I’d venture to say that almost all bands start by playing cover songs. After all, what better way to get your chops together than by emulating something already tried and true - i.e. a hit song.
The problem comes when a band or artist begins to get popular from playing cover songs, yet has aspirations of one day playing their own music. Unless you’re extremely clever right out of the box, chances are that your self-composed material doesn’t get the crowds going the way the cover material does. This means that as soon as you begin to play one of your own, that hot enthusiastic crowd suddenly goes ice cold, making you feel like your song just isn’t cutting it.
Before you begin to think that way, remember that it’s not your fault that your material doesn’t get the same kind of response. A hit record has usually been well crafted by a slew of experts, and it’s been burned into your audience’s consciousness over a long period of time. How can you compete with that? Chances are that through no fault of your own, you weren’t able to put nearly that same kind of time or effort into your material, and of course, it’s all new to your audience.
So how do you make the transition from cover artist to playing your own material? Try these four steps.
1. Take what you think is your best song and work it up show-wise so it’s the best song in your set. This means that you concentrate on the dynamics of the song, the lighting, and the movement of the players on stage. Don’t know what I mean? Watch a concert by your favorite band or artist. At some point during the set (or several times even) the show will peak thanks to something that goes beyond just standing there and singing and playing. That’s what you want to do. I realize that it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but this is a step you’ve got to take.
2. Next, connect that song to one of the hot cover songs that you do that’s similar in theme and/or tempo, then play them together in a medley. Keep working it until your song get’s the same response as the cover.
3. After you’ve gotten your audience used to one of your songs, use the technique to put a second, then a third song into your show. It’s a gradual process, so just be sure that your songs the show around them are as well-crafted as you can get them. It’s quality you’re going for, not quantity.
4. Finally, since you have to play cover song for the time being, don’t play them exactly like the record. Don’t be afraid to give them your sound. Remember that you’re audience is digging more on the familiarity of the song rather than how close to the record your performance is.
Remember that the above steps won’t work if you can’t write a song to save your life, your arranging ability is hopeless, or you don’t put the requisite work into the show. But if you do, this can be a way that you can gradually transition out of being just a “cover band.”
By the way, at all costs, don’t call your songs “originals.” This one word signals amateur and labels the song as inferior in the audience’s mind. Instead, use “my (or our) music” or “my (or our songs,” or better yet, don’t even identify it. If it’s any good, people will find out soon enough who wrote it.
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