At some point in their careers, every artist has to make a decision about playing cover songs. Should you devote yourself entirely to your own artistic vision and play strictly originals? Should you slip a few cover songs in here and there? Should you play only covers? Somewhere in the middle? Which should you choose to perform?
While self-styled serious artists may balk at the idea, there are plenty of great reasons to play covers — and almost every highly successful, respected band plays at least a few.
Why play covers?
There are a few great reasons to at least work some cover songs into your set. The most obvious, of course, is that they pay better. Particularly when you’ve just started out in the music world, it can be tough to convince venues to pay you decently to perform your unheard-of originals. That’s because it’s also tough to convince people to pay to see performances of songs they don’t know. Playing covers may not make you feel like you’re expressing yourself to the fullest, but they will pay your bills. And over time, as you build up a following of people who like the covers you play, they’ll be much more interested in hearing your original music.
Covering other musicians also helps to hone your skills, forcing you to explore new tuning styles, harmonies, and rhythms. Mimicking another performer’s style requires branching out from the way you usually like to sing or play your instruments — which helps you grow as a musician. And putting a unique spin on a classic song gets you thinking outside the box and testing your creativity.
Finally, playing covers is just fun! If you’re not a rock superstar just yet, it’s likely that covering a beloved hit will be your only chance to experience a packed house all singing along with you — which is a rush that any musician loves. It’s also a great way to pay homage to your favorite tunes.
Best cover songs to learn
If you’re relatively new to performing live, choose songs to cover that are well within your skill set. Plenty of popular songs are simple enough that even a novice can pull them off well. Confidently performing a set of beloved but basic good acoustic guitar cover songs is a great way to cover up the fact that you’re not that experienced yet. Check out Guitar World’s list of 10 easy acoustic cover songs to get you started on the open mic circuit.
One challenge of playing strictly covers is that you need to know a lot of songs — keeping you prepared to take requests. Taking requests is a great way to endear yourself to your audience, so be sure to learn the most popular songs that could be shouted out from the crowd. Start with this list of the best rock cover songs that every cover band should know, and you’ll be ready to play a solid set of hits that’ll keep your audience cheering all night long.
Above all, choosing the best cover songs for guitar or your instrument of choice is as easy as narrowing it down to the songs that you like and are able to play well. Decide what genre you’re most interested in performing and include a good mix of timeless classics and recent hits, and you’re sure to win over your crowd.