Cover Bands

Eric Tarn, legendary impresario of the internet (what does that even mean?) brought up an interesting point today.  If musicians knew how much those cover bands in Atlantic City made, they would all do that as their side gig.  Let’s work through this one together.

It’s no secret that most creative types have a day job outside of their desired industry.  Rent needs to be paid, food needs to be bought, amenities need to be procured.  It’s not easy to make a living as a musician playing original music.  You could do music for the advertising industry, which in itself is a complex world….or you could go to the darkest of all dark sides…The Cover Band.

Cover bands are far less popular than they once were, but they still do exists, not ironically in places known for their debaucherous douchey populations.  Namely Southern NJ and Las Vegas.  I’m not talking about jazz here, where an artist could have a relatively successful career playing standards.  I mean playing some Bon Jovi to a bunch of drunk ass bachelorette parties.

One of the first Google Image Results for Cover Band....Yeah.
One of the first Google Image Results for Cover Band....Yeah

There’s a whole little scene of these bands, at bars in Hoboken, Atlantic City, Belmar, pretty much all the places you don’t want to set foot in.

I don’t have first hand experience of playing in one of these bands, but the appeal is obvious.  You get paid to play (unlike most shows) and the crowd knows all of the songs.  But it has to be a slippery slope.   I won’t use the word “Sellout” because I think that term is kind of ridiculous, but I will liken it to selling one’s soul.  And to be clear, this is something we’ve all done in one form or another, so stop pointing fingers there, my bible toting reader.


As depicted in two of America’s finest films – The Wedding Singer and Rockstar Starring Marky Mark, it’s possible to be sucked into that world and never return.  As someone wiser than myself once said “Would you rather play Don’t Stop Believing, or collate papers all week?”


The question of integrity certainly comes into play, in that you don’t have much when playing covers in a bar.  On the other hand, you’re playing music and being paid for it.  It all depends on your outlook.  You could use the bridge of Pour Some Sugar On Me to shred some mixolydian minor.  I’m flip flopping like Mitt Romney over here!  OH!  (Insert rim shot, and remove any relevance that joke will have in a year.)

I’m not sure where to go with this one.  The practice of mostly original bands inserting more than one cover into their sets has become extremely frowned upon outside of the Jam Band scene.  What’s wrong with this though?  The Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all played covers.  Maybe it’s just picking the right covers, giving them your own spin.  Wait, I feel a flop coming on….

What if you took great care to replicate all of the parts exactly and did it as a loving tribute in the middle of your set?  Well, in that case, you’d either have to be a full on cover band, or only do one song like that.

Another Cover Band Image Search Result....yep.
Another Cover Band Image Search Result....yep.

One of the cover band signatures has to be that drummer with 14 cymbals who hits way too hard, and the bass player who wears funny sunglasses.  Also the guitar player who has no idea anyone else is on stage and loves to use the whammy bar.  And the singer definitely looks like Guy Fieri…or the dude from Smashmouth…either way.


And with that I think we’ve reached the answer to our problem.  Cover bands don’t take themselves seriously, so why should we?  These frequent Guitar Center customers have taken the legitimacy out of what was once a common practice.  Many a great musician has done time in these bands, but the practice is becoming less and less common because of this negative image thrust upon the idea of the cover band, ONCE AGAIN AT THE HANDS OF GUY FIERI!  You’ll pay for this one, Guy.  You’ll pay.