The Pros and Cons of Playing Cover Shows

For many musicians, playing cover shows is a seemingly unavoidable part of paying the bills was they work to establish themselves as original artists. However, if your ultimate goal IS to be full-time musician who makes a living with original music, then hitting the cover circuit isn’t without its risks.

Ultimately, the decision about whether to pick up cover gigs – and how many you should play – is personal, but it should also be informed. Before you make your choice, be sure to fully consider all of these pros and cons.

PRO: You're Getting Stage Experience

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Your live performance is an essential part of your music career. The more time you get on stage, the more time you get to hone those skills and get comfortable in front of an audience. Although playing other people’s songs are different from playing your own, you still get the opportunity to get used to being the spotlight. You will also get to experience different kinds of audiences so you can take everything in stride during your own shows. Even the practicalities you learn during a cover show can translate well into your own performances, such as working the people running sound and setting up/breaking down your gear efficiently. More

CON: You're Not Practicing Your Own Songs

While getting used to be on stage is beneficial, you’re still on stage practicing your own songs. Playing your original music live is a different beast than playing everyone’s favorite late- night sing-a-long. The more you play your own music live, the more you’ll get used to what works and what doesn’t, when to fit certain songs into your set, and so on. Plus, the time you spend learning covers is time you’re not practice or writing your own material. More

PRO: You're Getting Your Name in Front of People

Playing cover shows is a good way to build your name recognition, especially when you play often. Audiences who become accustomed to seeing your name at their favorite hangouts will recognize that name when it pops up in other places, such as a review, online, or poster for one of your original shows. More

CON: You May Become Known as a Cover Artist

It’s true that your name may gain recognition through your cover shows, but it may not always be in the way you’d like. The audience may begin to see you strictly as a cover musicians – after all, there are bands that exclusively work the cover circuit. Being a cover band is a legitimate music career, but if that isn’t your goal – if your goal is to be seen as an original musician, then getting put into the category of cover artist can make it difficult to make that transition. More

PRO: You're Making a Living Playing Music

This is the big one for most musicians. Although you may not be supporting yourself playing the exact music you want, at least music is your job. This has many benefits – including the fact that it frees up your schedule to focus on your own music, since you can essentially pick your own hours and keep your days free. Being immersed in music can also simply the right thing when you’re focused in making music your life. Plus, the connections your make in your work as a cover musician could lead big things for your own music. More

CON: Making the Transition Can Be Difficult

If you make a living as a cover musician, making the leap to original musician can be especially challenging. Your audience is used to seeing you play their favorite songs for free, so no matter how much fun they have at your shows, may not always be willing to pay money to see you play original songs that they have never heard. If you have a reputation as a cover musician, bookers in your town may also hesitate to book you for an original show because that isn’t how they see you as an artist. When you seek opportunities with agents and managers, your history of cover shows doesn’t carry any weight in terms of proving that you have built an audience for yourself, and in fact, having too many of these shows on your resume can actually work against you – particularly if have few, if any, original shows. For this reason, it’s crucial to continue to nurture your original work if you decide to play regular cover shows. More

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