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The art of cover musicians

Ben's Boombox

By Ben Meinking
On April 14, 2014

A bassist unlatches his Ibenez guitar case and puts his pride back into storage. The show just ended and the crowd applauds with love and support. They have just heard four hours of the past 25 years in music. Songs written by various artists were performed by musicians who don't own any of the rights. The audience was reminded of all the glory days they once had when they heard the original mix for the first time. The song itself becomes more powerful than the artist and the individual who wrote it. How many times must a song play on repeat to be considered great?

Cover artists make a living by giving an audience a repeat button for live music. Never playing the same song twice in a row, these musicians bring smiles to those listening by adding a personal touch to the fan favorite original that they are playing. A cover artist's audience gets introduced to the style of the artist. Each musician has his own identity, or voice, and it can be heard through covers by cueing in on the differences to the original. Maybe a solo is played or more instruments accompany the piece. If you like seeing musicians play live but the band is miles and miles away, cover artists can offer you great skill alongside listening to your favorite tunes.

As cover artists begin to learn songs from various artists and genres, tribute bands learn everything they can about the original band that played the song. If a band claims it is a Journey tribute band, the singer better sound just like Steve Perry when he belts out "Don't Stop Believing." If a band claims it is a Journey cover band, then I hope they know every song and play them with some artistic flair.

It is not easy being in a tribute band.

When the audience shows up to hear and see the musicians, they want to act like they are seeing the originals, like Steve Perry. This can be a confusing time for some audience members because the music will sound just like the band; voice, instruments and stage presence. Another repeat button getting its wear and tear.

Originals are harder to find when other artists have their music so accessible. It's easy to cover "Wagon Wheel" and get a crowd reaction, but getting people dancing by playing something unique and one-of-a-kind is a battle. The battle can be very fun and there is a technique to winning the crowd over and showing them what you have been working on. Both cover and tribute artists slip their original work in the set list when performing. The crowd learns the new voice and becomes comfortable with it, by recognizing the songs being sung. The musician sneaks in an original song and heads begin to turn. The audience becomes taken by the song. They can't explain what is going on; what they are hearing sounds great while phones come out with Shazam, or some other song title listener, on the screen. Without a confirmation of credit for the song, the audience will ponder over who wrote that new song until they talk to the artist and learn that it is purely an original.

Writing an original song and finding an audience for it is very hard. Artists, from painting to music to writing, wrestle with this. It is important to embrace what artists make themselves. It is a release for some, passion for others and a matter of being progressive for some. Bring out the originals and support the starving artist. We are all unique and it is important to notice that.

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