Self-Indulgent Song Choices vs What Audience Wants to Hear and Dance to

Dutch

Senior Member
Yeah I love 70s R&B, disco but those songs are cringe worthy, overplayed, etc.

Love the Hall & Oates choice. Bet it sounds great.
Our band plays "I can't go for that" and people love it. Because it's one of those songs people forgot about but loved back then. Songs like that are the real gems for a cover band IMO.

Dutch
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I didn't read it as condescending but perhaps it was the "Period. There's not even a question about this".
I say that in the spirit of 'give the people what they want'. Is there ever an instance where that's not a smart idea?

I'm not saying bands can't experiment, but is it their job to try and bring new music to an audience, when they were hired to entertain with familiar, enjoyable music? If they want to do that, it should be on their terms, and not sprung on the audience, or the person who hired them.

No matter what the source, I've always been a "question authority" kind of guy because there are always questions, options and alternate routes.
Agreed, but some things remain tried & true. I've been playing in bands at a lot of levels, and with varied successes, for almost 45 years. And while I've watched the music change a bit and listeners become more sophisticated, one thing hasn't changed: you can't play music that people don't want to hear, and expect a good reaction. Again I say, period, and there's not even a question about this. Well, that's assuming you want to be well-received, and maybe continue working.

Hasn't anyone here ever walked out on a band because you didn't like what they played? Or if you managed to stay through the whole performance, did you ever go see them again? Conversely, when you like a band, aren't you more likely to go out of your way to see them again?

I'm not trying to be an authority, I'm just pointing out something that's very obvious. Is anyone out there doing it differently? Anyone having success playing music that people don't like? I'd like to know.

Bermuda
 

chris J

Senior Member
Sorry folks, but I have to take Bermuda at his word.
I learned a lot just reading his two posts in this thread.
Makes me wonder if I could have played in more bands if had been more accomodating to our audiences...........
I used to complain to my band members about playing hoary old crowdpleasing chestnuts like Jumping Jack Flash and Johnny B. Goode, etc. etc.........in hindsight, not too bright on my part!
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
In the context of this thread, of course play what they want to hear.

And, I was merely speculating on what the poster was thinking.


I say that in the spirit of 'give the people what they want'. Is there ever an instance where that's not a smart idea?
The band that came immediately to my mind was The Sex Pistols.

WTF was that all about?

They started touring in places where they were hated but they kept doing it. People (like me) said "That shit is horrible" but they somehow had some degree of success.

There must be a lot more examples but that's who came to mind first. When Alice Cooper played locally before they were big, they were horrible. Who want's to hear a jam band with no structure or decent vocals.



you can't play music that people don't want to hear, and expect a good reaction. Again I say, period, and there's not even a question about this
Again with the period :)

You shouldn't, but you can. People do it all the time.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
I know I’m complaining, but ever since I was in my first band (1963) I have been very frustrated with this issue. My first band felt that if they played popular cover songs they were “selling out”. They were excellent musicians and as you might guess we never got very many jobs or became famous.

I have always wanted to please the audience. And I have felt helpless as a drummer in every band I have been in. Being the drummer I have typically had very little influence on what was played and how it was played. As far as pleasing the audience, I have felt completely dependent on what the other musicians do on stage.

I know I could have more influence and input if I studied and learned more about the technical part of making music.
Or I could start my own band and be the leader of the band.

I guess I just want to vent a little and complain………….


.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
The band that came immediately to my mind was The Sex Pistols.

There must be a lot more examples but that's who came to mind first. When Alice Cooper played locally before they were big, they were horrible. Who want's to hear a jam band with no structure or decent vocals.
Neither outfit was a cover band. But in terms of what they did, they gave their audience what they wanted. While The Sex Pistols and that punk movement faded away, Alice went fairly mainstream early on, and is still out there pleasing audiences all over the world.

...you can't play music that people don't want to hear, and expect a good reaction

You shouldn't, but you can. People do it all the time.
Yes, but not the successful ones.

My comments were made in the context of playing songs that would please the audience at hand, with the intention of doing a good job, motivated by the desire to work again and make more money. I know that not every player is motivated by money, or is necessarily pursuing a career as a musician. But the OP is interested in whether song choices are important, and that indicates to me that they want to do a good job and get more work.

