Make It Your Own - Tips on Covering a Popular Song
By Christopher Bright
Performing a cover song can be a great thing for you and your career as a musician. It can help you get more exposure, both live and over the internet. In a live setting, people love to hear songs they are familiar with, and if the song you are covering is well known, it'll be sure to turn some heads and grab their attention. People are constantly doing internet searches for popular songs, and covering one of them can make it possible for you to be included during their searches. And while covering a hit song can be a big boost to your career, it's essential that you avoid the one big mistake that countless musicians fall into. Solve this problem and you'll be able to maximize your results.
The biggest mistake people make when choosing to cover a song isn't the song choice (although you'll probably want to avoid choosing an obscure song that people won't easily recognize). The problem you'll face is that most covered songs are considered classics, and on of a scale of 1 to 10, most are arguably 9's or 10's and were recorded in top-notch studios. If you simply copy it, it's more likely than not that your "copy" won't reach the same level as the original. Many people have very strong feelings and associations with songs that they love, and they would much rather listen to the original than a near "carbon-copy." Fortunately, with some thought and effort, this problem can be solved. The answer is that you need to "make it your own" by giving it something unique.
The natural question that comes out of saying "make it unique" is simply, how? Here are a few different ways to differentiate your cover from others. Change the mood of the song in a drastic way. Take a slow ballad and change it into a fast rock song, or vice versa. Change the key in which the song is performed. Change the tempo of the song or the song arrangement. Change the dynamics. The key is to take your time and be intentional as you think all this through.
One example of a great cover song that might inspire you is Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails "Hurt." "Sweet Child 'O Mine" by Guns 'N Roses has been softened in a cover by Sheryl Crow. Eric Clapton put a unique spin on Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff." Many more can be found with a few quick internet searches. Additionally, if you have a niche musical project, such as Camille and Kennerly (sisters who have found great success covering popular songs on the harp), or the Vitamin String Quartet (a string quartet that creates classical interpretations of various popular songs and artists), you might find that performing covers can even turn into a viable business model.
Covering songs can be a great way of getting exposure, and if you take the time to make your cover unique, you'll maximize that exposure and give yourself a much better chance to stand above the rest of the crowd.
Christopher Bright is a musician and educator in the greater Los Angeles area. For more information, please visit: http://www.christopherbright.com.