All around the world, there are tens of thousands of musicians that play covers. The presentations vary considerably including, but not limited to - wedding bands, tribute bands, corporate bands, party bands, top 40 bands, bar bands, acoustic happy hour solo artists, and weekend warriors - and most play on a regular or at least semi-regular basis. Just about all of these musicians play for some compensation, usually monetary. And I'd venture to guess that the majority of them prefer to play with people in the room.
In this day and age, there are so many things that a band or artist that plays cover tunes for money could easily be doing to elevate their success - even if it's only by a small amount. In fact, there are things that bands should be doing and they're simply not, whether it's because they don't know how, or they don't put thought into it, or they think they don't have the time, or they don't realize how much of a difference some small bit of effort can make.
I've been running the Facebook Page Cover Band Central for a while now. The effort is to showcase ways a cover band or artist can improve their situation, with the intention being to entertain as well as educate other musicians. With many bands sharing their links, I've come across many instances where some of the points below are neglected, executed poorly, or just completely omitted.
I want you to succeed. I really, really do. Read the points below, and if you have any interest in having more people at your gigs and potentially making more money, and you are violating any of the infractions listed, then act on them immediately. They are all simple fixes that take very little time and very little effort, but will pay off well in the long run.
I should preface this list by pointing out that not every performer or band is looking for anything more than they already have. There are many musicians that have regular day jobs and just play as a hobby or for fun. Some play once in a while, usually locally, and have an audience of friends and/or regulars, or perhaps a built in crowd, and are content with the way things are. If you fall under those categories, then you can close this article now. You're doing just fine and if you're happy, you don't need to change a thing.
Some of you know this stuff cold, too, so you'll find all of this info to be obvious. This article is directed more towards the players that are looking to improve upon their existing situation, in whatever capacity, and need a good checklist or at the very least, good reminders. If that is you, then read on!
1. No Facebook Page
If you're reading this article, chances are you have a Facebook account. If you play in a cover band or project and you don't have a Facebook Page as well, you are missing out on a simple and free way to gain more fans, and a platform that you can use to easily communicate. Even if you just play once in a while, and only five people join your Page, that's five people that can stay on top of everything you're doing. But the potential is unlimited, and the options are greater than your regular Facebook account.
With a Facebook Page, you can create a video section, upload a photo gallery specific to particular categories - including memorable shows, promo shots, fan pics, etc. - keep a current gig calendar, and so much more. It's a free and easy place to interact with your friends and fans, and if you play live cover songs, there is no excuse not to have one.
(If you do have a Facebook Page, be sure you're making the most of it.)
2. No Website
As a performer, you want to have a representation of your specific act online. You don't necessarily need a website, but in most cases it will help you and your band.
The benefit of having a website is that you can customize it any way you like. This will give you the ability to showcase what you bring to the table, and will help you to rank in search engines when people are looking for a band. It also makes you look more professional, and that is a big plus in getting work and getting more people interested in you.
Websites these days are easy to create and maintain and are very inexpensive. You can buy a domain name for less than ten dollars, and find a hosting company that fits your budget and needs. WordPress.org has thousands of attractive templates to choose from to design a site to your liking. It all takes just a couple of hours to build, and mere minutes a day to maintain.
3. No Mailing List
As little as fifteen years ago, in order to communicate with fans, you had to gather names and addresses at gigs, copy them all into a mail program, print address labels, design and print a card or mailer, buy stamps, spend hours licking and sticking, and hope that when the intended addressee receives your notification that they don't just throw it out. The process ate up a lot of time and money, and was largely ineffective.
The best people to reach out to are the ones that already like you and either know you as a friend, or a friend's friend, or have seen you perform. In order to keep in touch with these people and keep them informed and involved, you want to create a mailing list and send periodic updates to everyone on your list. All you need to do is write one email on a regular basis - whether it be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even semi-annually - and send it to everyone on your list with one click.
