Gig Business

Am I Selling Out by Playing Covers?

By Matt Holland

Nearly every musician has participated in the great debate of playing covers vs originals. Naturally, you want to share your own songs with the world and you should! But if you want to gig more often, it’s wise to include some covers in your performance. Don’t look at it like you’re compromising your dreams or originality. Look at it as a way to do more of what you love and improve your ability to create original work.


To create, you must imitate.

If you’re playing covers, you’re in good company. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others got their start covering another artist’s music. Any performer will tell you that to create something great, you first must learn from the greats.

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” – Salvador Dali

To improve your own style, it’s essential to learn from the songwriters that came before you. You most likely learned your favorite songs when first picking up an instrument, but performing a song outside of your practice room and in front of audiences forces you to more deeply understand the music. By studying and playing prominent, well-crafted songs, you can gain valuable skills and insight for creating your own.


You are still an original artist.

Performing a cover in your own style or arrangement helps ease the feeling of unoriginality. Crowds appreciate a unique style, and by adding your own spin to familiar songs, you’re harnessing the power of nostalgia and grabbing the audience’s attention. You can make them fans of you and your music.

Once you’ve got the audience energized and engaged with familiar tunes, throw in one of your own songs. A customized set list helps you take advantage of the times when all eyes are on you. People love hearing songs they know, and they may walk away with a new favorite!


Your Goal: Be a great performer.

Playing covers is truly a considerate gesture. People want to sing along and dance to a tune and rhythm they know. If they’re not already familiar with your music, they may be too preoccupied to even enjoy it. By playing the songs they want, you’re saying, “I’m here for your enjoyment.” Whether the crowd or your clients understand what you’re giving up, they’ll know you as a great performer who made their event or night special. You’re creating client relationships that last a lifetime.

There will always be a struggle between art as expression and art as connection. But if your goal is to play music for a living, covers can help you get there.

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