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Do You Cover The Song Or The Artist?


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I just read a comment someone made in another thread about a Robben Ford song saying that "there must be more accessible Robben Ford songs than that one". And that reminded me of something that comes up sometimes when I'm trying to pick new songs for my band.

 

Example: a while back I suggested "Hey Soul Sister" by Train, and one of the guys shot down the idea and suggested that "there's better Train songs to do if you want to do a Train song". My response was, no...I don't care about playing Train. Nobody requests Train. I'm suggesting that SONG because I think it's a good SONG, not because anybody cares what band plays it."

 

So it just got me thinking---to what degree do you learn a song simply because of the song itself, and to what degree do you learn a song because "we need a Skynyrd song in our setlist" or some such.

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Robben Ford has done a lot of covers which might be more familiar, but given that he is not a widely requested artist, the comment seemed irrelevant. (I do think it's useful to borrow from less popular versions of a cover.)

 

But the theory is valid. If a wildly popular artist has numerous recognizable songs in your chosen genre, yes, I think you should give yourself permission to play a less-tired song when someone makes the predictable request.

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I'd say we're 99% song and 1% artist. As a matter of fact, Skynyrd is probably the only artist that I've ever said "we should learn a [insert artist here] song", and that's just because we're in the deep south and Skynyrd is god here.

 

Otherwise, we hear a song, we think it's a song we should do, we do it. Pretty straight forward.

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Around here, Melloncamp's China Girl is a big request but I just hate the F'n song so I suggested that we cover Bowie's China Girl just to mess with people.

"You said, 'China Girl', you didn't say by who."

 

[YOUTUBE]-LArFWAf_-0[/YOUTUBE]

 

[YOUTUBE]UbDvAAQGogc[/YOUTUBE]

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Robben Ford has done a lot of covers which might be more familiar, but given that he is not a widely requested artist, the comment seemed irrelevant. (I do think it's useful to borrow from less popular versions of a cover.)


But the theory is valid. If a wildly popular artist has numerous recognizable songs in your chosen genre, yes, I think you should give yourself permission to play a less-tired song when someone makes the predictable request.

Our guitarist is a huge SRV fan, even strings and tunes his strats exactly like Stevie.

 

So when we do SRV tunes, it's pretty much covering the artist, at least musically speaking.

 

Sounds like you've got the same deal with Robben Ford. Roll with it - it can make you stand out from the pack. :thu:

 

We finally got a little writeup in the local blues rag...I guess that kind of sets our identity even moreso to the blues than before. Hey, I'm rolling with it, and the gigs are coming: all with no "danceable" requirement whatsoever.

 

So dude: if you've got the musicians to pull it off, f***g go for it on the Robben Ford.

 

Just try and be open minded about songs and how they fit in your set and with certain audiences - be willing to admit that a "favorite" may not work, and swap in another one quickly that will.

 

One thing I like to do is consider context: I don't like to hear "That song doesn't work"; rather: "That song doesn't work at bike nights". Too many bands I've been in will have a bum gig or play the wrong song for the wrong crowd, and then want to drop that song forever.

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One thing I like to do is consider context: I don't like to hear "That song doesn't work"; rather: "That song doesn't work at bike nights". Too many bands I've been in will have a bum gig or play the wrong song for the wrong crowd, and then want to drop that song forever.

 

 

Yeah, that can be a tough one. It's hard to tell when to give up on tune but you don't want to beat a dead horse either. Sometimes it's just the wrong crowd; sometimes you just have to figure out how to make the thing jell better.

 

Usually it's "3 bad nights and your out" for songs for us. But there are exceptions. We learned "On The Dark Side" a while back thinking it would go over great, but it just wasn't going over that well. I was pretty convinced we just needed to play it better. So I kept it in the set and sure enough, it's now one we play most every night. On the other hand was "Unbelievable"--a song I thought should just kill but didn't. We dropped it after 3 or 4 tries, but I STILL can't believe the song wouldn't work for our audiences and think it was just a combination of not really grooving on it and not playing it for the right crowds.

 

I'm thinking of giving that one another try although the guys are reluctant to "go back" to old stuff that didn't work.

