Under The Covers

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2016

Does anybody understand “BREXIT?” Heck No! Does anybody understand the Department of Justice’s latest decision regarding consent and licensing and royalties controlled by Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP and BMI? All the more – Heck No!

All I know is this – it’s nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via online streaming services – no matter who you are. It’s also nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via hard copy CDs because the only way to sell them is to do live shows.   Once you sell out of CDs in your local area, which cost thousands of dollars to manufacture, you need to “broaden your circle” as they say and book shows out of your chosen city. The problem with that is you need money to tour with in order to play every night of the week and sleep in a van. (You can’t just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the Allman Brothers did while recording in Muscle Shoals.) Well, I guess you could. But in order to have the money to at least afford the peanut butter and jelly, you need a day job. But since most employers probably won’t appreciate you taking a month off here and a month off there to go gallivanting around the world, you are stuck playing shows only on the weekends, and not too far away.

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This is the Catch-22 of the music biz. Unless Mommy and Daddy are funding your little rock star trip around the world, the rest of us, have to find a way to pay for it. It takes money to make money.

My point is – this is why millions of hopeful musical geniuses resort to – you guessed it – starting COVER BANDS. Cover bands don’t need to book studio time, pay copyright registration fees, hire photographers and artists for album art work, or pay for CD manufacturing and online upload “bundles.” They don’t need managers, publicists, booking agents, album distributors or radio campaign promoters. They don’t have to constantly yearn for stardom. They can just be awesome musicians onstage, playing music everybody loves and wants to hear, and they pack the clubs. And they make a lot of money doing it; especially Tribute bands who are super duper good at copying someone who paid to do all that previous stuff and who got lucky with lots of hits so lots of cover bands could cover their stuff.

The word “cover” in regards to music by the way was coined by the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s to refer to a rival version of a previously released original tune. Some original bands throw covers into their set to make everybody happy, and to show off how THEY would have recorded it. Original bands have realized that some live music appreciators are just simply not interested in hearing songs they don’t know while out on the town spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks. They want to dance and party and eat chicken wings and sing along.

Cover bands follow only a couple rules when it comes to choosing songs: Everyone in the band has to at least like the song, and no one in the band can absolutely hate the song. Pretty simple. No K.C. & The Sunshine Band, and no Bay City Rollers. Peter Frampton – yes. Kansas, Boston, Journey – yes. “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones – no. One guy said, “I just can’t consciously play a song about a black slave girl.”

“Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss – no. “I will shoot MYSELF in the head if I hear that song one more time,” somebody said. “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton – no. Just for a laugh – “Billy Jean” – yes. Pat Benatar – yes, except “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” – karaoke crooners have worn this to pieces over the past 20 years. Prince – yes, especially “Purple Rain.” Captain & Tennille – no. Allman Brothers – yes. Delbert McClinton – yes. Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt – yes.

There are also certain songs that only certain guitar players can handle, so those song choices depend on the shredding ability of the lead guitarist. “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter – only one guy. “Funk 49” – only one guy. Anything by Jimi Hendrix – pretty much only one guy.

Bruce Springsteen – yes, except “Dancing in the Dark.” Janis Joplin – most definitely yes. Anything reggae – only if the audience is wearing bathing suits. Lynyrd Skynyrd – yes, except you know what.

AND NEVER EVER BROWN EYED GIRL.

Sometimes in my own band, we’ll be playing a cover song for the millionth time, and I’ll turn to the band and exhaustively say, “I just can’t do it anymore.”  I’ll end it (swiping my finger across my neck) somewhere before the bridge, and the retched song never makes it onto a set list again. No questions asked.

But basically, you just feel the crowd and feel the venue. If you can’t “feel” the crowd” or “feel” the venue, then you have no business being in a band. When you’re famous, like Bruce Springsteen or Adele, the people are there for YOU. When you’re in a cover band, the people are there for THEMSELVES. I don’t care what the famous people write on their social media pages. When I’m doing a show, and tons of people start screaming “ADELE,” it’s because they want me to COVER Adele, for THEM.

So back to the original music creators – and this point is argued a lot – how much of their great music are we missing out on? Why is the SAME OLD STUFF that SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PREVIOUS SONG on mainstream radio all the time? It’s because once an artist gets lucky and gets a ‘big machine” behind them, i.e., MONEY, then the production and touring costs are covered. Once that machine proves it can make a profit off that artist, other machines look at artists who SOUND JUST LIKE THAT ONE, and put their money behind the next one, and so on and so on and so on. The result: ALL THE SAME STUFF OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

You can listen to independent radio or Pandora and catch some non-mainstream music created by hard working souls who have managed to get some airplay, who have paved their own way either through their bank accounts or GoFundMe campaigns but ninety-nine percent of the time, they give up and either get real jobs, or become, COVER BANDS. Musicians are happy, diners and dancers are happy, club owners are happy.

FREEBIRD!

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