How far can you elevate a cover band?

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Ok, bit of a weird / convoluted thread, but something that's been on my mind a lot recently. Originals is a whole different journey, & one that beckons, but a straight forward cover band pretty much sets a ceiling on gig size / level ambition. Typically, if you want to elevate a cover band to "the next level", going tribute is the only readily available way, but it needs to be done right, & it's a saturated market. In terms of remuneration, wedding & corporate are avenues, but please shoot me if I ever go that route.

Tribute is not a direction for my cover band, but we're starting to transition into bigger stuff organically. It's taken 8 years, and a change of lead singer + bass player to get the lineup right, & only now is the performance delivery getting on point. As most of you know, getting a band together where all the players are of the required level, is a very tough, & often long process.

So, what's been happening, & what's the plan? This year, we've found ourselves moving away from bar gigs, & snagging more modest festivals / events in the 1,000 - 2,500 audience level. Better fees too. We've always done our fair share of festivals, but it's increasing. We've now got bookings in 2020 for events up to 5,000, with a significant uplift in fees. The bigger (5,000+) festivals have almost zero interest in cover bands, or even tribute acts, so that's not an ambition.

It's not about the money for us, but it helps make things doable. Whilst we have a few forward bookings in the space we want to occupy, we want to drive more, so are taking the jump of a pro film crew live recording of a festival gig in a very special outdoor location coming up next month. Of course, that's fraught with risk (bad weather, band malfunction, etc), but we're hoping that can enhance our promotion.

Despite encouraging progress, I'm still left with a concern over wether there's an element of excessive expectation. We're just a damn cover band, with no USP other than we do it reasonably well. I'm not concerned about the monetary investment, more the consequences of not meeting expectation within my bandmates. I guess there's only one way to find out.
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
I say go for it. Every working band has a market. Popular songs are popular for a reason, and people want to hear them. If the band replicates the songs well enough, and yours does, then people will want to hear them. If your band didn't deliver the goods you would have petered out years ago. So what's the problem?
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
Andy, what's your goal? If you're anything like me, you picture yourself atop a pyramid in Egypt in sun-god robes surrounded by tens of thousands of beautiful women holding pickles in the air.... but I understand not everyone has the same aspirations.

Are you looking to make some grandiose artistic statement, or are you looking for accolades/popularity/respect, or are you simply looking for more of the same?

Last question...

Can anyone in your band write (for real)?
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I'm not real sure what you are asking but to me a cover band does many groups' songs. A tribute band would be one that plays, acts, dresses like one particular group. A sixties tribute band would only dress in costume of the period. A cover band in general could dress pretty much any way they like as long as it is respectful.
 

beatdat

Senior Member
In terms of remuneration, wedding & corporate are avenues, but please shoot me if I ever go that route.
Why?

I hear weddings and corporate gigs pay really well, and while I haven't played either, I've been to plenty of both where everyone - including the band - has a great time. I'd jump at the chance to play either.

This year, we've found ourselves moving away from bar gigs, & snagging more modest festivals / events in the 1,000 - 2,500 audience level. Better fees too. We've always done our fair share of festivals, but it's increasing. We've now got bookings in 2020 for events up to 5,000, with a significant uplift in fees. The bigger (5,000+) festivals have almost zero interest in cover bands, or even tribute acts, so that's not an ambition.
I think this pretty much answers your own question, no?

Anyway, expectations should be realistic and kept in check. What do your bandmates feel about all of this?
 

Old Dog new Cans

Senior Member
Man, just have fun. What are you expecting from the gig?? Make as much damn money as you can, enjoy it. And retire in Florida, I dunno, lol.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
If your band didn't deliver the goods you would have petered out years ago. So what's the problem?
Not a problem as such, more a thought process to make sure I don't push it beyond it's natural ceiling - that just invites a let down. Now the band lineup is right, I just want it to be more enduring than that.

Andy, what's your goal? If you're anything like me, you picture yourself atop a pyramid in Egypt in sun-god robes surrounded by tens of thousands of beautiful women holding pickles in the air.... but I understand not everyone has the same aspirations.

