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What's So Bad About Playing Cover Songs?

Updated on January 3, 2017

I'm willing to bet that some people will see this headline and answer the question in the comments without even clicking to read the article. But for those of you that have taken the step to see what this is about, read on.

For starters, why even ask this question? Let's begin with my intention. I wish to change the mindset of some musicians who think that playing covers is just copying other people, or cheating, or taking an easy way out. "Write your own songs!" is a criticism I get a lot at Cover Band Central.

The recurring question that I ask myself when the haters speak up is: "Why?"

  • Why is there so much contempt for cover musicians?
  • Why do some players feel that you're not a real musician unless you write your own songs?
  • Why is it so much better to be an original artist...especially in today's music climate?

I try to answer it with logic, but I don't always succeed.

  • Maybe it's the way some people were taught.
  • Maybe they have never seen or played in a really good cover band.
  • Maybe some people are just plain ignorant.

But what inevitably happens is that I start to question and doubt myself. What if they're right? What if I am wasting my time playing covers and carrying the flag for all other cover musicians around the world? I mean, I have played in numerous original bands as well, but I'm not a songwriter, and probably never will be. Am I just a hack? A copier? A wannabe?

After sweating those questions, tossing and turning, and re-evaluating my musical existence, I always return to logic.

Many contemporary artists, although they are performing new and original material, didn't write the songs. A good deal of the top selling albums of recent years have had songs with multiple songwriters. The biggest selling record of 2016, Adele's "25," boasts 11 songwriter credits in addition to the artist herself.

This is nothing new. Artists collaborate on new material more often than not, and there are many people in the music industry that are exclusively songwriters and have no interest in performing.

Is there anything wrong with that? Do other musicians look down on those people and tell them that they should be playing, too?

Of course not.

My feeling is that anytime I play a song, I approach it the same way. I play my best, stay true what is being "said," and interpret it to serve the whole.

The same could be said for classical musicians. Any member of an orchestra that is reading sheet music is playing a cover song. Any theater vocalist is singing a cover song. Every wedding band plays cover songs.

The list goes on.

There are many areas in art where things are copied. Movies are re-made, paintings are reproduced, TV shows are re-booted, dancers learn classic steps that have worked in the past. But these aspects of art are not only rarely shunned, but are most often lauded.

It's time to stop hating on cover bands and musicians. Yes, there will be bands that aren't very good, but that doesn't mean that the whole industry should be frowned upon. Some movies that are re-imagined aren't very good, some TV shows that try to capitalize on a name don't make the grade; but it doesn't give the industry as a whole a bad name.

I choose to celebrate music. I love new, original music just as much as I love hearing or playing an old favorite. My lofty goal is that all musicians will someday realize that there is, in fact, credibility in playing covers, and that it takes no less talent to reproduce a well-known song than it does to write and record a new one.

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      pds523 6 months ago

      If any musician has contempt for cover bands, then they are just music snobs. Don't be a snob. Life's to short to be like that. I am in a great 70s & 80s show band, and I have a lot of fun with it. I am not a good song writer, but love to play music with my friends, so i shouldn't play? The big crowds that come to see us enjoy it a lot. If a music snob looks down on this, then that's their problem. Have fun with music, its not a competition folks.

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      Mickey 6 months ago

      I remember this one band whose first self titled album included 11 covers and one original song. Seems to have worked out pretty good for them. You may have heard of this band, they are called The Rolling Stones.

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      Laura shyntia 6 months ago

      Web Nice, here I just wanted to introduce a collection of songs from Indonesia.

