‘Hail the Covers Band’By Andrew London
If you choose to try and make a living performing music, and assuming you’re not one of the very few who attain commercial success early in your career, you will undoubtedly find yourself playing ‘covers’ (other people’s songs) at corporate functions, weddings and other celebrations where the audience is not there specifically because of you.
Some musicians struggle with this.
For those of us who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, playing shitty old electric guitars with bent necks and dangerously-delapidated (even then) valve amplifiers, trying to emulate the sounds we were hearing on Beatles and Stones records, acquiring a repertoire of can’t-fail classic rock staples was almost unavoidable.
Like most of my contemporaries, I had one fully assembled by the time I was 20, and still pull it out every now and then when the occasion demands.
Even in 2013 a repertoire that starts with 1963’s ‘I Saw her Standing There’ and finishes with 1967’s ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ or 1977’s ‘April Sun in Cuba’ (in NZ anyway) is guaranteed to do the business and have everyone (even the under-20s) up dancing.
It gets you an invitation back
Most importantly, it will get you invited back. I used to worry and fret that I should be learning newer ‘classic rock’ material, perhaps from the 1990s and 2000s but have come to realise there’s no point.
Firstly because there isn’t any (classic rock from that period that anyone still remembers, let alone actually likes) and secondly because ‘Jet Airliner’ and ‘Eagle Rock’ still work admirably.
Some musicians claim this is anathema, and maintain they would rather have their spleen removed with a dessert spoon than to have to ‘resort’ to playing these songs. I understand this view.
We would all rather play our own original songs to an attentive audience who’ve paid at the door to see us specifically. Many have the luxury of being able to afford to hold this lofty view as they derive income from a day job, or are supported by tolerant partners.
Playing ‘lowest common denominator music
This enables them to indulge their passion for playing whatever less popular genres they like, and to look down their noses at covers bands who are playing lowest common denominator music to lowest common denominator plebs.
Playing in covers bands and hacking through songs I’ve done 1000 times before often feels like a day at the office….which is exactly what it is, and that’s the point.
My professional life has frequently entailed gritting my teeth through these gigs, knowing I can do my own original material the next night, hopefully to a paying audience who have come specifically to hear it.
‘First night subsidises the second’
On most occasions the first night subsidises the second, so it is necessary to mentally compartmentalise.
But something interesting has happened lately.
At 40-ish my wife decided she wanted to learn the bass guitar so she could come and do some gigs with me. She’s now able to perform my repertoire of classic party songs well enough to accompany me to these day-at-the-office gigs.
Sometimes I look over at her while I’m singing ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’ and I see her grinning from ear to ear and moving in time with the music like she’s dancing.
And I remember how I used to derive a similar thrill from playing ‘Ticket to Ride’ or ‘Honky Tonk Women’ when I was 15.
And I remember thinking how, if someone had suggested back then that people might actually pay me to play these songs, enough and sufficiently often that it could actually be my JOB, I would probably have thought that would be as good as it gets.
The grass is always greener and sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. And a bird in the hand is worth two thrown into the greenhouse.
I’m learning, all over again, to be grateful that anyone wants to pay me to play those songs….and there’s a reason they want to do that….it’s because they’re great songs. And as day jobs go, it’s as good as it gets.