The question of whether or not to play covers for cash presents a Catch 22 scenario in that it’s a great way to be recognised as a talented musician, but it could also be a great way to be recognised as just another covers act. The idea of playing music for a living is a very romantic one, but for most people the reality is playing what the punters want to hear, in a bar, until 2am. Don’t get me wrong, playing great songs to an exuberant, attentive crowd for hundreds of dollars is a dream come true for most of us, but how do we present ourselves as serious musicians instead of live jukeboxes? Let’s look at some little tricks that we’ve learned from some of the experts in the field…
Slip in some originals
OK, the ‘entertainment manager’ has given you a guideline of what they’d like to hear in your set and it doesn’t seem to be open to interpretation. But, keep in mind that a crowded venue, doused in alcohol, won’t notice a few originals slipped into the mix – especially if you don’t announce them as originals. So, what’s the point if nobody knows? Well, your key demographic are going to let you know whether or not your new song is a hit right after the final note. I think that’s priceless.
Put a twist on it
You don’t have to play each song exactly as it appears on the studio album, the band who wrote it certainly don’t! Your own unique interpretation of the original song will not only set you apart from the other musicians queuing up for a job, but the song you’re playing will become your own and not just a carbon copy. People will notice you more as an individual and pay more attention to you. Try it.
Take the gig seriously
There’s nothing worse than a musician who drags themselves up on stage with poor quality gear and performs a lacklustre set. If you’re not interested, nobody else will be. If you don’t want to be there – don’t be. I guarantee that if you turn up with good gear and put your heart and soul into it, you’ll get as much out of it as the audience does. Plus, let’s not forget that you’re not the only choice the venue has for entertainment.
I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me here, but I think you can afford to be a little bit picky when it comes to gigs. You don’t have to grab every late-night, low-paying gig to keep your head above water. Get yourself a good demo, present yourself professionally, and go for better slots in better venues. You can always fall back on less desirable gigs if you need to, but don’t panic and sell yourself short right away.
Set up a Facebook page for your act and keep people informed of what you’re doing, when you’re playing, and promote yourself shamelessly. Get some friends to video one of your gigs and post it on your page to advertise your services. Bar gigs are all good and well, but there will be a lot of people looking for musicians for private parties, public events, weddings – you name it. Word of mouth is the best way of getting a booking in this business and Facebook is the new word of mouth.