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What makes a great cover version?

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From the smallest local weekend pub band, right through to the most famous and prestigious Stadium artists; cover songs are a huge feature of the music industry today. They play an enormous part in generating income freplor songwriters, publishers and also the performing artists. But what exactly goes into making a great cover version? Have you ever noticed that many cover versions seem to compare poorly with the original masterpieces they are copying? They are very often lacking in spirit, feel, and technical ability; some even seem to miss the point of the composition entirely.

Why Do Cover Songs Exist?

In order to sculpt and hone their talents, and aid technical and artistic development, aspiring musicians and performers will very often learn and copy songs and performances of their inspirational idols and mentors. But what are the reasons for performing in public, re-recording and re-releasing other composer’s copyrighted material? We have made a small list of suggestions:

  • To provide live music entertainment in local or smaller venue settings, and private functions. This applies to most working bands and artists, and examples can be heard in many venues across the country each and every weekend.
  • To launch a new performing artist (usually a vocalist) who does not necessarily specialize in songwriting or composition themselves. This has been done countless times over the past few decades. Many artists have had an initial flurry of success by taking this approach, before facing a dwindling profile from lack of support from subsequent songs. A small number of artists have continued to enjoy relatively successful careers as a result of employing this tactic.
  • The re-launch of pre-established artist whose career maybe experiencing a lull. This is usually a tactic taken on by artists who are experiencing lack of inspiration or “dry patches” in their songwriting, but still wish to maintain a strong public profile.
  • The re-working of a song in order to launch a publicity campaign of another work, event or product. This work could be a feature film, TV programme, brand, sport, charity, to name just a few. The promoters will draw from the target audience’s prior knowledge and love of the composition and exploit this in order to promote their own product.

All of these uses listed of the work, require the original composer’s (or their publisher’s) permission, which will be granted via a legally binding contract.

What makes a cover song good?

The answers to this are indeed, rather subjective, but we have humbly put a few thoughts and points of note together in an attempt to answer this common question:

  • Technical ability. There’s simply no point in attempting a song which is either harmonically, rhythmically or technically too difficult for a band to execute. The song will simply serve to make the cover artist appear weak; bands looking to cover songs which are originally performed by virtuosos, should be completely sure that they are up to taking on the responsibility of bringing justice to demanding pieces of music.
  • A firm grasp of arrangement skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should be able to re-score Duke Ellington’s “Take the “A” Train” or re-harmonise “Bohemian Rhapsody” but a cover band, or music producer should possess a firm idea of the roles of instruments in the ensemble with which they are working. From this knowledge they should be able to manipulate melody and countermelody lines, re-harmonise and re-structure, the work. They should have shown that they have been prepared to experiment with feel, groove, tempo and instrumentation.
  • Excellent studio skills. This includes all aspects of recording such as; microphone technique, mixing, editing, producing, effects, and even mastering.
  • Excellent performance skills. You (or your band) may be the best bedroom guitarists, but if you can’t deliver that “Surfing with the Alien” cover which you dearly love in an effective manner, either onstage, or in the studio, then you are unfortunately better off pursuing that day job.
  • A wave of inspiration. This is such an incredibly difficult phenomena to depict and describe. The Oxford English dictionary defines inspiration like this, “The stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings,  etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity”

There’s no getting away from it, a cover song will certainly require something new and interesting, possibly unusual and creative in order to make it appealing. Freshness and originality will without doubt draw an audience to your rendition. An ability to portray a well known and loved work in a different light, and with passion, honesty and humility will surely attract the attention of many, and hopefully their approval too. We at The Brotherhood take great pleasure and delight in breathing new life into what we believe are already great tunes. We work hard to reproduce the songs in a worthy manner, and to bring fresh alternative arrangements to songs which people know and love. We do hope that you can share our enjoyment of the art of creating effective cover versions, and trust that they’ll bring as much joy to you, the listeners, as they have to us while we have created them. Please reply to this blog by telling us either your favourite, or least favourite cover versions! Try to say why you like or dislike your choices!