Start your own cover band? 3 things you should know

I started playing guitar many years ago when I was in high school. It wasn’t long before he felt like playing in a band. Back then, putting together a band was pretty simple and straightforward. There was always enough talent to choose from wandering the halls of high school. So it became a matter of finding the right group of partners to suit your particular taste in music.

Things are very different today, especially if you have a full-time job, deal with a family, and still yearn to get on stage. With life as hectic as most of the time, putting together a band can be a daunting task. It’s often a bigger job than you first imagined. Just finding the right members can take a great deal of time. But don’t worry too much, it CAN be done.

Four years ago, I was 49 at the time, I started playing with a local band. Well, it wasn’t long before he wanted more. And the only way to get more playing time was to join a band or form a band. I went with the latter as I felt I would have more artistic control over the sound I wanted. Turns out he was right…it gave me control, but it also gave me all the responsibility that comes with running a band. And leading a band today is a lot different than it was when I was in high school. Back then…all you needed was the instruments, some mics and some amps (talent helped too).

Nowadays, you almost need to be an electrical engineer to perform on stage. I got a crash course on this as I went along, and there are three main things I learned, which, if you know them beforehand, can save you some headaches down the road.

o Familiarize yourself with the Art of Mixing

The first thing I learned was that a band lives and dies by its PA system. To deliver quality sound, you must not only be able to play, but also be able to use a mixing desk. There are many types and styles of mixers, and choosing the right one for your band is just as important as choosing the right guitar or keyboard to use. My suggestion is that you familiarize yourself with as much of the mixing literature as you can. Understand how the board works and what can be done with it. In the long run, this will save you a lot of time. To produce a quality sound from your band, everything must be mixed correctly. The bass on top of the soloist is just as bad as the vocals being unintelligible. The key is always in the mix.

There isn’t enough space here to teach you about the intricacies of mixing. But it’s something that must be mastered… and if you’re the one running the gang… ultimately, it’s your responsibility. Of course, you can always hire a sound guy, but in today’s market, that will certainly cut into the band’s profits. So my advice is… read as much as you can before choosing a mixer and learn how to use it once you have it.

o Get the right sound

Okay, let’s assume you auditioned and decided on the right group of musicians for your band. Let’s also assume that you’ve already created your initial song list. So, you start practicing, trying to make your covers sound exactly like the recording. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve found that you really have to add something to make it fly. What do I mean? Shouldn’t what you’re playing sound like a reproduction of the band you’re covering? Well yes and no. What I mean is that you have to add your own style to what you are playing. You have to be able to put your heart into someone else’s music. If you don’t, no matter how well you play technically, it seems flat. You should be aware that there are certain “signature” sounds in a particular song. But you also have to be aware that you’re acting… you’re putting on a show. Playing a song, played exactly as it sounds on the CD, is no more exciting to the audience than turning on the radio. You have to be able to grab people and hold them. So… yeah… make sure the lead solos from “Amy” or “I Should Have Known Better” are in there. But on songs that don’t have a “main lead” experiment. Add your own style. You can even do this with some “signature” solos.

Think of it this way. When you go to a concert, does the band sound EXACTLY like their recording, or do they add flair and punch to their hits? It’s a live performance, and they want you, the audience, to come alive too. And it’s the same if you’re playing Joe’s Pub. You have to get the audience to become participants, not just listeners.

o Monitor your practice sessions

I learned early on that maintaining control over practice sessions was a vital necessity. There are some reasons for this. When you start, you’ll find yourself blasting your tunes… amps at high volume, mics barely above that. You intend to copy the artist you are covering. But this comes at a great price. My suggestion is to reject everything. Make sure you can hear the vocals and harmonies. If you don’t do this, the voices may drift away from you and you may not sound as good as you think. In my experience, I’ve found that what really works wonders for vocals is to turn off almost everything. In one out of every five practice sessions, we use only acoustic guitars so we can hear every note being sung. I can’t begin to tell you how much this ties the harmonies together, so that when you plug it back in, everything sounds good.

Another aspect related to control, especially for the leader, is listening. You have to LISTEN to everything. It is more important to underestimate than to exaggerate, which is too easy to do. Like I said before, it’s nice to make the song your own… to add that flair that makes it come alive. The trick is knowing which notes NOT to play. Sometimes, as they say… less is more. As a leader, you have to listen to everything to know when a song is playing too much. It sounds simple enough, but if you’re not paying attention, it can happen without you realizing it.

So is that it? Is that all you need to know to run a successful cover band? Well, no. Like a quality diamond, there are many facets to putting together a payment coverage band. Many you will learn along the way through trial and error. But if you’re aware of all three I’ve discussed, you’ll be in a much better position to get your band online and gig-ready faster.

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