What Makes A "Cover" Band?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by BayStateBass, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. Well, I guess it's the best title I could come up with, but figured I'd get some input here.

    I play in a "cover" band, but there are some differences in opinion within our group about how a cover band should play their songs.

    I have always felt that it is okay, actually great, when a cover band can take some songs, change them up a bit, and put their own "touch" on it, as long as the song is recognizable and you do it well.

    Our rhythm player hates that. His position is that a cover band should duplicate the song, as much as possible, to recreate the original and be as close to the recording as you can get it.

    The drummer would rather be doing originals.....:D

    Our lead player (who also sings) is more along the lines of altering the songs to fit our style. But he bounces back and forth. He's all about playing the song the way it was recorded with the exception of.......a guitar solo. With that, he wants (and gets) creative carte blanche.

    The rhythm player and I argue about this constantly. My thought is that if people want to hear the original, they'll just listen to a recording. Seeing the band and hearing the song a little different is kinda why they go out to a club, it's the "live entertainment" thing. He insists that people want to hear the song the way they know it and are used to hearing it, and delivering anything less will just disappoint everyone.

    We've played one show so far and it was a virtual trainwreck, for many reasons. But the audience seemed to like it, for the most part. We had a mixture of duplication and improvisation going on because we weren't really ready for primetime....

    So for you cover band guys, how did your band approach this? Basically, what would you expect to do as a cover player?
  2. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    I've always been in the "play it your way/make it your own" camp. My band was very successful with that approach.

    I think there is something to be said for "Play it just like the record", but often the bands that recorded the record to begin with don't do it note for note.

    I guess the short answer is do what ever you can sell. Both ideologies should be able to land plenty of gigs if they are good musically, and a band full of hacks is probably going to fail no matter which formula they prescribe to.

    Playing it well is more important than what you play IMO.
  3. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    I personally feel the same way you do. Even though I will willingly play a riff or very specific lick the exact same way as the original artist if it defines the song.

    I informed my group when I auditioned that I almost always will not play what the original bassist played. I respectfully told them I started to play music to be creative, not to be a record player. Sometimes it is because I cannot play what the original played. Sometimes, it is just because I have a different interpretation of the song. My group understood and actually wanted that from their new bassist.

    I take serious issue with players that take the position that only the original recorded version is what the cover band will play. There are exceptions, I admit it, and will play it that way (Heartbreaker by Benetar comes to mind). I take this position because, out of the literally thousands of shows I have attended, I could maybe count 20 times where a song was played live note for note, exactly the way it was recorded.

    So if the only place an audience will hear that specific version of the song is on the radio, then leave it on the radio. Let us weekend hacks have fun and give a personal touch to the tunes we play. After all, in most cases, if you butcher the tunes too much with your own style, you're not likely to be called back for a gig.

    I think Tribute Band lends more to the "play it like the record" than the average cover band.
  4. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Not much point trying to play it the exact same way as the record, imo. Unless you have the exact instrumentation that was recorded (including multitracking), same keyboard patches, effects, similar sounding singer and BVs, et cetera... and doing that for any sort of diverse set just isn't possible. To do it for a load of similar material takes you almost into tribute band territory - there's a place for that, but it's not what I enjoy doing.

    I'd much rather do a version with a bit of different character.
  5. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    NE ND
    I agree. We did songs pretty true to recordings at first, and then we added our own thing to them.

    I think there are certain licks and solos and things that should be played fairly closely, but after that, I like to make it my own - to a point.

    If you are in a tribute band, then you do note for note, look the part (best you can) and that sort of thing.
  6. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    If a band is playing it exactly like the record, I leave the joint. I want to hear musicians play, not a jukebox.
  7. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Depends on where you're playing. In the corporate/private party environment, it's usually pretty close to the original. In bars/restaurant and less formal environment, you can get away with doing your own takes on tunes.

