I always remembered that quote from my University drum tutor. And that’s how i view playing music. It’s not really up for debate as to what makes a gig ‘good’ or ‘cool’. If you’re playing… YOU’RE PLAYING!
I honestly think it’s all the same thing. You should be doing your absolute best at any gig regardless. You owe it to the audience and yourself. Whether the gig meets your standards or not, you are representing yourself. Good playing is good playing, poor playing is poor playing.
I do look at originals as a labour of love. You may even lose money with promoting gigs, paying for rehearsal space etc. Quite often you are relying on friends and fans to pay a door charge just to break even. But it’s fun! You are always bursting with pride at an originals gig. Keen to impress the audience with your stuff.
As a generalisation I find originals gigs much shorter but also more intense.
In terms of monetary reward I have found covers to be light years ahead.
But there is a real stigma around covers gigs. Sometimes people are even embarrassed to be doing them. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this conversation…
Question: ‘You playing tonight?’
Answer: ‘Yeah, but it’s just a crappy covers gig’.
Talk about setting yourself up for a terrible, soul-destroying gig!
Covers bands are often guilty of clock watching and standing around looking bored. Playing that tired, unimaginative version of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and sucking the life out of the poor listeners. If you aren’t giving off energy, how can you expect energy in return? If you are getting paid good money to play music and you choose to play stock standard covers with no effort, you are a fool. This is a GOLDEN opportunity to hone your craft, either by making it your own or just playing the ass of it. Why is ‘song x’ so famous anyway? I guarantee your version isn’t catching the vibe or feel of the original.
And no one’s holding a gun to your head. There’s absolutely no need to play songs you don’t like or don’t play well. This is just laziness. Again, what a completely wasted performance opportunity.
Playing hundreds of covers gigs has dramatically improved my originals playing and vice versa. Jojo Mayer said at a recent clinic ‘you don’t get good by practicing, you get good by playing’. Covers gigs can be 3 or even 4 hours long. That’s a lot of playing time. Also, you could be covering 50 artists in a night. People like Josh Freese are at the top of the game for their ability to make any style or genre feel great and authentic. 50 different artists? In one night? I mean what bigger invitation do you need to transcribe and try to be a chameleon at your covers gigs?
Sure you could ‘Money Beat’ your way through that first set playing Rolling Stones, James Brown and Foo Fighters tunes (faking it). Or you could actually try to play drums like Charlie Watts, Clyde Stubblefield and Taylor Hawkins!
Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate.
I have a good friend who is a busy producer in London. He said to me once ‘you can really hear the difference between a drummer who has played 10 or 200 gigs… it’s mileage, they just sound so much better’.
So who cares where you get your ‘mileage’?
Other than making you a better all round player, having an extensive covers repertoire has other more hidden benefits. Referencing!
This goes on all the time in the studio. ‘Hey, can you give me a Tommy Lee feel on this?’, ‘I want an Aaron Spears type fill here’, ‘Just think Phil Rudd on this one dude…’. How on earth are you going to work with a producer or artist if you can’t relate to this type of communication? Maybe that’s the artist’s way of getting what he/she wants? You NEED lot’s of reference points in your active drumming vocabulary.
Covers gigs, originals gigs… it’s all good stuff!
Please share your thoughts!
Here’s one example of a cover i learnt a heap from!