Are you looking to make some grandiose artistic statement, or are you looking for accolades/popularity/respect, or are you simply looking for more of the same?
The fantasy stuff disappeared around 1984, but I do like your "chicks with pickles" image ;)

What am I looking for? Honestly, just pride in collective & personal achievement. Perceived status means zero to me. The only thing I need to satisfy in life, is my own expectations of myself, but I do care greatly for the aspirations of my bandmates too. For me, "success" is measured internally, not externally.

Can anyone in your band write (for real)?
There's two or three with ability, some strong stuff already on the table, but we're time poor with busy lives, so additional work / focus is always going to be a challenge. I'd love to take this band seriously into original stuff. It has the facility.

I'm not real sure what you are asking but to me a cover band does many groups' songs. A tribute band would be one that plays, acts, dresses like one particular group. A sixties tribute band would only dress in costume of the period. A cover band in general could dress pretty much any way they like as long as it is respectful.
Thanks Grunt. No identity challenge here, just conceptualising where to push without over inflating expectations of a cover band.

Vanilla Fudge was a cover band. The seemed to do pretty good for themselves. :cool:
Valid point :)

I hear weddings and corporate gigs pay really well, and while I haven't played either, I've been to plenty of both where everyone - including the band - has a great time. I'd jump at the chance to play either.
Pay in these scenarios can be superb if done right, but it's just not for me. I'm lucky enough to not rely on music income. That wasn't always the case. I cut a living for 7 years as a simple "lay it down" journeyman drummer back in the day. Back then, I'd play anything that put food on the table, & I immensely respect those that are still talented enough to do so.

Make as much damn money as you can, enjoy it. And retire in Florida, I dunno, lol.
Money is far from the goal. Don't get me wrong, an act of a certain level commands a level of compensation, but that's secondary. That said, the most sincere qualification of praise you'll ever receive is when someone is prepared to pay well for your services.
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
What am I looking for? Honestly, just pride in collective & personal achievement. Perceived status means zero to me. The only thing I need to satisfy in life, is my own expectations of myself, but I do care greatly for the aspirations of my bandmates too. For me, "success" is measured internally, not externally.
I applaud your initiative. The age old problem of being perpetually dissatisfied with one's life's work. If you find resolution, please let the other 3.5 billion of us know how you did it.

There's two or three with ability, some strong stuff already on the table, but we're time poor with busy lives, so additional work / focus is always going to be a challenge. I'd love to take this band seriously into original stuff. It has the facility.
The biggest hurdle is finding the courage to begin. Asynchronous collaboration is pretty easy provided all members use the same ecosystem. For example, if everyone has a Focusrite and everyone uses ProTools. Set up a google-drive and go. Put in 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, and a month or two later you have an EP 's worth of material to hand to a producer.
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
I think the band has "graduated" from "just a cover band". Y'all are doing more and more challenging songs and a great appealing lineup of songs. The festivals seems like a great route and I'm sure the band has built some following after so long -so you already have an audience. I can tell you're person who always likes a challenge Andy-now you're in a band with members with the same attitude. Rather a single tribute band effort maybe coalesce "tributes" with a common theme. I bet an audience would go crazy over that-build up the song list to a grand finale one y'all really just kill and the audience loves. Sounds like a great problem to be having though.
 

Winston_Wolf

Platinum Member
I totally get your head space on this, but I'd suggest slowing down your thinking before you get any deeper into overthinking this.

It sounds like you have some cool gigs coming up, and the band is taking the initiative to expand things a bit accordingly. I think you should lean into these changes and see where it gets you and then re-evaluate again in a year's time.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I totally get your head space on this, but I'd suggest slowing down your thinking before you get any deeper into overthinking this.

It sounds like you have some cool gigs coming up, and the band is taking the initiative to expand things a bit accordingly. I think you should lean into these changes and see where it gets you and then re-evaluate again in a year's time.
Sage advice, & a path I'm already taking, but sharing the story with the collective wisdom here.

I think the band has "graduated" from "just a cover band".
To a degree, but you're right, marketing identity is always a consideration.