Bermuda
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
I know I’m complaining, but ever since I was in my first band (1963) I have been very frustrated with this issue.
Yeah Jim. Being "just" the drummer does seem to limit our influence so, we need to become awesome, sought after drummers or find other ways to peddle our influence.

For example, a mid level drummer would generally be preferable to a more advanced drummer if he would book gigs. Nobody seems to like that end of the business.

A drummer who can sing well would also be more of an asset than someone who just plays.

I understand the other player's position. You can't expect someone to want to put a lot of effort into learning and performing a song they are not really in to. It's probably expected more from us because we are at the bottom of the food chain, sitting in back,doing our job.


in terms of what they did, they gave their audience what they wanted
No, they didn't. They came to the US and played crappy music in crappy venues and got chased out of town many times.

In any case, you should be arguing with the guy who said you were condescending, not me. I completely agreed with you :)
 

FreDrummer

Silver Member
...Because it's one of those songs people forgot about but loved back then. Songs like that are the real gems for a cover band IMO.

Dutch
There's definitely something to this...

We have a female singer, so we play "The Warrior" (Patty Smyth featuring Scandal). What is amazing is how many times there are girls on the dance floor who may not even have been born when this was a hit, yet they're out there going crazy and mouthing the words...

But, back to the OP's original point, yeah, you gotta play what works. We are in the process of cutting the dancefloor kill-joy tunes and replacing them with "everybody knows it/easy to dance to material."
 

DrummerCA35

Senior Member
Hey, thanks EVERYONE for the all the posts to this thread.

I didn't take Bermuda's comments as condescending, I totally agree with them. Our band has a split in that me and some guys feel exactly the same way, and others don't and have tried to push songs that they may personally like --- and hope will work --- but just don't in the end. And those songs never were great choices to begin with in terms of what successful dance bands have on their set lists. Like i said, once duds are in the set list, getting rid of them has been somewhat of a challenge, but we've managed to dump the songs that aren't working, which were in the minority.

Regarding "Let's Dance", we will see how it plays out at our gig this Saturday. I'm encouraged by what you guys have posted about it, and we will see what happens.

"Dirty White Boy" is an oddball, and I wasn't involved in that choice. I'd never even HEARD of it until now. There are dozens of prime, proven songs we could be doing in it's place. That being said, I must admit that it's somewhat refreshing to learn it, as it's something I'd never heard until now. I predict that it will clear the floor, but hey, if I'm suprised then great. But it seems an odd choice.

@Midnight Zephyr - I like a lot of your set list, with my favorites being "Born on the "Bayou" and "Cripple Creek."

Am also encouraged by what you guys have written about "I Can't Go for that." I think it really grooves and it's fresh to me since I haven't played it, and like I said we now have a sax player in the band.

@Hollywood, I can relate! This whole concept of "selling out" by playing the popular songs just seems stupid to me if you're trying to play certain gigs. No offense to anyone. And I relate to what you're saying about being the drummer. It really varies in bands I've been in. Some are better than others.

@FreDrummer --- makes total sense what you said and "The Warrior" sounds really fun. We had a packed floor of college students dancing to "Shake Your Booty" and twerking. I kid you not. Where they heard it I dont know. Glee? Kareoke? Their parents?
 
M

Matt Bo Eder

Guest
Our band plays a mix of music. The idea is to play dance music.

Our set lists consists of songs that may make some of you groan. But it's our attempt to play crowd pleasers that pack the floor, and it's fun to watch people dance rather than leave, and we're being paid to do so. Examples of these include:

Uptown Funk
Brick House
Funky Music
Get Down Tonight
Disco Inferno
Celebration
Don't Stop Believin'
September
Give it to me Baby
Get Lucky
What I Like About You

...and so on. No magic here, tons of bands playing similar sets. We try to add some things that work that may not be AS commonly played like "Centerfold", "Rapper's Delight", "My Sharona" and so on.

A new singer has wanted to do some songs such as "Dirty White Boy", "Let's Dance (Bowie), and so forth that are NOT among the more popular and commonly played dance songs.

I realize that not every song needs to be a dance song or even an overplayed song. But I know what it's like to play a song that consistently clears the floor, sometimes even clear the venue, and the crowd just leaves and goes to the bar across the street or something.

