Posted: Nov 2, 2015
**Guest post written by Matt Bacon, Senior Campaign Manager at Independent Music Promotions.
You look out on the crowd after a high powered set opening up for one of your favorite bands – and then instead of playing another song off your latest release you instead pull off a killer cover of Just Like Heaven. You go to your merch table after the set and you realize that your KISS parody shirt seems to be selling best, people come up to you and say that they love your neckerchief and says it reminds them of the 70s. You find this odd since your sound isn't that close to anything that was really released in that decade – but that's besides the point. People love artists who pay tribute to their influences.
Now I'm not saying your entire band needs to be retro all the time – nor am I saying that you should necessarily end every set with a cover. What I am saying though, is that in my experience – humans are suckers for nostalgia and if you can invoke that in them, then they will give you, to use the vernacular, all of the money. After all - how do you think that a band like Wolfmother ended up getting so popular? And think about it – aren't there local bands that you've seen over the past few years that you only recall because they covered that one Weezer song at the end of their set?
By paying homage to (But not ripping off!) one of your influences in your work, you are able to humanize yourself, which allows your fans to realize that you're just a fan like them. It helps to eliminate any sort of line between musician and common man. By establishing yourself as a relatable and very human artist, you're helping your own image down the road. People will remember you – because you are basing yourself off a previously existing iconography and one that some people probably already identify with.
Now I understand why you might feel concerned over something like this – aren't you just stealing some other artists hard work for your own benefit? I would beg to differ. Aside from the obvious fact that all any artist is really doing is building on their influences, you have to remember that a lot of great musicians from history were known for doing covers. One need look no further than Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower , or the eternal Judas Priest classic Diamonds and Rust a track that was originally performed by Joan Baez. There is a proud tradition of covering material in rock and roll – and why? Well for one thing – putting your own spin on a piece of work is fun, but beyond that, it helps to give something familiar for people to connect too.
Odds are that if you're reading this post, you're playing in a band at the independent level and are desperately doing whatever you can to stand out in the crowd. As a frequent showgoer (I probably attend 20 shows a month), I can say that the bands who generate buzz tend to be the ones that rip out a great cover in their own style. For example, recently NYC avant-metal darlings Pyrrhon pulled off an incredible cover of Death's Crystal Mountain in their set opening for Maruta. People were talking about that particular set for a week after the show – and I'm sure that it led to a boost in their social media status. These are the kind of things that can end up marking a scene and help make you a legend – by touching on the work of Gods you are only elevating yourself.
That being said – one should never make the mistake of becoming a full on tribute band – something that actually ended up bringing Wolfmother down a little later on in their career. Though it's cool to mimic the visual aesthetic of a band like the MC5, it's been shown time and time again that you can't just rip off the entire style (Both visual and aural) of another artist without suffering the consequences that naturally come from being derivative. One might even argue that Lady Gaga's Madonna worship is part of the reason for her quick fall from grace.
The point being – I think this article has made it clear that you should use covers and the like to help boost your own personal brand. Wearing your influences on your sleeve is fine, and it helps to establish you with a certain paradigm – even Led Zeppelin did it with great aplomb. It shows that you know where you came from and refuse to get caught up in modern day madness. But it also can be a curse – essentially asking to be constantly compared to those bands. Yet with some hard work and a little bit of market research (Which can be as simple as asking your friends in the scene for their opinions) I think any band can bring their influences to the fore whilst establishing themselves as rock and roll icons for a new generation.
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