The biggest hurdle is finding the courage to begin. Asynchronous collaboration is pretty easy provided all members use the same ecosystem. For example, if everyone has a Focusrite and everyone uses ProTools. Set up a google-drive and go. Put in 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, and a month or two later you have an EP 's worth of material to hand to a producer.
Already in that space to a degree, but you're certainly right about starting paralysis.

I write, but much of my stuff isn't especially suited to the band. That said, you don't know until you give it a fair try to weave into the band's style. For an example, see the post I just put up in the "Your Playing" section.
 
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DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Any band is going to hit a ceiling.

I mean, even the Beatles, and their 250 million albums sold barely scratches a dent compared to the fact there are 7 billion people in the world.

But on more practical matters, even an original band only works their way up to those bigger gigs by constant and relentless touring. Internationally. at that. And I could be wrong, but I don't see you schlepping your gear in a van across all Europe and Asia, and then on a plane to North and South America, originals or not. Many of favorite bands don't play big venues anywhere, but they do play venues all over the world, and thus their total audience adds up to rather larger, just spread out.

The advantage a cover band has is while it may not be viable for touring, a cover band can play gigs every week, and even multiple gigs, all within a driveable radius of home. An original bands can't really do that. An original band has to worry about the oversaturation of any given market, and thus needs to keep moving. A cover band really doesn't have to worry about oversaturation, as long as someone, anyone, shows up to the gigs.

The next level for any band, original or cover, really isn't in bigger gigs, but in the frequency of viable gigs.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
The next level for any band, original or cover, really isn't in bigger gigs, but in the frequency of viable gigs.
I completely agree with you in general terms, but "next level" is contextual according specific goals - especially in the case of our cover band. For now, applicable to live music only, our aim is to play more satisfying shows. Progression through originals is almost a separate project. Maybe one day they'll merge, maybe they won't.
 

Gottliver

Senior Member
Elevate? Play charity gigs that benefits children. Maybe do one for every 4 or 5 payed gigs. That will give purpose to your band.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
If a band does nothing but covers, then yes, that will be their reputation, and that reputation might be beneficial.

“These guys play the best _______ of anyone. That’s what I want for my wedding, daddy!”
Or
“George, since we can’t have Devo, let’s get ______. They are the next closest thing, and we need something Devo-ish at our annual meeting. Get them now!

But by offering originals in conjunction with covers, the band then demonstrates their aesthetic and the covers are used to launch their true sound & identity. Van Halen is the perfect example of this. Their first radio play was a Kinks cover, and their first original on the air was Eruption/Running with the Devil. The rest is history.

I hear weddings and corporate gigs pay really well, and while I haven't played either, I've been to plenty of both where everyone - including the band - has a great time. I'd jump at the chance to play either.
In the context of a wedding or corporate gig, the music isn’t the primary focus like it is at a music festival. Even at a bar gig, the band is there to entertain in the context of alcohol consumption. My point is, most live music is played as a soundtrack or background for the real activity of marriage, hob-nobbing or drinking beer.

Perhaps that’s why casino gigs have gotten popular in the states. They provide very nice stages, separated from any gambling areas, giving the band the perception that their music & performance is the focal point.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Andy...you're a driven guy. You approach life like a good businessman would. Forgive me for putting it this way but I can't help relating this thread premise to something like...How can I elevate my merry go round endeavors..To me music is for my own personal playing fun, not any nameable goal. It's fun and that's plenty for me without anything else. I have no tangible goals on the business side of my playing, only on the personal side of my playing. OK you do. We are all different for sure. So Andy, where do you want to head? What would quench the restlessness?

From where I'm sitting, you guys have a steady fan base under your belt, and you can get probably some of the best gigs available. I guess I think that you guys could just coast to the coast, and have a jolly good time on the ride. So I guess I don't understand wanting to go further. You've succeeded already, just enjoy it is my take on it. Especially in light of the medical stuff. I think you may be in the "if you're not growing you're dying" camp. I myself would most definitely be content with what you guys have, and just keep it going. But that's why you're Andy and I'm not.

Do cover bands even have goals beyond better money and more fun? To me that's it right there, everything lol. Why try and change things up when everything is going so well? What's the upside?