    This is just from my experience in playing in corporate level top40 cover bands for over 30+ years in the NY/NJ/CT area and in the Southeast VA area. YMMV
  8. Biggbass

    Biggbass Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    Considering that many of the original artist bands don't play them true to the recorded version on stage I would lean toward doing your own thing with it...to a degree. People who come to hear cover bands are also coming to hear songs that are memory buttons for them. So the closer you can play it to what they've heard on the radio a zillion times the more of a connect they're going to have with it. There are some songs that have such recognizable riffs and even solos that those should get extra attention to detail. Other tunes may not need it. But we always approach it from the 'memory button' perspective. For example: I've seen ZZ Top at least a dozen times since their first album was released and never heard them do Just Got Paid true to the recording. But they're ZZ Top and they can get away with altering the arrangement or playing around the overdubbed sections in concert. A cover band would be scrutinized pretty harshly for blundering through it like ZZ does live. Into the Mystic, on the other hand, is the perfect kind of tune that leaves room to do a cool alternate arrangement. So it depends on the song and the gig circumstances. My school of thought is: Learn the recording, then tweak it as needed.

    Take a listen to some of the covers Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have done. They do them pretty true to the original, their Byrds & Animals covers. Nobody ever bitches about Petty doing covers, btw. And no one ever had an issue with Linda Ronstadt doing covers, which was about all she ever did...she may be the most famous and successful rock cover band ever.
  9. Cover Bands: Feel free to make it your own, as long as it is recognisable as the original song (even if it's massively changed from the original, such as the stuff Me First And The Gimmie Gimmies do).

    Tribute Bands: Play it note for note, very minimal improvisation (the occasional fill, etc...)

  10. Scooter09


    Mar 28, 2012
    In my opinion, I think it is great to have a mixture of the two. As long as the audience can recognize the song, I think it is fine to make it your own. If you were playing for a venue full of musicians, I'd say make all the songs your own, but reality of the matter is that you might have a hand full of musicians in the house depending where you are performing. With that being said, the audience is probably just looking for a good time so they will like the songs that sound just like the CD and they will like the ones that you change as long as it can be recognized. As a cover band there are three things that are important 1. Your Songlist (This will vary depending on where you are located) 2. How well you play the songs and 3. Last but surely not least, the bands stage presence (Especially the front man). If you could get all these parts together people will love you.
  11. duff beer

    duff beer

    Dec 2, 2007
    Unless you can improve on the orginal recording, you should probably play it close to the version most people are familiar with. Quite often someone who puts "their own spin" on a song simply sounds like someone who doesn't know how to play the song...especially if they do that with every song. The overwhelming majority of cover bands are not good enough to improve on the original version of most songs.
  12. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    They couldn't do that on most of their songs, anyway, unless they brought in at least one more guitar player. They don't use backing tracks, do they?
  13. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Not this again!

    We try to play a lot of the songs as close as we can. THAT is our "jumping off point." That's a great place to start, because then you know that you can execute the first mission of "covering" songs for bar crowds: giving them literally what they came to hear.

    But that's not where it ends. What if, over the course of time, you're jamming on a section, and you put a spin on it that's just cool? Maybe that should stay in.

    For us, it's about making great music, and not giving ourselves excuses to do something "our way" just because of limitations that stop us from doing it "right."

    But there's just nothing at all wrong with making changes, if you're talented enough to do it.

    I guess the bottom line is, are you changing material because you CAN'T pull it off the original way, or are you making changes because you are creative?

    Ultimately, you'll know by the audience's reaction.
  14. I'm in a cover band that specializes in Tom Petty's music, and we try to play his songs as close to the original as we can. We don't sound exactly like him, and we don't even look like them, but we try to play it pretty close to the vest. We actually sound pretty good, and we were fortunate to find a keyboard player (they're hard to find around here) who can replicate the keys parts accurately. It helps that we're all experienced musicians who enjoy playing together and also enjoy playing Petty's tunes.
  15. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    Westchester, NY
    We mix all of the above. Usually songs end up getting altered slightly to fit our style. We do play songs that are pretty true to the original though. We do whatever we feel like...

