The other day I wrote a post titled Playing Cover Music Vs. Playing Original Music Part 1 which covered the amount of creativity involved in playing cover music versus original music in a live band. Today I’m writing part two of that post to give you my view on another angle of the Cover Music Vs. Original Music debate. I’ve been seeing a lot of action in the online forums on this topic and I wanted to give you my view based on the fact the I play in both a cover band and an original band.
In my previous post I wrote about the amount of creativity involved in playing cover music vs. original music. I gave a slight edge to original music since it does take a bit more creativity to create a song from nothing. If you remember, I believe that playing cover music requires just about as much creativity as playing original music. Today I’m going to write about the skill level involved in playing Cover Music vs. Original Music.
Here, the disparity in skill level between playing covers and originals can be huge. You can barely have any skill at all to write a song and get up and play it. You can also barely be able to play 3 chords on a guitar and get up and play a cover. So I’m going to lay down one criteria before judging the skill level used for playing covers versus originals. The criteria is this, how much skill is required to be successful at playing regular gigs and filling a night club playing originals versus covers?
Here’s what I’ve seen in my years of playing both covers and originals. I’ve seen original music acts that can barely play their instrument at all be able to write and perform songs that pack houses everywhere they play. Their instrumental skill level is almost non-existent but because they are playing their own original music, they only need to be able to play well enough to get their music across to the audience in a pleasing way. I’ve seen people playing original music singing with only their acoustic guitar and packing clubs. So in this case, their playing skills are minuscule at best but they are still successful at playing original music because they know how to utilize their basic skills to create beautiful and pleasing original music. So I submit this, it doesn’t take very much skill at all on an instrument to be able to play original music and be successful at it but you must employ your basic skills very well.
As for playing covers, to be able to pack houses everywhere you go you must be able to play cover music well enough that people recognize the song. Most people playing cover music by playing 3-chord songs on an acoustic guitar, while singing, are not packing houses everywhere they go. When playing in a cover band, you have to be proficient enough on your instrument to play as well as what you are hearing on the recording. Not only that, but you have to be able to play a lot of different styles of music when you play in a cover band. Your playing skills in a cover band must be high enough to be able to play like players that are highly skilled in focused areas but you must be able to play highly skilled in a lot of different areas. So I submit this, it takes a great amount of skill on an instrument to be able to be successful playing in a cover band.
So to answer the questions “Does it take more skill to play in a cover band or an original band?” I submit that it takes a lot more skill to play in a cover band. You’re playing skills have to be on a much higher level when you’re playing cover music if you are going to be successful at finding gigs and filling the clubs everywhere you play. With original music, you only have to be able to get your music out to the right people and a lot of your success will be determined by marketing and your ability to find your audience. You don’t have to be a highly skilled, versatile lead guitarist to be successful playing original music. Playing cover music, you have to be able to really handle a lot of different styles and play at a high skill level.
Don’t think I’m forgetting about the one area where playing original music takes much more skill than playing cover music. That area is in songwriting and to be successful playing original music, you must have an extremely skilled songwriter in the band. Whereas playing cover music, you don’t have to worry about writing the actual song itself. But there are plenty of musicians that play original music that don’t contribute anything to the songwriting and can barely play their instrument. Whereas pretty much every player in a cover band must be proficient at several styles and have enough skill to copy many different players. So overall, the skill level involved in playing cover music is much higher than that of playing original music, with the exception of songwriting.
I’m not saying that there aren’t some extremely skilled musicians out there playing original music. But even the highly skilled musicians playing original music are generally highly skilled only in one style or a highly focused area. So to summarize, I honestly believe it takes more skill to play cover music in a cover band than it does to play originals in an original band. -Matt-