IMO the funnest gigs are the bar gigs, and the least fun, but the more prestigious gigs are the festivals. I'll take the fun gigs thanks. I like close proximity to the audience. If it were my band, I'd ride your solid reputation and take gigs based on how fun they potentially are, while still trying to get paid more. But I'm not Andy.

Do the other guys in the band share this same restlessness? My guess is no lol.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I completely agree with you in general terms, but "next level" is contextual according specific goals - especially in the case of our cover band. For now, applicable to live music only, our aim is to play more satisfying shows. Progression through originals is almost a separate project. Maybe one day they'll merge, maybe they won't.
From what I’ve seen from your band, you all play the songs well, and to a high level of detail. But I’m getting the impression you want to take the music further.

There are definitely ways to elevate live music playing, and the crowd’s experience, way past the point of cover band, without delving into original music, or tribute band territory and shtick. Does your band want to take the time and collective effort to arrange the music in fresh and exciting ways? Does anyone have the expertise necessary to do this?

(Although, a recording project of an original song or two might earn you all some additional regard among booking agents, if not fans. Make sure the b are rolling in the studio, though, because it’s 2019.)
 

Old Dog new Cans

Senior Member
Pay in these scenarios can be superb if done right, but it's just not for me. I'm lucky enough to not rely on music income. That wasn't always the case. I cut a living for 7 years as a simple "lay it down" journeyman drummer back in the day. Back then, I'd play anything that put food on the table, & I immensely respect those that are still talented enough to do so.

Money is far from the goal. Don't get me wrong, an act of a certain level commands a level of compensation, but that's secondary. That said, the most sincere qualification of praise you'll ever receive is when someone is prepared to pay well for your services.
I'm just saying, as a cover band musician, what else is there if that's what you stick with? You either keep playing covers, become a One-band cover band like Strutter, or you do originals. I guess it has a lot to do with what kind of music you play, like to play.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Elevate? Play charity gigs that benefits children. Maybe do one for every 4 or 5 payed gigs. That will give purpose to your band.
Already there, but we have a fairly strict two charity shows / year policy, & always charge expenses. The band only plays around 25 gigs / year, as we're all time poor to varying degrees.
But by offering originals in conjunction with covers, the band then demonstrates their aesthetic and the covers are used to launch their true sound & identity.
This is the space I'd ideally like to get to, but it's a time thing.

Andy...you're a driven guy. You approach life like a good businessman would.
Yes & no Larry. I approach the business of the band as I would in any business venture, because that clarifies end goal & methods to get you there, but my approach to musical satisfaction is utterly different.

Certainly the money is not a high priority in itself, but it does drive options in the band. If money was the driver, it would be weddings & corporate all the way, but non of us go out there to be background fodder (no disrespect to those earning on that circuit - it's just not for us). We earn the same fee level, if not a bit more, on the festival & event circuit, & for us, it's much more satisfying. It's more of this we want.

Do the other guys in the band share this same restlessness? My guess is no lol.
Everyone buys into this goal 100%

Does your band want to take the time and collective effort to arrange the music in fresh and exciting ways? Does anyone have the expertise necessary to do this?
We already do this with a couple of numbers. There's certainly the writing / arrangement facility in the band to do more, & that's one area we've decided to leverage, but again, time poor :(

I'm just saying, as a cover band musician, what else is there if that's what you stick with? You either keep playing covers, become a One-band cover band like Strutter, or you do originals. I guess it has a lot to do with what kind of music you play, like to play.
There's both a musical satisfaction element for us, & an event satisfaction element. We're greedy, & want to tick both boxes. We're in the fortunate position of being able to select gigs. A few of them are very small stripped down Sunday afternoon affairs. We love a sprinkling of those, but we also like raucous large bar gigs, & of course, the bigger stage events. Our gig aim is to increase the number of bigger stage stuff, & decrease the smaller stuff, but not to extinction. The longer aim is to play more across the festival season, & less in the late autumn through early spring. The thinking being that leaves more concentrated time for rehearsal / musical development.
 
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