grapevine" the Gladys Knight version, and the leader wanted the bassline (Jamerson's) note for note. Fine with me. So I worked it out before rehearsal and got it, but then the drummer was on some other trip and the line didn't work with what he was doing, so I just kept my mouth shut and came up with something close.

    One of our singers is so into exact copies that she'll sing notes out of tune if they are out of tune on the record. (we do quite a few old "Do-Wops" from the 50's and the intonation is often suspect).

    I understand the desire to 'get it like the record' but I'm put off by the non-creative angle of that. I like to think of music as a growing art and if we don't let it grow, something is lost.

    And besides..... Is the reputation of the Beatles going to be damaged by what we do to a song some Saturday night in some bar in middle America? I think not.
  4. In my band it depends on who you ask.

    Me, I don't play them note for note, but I do try to make sure I hit all the highlights and 'interesting' bass parts that make the basslines cool. I try more to play the song like the bass player for the band whose song we are playing would play the song if he were playing it, the song... like him... I mean, I doubt that he/she plays the song exactly the same every gig, dig?

    If you ask our leader/guitar player, he would say, "Do the songs note for note! Play the gig!" Then he would turn around and play the song wrong, then look at you funny for not doing it his way.

    If you ask our drummer he would say, "We play cover songs?"

  5. When I played a cover gig as a sub in march, the guitarist wanted it note for note, by the album. As much as I am okay with this sometimes, it also can get boring when alot of the songs are just quarter or eight notes repeated. So I would throw in a little fill here and there to make it interesting, and he would always give me the evil look just as I was about to play it. Now the rest of the band(singer/guitarist and drummer) liked them and the bassist even told me to have fun with the tunes if i got bored, so i did. no harm, i dont think i am butchering a song by adding a little run at the end of a verse or something.
  6. I am in a cover band and we play them just like they were recorded or as close as you can get doing it live. Except for a couple. We do love song by the cure but with major guitar distortion to make it a little harder. We also do wicked game by Chris Isakk but we do a version by a group called HIM. It is played heavily with lots of distortion and fast playing. However with both songs we keep the same tempo as the originals.
    I had a very accomplished musician who has been playing for years and has been in several bands talk with me and he told me the best advice I have ever gotten as a cover band. "People want to hear the songs like they are recorded. They do not want to hear you version of how you think it should be. If you do change it, it had better be better than the original." Do I need to remind you of Sheryl Crow's cover of Sweet Child O' Mine.
    However, note for note is not always realistic. As long as what you play sounds pretty darn close.
    Just remember who your audience is and try to do what you think will make them happy. We will be playing bars but will be doing frat parties, too. (They pay great)
    People at parties want to hear the song as they know it, just my 2 cents.

    Good luck
  7. Hi All!
    In our band we play most stuff note for note.:cool: The one thing we do that I haven't heard any one else do is, we will play the end of Free Bird (lead guitar part) very metal like. Our lead guitar player plays it like John Petrucci did on Once in a Live Time, Dream Theater. People who have heard that say "Oh my God that rocks!":bassist:
  8. jpark


    Feb 2, 2006
    As most of you have said. It goes both ways, I can see why some people want to play it note for note, especially if you're a "cover band". We're a original band and we don't have 40 original songs to fill some of our gigs. So I was just curious as to what everyone else did with covers.
  9. thewanderer24


    Apr 29, 2002
    SJ, CA
    Just depends on the song, the band, and the situation. There are songs that we've made our own because they evolved over time. There are a select few that we just deliberately did wierd versions of.

    Most covers I try to get as close as possible, at least to start. IMO, if the song is worth covering I think you're doing it a disservice to not at least learn it as it was recorded. When I truly "get" the song, I will mess with it a little bit, but I generally try to keep the feel as close as possible, and any of the important bits of the line, I will try to play consistently.

    Most of the time, in my experience, the people I've known that don't learn covers well, don't learn em right because they are either lazy or have trouble figuring them out (or both). I've VERY rarely heard a believable "artistic license" type argument.

    Edit: the above applies mainly to cover band situations. As an original band, you get a little more freedom to mess with the occasional cover you throw into the set -- again, in my experience.
  10. My new cover band is learning most of our set note for note perfect, but we are choosing a select few to take in a different direction.

    I disagree that artistic liscence is without merit: here are some of my favorite re-imaged 'covers':

    Tori Amos - Smells Like Teen Spirit
    Johnny Cash - Hurt
    Devo - Satisfaction
    Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
    Bad Brains - Day Tripper / She's A Rainbow

    Good luck!
  11. snappytom


    Aug 17, 2005
    I also play in a cover band and I would say it is 50/50 on how true to the original we play the songs. As previously stated, it depends on the song and the feeling the band has for it.