    As for what the general public wants to see? I don't think they go out to clubs to hear music differently than it was recorded per say, they go out because they like live music. Some bands are just god awful no matter which approach they take. As long as the band is good and entertaining, the rest is personal opinion as to what they like more.


    Apr 16, 2010
    A Tribute band should play the songs sounding as close to the band they are paying tribute to as possible. The vocals and instrument tones should reflect that.

    We play covers and make them our own. Probably because we can't duplicate the originals anyway no matter how hard we try. For me, I love it. No one complains.
    I can't read music (wish I could) so I learn the songs by ear and now with the advent of YouTube, you can get the songs down note for note from other musicians sharing this knowledge.
    If I am way off, the guitarist who is an excellant bass player will get me straight.

    Someday, I hope we can start working out my originals.
    I have the intros, verses, the chorus and bridge worked out with lyrics intact but the songs are really only a shell for right now. No Solos figured out, how many verses etc.
  17. i'm midway between Baystate & Phalex.

    I do believe that the tempo of the song should not change. try and stay as close to the original tempo as you can.

    THEN... go wild, introduce guitar solos, add to the length, do whatever.

    as was said, even the bands that originally did the song don't play them the same way every time.

  18. AFRO


    Aug 29, 2010
    OP; I feel like you do. Play it like you interpret it, "make it yours".
    sans stuff like brickhouse where you NEED to play that line to make the song go...it should sound like the song, but not be a replica per sey..

    often the CD is so compressed and layered that even the original artist cant duplicate that "sound" in a live setting..cept maybe a few premier bands (MetallicA comes to mind, but even they dont do the note for note thing).

    Now I will say, if you are Tribute-Band, then the rules are a bit more strict..

    But, when my band was active the guitarist was the "CD Purist" and wanted to sound like the CD replication... unless we got a "LIVE VERSION" of 'Name_song_by_ band_X'
    We did spend a lot of time learning it like the CD, and that was good practice...but I always hated it being so stiff sometimes..

    it was always my opinon, that we needed to have the goove going with smooth transistions between songs. that way we dont necessarily sound like the juke box inbetween songs and can get them girls to get on the dance floor to shake that arse..and sing along too.. maybe flash some flesh..I digress..

    As a band you should agree apon this topic during rehersal/pract prior to gig time so no one is out of the loop when "Freestyle" time is allowable. otherwise you'll catch the Stink-eye from whomever is still in 'pruist mode' on that song.

    Premissible freestyle with context you should be alright.

  19. Thanks so much for the replies, everyone! It's good to know I'm not alone in my thoughts......

    Really, it won't matter too much at this point because our pathetic attempt at forming an actual, cohesive band is really just hanging on by a thread, if at all. We haven't gotten together as a group since our one and only show a few weeks ago and the drummer now has personal/family issues along with no motivation to play anymore. It's toast. It probably never had a chance as it was put together so haphazardly. It was a struggle from day 1 and nobody could ever get on the same page. I think the lead player is going to out and do a solo thing (which fits him).

    The information has been helpful for me. I haven't been doing the "band thing" for very long and it's nice to know that others may see it like I do. Now my challenge is to find others who are like minded and want to work together, instead of against each other.

    Cool. You people are the best.
  20. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Good luck with getting something together. This thread has been interesting. One of the things that comes over now, just re-reading it, is the importance of simple practicalities.

    The nature of your set list determines to a great degree how close to "like the originals" you can get. If all your stuff is pretty much all guitar based loud rock and roll (or whatever), then that's going to be much easier to get consistently similar to the recordings than a set with a much wider range of different styles of material. In the latter case, adapting how you play things to suit your line-up is going to be inevitable and unavoidable.