So, you have been tirelessly rehearsing in your basement and your ready to take the local bar scene by storm. In my twenty plus years of playing professionally I have seen & made my fair share of mistakes. But you don’t have to! Below is a a list of do’s and dont’s for being a successful cover band. This list has absolutely nothing to do with talent. These are all common sense practices that cover bands often overlook.
1. Show up on time – Showing up late is unprofessional, inconsiderate, immature, and unacceptable. The first step to being taken seriously is being ready to play at your scheduled time. I suggest arriving 15-30 minutes earlier than needed. This will give you ample time to tune up, dial in your sound, deal with bad cords, humming, or other unforeseen issues.
2. Equipment – Obviously the better your equipment the better you will sound, but showing up with a guitar that has bad intonation or is in desperate need of a stings change is amateur. I’ve witnessed drummers use duck tape to hold their sets together, play with cracked cymbals, and flapping heads.. Regardless of the cost of your instrument, making sure it’s in good working order is necessary & within your control. Prior to the gig, spend a few minutes adjusting your instrument & amp to get the best sound you can.
3. Set List – Picking the right songs to play is crucial to your success. While you may enjoy covering “The Future Is X-Rated” from Matthew Good’s “Beautiful Midnight” it’s not going to be a song your crowd will identify with. For the most part you should perform songs your audience will recognize & enjoy. It’s fine to mix it up and play a few seldom covered, deep cuts but be sure to keep your fans engaged with playing familiar songs. If you want to be an “arteeest” then play your own songs in an original band. Girls like to dance! If you can get ladies to attend your gigs the fellas will follow. Another point of emphasis is only playing songs your band does a good job of covering. While Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch” maybe a crowd favorite, if your singer is not capable of singing it well and/or blows his voice out it’s not worth covering.
4. Run Songs – This one seems to plague every band at some point. Different crowds may require you to mix your song list up. Most of the time you should have a reasonable idea of whom you will be playing for. Show up with a set list(s) and run songs. Its okay to interact with the crowd but not having a list to guide you is a recipe for disaster. A typical cover band gig is three sets (with two breaks) over a period of four hours. You should have a minimum of fifteen songs mapped out for each of these set. Asking each other (and shooting down) what song to play next during the set is the trademark of an amateur band. Don’t do it! Research what type of crowd you are most likely to be performing for, make a list, and stick to it. Sounds simple, right? You would be surprised the number of bands that overlook this important detail.
5. Performing – Get your drinks, use the bathroom, tune your instrument, take care of your business, and be ready to perform. Don’t be that guy who makes the crowd wait so he can get a drink, take a piss, or tune his guitar. Another peeve I have is playing the first few measures of a song before the band starts. You should know your material well enough to not have to do that. Swearing on the microphones is never going to help your cause. No one has ever been offended that you did not swear. Always be polite & humble. While music stands aren’t necessarily unprofessional in my opinion they convey you didn’t care enough to memorize 50 songs. The best practice is know your material inside out and leave the music stand at home.
6. Attitude – There may be nothing more unprofessional than acting like an asshole at a show. Don’t get frustrated and always put your best foot forward. Often I am setting up and have to deal with an intoxicated patron staggering around my gear. I never take it personal. They usually mean no harm, they just curious what type of music we play, what time we start, etc… I politely thank them for coming to the gig and ask them to please excuse me so I can set up. If the bartender, bouncer, or patrons tell you are too loud. Don’t take it personal, acknowledge them & turn down! Not being polite to the help is a guaranteed way to not get called back. Sooner or later someone is bound to heckle you to play their favorite band, something they can dance to, or “Freebird”. Either play their request or keep running songs from your set list. A set list goes a long way in helping to avoid these people. Its pretty hard to heckle over the top of the band. Bottom line is always be a professional and remember someone is always watching you.
7. Don’t Get Loaded – If you have drank too much to drive then you’ve drank too much to be playing in the band. Contrary to what you may think you do NOT sound better when you’re drunk or stoned. Put on the best show possible by not drinking too much or smoking yourself stupid. You’re getting paid to perform, & entertain. Let the patrons do the partying.