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18 October 2011

Performing Original Music vs. Cover Songs


Performing Kent’s Music

Eclectic Verve was conceived not to fulfill Kent’s rock star dreams, but rather to share his gift of music expression. In the fall of 2010, Kent’s mind began to be filled with ideas for original music. Sometimes he would wake up with a melody in his head. Other times, while driving or doing another task he would think of a theme or lyrics for a song. We created a band and publishing company to allow us to share this music with a wide audience. As a result, when we started performing, that is all we desired to do—perform OUR music. We started by singing at Open Mics. As the weeks went by, and we had repeat appearances at some of the venues, it was suggested by one of the hosts that we should learn some cover songs to augment our repertoire. Initially we both balked at the idea. After all, we had created original music which was beginning to receive kudos. Why would we want to waste our time and talent on performing another band’s work?

Covering Other Muscians’ Tunes

Although we had an initial aversion to doing so, we decided to take the advice given and learn a few cover songs. We began by covering a couple Collective Soul tunes—“Shine” and “The World I Know”. The interesting thing was that people seemed to pay more attention to our original music by sandwiching it between the songs from the other band. Another advantage became clear when we were presented with the opportunity to play longer sets. Without the music of other musicians, we only had about 45 minutes of content. We were able to double the length of our performance time by adding in the songs of others.

Thousands of Musicians Equals Millions of Songs:

Which Songs Should We Cover?

Once we had made the decision to start performing some cover songs to augment our own work, the big questions were:

  • Which artists? and
  • Which songs?

Those questions were not as easy to answer as we had initially thought. We agreed that whether performing our own music or covers, we wanted to preserve the image of Eclectic Verve. Cursing on stage is not really our style, nor are lyrics that are morose or insipid. Since we have been told we sound like Collective Soul, R.E.M. and Toad the Wet Sprocket (to name a few), we thought the music of those bands was a logical place to start.

Cover Song Inclusion Determining Factors

In the end, we decided to focus on reviewing songs that we enjoyed listening to and then determining if:

  1. the full-band versions could be converted to a single acoustic guitar,
  2. the music was in Kent’s or my vocal range,
  3. the lyrics were words we would be able to sing on stage, and
  4. we could do a rendition that either:

a) sounded like the original performer or
b) was so different, but musically interesting that we felt an audience would enjoy our rendition.

The result for our first longer combined set list is an eclectic mix of songs from The Dave Mathews Band to Fleetwood Mac to Collective Soul to The Cure and many other talented artists in between. We thought the fact that it was so eclectic was very fitting, epitomized Eclectic Verve and complemented our own music nicely.

Short and Long Term Goals

Although we will always be most passionate about performing our own music, we plan to continue to incorporate some covers in our performances until Kent has composed enough music for Eclectic Verve to allow us to perform our own music exclusively.

Since this is a new foray for us, we’d be interested to have other musicians share their experience performing cover songs and we would be interested to hear music listeners share their perspective on bands performing covers.

Please share your thoughts with us below.

2 Responses

  1. Good thoughts! I think a lot of songwriters start out with thoughts of “100% originals, that’s what I started this for”. Some never move past this, and some people even take it to the extreme to think that covers are somehow beneath a “serious” artist.

    To these folks, I submit the following (seriously incomplete) list of “serious” artists who have performed Beatles covers:

    Aerosmith, Herb Alpert, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Joan Baez, Bad Company, The Beach Boys, Jeff Beck, Bela Fleck, Adrian Belew, Tony Bennett, George Benson, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi, Bono, Booker T & The M.G.’s, David Bowie, James Brown, Jeff Buckley, George Burns, The Carpenters, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Coldplay, Judy Collins Phil Collins, Perry Como, Harry Connick Jr, Chick Corea, Elvis Costello, Cowboy Junkies, Bing Crosby, Crosby Stills & Nash, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews Band, Howie Day, Def Leppard, John Denver, Neil Diamond, Celine Dion, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, ELO, Tommy Emmanuel, Jose Feliciano, Ella Fitzgerald, Foo Fighters, Peter Frampton, Aretha Franklin, The Fray, Peter Gabriel, The Grateful Dead, Al Green, The Guess Who, Herbie Hancock, Ben Harper, Ritchie Havens, Isaac Hayes, Jeff Healey, Jimi Hendrix, Humble Pie, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ramsey Lewis, Liberace, Little Richard, Los Lobos, Barry Manilow, Marilyn Manson, Bobby McFerrin, Nirvana, Ted Nugent, Oasis, Jaco Pastorius, Pearl Jam, Joe Perry, Tom Petty, Phish, Wilson Pickett, Robert Plant, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Diana Ross, Santana, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Sting, James Taylor, Richard Thompson, Peter Tosh, Toto, Tina Turner, U2, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Ventures, Jack White, John Williams, Yes, Neil Young, Frank Zappa…

    (As far as I’m concerned, If Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles are on the list, it can’t possibly be uncool.)

    Covers are the equivalent of an artist painting a still life of flowers or some other subject that has been painted before – it’s a chance to show what YOU can do with a well known subject, to show what you can bring to the canvas different from everyone before.

    And you’re right, people will get hooked in with covers and pay more attention to what follows them. The audience is there to be entertained; by playing something they’re familiar with, you show them the trail to follow when it comes to your original material.

    Keep up the great music!


    1. I appreciate your feedback!

      You’ve made me think about performing covers in a new way with your reference to the “serious” artists who have done so and your painting analogy. Thank you for the different perspective.

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