How far can you elevate a cover band?

brentcn

Platinum Member
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 :(

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.
Think bigger!

Arrange entire sets, not just one or two numbers. Hire an additional lead vocalist, or two, to lighten the physical demands (and cover absences if necessary). Most pro bands at the level you’re talking about have multiple vocalists, stage attire, and play medleys rather than individual songs. Songs are grouped loosely by genre, decade/era, and/or mashup potential. Playing to tracks is also the norm, since it demands a consistent performance, in addition to filling out the sound. More attention gets paid to choreography and blocking (i.e. where not stand or not stand).

You can also arrange your material in order to feature and spotlight individual players and moments: an 8 bar drum break/solo, a big guitar solo, an a cappella vocal break, a funky bass solo. There are ways to get more “musical”, in addition to just building a more exciting show. Take a page from the playbook of some of the great jam bands like the Allman Brothers.
 

Old Dog new Cans

Senior Member
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.
I say expand your songlist. You guys are obviously talented and land nice gigs. You seem to have a good grasp on what you want. Good luck (y) :cool:
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
Light shows, explosions, go go dancers in cages!

Okay, maybe not, but put on a show. People want to see a show, not just guys playing instruments. This stuff just doesn't get done anymore.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Think bigger!

Arrange entire sets, not just one or two numbers. Hire an additional lead vocalist, or two, to lighten the physical demands (and cover absences if necessary). Most pro bands at the level you’re talking about have multiple vocalists, stage attire, and play medleys rather than individual songs. Songs are grouped loosely by genre, decade/era, and/or mashup potential. Playing to tracks is also the norm, since it demands a consistent performance, in addition to filling out the sound. More attention gets paid to choreography and blocking (i.e. where not stand or not stand).

You can also arrange your material in order to feature and spotlight individual players and moments: an 8 bar drum break/solo, a big guitar solo, an a cappella vocal break, a funky bass solo. There are ways to get more “musical”, in addition to just building a more exciting show. Take a page from the playbook of some of the great jam bands like the Allman Brothers.
All very good suggestions, & ones I take on board. We already design a set specific to each gig, and have some sections that feature both keys & guitar focus sections - drums & bass, not so much.
I say expand your songlist. You guys are obviously talented and land nice gigs. You seem to have a good grasp on what you want. Good luck (y) :cool:
Thanks. Expanded song list is certainly something we're working with. To give us full set flexibility, we need more up tempo numbers for sure.
put on a show. People want to see a show, not just guys playing instruments. This stuff just doesn't get done anymore.
I think we're amongst the more visually energetic acts in our space. We have a good front man, & the bassist is right in the fight too, but there's absolutely more that can be done.
 

KEEF

Senior Member
There is definitely a 'ceiling' for covers bands and personally i think it's fairly low!! Weddings/corporate is the top level money wise but I agree with others - not fun wise. Smaller scale festivals would be the biggest crowds but again not the most enjoyable,especially if they are multi band events - short sets with backline/differing levels of sound engineer competence/logistic difficulties etc.
Putting on a better 'show' - lights/lasers/smoke etc is hugely space/venue dependent even if the band members have the enthusiasm for it. We used to really go for it - when we stopped using a fully programmed light show - nobody even noticed!
The only 'bigger' avenue I've seen is a nationwide theatre type tour billed as 'The Classic Rock Show' worth a look on the tube if you have time.
 

Woolwich

Silver Member
What KEEF said, although I’ve never done corporate work but having been on the other side of the stage I can imagine it would be fun. The audiences are “guaranteed” and up for it which ultimately is the enjoyable part of a gig for me.
I think the main thing is that everyone agrees on a direction, irrespective of what that direction is. A previous band of mine which was successful in terms of being a pub band and by now would have been picking and choosing gigs went pop because of one member who wanted us to be always doing different things but didn’t have the ability or drive to actually even make them happen. He was full of “bright ideas” that would have added organisational strain and probably expense that might have had marginal benefits but also might not. When any organiser books a band, they’re doing so because of what they know that band will bring to the gig, so there’s no need to learn new songs or radically change what you’re already doing imo, you get booked for what you are.
My wish list for my covers band is to be doing the number of gigs I want to do (2-3 per month), having venues contact me or at least answer me in a timely manner with gig availability, and be in a position to not have to chase pubs around to fill the diary.
And as per KEEFs comment about ditching his computer controlled light rig our new setup is a T bar that someone had lying around, 4 random spots that a couple of us had accumulated over the years, and two £10 eBay sound to light “disco lights” on the floor in front of the kit. Add a small amount of haze and a simple cheap set of fixes become party central.
 

mikyok

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

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.
Wish somebody would shoot me or preferably some of the clients doing corporate and wedding for the last 7 years. The money is the only reason I do these gigs and I'll unashamedly admit that. By the end of October every year I'm not a nice person after 6/7 months of wedding season so I usually bugger off on holiday in November somewhere cold in Europe with amazing food and drink.

