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Song Selection in a Cover Band - 10 Factors to Consider

Updated on March 28, 2017

Among the important decisions that you'll make when playing covers, one of the most vital for your success is the songs you choose.

There are thousands of great songs to pick from that will work on the cover band circuit; but in order to have some longevity, you want to take into consideration the following factors.

1. Venue/type of gig

Are you playing in a bar or pub?

In many of those cases you'll want to stick with classic rock.

Playing a wedding?

You'll want to stick to standards and party tunes.

You'll know going in what kind of crowd will be in attendance and what kind of music they'll expect to hear.

Play songs that make sense for where you're at.

2. Genre

Many cover bands will feature several different genres in their master song list. Just like with the venue and type of gig, you should know ahead of time what type of crowd will be at the show and what type of music they'll most enjoy.

3. Popularity

People want to hear tunes that they know.

If you're playing a gig using songs that only your band and a select few in the crowd will enjoy, then you're doing a disservice to the people in the room, your band, and the venue.

Play songs that are popular, and you'll get more work.

4. Tempos

You're controlling the vibe of the room with the speed of the song.

Put songs together that are close enough to each other in BPMs (beats per minute) to keep dead-air to a minimum.

Break things up from time-to-time to give people a chance to get to the bar and spend money by drastically changing the tempo from one song to the next.

Stitch together clever segues to easily keep the crowd engaged.

5. Is it danceable?

This doesn't mean that you have to play dance music at your gig, but you definitely want to consider whether or not people can dance to the songs you select.

People will dance to rock music, pop music...anything with a good groove.

People even like to slow dance, too.

Pick songs that people can dance to. They'll have more fun, and so will you.

6. Do women like it?

In most gig settings, a good rule of thumb is to play songs that women enjoy.

Fact: Where there's women, there will be men.

If you're playing songs just for guys, then you'll lose the attention of the ladies.

When girls are having fun, guys tend to spend more money and hang out longer. If girls don't like a song, time to re-think including it in your set.

Play songs that are popular, and you'll get more work.

7. Can the singer pull it off?

Most people key in on vocals when they hear a song. If they know the tune, they like to sing along. If your singer if having trouble delivering the vocal with conviction, you'll lose a lot of people. Pick songs that the singer shines on, even if they're not your favorite tunes.

8. Instrumentation

With recorded material, there are many opportunities to add in extra instruments to make the track work. When you're replicating a song live, you don't always have that luxury.

However, if a song is good enough to include in your set list, you can sometimes get away with a missing keyboard part or second guitar.

Work on the instrumentation of songs before the gig and make sure it sounds close enough to the original where people won't notice the difference.

9. Does it work?

If you pay attention at your gigs, you'll always be able to tell if a song is going over well.

- Are people dancing and singing along?

Then it works.

- Are people scattering off of the dance floor or even leaving the venue?

Time to re-think including that song in your repertoire.

10. Requests

Playing live is an interactive experience. You'll almost always have someone request a song. If your band knows it, it's a good idea to take and play their request. People like to feel important and a part of the show, and you want people to enjoy themselves.

That doesn't mean you should always honor a request. But if you can't play it, it's a still a good practice to be polite and appreciative that people want to be involved.

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      Lemmy Hangslong 5 months ago

      Very cool and important info for cover bands

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      Ozzy 4 months ago

      I disagree with #3. Playing the same tunes people hear on the car radio every day results in the audience not even listening, and the band essentially just being background nouse, no better than a jukebox.

      For example, when I've been in a band, we've refused to play "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Tuesday's Gone". But we've done "You Got That Right" and "Ballad Of Curtis Loew". Refused to do "Take The Money And Run" or "The Joker", but we've done "The Stake" or "Wild Mountain Honey". Refused to do "Already Gone" or "Hotel California", but we did "After The Thrill Is Gone" and "In The City". And we had the crowd listening to what we were playing and got LOTS of compliments, even people specifically telling us they were glad we didn't play the same old crap. Oh, here's another one: "Blaze Of Glory" instead of "Wanted Dead Or Alive"...

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      Luke 3 months ago

      I don't care about number 6, we're playing Rush anyway!

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      Ozzy TYSON 2 months ago

      #3 is B.S.

      Get onstage and play even first-rate (much less second-rate) covers of songs that people have heard hundreds of times for years, or that they've heard every day on the car radio on the way to and from work, and they're gonna treat you like background noise that they have to talk over. You may as well be a jukebox.

      Most music fans aren't as simple as you think they are, and if you impress them with not treating them that way, they will most likely show their appreciation.

      Instead of "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Gimme Three Steps", try playing "You Got That Right" or "On The Hunt"; instead of "Already Gone" or "Hotel California", play "In The City" or "After The Thrill Is Gone"; instead of "The Joker", play "The Stake"; instead of "Wanted: Dead Or Alive", play "Blaze Of Glory".

      Playing the same old covers will get you forgotten by the end of the week. Playing a bands OTHER great songs that the radio doesn't play on a loop? THAT'LL get you more "Likes" and "Follows" and word-of-mouth on social media.

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