Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
RECORDING COVERS IS KEY TO BUILDING AUDIENCE
Originally Posted: 05-17-2013 7:38 PM
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In increasing numbers over the years, we hear artists performing covers. But have you ever wondered why? Some I’ve asked bemoan a lack of originality or solid, well-written material in new artists. However, new bands could either have either plenty of solid material that’s entirely derivative or plenty of “original” material that just isn’t solid. What a cover is really chosen for is this: audience building. But if you asked an artist, they’d say they just liked the song. An artist, choosing covers that they like, end up attracting fans who have similar tastes and who then tend to like the artist’s original material.

Most recording artists have recorded and released cover material early in their career as a method of audience building. On their first few records, even The Beatles covered hit songs of the late 50s/early 60s such as “Besame Mucho”, made famous by Lucho Gatica; “Chains”, by The Cookies; “Please Mr. Postman”, Motown’s first number one song by their act, The Marvelettes; and “Act Naturally”, a number one song for Buck Owen & The Buckaroos.

It’s hard now to imagine a time when these artists were better known than The Beatles, but everyone starts someplace and that place is filled with covers. Look at the Beatles’ song choices too: highly focused on breaking America, the band chose styles as diverse as Bolero, Motown, and Country & Western! There is no doubt that someone was thinking about fan building in these specific choices.

If you think about it, any successful club band does the same thing. Setlists are crafted by choosing covers that will fill the dance floor, or to appeal to the core audience at the clubs they intend to play if their shows are more of a concert experience.

YouTube videos have spawned a whole new level of attempted audience building as people sit down to do an acoustic version of a new hit song immediately after the hit is released, hoping to garner views from fans doing a title search. This may be the most calculated of calculating moves and I suppose it works to some degree, but it strikes me as being pretty desperate. “Here I am sitting on my bed! Doing an acoustic guitar version of the new Daft Punk single. Like my YouTube channel!”

Another emerging trend is that of up & coming indie artists banding together to try to draw off of a hugely successful artist’s fan base by way of a “tribute” record. I enjoy performing covers that I love just as much as the next person, but covering an entire Beatles album as a tribute seems a little parasitic. The Beatles don’t really need Revolver to be recut by artists you haven’t heard of. If the artists were all top artists, such as the case was with the Two Rooms Elton John tribute record in the 90s, then it would really seem like a tribute instead of what I refer to as a “fan base grab” from unknown artists that just screams: “Beatles fans! Come love us!!”

If a single artist tribute project gets introduced to a new audience, it seems like a win/win. But if the catalog is only the stepping stone to artists looking to tap into the motherlode fanbase by doing an entire “tribute” album (wink wink) to the Beatles, it seems a little slimy and calculated.

I dunno. Maybe I’m cranky today. I have to think about this.

A recently heard about a friend of mine participating in a tribute to Soft Rock, which was kinda cool. It was a take off on the old compilation albums put out by K-Tel. But to me, the key difference is the fact that it was a bunch of covers from a genre, not just one artist.

In parting, I leave you with an interesting factoid about one of John Lennon’s albums, made up of only 50s era covers, called Rock ‘N Roll. After having the Beatles’ success and success of five solo records, including Imagine, why would Lennon choose to do an album of 50s covers? Especially from one of the more sharply independent Beatles, it seems like an odd choice. Even more odd is the fact that Rock ‘N Roll was his last record before a five-year hiatus and then Double Fantasy, released just before his murder. Why covers?

Answer: settlement to a copyright infringement lawsuit for the song “Come Together”, which plagiarized the Chuck Berry song “Catch Me If You Can”. The song’s publisher shrewdly offered to drop the suit if Lennon did an album of 50s covers that were owned by the publisher. Perhaps having his hand forced was a contributing factor to Lennon’s time off?

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Dave Carlock
DAVE CARLOCK -
A DAY IN THE LIFE
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