Ask Fan Landers: Should My Small-Town Band Move To New York?
Is it possible to be a full-time cover band and build a successful following playing our own songs? Our cover band pays the bills and we don't have to work "day jobs." We've done a few college radio / "hot AC" campaigns and had some success with that, and we've even been placed in a few TV shows, but it feels impossible to promote ourselves as both the perfect band for your bar-mitzvah and national tour-worthy. Is it? Has anyone been successful at it?
Of course we realize there are issues of legitimacy here. Most people don't take cover bands seriously, we know, but does it completely undermine what we're trying to do with our originals? Someone suggested we re-establish ourselves as two separate bands: one for the covers, one for originals; but we couldn't figure out which version should keep the current band name and just eventually dropped the idea.
Plenty of bands have launched themselves into very successful careers after getting their start as a covers band. Perhaps you have heard of The Beatles? Do not be disheartened by the chasm between your bills-paying music and what is in your heart, but before you mix business and pleasure, you need to consider what is really at stake.
Your band has managed to attain an enviable trifecta of paydays--you do events, street fairs and you have licensed music to TV and ads--do not do anything to sully your brand. You are in a band that supports the active lifestyles of five people. The only original bands I know of who are doing that right now sell upwards of 100,000 records and tour internationally and have a retinue of folks they are cutting a percentage to. Sure, you'd probably get all manner of tail in that band, but one day that band's career will die, and you, you can be pulling checks in a wedding band until you're pert near geriatric. A bird in the hand, et cetera.
Resist the temptation to make it your originals band, essentially jump starting yourself into something simulating popularity. Being a wedding/events band with a good rep is some buy-you-a-condo, put-your-kid-through-college ish. Do not trifle with those mitzvah bucks! Seriously. BUT! If you absolutely must mingle some original work in, limit yourself to your two very best songs and only if they are truly in the style of your existing band. And only when you are playing public events; Becky's nana and bubby don't need to hear your ballad of sexual yearning at the reception.
It's a hassle, but do two bands. Then you can slough off this little bit of embarrassment you have about the covers band, play whatever you want and not wonder how your new song is going to work alongside your Kool & The Gang/Gnarls Barkley medley or what have you. And no, your originals band is not likely to be as lucrative as your covers gig, but there is no reason you can't use your connections to get TV and ad license work for your "new" band as well.