There's a jam night up the road that keeps me sane at a pub with really good ale.

Very special outdoor location suitable for rock bands...........................only Stonehenge comes to mind!
 

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
I'd put your worries to rest Andy. Why? Because if they didn't want your band, they wouldn't have hired your band. They would have gotten someone else.

The worst that will happen is that you won't be invited back for summer 2021.
 

trickg

Silver Member
I've persused the responses in this thread - it's an interesting thread, and one that I identify with because I've been working in the same cover band since 2001.

The truth is, there's only so far a cover band can go, and there's only so much you can do to elevate it to something else.

The band I play with is kind of on its last leg now, and there are probably a number of reasons for this, but I'll speak more to how things were in the band's heyday, between 2005 and 2008.

Our bread and butter has always been the wedding reception, with corporate events taking a pretty distant second place to that. We were at a point where we worked a lot - we were gigging about 40 dates a year, and we didn't want to do more than that because as it was, we were out almost every Saturday night of the year, and a half-dozen Sunday afternoons for the one-off bull-roast fundraiser at some VFW hall, Elks or Moose lodge, or that kind of thing.

Here are some of the things that made us successful and kept us booked:

  1. We were all young, attractive people. I think this is part of why we are no longer getting booked - we are essentially the same band we were 18 years ago, and we're all showing our age. I'm still fit and I look good for my age, but the fact is, I'm 49 years old in 3 weeks, so instead of relating directly to the people on the dance floor like I did when I was in my early/mid 30s and looked 10 years younger, I look like I could be their dad.
  2. Backing tracks - this fills out the sound, and lends consistency for parts that are hard to keep consistent on stage, such as backing vocals.
  3. Real horns - I'm a trumpet player in this band, and even though there were usually keyboard horns on the backing tracks, the live horns made it all sound real.
  4. Everyone sang - this was an 8 piece band, and when you have that kind of variety in vocals, it means that you can be a musical chameleon as a cover band with the person who is best suited for the song to be the one to sing it.
  5. MASSIVE song list - we can literally pull up any one of nearly 1000 tunes at a moment's notice because of the backing tracks that locks everything and and the fact that...
  6. Everyone was proficient at reading music - this was crucial to being able to add new tunes to the library.
  7. Technology - the band was using in-ears at a time when most other bands were still using floor wedges, which helped in a number of ways - it drastically reduces stage noise so that you can get cleaner, more consistent mixes in the room. There are also verbal cues on the backing tracks for the drummer, that also helps the drummer stay locked in to what's going on with the backing tracks. Also, we've always had really good audio gear - our stacks always sounded great, and we were one of the first bands in the area to go to an all-digital board. That allowed everyone to be able to tailor their own in-ears mixes with an app on our phones, and it allowed the sound man to essentially walk to the room to make adjustments to the mix with an iPad. And speaking of iPads, because we read our music, we are able to keep our books synced with the push of a button via an FTP server that holds the music. If a new chart got put out, the bandleader simply notified everyone via email, and we synced our books - it was just that simple.
  8. The band leader is a recording engineer, a music arranger, and profient on bass, drums, keys, sax, vocals, and percussion - this is something that ins't necessarily in your control, but for us, this really helped. He was the glue that put everything together. If someone requested a special tune that wasn't already in our library, he'd record the backing backing tracks, arrange the parts, and then upload everthing to the FTP server. We were literally able to add brand new top 40 tunes to our play list at the peak of those tunes' popularity.
  9. We tried to stay on top of things in terms of our promotional materials with up to date videos, recordings, and web/social media content.

So with all of that out of the way, I'm not sure there's much you can do to elevate your band, except to be super tight musically. My band never rehearsed. Seriously - in 18 years, I think the band has maybe had 4-5 rehearsals total, and that was because we were all pro-level musicians, and made a point to take care of being prepared musically, but with that said, I was never happy with that aspect of this band. We never had pre-set set lists - everything was called on the fly, which meant that sometimes I missed an entrance to a tune because I couldn't get the chart pulled up fast enough, or it was something really obscure or oddball, and something that if I hadn't looked at it recently, it was going to be difficult to play well. Tunes that come to mind that fit that bill are tunes like "Late in the Evening" by Paul Simon, or "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder. I think we'd have done even better if we had been tighter musically.