Yes, we play for the enjoyment of it, but does it make sense to play and learn songs that don't work when we are being paid? Some of us are in sync in this band on this and others are not. I know some people are bored to tears playing "Mustang Sally" and "Funky Music" and with good reason. Hell, even I'm bored with "Funky Music" at this point. However, seeing a packed dance floor makes up for it, and I'd rather have that, then play a song that's never worked for the band.

We've added "I can't for that" by Hall and Oates, and funked it up some, and with a sax in the band it actually sounds killer to me. That's an attempt to do something a little different.

How do you guys in cover bands choose your songs, and who chooses them, and how the hell do you get rid of them when they're not working? It should be easy, but you'd be surprised on how some people create their own version of reality when it comes to holding on to songs that they like but don't work.
I'm only in it for the money. I play what they tell me to play ;)
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
Our band worked really hard on Superstition, Sir Duke and Smooth to feature our 4 pce horn section. Great groove, big sound. We love playing them. But they just don't fit with our audiences. Played them once or twice then had to drop them.

Bermuda is exactly right 'play what the audience wants to hear'.
 

Erberderber

Senior Member
The general view here is that the band should play what the audience wants to hear rather than what the band wants to play. Ok that's fair enough, but what I want to know is who is this audience? What kind of person gets enjoyment out of hearing a band playing a song over 30 years old that's been done to death by thousands of other bands? Who are these people? If I was in a bar and there was a band playing the kind of set mentioned in this thread, I'd be bored to tears.

I popped round the corner to see a band a local bar on Saturday. They started with Riders of the Storm and Born to be Wild. I sat there thinking "what's the point"? I was just about to leave when they started their next song which was Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode, which was a nice surprise, so I stayed for a bit longer. Sorry guys but I just can't see the attraction of churning out the same old stuff, again and again and again, no fun at all, not only as a band member, but also as a member of the audience. I just don't get it. I suppose there are people who are quite happy to have steak and fries for dinner every day for the rest of their lives, but I'm not one of them.
 

JustJames

Platinum Member
If there are 20 people dancing to my band playing Mustang Sally, and one jaded existential philosopher for whom a hackneyed bar band cliche is just utterly pointless, I'll take my lead from the 20 dancing, and Mustang Sally stays in the set list.

I like playing covers, I get a huge kick out of people dancing to my band's playing. If it ever gets old, I'll review my approach, until then I'll knock out those "pointless" songs, and wear the widest shit-eatingest grin while I do it.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
There again if people only ever "Get to hear what they want to hear" how are they ever going to get into something new, or at least new to them?

I always played rock and R n B (no, the original) and thought Funk was simplistic girly rubbish with no meaningful lyrics. I joined a Funk band and.... I love the stuff. Its great to play and people love to dance to it. Now if I had stayed with my mindset that I play and listen to what I know and like I would never have discovered Funk. So, playing what people want to hear comes with huge caveats.

Also, I presume most of us play cos we love music. If you have to spend all your time playing what you dont like and dont enjoy simply cos "Its what the audience want to hear" then why bother? I have worked at jobs I didnt enjoy, but the money made it worthwhile.

If I had ever been lucky enough to realise the dream of becoming a pro drummer, but ended up playing stuff I had no interest in or enjoyment playing then I would quickly have got out cos music was never about making money, it was about making music.
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
If you want to make a living out of music it really helps to love commercial music. People can tell if your heart isn't in it.
 

River19

Senior Member
If there are 20 people dancing to my band playing Mustang Sally, and one jaded existential philosopher for whom a hackneyed bar band cliche is just utterly pointless, I'll take my lead from the 20 dancing, and Mustang Sally stays in the set list.

I like playing covers, I get a huge kick out of people dancing to my band's playing. If it ever gets old, I'll review my approach, until then I'll knock out those "pointless" songs, and wear the widest shit-eatingest grin while I do it.
I agree 100% with this.

There are bands that want to carve their own path through the woods and play "their" music audience and venues be damned. And if it's good and they keep pounding the ground they may gain a following......but as we all know, the odds are stacked against them.....heavily.

If bands want consistent gigs paying good money in some of the best venues around their area, they would be wise to listen to the advice above given by the folks that have been there and done it. I played in a "successful" wedding/bar band for years as well as a great cover band before that in my 20s. Out of the 100-150+ songs we played over the years, sure many were cliche', but you know what wasn't cliche? Walking away from a gig at 2am with more than gas money and a couple free beers and wings.
 

whiteknightx

Silver Member
Heh, this is a great topic. I've done nothing but cover bands for 25 years, and song choices is your bands life or death. So few musicians seem to get that.

