Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome. See my complete profile
Mainstream artists with Top 40 hits never have to worry about an audience knowing their music, or whether or not the crowd actually showed up to see them. For and indie band, however, these concerns are front and center when the band is standing front and center on the stage.
You play a few of your songs, and while the folks who showed up to see you are enjoying themselves, you’re still wondering about those stragglers at the bar, the people talking to their friends, and the loners swiping right while staring at their phone. This is the perfect time to break out a cover song.
Yes, that’s right, if you’re in an indie band, a cover song can be your best friend.
Here are three reasons why you should definitely have one in your set.
1. It hooks the audience
The audience for an indie music show usually consists of three types of people – people who are there to see the other bands on the bill, regular patrons of the bar, and people who are actually there to see your band. Basically, there a lot of folks in the crowd that probably don’t know who you are, but could become a fan.
While I realize it may be more artistically rewarding to wow the audience with your own work, giving them something they already know and love is a much easier way to draw them in. Once they’re drawn in, and you have their attention, then you can wow them with your original work, and get them to want to hear more.
The cover song is the bait, and performing it well is how you reel in the audience for the rest of your set.
2. You get to reveal, and honor, your influences
The other week I saw New Jersey-based hard rock band Callout (pictured above) at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC, and after a few original songs they launched into a cover of System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” Not only did they do a great job with the song, they had the crowd singing the chorus, and without having to actually say anything the band essentially told the audience the type of artists that have influenced their music.
In one fell swoop Callout got the audience involved, informed them of the roots of the band, and gave themselves the opportunity to keep the crowd’s attention for the rest of the set (which they did). That’s pretty damned powerful.
3. You can have fun with it
A hard rock/grunge band named HTBM (Here There Be Monsters) were on before Callout, and after a handful of original songs the lead singer told a story about having written a song many years ago that had been stolen by another band. He added that we may recognize the song, which peaked the interest of some folks who hadn’t necessarily been paying attention earlier.
The band started playing, and the song wasn’t immediately familiar, but then the lead singer sang lyrics pretty much everyone knows by heart – “I’m doing this tonight / You’re probably gonna start a fight …” Yes, they were doing a hard rock/grunge cover of *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” and it was pretty epic. They even broke out a few of the dance moves.
Everyone in the bar loved the cover, sang along, and if they hadn’t been paying attention to HTBM before, they were now.
So choose a song you love, or a playful pop culture staple you’d love to make your own, and find a place for it in your set. It can only work in your favor.