There are several ways to collect e-mail addresses for your list. You can have a friend or fan work for you at gigs as a street team member and collect names on a piece of paper. You can gather up addresses from your Facebook Page simply by asking. You can create a field or even a splash page on your website that asks for a visitor's first name and email address. You can create a Group on Facebook in addition to your Page, and send out your emails exclusively to your Facebook connections. Or you can get creative and think of even more ways of reaching out.
The point is, there's never been a time where it's so simple and cheap to communicate with fans and keep them interested and engaged. There is no reason not to do this, even if your fan base is very small. You'll find that once you make it a regular habit, your fan base will start to grow.
4. No Good Pictures
The quality of digital cameras has increased exponentially in just the last five years. Even cell phone cameras have jumped from three megapixels in 2007 to today's high-quality ten megapixel (and above) cameras.
There is no good reason to not either take pictures at your gig or have someone take pictures for you. It will keep people engaged and increase your visibility online. You can and should take photos of your band playing, hanging out or goofing off. You'll also keep more fans involved by taking crowd photos and tagging them in your posts.
If you can't do it yourself, another option is to ask people in the room to take photos and post them on your Page. It can't hurt to ask. The worst that can happen is nobody does it, and you're still right where you were. In doing so though, this gives you another way and reason to promote your website or Facebook Page.
Even if none of the above choices are optimal, another idea is to post an ad on Craig's list and hire someone to come shoot pictures for you. There are lots of people sitting around with nothing to do that would be happy to come out and take some pictures for free admission, or a few free drinks, or some extra spending money.
The upshot is that you want to take as many pictures as you can. In the old days, you had to buy film, have it developed, scan it into your computer, and upload it to a website. Now you can shoot as many digital pictures as you want and post them on Facebook (or Instagram) (or Twitter) and have them up online instantly. As long as you post photos showing your band or friends and fans in the best light, it will do nothing but help you.
5. No Video
Just as with photos, the ability and ease has made it a no-brainer to be shooting as much video as possible. People online love videos and they love to share them as well. There are very few better ways to promote your band and expose yourself to a wider audience than posting videos. In addition to photos, cell phones today can take some pretty decent quality video. Even if you're just posting snippets of songs, posting anything will always help you, as long as it's a quality performance.
Options to get this accomplished include asking a friend to shoot at one of your gigs, simply setting up a video camera on a tripod and getting some still video, or hiring some inexpensive help to do the work for you. If you want to go big, there are companies that you can employ to shoot high-quality video complete with editing a finished product that you can be proud of.
In addition to promoting your band and gaining wider exposure, you can even monetize your clips on Youtube so that you make some extra cash for the band. It's not a lot of money, unless you get a ton of views or your videos go viral...which can happen. But there's no chance that you will enjoy any of these advantages if you neglect to shoot video of your performances.
6. Out-of-Tune Vocals
Of course, having video, pictures, a website, a mailing list and a Facebook Page is all kinda pointless if your vocals are off. When people go to watch a band, most key in on the vocals. People like to sing along with songs they know, and if the singer is off pitch, everything else becomes moot.
This is especially true for background and harmony vocals. Your lead singer may be perfectly in tune, but if someone is singing backup and it sounds funky, it will make the whole band sound bad. One easy fix is to have vocal rehearsals with your band, and make sure that everyone knows their parts solid before going out and performing.
You'll see bands at times where someone is singing but really shouldn't be. So if you can't sing on pitch, then don't sing. Conversely, if you can sing and you're not contributing, then you need to have a mic in front of you at your gig. More vocals make everything sound fuller. Even if you're just chiming in with gang vocals in a sing-along chorus, you'll improve the band's overall sound by joining in the mix.
