On Sunday, 5/16, COMBO held their monthly education meeting at Breckenridge Brewery again. The topic was covers vs. originals, featuring a few panelists: Andy Ard, Chris Kresge, and impromptu guest panelist Chuck Hughes.
Andy Ard is a local singer/songwriter that plays in a band called PJ Zahn. He is the VP of COMBO’s board of directors and is also part of an organization called Artist in Sync. Andy moderated the event and pulled double duty as a panelist.
Chris K. is a well known personality in the local music community. He is a producer and radio host, buys talent for many music events, including Bohemian Nights, is the author of the Colorado Sound, and is also head chair for the People’s Fair.
Chuck Hughes is another music veteran, perhaps best known for his rockabilly group, the Hillbilly Hellcats. Chuck has toured all over Europe and America, with both cover and original bands.
Chuck kicked the discussions off with a fact about the movies. He said that music budgets in movies have been cut from 3% down to 1% in recent years. This leaves music supervisors scrambling to cover their needs on a thin budget. He cited the trend of covering someone else’s song as a good strategy here. The film companies can afford to pay a lesser known artist (and still get the originally desired song in their production). Creating a youtube video of a cover song is one way to get some notice for this.
Chuck started his own career knocking out covers and traveling extensively. This was very do-able as Denver was primarily a cover band town in the 70’s, with bands often setting up shop for multiple days in a row at the same venue. Pay was good and you basically just had to play whatever was popular at the time to get lots of stage time.
Changes in the 90’s
Chuck said he started noticing the changes especially by the mid to late 90’s. Six gigs in a row turned into 4 then 2, and eventually one night with multiple bands. He started focusing more on his original songs and publishing. If you could sell 20 CD’s from the stage you would have a nice night.
But those days started to become a distant memory. He says touring is harder now and budgets are harder. You need to be willing to tour on a break-even basis these days. But he still advocates for writing your own original music.
Covers are short term money. Originals are intellectual property.
Chuck added that covers are good training for imitating a certain sound and developing your chops. A vocalist will probably also expand their range by pursuing a variety of covers. But his net advice was to write your own songs if you can.
It Doesn’t Matter
The original thrust of this COMBO meeting was to discuss a comparison between playing covers and originals. Andy asked the panelists their thoughts on what might make the environment more favorable for both types of musicians. And here, Chris K. went for the pre-emptory strike, saying “It just doesn’t matter. There are no rules”
The issue, he said, is marketing, branding and promotion…and age. There is no need to make a distinction between playing covers or originals. You need to decide what your goals are and pursue them. But know that live music success mostly comes down to “butts in seats.”
He then asked a vital question:
Why are you doing this and where do you hope to play?
Chris highly recommends knowing who will be the audience for your music. He gave the example of songwriter Tyler Ward (as tied in with Chuck’s previous youtube reference). Tyler has covered many female artists. It’s a different approach and he is trying to appeal to a specific audience already generated by those artists.
Chris recommends covering artists from your era of music. He also mentioned that he represents about 50 artists and “not a single one of them doesn’t do covers.”
The bottom line, said Chris, is that buyers are buying entertainment…connection…emotional adhesions. Know your audience. The average 55 year old isn’t up on music beyond 1975. The average 40 year old isn’t very familiar past 1995. If you want success, your performance needs to connect emotionally to a specific audience.
But you need to know your buyers too. Chris said the average talent buyer is a woman, in her early forties. To impress the buyers, you will need quality video, skills, and a high degree of professionalism. You will also need to know how to connect or resonate with your audience. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. As for whether you play covers or originals – it just doesn’t matter…
The meeting then spun in another direction, discussing direct licensing, optimizing royalties, and other topics of original music – more for a future article. But in the meantime, get ready for Denver Original Music’s 2Q recording contest next week, featuring Baccetti Music Productions!