I have been seeing a lot of action in the online forums on the topic of playing cover music (other people’s songs) versus playing your own original music. I feel I have a unique perspective on this because I actually play in two live bands. I play in both a cover band and an original band. I’ve played in both types of bands continuously over the course of my career as a live musician. Today I’m starting a series of articles that discuss the differences between playing cover music versus original music.
Today I’m going to address one of the misconceptions that I’m seeing in the online forums. The misconception that there is no creativity involved in playing cover music. To me, that’s just crazy talk! There is a ton of room for creativity when you play cover music in a live band. There are hundreds of ways to approach playing a cover song. From keeping only the lyrics and melody while re-writing every instrument part to playing the cover song note for note just like the recording. There is a massive amount of room for creativity with any approach to a cover song including a note-for-note rendition of the original.
Even when playing a note-for-note version of a cover song you have to remember that you are trying to cover a studio recording in a live band situation. There is honestly no way to truly play a note-for-note version of a studio recording live. The reason being that in the studio there are multiple instrument tracks that you must replicate live. This is where the true creativity comes in. It’s an incredibly creative process for me as a single guitar player in a band to try to replicate several different tracks of guitar in a live setting. That goes the same for every person in the band trying to cover their respective parts as the keyboardist, bassist and drummer have to be selective and creative about which parts are the most important to reproduce live.
The same can be said about the creativity involved in replicating layers and layers of harmony vocals. There’s also the fact that no two instrumentalists sound the same. So even when you’re playing a note-for-note rendition of a part created by someone else, you are only re-creating it yourself with the keyword being creating. So I submit that it takes an incredible dose of creativity and skill as a musician to be successful playing cover music. Whether you’re putting a whole new, original twist on the cover song or figuring out the best way to play a note-for-note rendition of the song.
It should be obvious the amount of creativity that’s involved in playing original music. It takes some good creativity to be able to write a song where there was no song before. It takes some major creativity to be able to write a good song. It takes an unbelievable amount of creativity to be able to write a hit song that everybody loves and wants to buy.
Now I’ve written hundreds of songs and have recorded at least 35 full demo CD’s worth of original music. Do I feel any more creative when I’m writing my own music as opposed to working on and preparing a cover song with my band? No I don’t. My creativity has to be on high in both situations. That’s why I believe that close to the same amount of creativity has to be employed whether you’re playing cover music or playing originals. Although it does usually take more sustained creative effort to write a song from scratch than it does to learn a song that has already been written.
Of course there are times a new original song just writes itself from complete inspiration and then it’s actually easier writing original music than it is learning and playing cover music. I’ll talk in more detail about the skill levels involved in playing cover music vs. original music in an upcoming post. -Matt-