7. No Interaction
As stated above, given all of the opportunities today with social media, you and your band have a wealth of possibilities at your fingertips. Some bands that aren't necessarily the greatest players do extremely well in the business because they interact with their fans and friends online. If someone posts something positive to your fan Page, you should always at the very least "Like" it, or reply with a comment or a simple "Thank You." People want to be recognized and appreciated, and if they are recognizing and appreciating you, then it is a good practice to reciprocate.
The simplicity of tagging friends and fans on Facebook makes it easy to grow interest online and get more people involved and talking about your band. Information spreads very quickly on the internet, and the more positive posts that appear on people's News Feed, the better for your project. Stay involved, reach out to people, and connect as often as possible. Encourage everyone in your group to post about everything. You may think it doesn't make a difference, but I've seen numerous instances over many years where it does, in fact, help you to sustain and grow your fan base.
8. Nothing Unique
What makes you different than everybody else? You should be able to answer that question yourself. If you're struggling to come up with a response, then you may need to rethink your presentation. It can admittedly be challenging to set yourself apart from other cover bands, especially when many play a lot of the same songs. However, you are a unique individual, and your group is made up of other unique individuals. That needs to shine through with your performances. Embracing what makes you different is a key element of the overall package.
It could be something as simple as the name of the band. Or the way everyone dresses. Or the way you put your show together. Or perhaps you have an idea that may seem too unconventional and are afraid to try it. Whatever it is, it's important to find or create something about your act that makes you stand out from the pack. You want people to remember you and talk about you, and one of the best ways to do that is to come up with an interesting angle that nobody else has thought of or incorporated.
9. Song Selection
I made a list that gets 400-500 hits every day from search engines with musicians searching for ideas for songs to play in their band. The Top 50 that I selected were based on songs that most bands play at one time or another, or often times, at every show. This is not to say that you need to play all or even any of these songs. It's simply a list of essential, popular songs to have in your arsenal as a cover musician.
Song selection is perhaps one of the most important elements that you want to consider when playing covers. Many people will default to several of those top 50 tunes, which usually works out okay for them. Others, however, will play songs that they like, and not even consider what the audience wants to hear. The truth is that the best approach is to play what's proper for the gig, and what will please the people that come to the venue.
If you are playing just for yourself, or to try to show off how good of a musician you are by playing deep cuts from classic bands, you may make a few people happy, and a couple of folks here and there might be impressed with your amazing skills. But I can just about guarantee that you won't have a large audience, and you won't get a lot of work (unless you're a tribute band that specializes in a particular genre or artist). The simple reason is that club and bar owners and managers are looking to sell drinks and make money, and the more people that you bring to and keep in the room, the more you will accomplish just that. People that come out to see live music, for the most part, want to hear songs that they know.
To have some success and longevity in the business of playing cover tunes, you need to spend a good deal of time and exercise great care with the songs that you choose to play. You want to find the right balance of making everyone in the band happy and pleasing the crowd at the same time. It's pointless to play only songs you like, unless of course, the majority of people at your gig will enjoy them just as much.
10. Not Having Fun
I've played in close to fifty different cover bands, and I've seen hundreds more. I've watched several hundred band videos online; looking for artists that are different, talented, engaging, and likable. But probably the biggest aspect that gets me excited about any band is that they are having fun.
Regardless of how skilled the players in a band are, if they are smiling and having a good time on stage, then the crowd will have a good time too. Most people that come out to clubs and bars are not musicians, and they're okay with you flubbing a note or a vocal. Most of the time, they won't even notice, as long as the people on stage are having fun.
On many occasions when I've been on stage playing in a band, or with several of the videos I've seen, the musicians on stage look bored. They appear to be going through the motions and are just there for the free drinks or a paycheck. That is not what music is about, and it's not what people that are going out to have a good time want to see.
If you play in a cover band, or as a duo, trio, or solo artist, you are in the entertainment business. You are the movie screen of the theater. Your job is to entertain. Playing songs isn't always enough.
You have a responsibility as the focal point of the room to get people singing, dancing, drinking, partying, and having fun. If you just want to play music for yourself, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you are out in public, on stage, you need to look like you're enjoying yourself.