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      Ian 6 months ago

      I've played in covers bands all my life...I have a 'proper job' this is how I get my kicks. I have no time to write songs I just want to go out there and make people happy

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      Jon E. 5 months ago

      So, I've been in both cover and original bands all my life and have written for and led my own original projects so maybe I can add to the discussion. There is a different set of skill sets, one writing,composing and developing a unique, signature sound, the other interpreting and often emulating others often challenging skill sets. The two often do not overlap. I contend that not having one or the other skill set feeds an internal insecurity that makes musicians "dig in" to one camp or another. The answer is, IMHO, to do your best to develop all your skills, but do what you enjoy doing best, and enjoy what others do best, even if and when you may not be able to keep up. My $.02 for the day...

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      Ron Skelton 4 months ago

      I stand in awe of some of the singer songwriters I have heard . I also have been amazed at how much original crap there is out their by performers think they have composed the next " stairway to heaven " ? I think there is a place for both . I play in a tribute band that not only plays the covers of the original artists but tries to get it as close to the original as possible . While bar bands both original and cover are fighting over $ 200-$300 four hour gigs our Peter Paul and Mary Tribute band are booking gigs all over for two to three times that .

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      Jon Boone 4 months ago

      Well... What would we as musicians do if there were no music composers? Answer: That's obvious. Like any talent, "music composition" (of hits) belongs to the truly gifted. Not saying we all shouldn't try BUT c'mon... mostly it is not going to happen. Every major band that has ever come up has played covers. That is what we draw our inspiration from. I, personally, have only played with one musician (in nearly 50 yrs) that could write a tune that made any sense. Generally, if I hear the words "original band" I run away as quick as I can. The results of those local collaborations usually produce boring nothingness. I think what we fight here as cover artists is "originals" snobbery. It's kind of related to "jazz" snobbery. I like to see people dance and have a good time. Most local "originals" music is angst or politically driven rhythmless and formless drivel.

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      Mark Greenspon/ singer song writer 4 months ago

      I think there is respect in playing music period. There are different levels. For some it comes natural, for others it's a learning process that can only go so high. If you stick to the songs at your level it's a beautiful thing. But I give credit..

      change the mindset ? Why would you want to do that? To each his or her own.... you want to stop creativity? Let people think the way they want to.... you want to stop them from thinking your just a cover musician, whatever level your at? A copier? A cheater, not taking the time to sit down and write your own music. Using others creativity to perform and get paid? Well, those writers, and those musicians who spend their time and using their creativity to write their own music, play their own music, ( the same ones you copy) and those fans out there, all respect the musicians and the singers ability, their level of play, their level to copy, but the way you explained some of these people feel about cover bands is exactly the way they think and feel, because that's the way it is. Your absolutely correct when you think that this is how most of them feel, but you incorrect if you think your going to change their mindsets. There is only a curtain excitement level for a listener when it comes to a night of copies. You go, you hear sometimes fantastic musicians, and sometimes singers.... you give your respect if they sound like the band they're copying. You give your respect for their ability..... their style on top of an already great song... or great concert of songs...and their showmanship, along with respect for their experience .. but thats it.

      Now you go to a concert and hear an original band, and that music is new and moving, is creative and flows , its catchy and needs ability also to play, or sing, then, it's twice as exciting, twice as special, something new for us, originals that kick ass or are beautiful, they move you, and let your ears hear something written well, originals that show off incredible talent, send messages with clever or beautiful words...tell other stories.....

      This is the real art of music...first silence and then creations that move the listeners... To do that, and to do all those things I mentioned, and much more, shows twice the ability, and gets twice the praise. You can think highly of a copy band( cover band), but you'll think even higher of an original band that blows you away with their art...original art. You might know great musicians , teachers with years of experience, but can they come up with an original? An better yet, an original hit, maybe along with a new style? That's an artist... I give respect, and tell people to keep copying but to develop their own style and keep writing. It might just get heard... let you music be heard, for people to enjoy. You never know where it might lead to... copying, seeing nothing new can get boring... a gunslinger, a killer drummer, a singer with a great voice, a band clicking together!!!! All great, but an original band doing the same thing , outstanding!! Wow

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      Blue Jay Water 4 months ago

