The Benefits Of Playing Cover Tunes

CD wall© 2011 Vinny Ribas

It is all too often that I run into singer/songwriters who refuse to perform cover songs. They are afraid it will damage their reputation, or that they will miss the opportunity to be discovered as an original artist, or that they will miss out on having someone hear one of their songs who would buy a CD and then give it to Carrie Underwood so she can record 5 of the songs on her next project. The truth is that the majority of the time, these singer/songwriters complain about the fact that they don’t make enough money. I propose that there may be a correlation here.

Your originality can shine through your interpretation of a song as much as it can through your songwriting. So until your songs are well-known enough that people come to see you perform only them, why not throw in a few covers? Here are some compelling reasons to do just that.[private_frerebie]

1. Get noticed on YouTube.

People search for their favorite songs on YouTube and will listen to all versions of them. Naturally, since most people don’t know your original songs, they can’t search for them by name. But if you video yourself playing a great version of a cover tune, you’ve got a great chance of getting serious attention! Don’t forget to put your website in the video, and even maybe even make the song available for sale or as a free download (get a mechanical license from

2. Get more and/or better gigs.

There are many more venues, including private and corporate parties, that prefer that you play songs that their patrons or guests will know. That doesn’t mean that you have to copy the original, although that is certainly an option. But the bottom line is that you may be faced with a choice. Either play all originals and work sporadically, or play covers and make a living playing music until you are getting enough notoriety for your original songs to make the switch completely. Playing or singing covers also enables you to pick up your share of freelance work. You will also be able to take more gigs that require you to play several sets or a full night of music.

3. Make more money.

Not only are there more and better gigs for artists who do covers, there may be more licensing opportunities (e.g. a company wants to use a particular song in an ad but can’t afford to use the original version so they look for other versions), you can get more tips playing requests, you can ask for more money if you specialize in a certain genre of music that is in demand in your area (e.g. Irish music, oldies etc.)

4. You can produce more product to sell.

It takes far less time to learn a great cover song than it does to write one. So, it follows that you can release more CDs if they feature some or all covers.

5. It makes it easy to establish your brand or genre.

People can know what your sound will be like just by mentioning the names of some of the songs in your set list. It also makes it easy for your fans to describe you to their friends.

6. It is easy to get back-up musicians.

If you need to hire musicians for a gig, it’s much easier to find someone who knows your cover tunes than it is to rehearse all of your originals with them.

7. You can improve your chops.

Learning to sing or play challenging cover tunes can make you a better singer or musician. You can learn new styles or genres, develop new techniques, try combining genres etc. Quite often we don’t write songs that allow us to improve or showcase our true talent.

8. You get to show off your artistry.

It’s an art to take someone else’s creation that has become well known and make it your own. Audiences love this, and so does the industry. This is evidenced by the success of American Idol and the nonstop push by the judges for the artists to do just that.

9. You’ll be in great company.

Some of the biggest songs on the charts were covers! ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston is a Dolly Parton tune. The Beatles covered the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist and Shout’. Celine Dion made a big hit out of Eric Carmen’s hit, ‘All By Myself’ which he had ‘covered’ from Rachmoninoff’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor’.

10. It is easier to build a fan base.

There is an old saying that goes ‘People don’t know what they love; they love what they know!’ This is why it is so hard to get people to change brands, regardless of what the product is. Music is not immune to this. People will follow you because you play the songs they already love! They are ready to sing along. They don’t have to work to know what the song is about.

11. You can honor those who influenced you.

When you play cover tunes, you are paying tribute to the great songwriters and artists who influenced you. Make that known. It gives you a ‘reason’ to play the songs. Besides, you’re probably wishing that someday thousands of bands worldwide will be covering your songs!

12. The sky is the limit!

You can memorize thousands of songs or read them from a fake book. You can jam on them, slow them down, speed them up or play them in a different style. You can change keys, change the arrangement, modulate down a step and a half – whatever makes you happy and doesn’t stifle your creativity!

13. You are playing songs that have already been proven to be popular.

Unless you really mess the song up, you’re giving your sudience something you know they will enjoy. Nothing works better win them over to your side. Remember, ‘People don’t know what they love, they love what they know!’

In all fairness I wanted to list all of the reasons I could think of NOT to play cover tunes. I wanted to, but I couldn’t think of any![/private_freebie]


About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.