THE GROOVE MUSIC LIFE

Why Most Cover Bands Need To Die

One of the things that kept me from posting here on the regular for all of 2013 and much of the previous year was being involved with live music again… which would have been well and good except for some things that are best left expounded upon in a longer series of posts – and I intend to do so at random points over the next several months.

Earlier this evening, a local club posted on their Facebook page the set list of a cover band that is booked to play there this weekend. Say what you will about the mere idea of posting someone’s set list in advance (the post has since been removed from their Facebook), but I can safely say for sure that if I saw a set list like this, I wouldn’t bother going to see the band (click the image to see the full-size image):

typicalcoverbandset

Out of 38 songs, at least 35 of them are songs that every other fucking bar band in the country is playing – to death, and with little or no conviction, it seems. The band – who unless they got their collective handle from the nickname bestowed on Kaori Iida during her early Morning Musume days by the hosts of Utaban, has a typically stupid cover band name – apparently didn’t spend too long in rehearsal, maybe a month or so, hashed together a list of songs that most of them already knew, rented a PA and maybe a few can lights, and figures they’ll make a good chunk of extra money for very little work. That’s the private reason behind such a cloney set list. The typical public excuse for playing these songs is always some minor variation on “That’s what people want to hear.”

I have a news flash for the people who peddle this sorry excuse for cloning the set list of 20 other bar bands in the area: THERE IS LITTLE OR NO TRUTH TO THAT CLAIM. I was in a working cover band for several months between the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013. We played a lot of these same songs and, outside of some golf clap applause, we got no reaction to whatever standards we played. We might as well have been a jukebox in the corner of the bar. We had a better reaction when we played the Sex Pistols’s “Anarchy In The U.K.” and Husker Du’s “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely”, and that was our first clue that we should have been doing more of that kind of material. You know, stuff that isn’t PLAYED TO FUCKING DEATH. But a variety of other issues – mostly internal – interfered with that game plan, to the band’s eternal, and eventually fatal, detriment. (Much of the sordid details are to be referenced in future postings, but I will point out that I’d been gone from that scene for several months when I got news of the band’s long-overdue collapse.)

When I made a comment not dissimilar to my “cover bands shouldn’t play the same 30 songs as 30 other cover bands” statement, someone told me that I should go to a bar and pay attention to what is played on the jukebox. I don’t go to corner bars to begin with – Until I got sick of cover bands, my policy was that I never went to a bar if there wasn’t a live band playing. (And trust me, you do not want me anywhere near a jukebox, especially if it’s a TouchTunes jokebox, because I damn sure will break the monotony by booting up the TouchTones app on my iPhone and queue up some songs guaranteed to break the monotony.) Getting a random idea for a song or two from a jukebox play or radio broadcast is fine. Basing your whole band’s set list on it is a lazy mistake.

What is the solution to eliminating the Attack of the Cover Band Clones? It’s pretty fucking simple: DON’T BE A FUCKING CLONE BAND. A set list like the one above should be the B-list or even the C-list of a band’s repertoire. As suggested above, it seems obvious that the set list came together out of mutual “Well, we played these songs in other bands before, we all know them, let’s stick to those”-ism, did them in a month of rehearsals, and assumed the best. If I were the manager of this band, and I saw what was on their set list, I wouldn’t let them play any shows unless they learned 30 other songs that aren’t played to death, PLUS, I’d make them add at least two songs a week to their set list. If they weren’t willing to do that, I wouldn’t keep them as a client anymore. Because, you know what? I’m willing to bet that, if this band with the dick-joke name even lasts six months, they’re never going to change much of this set list, for the same reason of sheer laziness and the delusional “these are the songs that people want to hear” fallacy that are out and out giving cover bands in general a bad name. (At least this band doesn’t do any fucking Lynyrd Skynyrd covers, although the presence of “Brown Eyed Girl” in the set makes me want to do to Van Morrison what Varg Vikernes did to Euronymous.)

Bands like this make me wish I had some sort of Kitchen Nightmares-styled TV program – even if it was just on YouTube, for Chrissakes – where I could go Gordon Ramsey on some of these bands. Believe me, I’ve seen enough lame cover bands in my lifetime where I could have easily done such a thing with confidence. Otherwise, and until then, there’s always postings like this where I, through my own experiences as both musician and observer, can point out the faults and mistakes most cover bands make.

  • Cold musician

    While I agree that this set list is a little heavy on bar band standards, everyone needs a couple of those songs in their set list. Its not the songs that are the issue with most cover bands, its the delivery that is the issue. If this set list was delivered professionally by a solid group of musicians it would go over just fine. The author is bragging up Anarchy in the UK, yet that song is just as tired as most of the ones on this list. Just because he personally enjoys the song doesn’t mean it is the right song to play.

    Here is a newsflash to all the musicians out there. Do listen to what is played on jukeboxes. There is a reason those songs are being played and its because people enjoy them. These are the same people that are paying us as musicians to entertain them. Musicians don’t hire bands they play in them. If one feels like sharing their creativity and superior tastes in music with the world they should look at joining the original music scene. There is lots of cool stuff happening there, but on the cover scene as sorry as I am to say it, we are human jukeboxes.

  • CJMarsicano

    Hello “Cold musician”. I’m the author of this piece. You did bring up a very good point. If they’re playing these songs professionally, that’s fine. I would argue that if they were really professional they wouldn’t lean so heavily on a standards-heavy set – which makes me wonder how long this band was together before they assembled this set and started taking bookings. I was told that they were a relatively new group, which got my warning flags even higher.

    I myself left the cover band scene last April to start working on originals.

  • Cold Musician

    http://www.harmonycentral.com/t5/Backstage-With-the-Band/WHY-MOST-COVER-BANDS-NEED-TO-DIE/m-p/36261889#U36261889

    There is plenty of discussion about this article over at the HC forums. Stop over and join the discussion