The only other thing that I could suggest is to look into the Tom Jackson model of music performance. Basically, it's a text-book method for how to structure a musical performance so that it becomes a real show that leaves people satisfied, and also wanting more.


The US Army Band program went through a phase where they were really out of touch with their audience. The older performance formats they'd used for decades that catered to the WW II crowd - the concert band and the jazz big band - were not resonating with a more modern audience. They started teaching the Tom Jackson model at the Army School of Music a number of years ago, and it has helped some. Serioulsy, I suggest you check into it. I went to the Army Senior Leadership Course at the School of Music earlier this year, and when we were going through some of the Tom Jackson methods, we watched Justin Timberlake's halftime show and analyzed it against the Tom Jackson model - it was literally a 1-1 match, so it's definitely being used by the big players in the entertainment industry. It delves into all aspects of a show performance - song selection and order, lighting, (different colors to convey different emotions and levels of excitement) movement, effects like pyrotechnics, etc. Seriously, if you go to almost any major concert event, when the concert is reaching a peak, invariably the colors being used are red with a lot of movement and flashing.

Tom Jackson model - drink that Kool Aid.
 

trickg

Silver Member
As much as I hate, loathe, and despise the TJ model........

It did earn me a fair bit of dosh back when I toured.
We hit the TJ model hard when I was at the Army musicians' Senior Leadership Course, to the point where I start to analyze live performances I see on TV. I don't know if the people designing and setting up those shows are using the TJ model specifically on purpose, or if a good show conforms to certain "rules," and therefore conforms to the TJ model whether it was done on purpose or not, but almost everything anymore seems to be based on it.
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
We hit the TJ model hard when I was at the Army musicians' Senior Leadership Course, to the point where I start to analyze live performances I see on TV. I don't know if the people designing and setting up those shows are using the TJ model specifically on purpose, or if a good show conforms to certain "rules," and therefore conforms to the TJ model whether it was done on purpose or not, but almost everything anymore seems to be based on it.
TJ's LMM book was first published in 2012? The techniques/methods discussed in it are nothing new, but he aggregates them and presents stuff in a straightforward manner.

I was a pre-Seagram Polygram/TVT slave.. I mean artist/performer.... Their finishing program was a close match to LMM. Some of it was beneficial. Some of it, like being told which band members should (or should not) take their shirts off on stage, was a bit soul draining.


Andy,

Have you considered playing as a backing band for a show... Like Questlove did with the Roots, or Paul Schaffer, or GE Smith, Doc S, etc?
 
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Morrisman

Platinum Member
The cover band I've been in for 22 years has been through this cycle, and we're all getting older...

The two leaders of the band bought a pub two years ago and run it as a music venue with six bands per week, with a view to 'giving something back' and supporting new and creative bands. The venue provides good backline, sound and lighting, and can record live to multitrack.

They work with the university jazz department, so every Saturday afternoon a different jazz quartet of uni students plays there. They have a jam night each week and also spots for upcoming groups and performers, plus established bands on weekends. They provide a monthly gig for an Irish band, a Ukrainian folk band, a magician, singer/songwriters and various original funk, jazz and country bands. Our big cover band (11 piece w/ horns) plays once a month, enough to keep us motivated and performance ready for our 'outside' gigs.

So the answer for our cover band has been to set up a venue to help young and original musicians get regular gigs and to support live music in our area.
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
The cover band I've been in for 22 years has been through this cycle, and we're all getting older...

The two leaders of the band bought a pub two years ago and run it as a music venue with six bands per week, with a view to 'giving something back' and supporting new and creative bands. The venue provides good backline, sound and lighting, and can record live to multitrack.

They work with the university jazz department, so every Saturday afternoon a different jazz quartet of uni students plays there. They have a jam night each week and also spots for upcoming groups and performers, plus established bands on weekends. They provide a monthly gig for an Irish band, a Ukrainian folk band, a magician, singer/songwriters and various original funk, jazz and country bands. Our big cover band (11 piece w/ horns) plays once a month, enough to keep us motivated and performance ready for our 'outside' gigs.

So the answer for our cover band has been to set up a venue to help young and original musicians get regular gigs and to support live music in our area.
That's a really noble thing to do.

I wish there was something like that here, too many barriers from making it a reality though.
 
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