Should bands and solo musicians who bill themselves as originals artists, cover other artists songs?
I have been performing on the live music scene for almost a decade now. I started out with a rock and blues covers band performing in local pubs, as well as, private parties and weddings. Although, we never billed ourselves as a covers or originals band, we played mostly covers. This was because we hadn’t written many songs.
Early on in my songwriting career I penned two songs that I felt would lend themselves well to a full band. The songs in question, Bush Wars and The Girl With The Sweetest Smile, were mostly met with indifference from the audiences. I don’t believe that this was because the songs were bad, but I believe it is difficult for an average audience to appreciate these songs with such classics as Sweet Home Alabama and Hey Joe are on the same setlist.
In January 2014, I announced my re-branding from a covers artist who plays a few originals to an originals artist who also plays a few covers. I was genuinely surprised at the level of resistance and resentment I received from my fan base. I even had one person, a musician himself and friend, say to me that if I were to play a set of original songs he would not attend a gig. I am unsure if he had heard any of my compositions before. If he had he clearly mustn’t have been impressed which is fair enough. You can’t please everyone after all. If he hadn’t heard them, then how would he know if he would like them or not? Other members of my fan base were not as honest, voted with their feet and ceased attending gigs. Since then I have been fortunate enough to develop a new fan base that regularly attend gigs, appreciate my original compositions and even request specific original songs.
I have spoken to many musicians over the years about the original to cover ratio that should be in a setlist. Some bands have told me that they never play covers, while others play a few grudgingly to appease the audience. There does seem to be an arrogance among some musicians on the original music scene who argue that if you play covers, it must mean your own songs are not good enough to entertain an audience. Chances are this is not the case. Believe it or not, many originals artists, like myself, actually enjoying playing covers of songs we like. SHOCK! HORROR! You cover songs you like? Too bloody right…especially when I can put my own twist on it and make it my own.
For me, it’s all about gauging the audience. Your songs will be met with different levels of appreciation from gig to gig. One audience may love your material and you may sell a dozen EPs. Another audience may barely listen to you because you are not playing what they want to hear. In this case you have a choice. Do you persist and play your own stuff in a vain effort to earn their respect, or do you play what they wish to hear to grab their attention and then stick in a few of your own?
Personally, I wait until I arrive at the venue and gauge the crowd before writing a setlist. I have played many gigs where I prepared a setlist in advance, got it wrong and failed to impress. I have written over forty-five compositions of varying genres including country, folk, rock, punk, pop and no doubt many points in between (I hate to be genre specific but some people insist on it). Naturally I dip in and out of each genre as appropriate. For example, if I am performing in a pub where I am being asked by the punters to play Wonderwall , I am not likely to perform one of my ballads like Crimson Angel. Likewise, if the audience are all over sixty, I doubt I will perform The Girl I Love Don’t Like PDAs.
Why cater for the audience? Why not educate them in how good my music is? Why can’t I play what I want to play?
I have heard musicians pose these questions to me and my reply has been “You can play what the hell you like. Just don’t complain if people aren’t interested”. Incidentally, if they don’t like your music it doesn’t mean they are ignorant wankers.
In my experience I have found that it is easier for an originals band to win over audiences with their material than a solo acoustic artist. Never underestimate the power of percussion. Just a bit of bass drum can offer that thud that gets people’s toes tapping.
Should we criticize people who want to play covers?
That’s up to you…but think about it. It might simply be that that you are a better musician/songwriter than the person you are criticizing. That’s certainly not their fault. If writing successful and popular songs were easy we’d all been doing it…but more importantly. It’s none of your fucking business what other people play!
At the end of the day music being performed live is always a good thing, whether it be covers or originals. As artists who are fortunate enough to have the ability to write good original songs, let’s not be arrogant pricks and chide those who wish to play covers or do not have the ability to write songs. Who knows, one day they may cover one of your songs and bring your music to a different audience without you even having to play a note.
Don’t forget to check out my own compositions. I have two EPs available for download: