Why Every Singer Songwriter Should Perform, Film & Record Cover Songs

Welcome to our ongoing series on Artist Development. To us at Van Tuyl Music Academy in Huntington Beach, Artist Development means going beyond standard music lessons for Voice, Guitar, Piano, Bass Guitar or Drums, it means exploring the skills and challenges that are presented to professional musicians on an every day basis, and it means finding your unique voice in a crowded music world. We care so much about artist development, that we’ve created an entire program for developing the artist inside you. A quick note, many of our music education blogs are objective, question and answer style posts that allow the reader to make determinations on their own. These posts, are not! They’re our opinions, but opinions backed by years of experience and thousands of musicians trained. For more information on our program for musicians ages 11-adult, click here!

This Artist Development post explains the value of performing, recording and filming cover songs. So we’re all on the same page, cover songs are songs that one artists performs or records, that is originally written and performed by another artist (I.E. if you performed or recorded Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, you would be covering that Bob Dylan song – btw, check out Jimi Hendrix’s cover of that song!!!).

When I was in college at Musicians Institute, we had a professor who explained the importance of recording cover songs for your demo CD. Demo CD? Yes, this was back when YouTube was in its infancy, so at the time artists would record three to five songs, put them on a CD, and then distribute them, hoping to get signed or noticed. What a hassle! Anyway, what he explained was that a cover song gives the listener a familiar introduction to your voice, sound and style. iTunes was also really a huge thing at the time, so he expanded further that if you recorded and listed a cover on iTunes, you had a better chance of being found by someone looking for that song. They could potentially hear your cover, like your voice, and explore your other music. Today the process is generally the same, but instead of listing the song on iTunes, we post a video of our cover song on YouTube. The results are ideally the same.

Beyond dreams of having your cover go viral, learning, recording, filming and performing covers has a monumental influence and impact on you as a musician. Some skills benefits are:

  • Develop skills and knowledge to learn a song by ear or read a tab transcription
  • Learning knew chords, chord voicings or chord transitions
  • Learning how to transpose a song if it isn’t in the right key for your voice
  • Memorization skills – it’s much harder to memorize a song that someone else wrote than your own

More importantly, some artistic benefits are:

  • Imparting your style and voice onto another artist’s material – taking a rock song and making it pop, or vice versa
  • Once the song is memorized, that artist’s style and sound becomes a minor part of your style and sound, an influence
  • Analyzing the lyrics, song structure, rhythm and notes that make you like that particular song, which begins to subconsciously clarify how to write songs you like listening to, singing, playing, recording and performing

Finally, the last benefit I will discuss is the performance or gig benefit of having a large repertoire of cover songs not only ready to go, but as the focal point of every gig you do. We’ve all been to the restaurant, coffee shop, mall or bar where an artist is sitting with his or her guitar or piano, playing music. Just like on YouTube, or iTunes before it, or CD’s before that, performing covers gives you the opportunity to draw in more listeners. If we’re being honest, most of the time, people are ignoring that unplugged performance going on in the corner. They’re trying to talk to their date, their friend, or just scroll some twitter. Your only way to begin captivating the attention of the people around you is to catch their ear with a special version of a song they know or love.

So when you are performing live, perform lots of covers! Covers from different eras, different genres and styles, etc. “No,” you say, “I will set the world on fire with my beautiful and original art piece!” Well, you may do that, just be sure to perform that art piece write after you perform your best cover song. And when you’re done with your art piece, perform your next best cover song. You may find that you’ll catch a few fans, and maybe sell some CD’s, or … encourage some iTunes downloads… or gain some YouTube channel subscribers… or get a nice compliment!

Just about everyone I know loves the country singer Chris Stapleton, and they love Tennessee Whiskey even more. I’ve been a fan of his since my friend gave me a CD of his band called The SteelDrivers back in 2009. But how did the world discover Chris Stapleton? Mostly through his legendary performance of Tennessee Whiskey with Justin Timberlake at the Country Music Awards. It set the actually did world on fire.

One thing to note: His version of Tennessee Whiskey is a cover of George Jones’ version.