      There are many reasons why cover bands are viewed with contempt. Starting on the small scale, when a new original band is starting up, who is their main competition? Cover bands. Not other original artists. The music scene is not what it used to be, and when you have nothing but venues that would rather play it safe with their bar fly patrons and get cover bands then invigorate their new customers with new music, it's harder to find a gig. Then you move up the ranks and you start to see the more "legitimate" cover band, tribute bands. If you feel dressing up as someone else and playing note for note covers is worth the couple grand you drop on period correct equipment and how much your quality over other cover bands is worth? You are literally an overpriced record player. I admit, there are plenty of cover band musicians that have skill, more than my own even. But if you never even tried to write a composition, or try to get a bunch of guys together with similar tastes and bang out a few demos, why even be a musician? If you want to just play, that's a hobbiest's mentality. There's nothing wrong with that. As to songwriters, okay maybe you don't want to tour and go through the whole song and dance cos you have a family? Well write songs and sell them. You still made them, and it still took originality to make it. My problem is that non-musicians don't know the difference. I go up to do a set and I'm asked can I do this song, or do I know this artist, and they don't understand I will be playing all originals. Older crowds tend to check out then. They don't give you a chance. Younger audiences have an open mind, but the fanbase takes time to acquire. And barring a handful of original music friendly venues, you have to rely on those thousand of facebook friends to actually show up. I don't view cover band musicians as something comparable to what I do. I don't hate you guys, I hate what collectively has been done by all musicians, venues, and audiences to shape the music biz into what it is today. I don't like it. And unfortunately, that is why I have disdain for cover bands.

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      jojo aquino 4 months ago

      excellent article on cover musicians.. thanks very much.. i'm a cover musician too.

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      MarkS01 4 months ago

      I'm a 56 year old guy who took up drumming seriously just two years ago except not really. I had a Jr. kit in '68 and took lessons for several months. I was seven. Regrettably, I didn't stick with it but that doesn't mean I didn't drum. I played drums on everything BUT drums as natural born drummers do for the next 47 years and finally did it for real.

      Now, I play in a band formed out of a weekly jam I ran in my home for six months and I'm good enough to be asked to sit in on jams and subs with some of the best guys around here. We're getting gigs and getting noticed and my phone actually rings.

      We are, of course, a cover band but we also write and play original material. Worse to many, we're a band who consciously seeks to please audiences with mostly uptempo, upbeat tunes that light up the room and turn them on as opposed to the innumerable 50-something white guy bands stuck in the '60s-'70s. That's why my phone rings because venue owners want a band that'll do that rather than indulge themselves or try to show how deep and profound they are. I want to have our audiences forget their cares and burdens for a few hours not remind them of them.

      When it comes to topics like this and the many others revolving around ego (if we're being honest) I hear my pals and associates argue about, I'm grateful I'm a noob to whom all of this is new. To me it's still all a wonder and I never feel so alive, connected and in the moment as when onstage playing...anything.

      Still though, there is a major difference between covering songs and helping arrange and playing original music so I get why musicians might argue it. To my non-musical friends I say, "The first is playing the music, the second making it."

      For my part though I'll gratefully take either any chance I get anytime and anywhere.

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      rickjones 2 months ago

      The reason that these musicians despise cover bands is clearly because they do not understand that the music business is actually 2 words (music and business).

      These musicians are also jealous that cover bands actually get regular gigs, and quite often very well paid gigs.

      I commend any musician who does original music, but I can't understand the jealousy that is often displayed by these "cover haters".

      I am extremely happy at the end of the night when the crowd is still cheering to hear more great famous cover songs. It's also very rewarding , at the end of the night, when the guys in the band each put a few hundred dollars their own pockets.

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      donny Rox 2 months ago

      Ok....wrappers don't DO covers...they may sample the hook to put out the line...it's everyone else (whites) who whine because there their the genius to take out and make into something that took no talent to do in the first...and then there is the money and the company's do the real dance

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