I’ve written about this before, but given the huge response of a recent Bacon’s Bit on the topic, I wanted to re-address it. Your band should have a cover song or two in your back pocket. If you are able to do this then you are going to be able to differentiate yourself and more importantly have your band be remembered. When it comes down to it, as an unsigned band trying to break it in the underground having your band be remembered is the most important thing. If people can’t recall who you are you are fucked. But if you can give them a reason to recall you – you’re in the clear. So I wanted to address all this and get into why covers aren’t corny, how they help to cement you in the fans’ mind, how to choose a good song to cover and of course some of the additional benefits that covers bring to the table.
4. Covers Are Not Corny!
The biggest pushback I Get when I tell one of my consulting clients that they might be doing good for themselves by recording a cover song is that they view doing covers as corny. I view this as a load of malarkey. A lot of the biggest bands in the world have done cover songs and the fact that people forget that is deeply troubling to me. Hell – Anthrax, one of the most legit bands in the metal scene proudly flaunt two cover songs as their biggest hits. It’s important to realize that covers have a longstanding history in metal and they can really help augment your band. Don’t worry about looking cool. If you choose a cool cover and do it well then it will be cool.
3. What Covers Do To The Fan
I hinted at this in the intro. The beauty of the cover song is that it cements you in the mind of the fan. Seriously – think about all the bands you have seen in the past year. Think of all the openers. Which ones do you really remember? If you’re like me and a heavy concertgoer it frequently can be hard to differentiate between the scads of bands out there trying to make it. The bands who I have fond memories of and who I still talk about though almost all had one thing in common – a cover song. The cover song gives the fan something familiar that they can relate too. It gives them a way to relate to the show on a much more profound level. It gives them something concrete to remember you by and will help elevate your brand.
2. How To Choose A Good Song To Cover
Choosing a good song to cover is, of course, tricky business. It’s the sort of risky proposition that I often see bands completely messing up. Frequently sillier groups go for the pop music cover. In my experience, while this can be fun if you are doing something more melodic it usually just comes off as confusing and hackneyed. The other mistake I see a lot of bands making is doing a cover of a previously unknown track, a deep cut from 70s prog rock gods for instance. This is another thing that doesn’t frequently pay off – if people don’t know the song then it’s not going to give your band the shiny veneer of having played a killer cover. For a cover to work, it needs to be a song everyone knows and can sing along too but no one expects. So for instance, if your thrash band covered Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ it would be corny. But if they broke out a cover of a Misfits song, for instance, then things might pop off.
1. Fringe Benefits
There are countless other benefits to recording a cover song. For one thing, since cover songs are based on songs that were previously popular it’s a lot easier to get people to check them out on streaming. It also can facilitate playlisting, especially if you are doing a genre switch cover. Another benefit is that it can endear you to a new group of fans. That is to say, if you are a metal band trying to grow in your cities punk scene, then maybe breaking out that Ramones cover is just what you need for people to realize that you legitimately care. Cover songs are a tricky business, but if you put one together properly then it can turn into a huge driver for your bands’ career. Just ask the guys in Me First and the Gimme Gimmes!
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Matt Bacon is a consultant, A&R man, and journalist specializing in the world of heavy metal. Having worked with everyone from Glam Rock icon Phil Collen of Def Leppard, to post Black Metal titans Alcest, by way of legendary thrashers Exhorder as well as labels including Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, he has dedicated his life to helping young bands develop. Having started his own blog at the age of 14 he views his career in artist development as ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. In 2015 he formed Dropout Media in order to better support the artists he loves. We sit here now, years later with countless tours booked, records released and deals signed, and loving every minute of it.
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