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We were sick of playing bar standards and thought, 'Hey, we'll learn the good songs by the same bands that no one else covers and really kick ass on them!'. Uh uh, didn't work for us at all.

 

People who request 'Wonderful Tonight' don't want to hear some Clapton. They want to hear the damn song they requested. Same held true for any other band we covered, regardless. When it comes to your estimation of what constitutes good music, the Punters don't care, don't know and don't want to know...you'd better convince them that whatever you're playing is exactly what they want to hear or the next band will.

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We were sick of playing bar standards and thought, 'Hey, we'll learn the
good
songs by the same bands that no one else covers and really kick ass on them!'.

 

 

Not to be captain logical, but there's a reason why everyone covers "Sweet Home" and "Don't Stop Believing" and "Brown-Eyed Girl". They're great tunes. Not saying that pulling out some lesser known tunes isn't a great idea, but when I say "Tom Petty" most people shout either "American Girl" or "Free Falling".

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Not to be captain logical, but there's a reason why everyone covers "Sweet Home" and "Don't Stop Believing" and "Brown-Eyed Girl". They're great tunes. Not saying that pulling out some lesser known tunes isn't a great idea, but when I say "Tom Petty" most people shout either "American Girl" or "Free Falling".

 

False equivalency. These songs are popular, not necessarily great. By most standards I'm aware of, these songs are not strong dance material at all (something that factors large in most clubs). That is overlooked because their high rotation with cover bands is due to their familiarity and acceptance among club-going peer groups, not from any elusive, subjective scale of greatness.

 

Look, I like all kinds of pop music, but for me familiarity breeds contempt. Not so with the average bar patron...they want to hear the same songs over, and over, and over...etc. That's just how it is with non-musicians. Hey, it's probably a good thing or we'd all have to learn a new song list for every gig. ;)

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False equivalency. These songs are
popular
, not necessarily
great
.

 

 

I'll just agree to disagree with you here. If a tune is revered by three generations, it's a pretty bad ass tune. I'm not saying playing them 3X a week is a treat, I'm just saying if after 30 years, people still want to hear them 3x a week, it's a great freaking song.

 

If I were to ever write a tune that my grand kids would go ape-{censored} for (ie brown eyed girl which came out 43 years ago), I'd say you could take my guitar from me forever and I'd be a happy dude. That's a pretty cool thing.

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I would have to agree there, a very cool thing.
:thu:

 

Yeah, I've often thought there would be nothing cooler than to have written a standard. Even if you did nothing else with your musical career---if you could say you were the guy who wrote "Brown Eyed Girl" or "Sweet Caroline" or "Louie Louie"...how f'n cool would THAT be?

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with us it is usually cover the song. some exceptions i can think of are when one of us said lets cover some journey or lets cover some bon jovi. but usually it is: lets cover (insert song title here)

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Well, I'm sort of a tribute one man band, so I guess I frequently cover the artist. I'm NOT a tribute band in the sense that I try to look like, dress like, act like, or do exact versions of live shows from the original artist, I just do a bunch of their tunes in a given night's set list.

 

Outside of that, I frequently do both the "cover the song" and "cover the artist" thing, and understand the point of each.

 

Sometimes I hear a great song and decide to do it, just because it's an awesome song.

 

As for covering the artist, I frequently get requests like "Can you play some U2?" or "Got any Bob Seger?" In those cases, I'm trying to add a song from each artist, I don't care which one (so long as it's reasonably popular).

 

If you are taking requests, it's impossible to know every song someone's going to request. I mean, there's millions of songs out there, and I know maybe 150?? However, if I don't know the specific song that someone requests, I'll suggest another song from the same artist. So, covering the artist can be important.

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This is a really good question -- and in our case (as in most cover bands) I think that the answer is that we end up covering songs but also artists as well to a lesser degree. We're a set of musicians who have a particular affinity for certain kinds of music and (like most cover band musicians) less than perfect musical skills. So we gravitate towards songs by particular artists that fit our abilities.

