As musicians, we’re essentially music-lovers ourselves, with our own favourite artists and songs, which usually makes most of us want to attempt to cover them at some point or the other. However, if you decide to cover a song for a live show, make sure that you have a good reason to choose which song it’s going to be and try to distinctly communicate that in your performance. Typical music fans like to listen to songs that they already recognise and love. From the moment you begin to play a cover song till the moment it ends, your listeners will automatically compare your version to the original. No pressure, but you have to get it right.
Although there are always going to be exceptions, here are some things to keep in mind while picking a song to cover in your next performance:
- Go Popular
Most of us have experienced that pumped feeling while when watching someone play live, they suddenly play a song we know and love and all at once the room is filled with cheers. For independent artists in a small-ish setting, that’s one major reason for playing a cover song: to give the audience a high. But if the song isn’t one that most people in the audience have heard before and love, you miss the chance. However, if you really want to cover a song that’s rather unknown, make sure you can absolutely ace it with your vocal performance as that’s one way of getting a reaction from the audience with your voice alone.
Click here to check out Limp Bizkit’s cover of George Michael’s Faith.
- Make it Your Own
When covering a song, you should bring something fresh to the original. Look at it this way, the audience don’t really have a reason to listen if you’re going to replicate the original song note for note. You also risk not being as good as the original, highlighting the shortcomings in your performance by comparison or just being an exact copy of the original, which kills the whole point of a cover!
You can do this by translating it into another genre (but don’t push it too much!), changing up the instrumentation, context, tempo, key or melody. In doing so, you’re also displaying your artistic flair by giving the song your own distinctive twist.
Click here to check out the acoustic version of The Kill (30 Seconds To Mars)
- Highlight the Original Elements
Know what worked musically in the original, whether it was the distinctive melody, the strong lyrics or the vocal aspects, and build off it in your cover. Although we stress on making your cover distinct from the original, it’s important to keep the parts that worked in the original because if you remove the elements that made it popular in the first place or that were the highlights of the song, you might disappoint your listeners– and they will let you know.
Click here to check out Conor Maynard’s cover of Faded (Alan Walker)
- Minimize Covers
Not too often, not too many. Unless you’re a cover band, avoid playing more than 3 covers in a 30-45-minute set. Cover songs should be used solely to get the audience pumped and going every now and then, between your own songs. More than that and they’ll think you trust covers more than your own music.
- Practice Practice Practice
Attempting to perform someone else’s work, and to do it right, is quite the challenge. So apart from working on it to make it as unique as you can, practice as much as possible…and nail it! In agreement with Michael Corcoran, the aim of doing a cover song should be to charm new fans with some familiarity and fun at your gigs. And if you really nail it, your old fans will be impressed with something new from you.
Although there’s nothing wrong with covering a song as it is just because you feel like it, in order to make your covers stand out and go above and beyond, it’s best to have your signature the on the song in some way or the other. Covers give you the chance to present the familiar in a fresh and unique way and when playing live, it’s the allure of a well-known song and your take on it that can sometimes push your performance to a whole new level.