I know this is the one that will get me in the most trouble. I feel like there is a divide in lots of musician circles that we, the cover band guys, are sellouts and lame for not writing our own music. It is thought that we are somehow less than because we lack the “artistic integrity” of musicians making and performing their own music.
I know that sentiment because I definitely felt that way as a younger musician.
I played in an original group for roughly 10 years. We were pretty good. We played a lot of shows, we made a few records and got to do some cool things. It was hard work and I didn’t make much money off of it but I still looked down my nose at guys who “gave up” their dream and played covers.
Here’s the thing though: I was not a primary songwriter for that group. When we went into the studio, I didn’t play every part. When the record was done, odds are I ended up playing something the other guitar player or producer put down or singing a harmony someone else came up with.
When that band split up I went the route of hired gun. My job was to play for other artists and play their songs. Again, I was playing someone else’s parts on someone else’s songs.
That’s when it hit me: I was in a cover band. It didn’t matter what we played: odds are as a musician your job is to play someone else’s song.
Also, most of the guys slugging it out in clubs on the weekends are recording their own music, and they’re using those cover gigs to fund it. I was working at an Apple store.
So that begs the question: if all bands are cover bands to some extent, are you in a good one? What can you do to make your band better? Do all rules apply to all bands if the reality is that there isn’t much of a difference?
In every “Behind the Music” the guy who got the lead singer gig always had one thing the rest of those rockstars in training needed: he had his own PA.
Today that marker still holds true. If you want to play shows, you have to have a PA. For most bands you have to go where the PA’s are. Ergo, you are forced to play in clubs and venues who have their own. Sometimes it’s amazing. Other times you are subjected to sound quality no one should have to endure.
My cover band was in that exact predicament a few years ago. We were gaining traction but losing gigs. Week after week we were turning down gigs with serious money because we either couldn’t get a hodge-podge of gear together to make it work or the cost of renting a PA was more than the gig could pay. We were trapped in gig limbo.
So, I did something ridiculously ill advised: I got a Sweetwater card and I bought a PA.
Now, before I go any further I’m not telling you to do what I did. I can only tell the story from my perspective so if this doesn’t make sense please don’t go into massive amounts of debt.
At the time Sweetwater was doing 48 months interest-free financing on what we needed. Doing the math our payment was going to be less than $300 a month. For our price point as a band I knew if we played 1 gig a month I could cover that payment.
Once we got the PA though we were able to accept the dates we were forced to turn down previously. It got to the point where we weren’t just covering the cost of the PA with our gigs, we were making serious money. We were able to make multiple payments a month towards that purchase and it became a non-issue.
Now, we would rather play our show on our dialed in system than play through a house system. I also rent it out to other bands on weekends we’re not playing and makie money off of it when I’m not using it. It has turned out to be a very wise investment for us.
If going that route isn’t an option, I’d suggest a few things. First, try making friends with local sound engineers who have their own rigs. We were able to get help along the way from guys we were friends with who would do us a solid and run their rig for us for an equal split of the gig. Also they may have some equipment they don’t use any more that they could cut you a deal on.
Another options is to roll the cost of rental on to the client by adding the rental cost to your fee. You’ll quickly realize though that it can be more cost effective to own your own gear.
In another post, I’ll show you our rig and how it meets the need for most cover bands out there.
When I was playing original music I got the coolest thing a musician could get: an endorsement deal. After our first EP came out I was able to secure a deal with an amazing amp company and a pedalboard company. High on the fumes of my status I ordered the BIGGEST pedalboard they had and a half stack amp rig. I was LOUD and I looked COOL AS HELL.
Then we got in the van and started touring.
Every show. Load in up a flight of stairs (or shady freight elevator). To the stage. More steps. Play the gig. Load out. Rinse. repeat.
In my mid 20’s I started having back issues. Something about lifting heavy things over and over in tight pants and sleeping on floors/van seats apparently isn’t good for your spine.
After that band folded I downsized my rig considerably. I was playing smaller venues and didn’t have a trailer to put my stack in. Over time my rig went from a 4×12, to a 2×12, to a 1×12.
Then I stopped bringing an amp altogether.
What I realized was that playing private events in ballrooms and event centers was not conducive to live sound. The amps always looked out of place and never really sounded the way I wanted them to. The reflections mixed with the vocals made the band sound muddy
As the band leader I was also carrying our PA so it became an issue to carry a full PA, mics, cables and an amp/cab and pedalboard.
We had already made the switch to IEMs. I didn’t need the stage volume and it just became a hassle.
Then the Helix LT came out.
The Helix LT is the lower-tier version of Line 6’s Helix flagship amp modeler. It had everything I needed for my gigs (Corporate group, studio, and church) and I was able to get it for under $1k thanks to a 15% off coupon from Guitar Center.
My entire rig was funded by selling off my pedals. I still have my amp but I don’t worry about blown tubes and bad cables anymore. My load in/out time has been reduced to 60 seconds and my guitar sounds awesome every night.
The amp simulator market is full of great products. From the Fractal Audio AX8, to the Kemper, to the Amplifire to the Headrush. They all sound awesome and are cheaper than any single boutique amp that they emulate. The benefits outweighed the cost significantly.
I love the sound and the feel of a live amp behind me. I also love having my entire rig in one place that weighs less than my combo amp did.
UPDATE: Sine I originally posted this article I have downsized even FURTHER to a Line 6 HX Stomp. My board went from 60 pounds to 6.
All of the sounds I loved in the Helix but in a form factor more in line for a lead vocalist. I still have/use the Helix LT for sideman gigs but for 80-90% of what I do the stomp does the job handily. Couldn't be happier!