I totally understand being bored by playing the same old same old. I have a list of 40 or so songs on my 'Never want to Play or hear again" list, but you know if our set list was just those 40 songs, the floor would be full every night. As a professional, who's getting paid to play music for a crowd, your music better be entertaining the crowd or you won't be invited back. I believe its a part of why live music is dying a slow death.

At least around my area, there are very few live venues left that have full bands. And if I go in one, the crowd are all generally older people - 35+ who are going out to the local pub on a friday night to see live music. They aren't there to hear your personal deep cut selection of songs that no one's ever heard of. The young generation just aren't going to these places. When the older crowd are too old to go see bands on a Friday night, that'll be it for cover bands in my opinion.

Some friends of mine have a band and just don't get it. They do all covers that they think are all so clever since they are not from the list of songs that cover bands play, and generally no one likes them at all. Empty dance floor. 0 gigs. But they don't want to bend in their 'musical integrity' whatever the hell that is.

You think the Stones don't get tired of playing the same setlist for 40 years? But you don't see them sneering and feeling it's beneath them to play Honkey Tonk Women. lol

And to the original poster, Dirty White Boy is my favorite Foreigner song, and its a nice upbeat song, so you'll probably be ok in my opinion. If you do it well, I'd be excited if a band did it somewhere when I'm in the audience.
 

whiteknightx

Silver Member
Just to add, In my opinion, if you announce "ok here's a song by band X" it better be one of the first 2 or 3 songs people would guess, or it's probably a bad pick. That's my rule.
 

JustJames

Platinum Member
My band will be playing an acoustic set on NYE. The venue is a friend's apartment (views Sydney Harbour Bridge and fireworks...sweet!). We're expected to produce music that people will be able to dance to if they would like to.

I got carried away, and suggested these songs...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRYvuS9OxdA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMJk4P9m9Y0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvuyYj5ROmk

I love 'em all, but we probably won't play any of them. They're all extremely accessible, but there are so many songs out there that people know and love, and that we'll enjoy playing, that I can let these three go very easily and move on...
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
There again if people only ever "Get to hear what they want to hear" how are they ever going to get into something new, or at least new to them?
I think that people discover new music on their own quite successfully, especially in the last 15-20 years thanks to the internet, and in particular, Facebook, which almost everyone uses. Is it really up to a cover band to educate/enlighten people, or should they just play music they were hired to play?

Also, I presume most of us play cos we love music. If you have to spend all your time playing what you dont like and dont enjoy simply cos "Its what the audience want to hear" then why bother?
I love music, but I love playing drums, and that's more important and satisfying to me. I don't harbor any of the disdain for overplayed songs like Mustang Sally, I just love playing, regardless what the music happens to be. I do have songs that I particularly enjoy, and others that I enjoy a little less. But I always enjoy the playing itself most of all. That's why I'm equally happy whether I'm on tour rocking for 5,000 fans, or playing country or blues locally for 50 people. In terms of enjoying what I'm doing, it's all the same.

For those who want to express themselves at a higher artistic level, I support you 100%. However, I recommend you don't join a cover band - it will suck out your soul. Happily, I don't know that feeling, but I heard it somewhere.

If there are 20 people dancing to my band playing Mustang Sally, and one jaded existential philosopher for whom a hackneyed bar band cliche is just utterly pointless, I'll take my lead from the 20 dancing, and Mustang Sally stays in the set list.
Yep. And people dance to it, along with a few dozen other 'overdone' songs. I don't know if that says anything about the song or the people who like it, but it doesn't matter as long as it works. But bands don't have to play those songs if it really eats them up inside, there are hundreds of other great, tried & true hits to play from the rock/soul/dance era, that the audience and the band can enjoy.

The general view here is that the band should play what the audience wants to hear rather than what the band wants to play. Ok that's fair enough, but what I want to know is who is this audience?
It depends. In many situations, such as a bar, street scene, or private party, it's not musicians. The band does well to play songs that the general public recognizes, or at least thinks they recognize. In others, it's mostly musicians who come to hear a particular band play its particular music... the audience is already theirs, and the band gives them what they want.

The protocol works in both situations. And when a band stops giving the audience what they want, the band fades away. The audience always has the last word.

Bermuda
 
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