    Personally, I like making them our own. When I go to see an act that is popular and has hit songs I don't want to hear it exactly as I have before, I want them to Jam and have fun with it.
  12. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    This question is directly at the center of what makes pop music so special. Our popular music is the collision or collaboration (depending on how you look at it) between European high art form (play what the composer intended) and African music as a language (bring something new and relevant to each performance). It is the interplay between these influences which provides the tension and release and the constant flow of creativity.

    There is no perfect answer, except to understand the influences and understand what a given band leader is looking for.

    My own personal preference leans toward bringing something new to each performance. All of my favorite players all did that with their own music, and rarely, if ever, reproduced exact "versions." However, certain acts will require strict adherence to recorded standards, and you need to honor the needs of the band leader - they hired you. If you run your own show, you get to pick.

    This is a great question. You need to keep asking it for your whole career, and never expect a final answer.
  13. My cover band starts learning a song just like the recording. We change parts as necessary when certain parts don't work well. ...and you almost always have to come up with an ending (darn fade-outs :mad:).

    we also do a lot of segueing of songs together. but for the most part, 80%-90% of our material is virtually indistinguishable from the recordings (we sometimes get people walking into a club and tell us they thought it was a dj).

    there are a few songs we change significantly - like a really fast and rocking version of "Redneck Woman".
  14. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    When I first learn a cover I try to learn it note for note. Mainly because I learn a lot more when I do this.

    But even the original band usually dosen't play it the same live. All those fancy little fills sound great in the studio but they can get lost live. And, let's face it, as long as you are close the audience is not going to notice.

    A couple of assumptions here. I am talking about rock music and cover bands. Tribute bands have to be a bit more careful since the fans are a bit more rabid and do know every note. And I would never expect a jazz or blues band to do a note for note cover.
  15. Dkerwood


    Aug 5, 2005
    If you're a tribute band, play the songs just like the band you're covering would play it. That doesn't necessarily mean "exactly like the record", but probably fairly close.

    If you're a strict cover band, or as I like to call it, a "living five piece jukebox", then you'll probably want to be pretty strict in following along note for note.

    Most any other kind of band would and probably should put their own little spin on it. Now, if you try to play "Sweet Home Alabama" in B minor rather than D or something, you might have some hecklers, but do your thing. Most everybody will "arrange" the music - be it arranging string parts for horn section, or putting horn parts on keyboard, or combining 2 acoustic guitar parts onto one electric.

    Do your thing. Live almost always dictates more drum and bass anyway, right? ;-)
  16. bigtexashonk

    bigtexashonk Supporting Member

    My cover band puts our own "flavor" to each one, but we play them pretty accurately. Most people at our shows wouldn't know the difference anyway.

    Besides, I really like our lead player doing "Third Stone from the Sun" solo in "Born on the Bayou". Even the most daft drunks (our biggest fans it seems) get the novelty/coolness.
  17. Lazylion

    Lazylion Goin ahead on wit my bad self!

    Jan 25, 2006
    Frederick MD USA
    My bar band does mainly country, with some classic rock. We never play anything note for note. For one thing, we never rehearse. We just try a new song right before the gig, then play it during the gig. Most of our audience members wouldn't have any idea if we had it note-perfect, or not.
    Having said that, we do try to get the signature riffs / harmonies. Our lead guitarist is the type who will sit with the recording and get the licks down. That's good, the typical audience member can recognise the song that way. If it's an Eagles tune or a Dixie Chicks tune w/lots of harmonies, we try to get them down. Other tunes,the pedal steel might have a prominent part. Or the fiddle. Harmonies might not be that critical. Or I might add a harmony that wasn't originally there, just to sweeten it up. We've got 3-part harmonies on "Born To Be Wild"! Not too authentic, but who cares? We have fun, and so do our peeps. What else matters?
  18. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    This is a good point. Some folks obsess about playing every note EXACTLY as it was recorded. Personally, I don't worry too much if I use one fill rather than another, so long as the fill is critical to the song.

    If you compare a live album to a studio album, many artists do the same thing.
  19. the_luke


    Jul 3, 2005
    I try to get it as close as I can, but for the sake of memorisation, I simplify some of the structure. Otherwise it's a waste of time for something that only another bassist will actually hear. Wanting to learn five+ songs a week for two months to get three sets up, I don't have time to learn every tiny variation of "Sweet Child o' Mine" for example. I get it about 95% with simplified song structure (not simplified riffs).
  20. bassbully43


    Jul 1, 2005
    I am in a Classic rock cover band and we pretty much go note for note but i jazz up boring basslines from time to time on classics like Sweet Jane and Cocaine so i can stay awake while our guitar players wank for an hour:rolleyes: A tribute band needs to stay balls on since they are trying to act like and look like the band in most cases.My band does a rockin Mustang Sally and really rocks up you wreak me so we play a spin on tunes...makes em fun and the crowd like it...but we pretty much stick to the artists recordings.

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