A case in point: our singer/guitarist can nail Billy Idol songs, but ask him to play Brown Eyed Girl and sounds like ... well, Billy Idol singing Brown Eyed Girl. It's just more sensible to play songs by artists that fit into our skill set. Not that our sets are exclusively by one artist, but there are a core of groups that we're able to cover songs by convincingly. And the convincingly part is important; audiences can tell when a song has some conviction or confidence behind it.

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How many of you do Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"? Forgive me for saying this, but you probably shouldn't. Yes, it's the song that has the most youtube and last.fm hits but it's REALLY hard to do right.

 

There are other Stevie Wonder songs that aren't as complex rhythmically and would probably sound better.

 

Pick a song by the super-popular artists that you can cover well.

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How many of you do Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"? Forgive me for saying this, but you probably shouldn't. Yes, it's the song that has the most youtube and last.fm hits but it's REALLY hard to do right.

Yes it is and I'll be the first to admit my past shortcomings on that tune.

 

But it's always been at least "good enough" - yeah, that does lower the standards - but not mine, see?

 

It's a challenge - good enough FOR NOW and getting better with time. In fact, thanks for reminding of the need to get a more recent version of this on tape.

 

You try playing 2.5 hours of bass and then having to walk up to a keyboard and play something with as much "bounce" as "superstition" - what I'm saying is that there are physical, on-the-gig challenges (for ME) that I recognize, gracefully ignore under pressure, and thoughtfully address in my downtime.

 

Ain't that how it's supposed to work? (Serious question: if you disagree, feel free - I'm open....)

 

Pick a song by the super-popular artists that you can cover well.

We do that.

 

But like you, I want a challenge. Sometimes a performance challenge needs to be given time to be worked up and out: example, I've gotten much better at playing keys while my bass is still hanging on me.

 

Also, I can sustain a bass note with my left hand, mute both channels of my bass amp and put the bass in the stand in under a second, a move that's needed for me to transition from "Can't you See" to "Do You Feel Like We Do".

 

I ain't afraid to suck because in every case I know it's happening, and I improve. I do try and keep it to a minimum though - that's the key. But I'm not gonna get all anal about a one-shot physical FUBAR on the gig; I've played with and seen too many statues to want to revisit that again.

 

Like the Robben Ford tune: hey, I'm sitting here on my back porch and that song doesn't move me. Now maybe if I'm in the audience watching your band kick it up, I'll think "Damn, they're smoking it". You can listen to a live band play "superstition", and you'll probably hear the drums and clav not be as tight as they should.

 

But the crowd at that gig could have eaten it up anyway - they're not gonna be tuned in THAT MUCH to the detail. Am I advocating slop? No. But some of the musical mistakes happen when people move around and try to get into the show. Doesn't make for the best live recordings, I'll grant.

 

But I've found that people respond FAR MORE to some form of interaction (keyboard players: look up goddamnit!) than they do to musical perfection.

 

I'd just as soon not be the next Kerry Minnear, hunched over and staring at the keyboard. :bor:

 

This is timely: just last week I had a brief discussion with the drummer, where I apologized for my lack of groove and good staccato feel on that song. He then said he's been rushing the temp on that one too, and is really ready to lay back.

 

Well, we gigged it last thursday and it {censored}ing smoked: drums and keys will make or break that tune, and ya both better be on the same damn page. :thu:

 

So I'm not arguing against your point at ALL: it's sage and true in the majority of cases. But sometimes - ya gotta give a tune and the band a chance. It'll make the band and the players better overall. We used to have problems with Texas Shuffles too.

 

Not anymore: again, this wouldn't have happened if we gave up early on and stayed with the low hanging fruit of easy tunes.

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In my experience, if a song isn't working (to your standards . . . but you need to confirm that with the rest of the band . . . . it's not always a consensus) it's because someone simply can't cover the part and never will. You/they don't hear it or can't cover it technically.

 

I take your point about not giving up a song, and I also get that your clients might like it just fine, but I still think a good alternative approach is to pick another song and keep trying the hard one in practice if everyone thinks that the problem areas can be fixed.

 

No doubt you've heard "Superstition" live on Sesame Street. . . only one keyboard, but two guitars and percussion . . . and two horns.

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