Many, many people would kill to be able to play music and get paid for it. So be grateful, smile and have fun. You're fortunate to have the skill to play an instrument and perform in front of people. Let that be glaringly apparent with every note you play. It will contribute more to your success than you can even imagine.
© 2014 Steve Witschel
Petryma on September 25, 2017:
Invest in top quality PA equipment. Consider hiring a sound professional to run it and give him an equal cut. Why go to the trouble to master your playing, then sound like total crap because you neglected this. This might be the biggest mistake I see bands make. Best way to get more gigs is to sound (and look) awesome every time you play. In addition to the above advice, augment #7 by spending time interacting and speaking with your audience during breaks and after the show. Fans LOVE to talk to band members. It makes them feel special if the lead singer walks up to their table between sets to just say "hi". Word of mouth and person to person contacts are some of your best marketing tools.
George on August 30, 2017:
The real trick, or what differentiates a "pro", is the ability to APPEAR to be having fun (#10), all the while being bored out of your head because your playing the songs everyone wants to hear (#9) and that everyone else is playing, and at the same time being focused enough to play correctly.
Caleb justus on May 31, 2017:
God Bless you
rich on May 24, 2016:
Bruce on April 11, 2016:
I have all of these things in place and finally figured out how boring to watch the guitar player in my band is. Never interacts with the crowd or moves an inch off of his spot. I wonder why we do not get gigs. Much rather have a mediocre player with a personality any day in a cover band.
Dave on January 08, 2016:
Unfortunately, playing the "songs everyone wants to hear" can easily lead to boredom and not having fun, thus violating #10.
petejohnson on July 02, 2015:
All valid points. ive been playing covers for 30+ yrs and my top three would be. 1. just have fun. 2. never burn a bridge. 3. if youre in it for the money, you probably picked the wrong career.
Andy on June 25, 2015:
Why is this applicable to a cover band? This is the same list for ANY band!
Mike on May 04, 2015:
This is true in most all cases. I happen to be in a southern rock themed band that does very well, and deep cuts work just as well as hits. Im sure it depends on the area, as we have a pretty large southern rock demand in my area.
JC on January 02, 2015:
This is all very good advice. But the real problem are the bar owners. They do not want to pay what the band is worth going the cheap route and expect the band to bring in the crowd. This happens all the time. The bar owners spend no money advertising. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of bands that will play for hardly nothing in order to get in. And then there is the question, "How many people are you going to bring?" The business has changed dramatically. The "creative" part is the key. That separates you from all the others. #8 above. Good point.
Cricket Cohen on December 29, 2014:
As a musician who made a living playing covers for 30+ years, I agree with all you say! Very good points, thanks!
JD on December 29, 2014:
Billy D on September 11, 2014:
You forgot the most important tool cover bands need to stand out and kick ass.........Professional Sound reinforcement!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hezekiah from Japan on September 09, 2014:
Even though a cover is not original. Good bands are able to make a cover song there own song. e.g. add their own flavor and spice. Trying to much to sound like the original is where many people will go wrong.
Ashley Jordan from North Hollywood, CA on May 29, 2014:
Above tips suggested is truly an eye opener towards making the cover band, a more successful team the expected. I believe a good musician is one who brings reforms & changes in his skills from time to time.
Rozalyn Winters on May 29, 2014:
Great advice -- I checked out your song list-- very cool.
JMChang from sydney on May 09, 2014:
There are so many bands and individual musicians out there it is really difficult to focus on anyone. You made some very good points that applies not only to musicians but to many businesses.
Daniel Long from All Over on April 20, 2014:
Haha, this is excellent advice.
JJ on April 08, 2014:
- should make an effort to learn the very newest songs
- should try to avoid disappearing in between sets - better to mingle and be friendly
- don't criticise the audience
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 08, 2014:
A good article with lot of detailed analysis.