The TLP Network

Sharing the Hate, Spreading the Pain: Dualing Pianos

by on Aug.30, 2007, under Articles, Sharing the Hate

It was once told to me by a bar owner that he runs a bar with original music, because he loves music. He did not own and run a bar with original music to make a lot of money. If he had wanted to make a lot of money, he would have opened a hot dog stand. Not to my surprise two years later, the bar transformed itself into a TV infested sports bar complete with a hot dog stand out front offering dogs and sausages. I guess he stopped loving music, or he was just trying to make money.

The overriding question then becomes, can a band or a bar make money at any level with original music? Hell YES, but you have to play by certain rules. These rules are very unsettling for bands that just want to play a half hour set six times a month. I am talking about playing covers.

If your band can play requests for money, your $500, four-hour set might get close to $1,000 in a night. Am I preaching that your eight to ten original songs need to be nestled gently within 60 to 80 cover songs spanning the past 25 years of music in your genre as part of your arsenal? Hell YES! There are several benefits other than money to taking this route:

1) Learning How Songs Are Written
2) Becoming Tighter
3) Stage Experience
4) Money

Learning How Songs Are Written:

Learning a cover song is scary for an original band at times. Typically, they do not know how to read music, understand music theory, and cannot replicate the same beats and rhythms every time. If you mess up one of your songs, only your die-hard fans notice if even that fact. When you mess up a cover song the entire bar notices. The most talented musicians out there are in tribute bands. Tribute bands have no room for error, and tribute bands pick the best bands out there to begin with to cover. If you need a studio musician for your next album, hunt down a tribute band musician.

Through the learning of 60 to 80 songs, spanning 25 years you will develop true influences and learn what is or is not popular. Even if you are not trying to play ‘popular’ music, you still need to understand what makes these tunes popular.

Many of these songs are very simple with three or four chords. You will start to recognize patterns in songs, and each song will get progressively easier to learn. When you start to write originals, some of your techniques picked up from the covers will bleed through. Originals become easier to write as well. This trend is actually a positive, because you have just made your original music stronger. If you learn enough covers, you will learn music theory de facto, and that facto is very important to writing good originals.

Becoming Tighter:

The more you play as a band, the tighter your band becomes. Instead of wasting hours in a shed not making money, you can play on a stage becoming tighter making money. Your weekly ‘practice’ becomes a live show, and you spend your other practice nights in the shed honing your original music and writing new music.

When you become tight enough as a band, you will decide in a week to pick up a new song, learn it on your own in under 20 minutes, and play it out live the next week. If you do not believe me, ask a cover band how they learn a new song. Older cover bands do not even practice together before playing a new cover song for the first time. They just simply know how their other band members think and act. Having confidence in your band members will help you become tighter, and keep you from losing band members. Once a band functions as a family instead of a group of friends, they work through problems instead of quitting.

Stage Experience:

Your band now plays weekly at a sports bar, or they play one weekend a month at a cover bar. You have just added 50 gigs to the calendar with four to six hours of stage experience. Each gig becomes a live practice where you start to refine your skills you cannot practice in a garage, the interaction with living people.

The first skill your front man learns in a cover bar is how to interact with their audience. They have the music that everyone knows, and the full attention of hundreds of people. The singer starts to feed off that energy, and engage the audience in ways they never knew possible. If your audience is not paying attention to the stage, your front man is the only person to blame. They are the focal point of your band.

Once your front man has 250 people singing along to one of your songs, you will see the power of music in action. Once you taste that power, you will never want to play in front of your usual original music crowd of 25 again.

The next skill your front man learns in a cover bar is how to direct the audience to drink at the bar. They instruct the audience to drink with them, and get them drinks. In addition to helping sell alcohol for the bar, he has just learned how to direct the audience to the merch table in an original set. The timing of these ‘sends’ are very important and come through experience on stage.

The rest of the band will take on other personality quirks on stage too. They will learn how to focus on the audience instead of staring at their hands while they play their instruments. They will also interact with other band members in entertaining ways during the set. All of these techniques add to the show, and keep the audience focused on you.

The music becomes second nature, and the musicians learn how to deal with people coming up to them while playing in order to ask them questions and request songs. You learn to play music in any environmental conditions, which is great for playing on unknown stages.


I have already covered money, and I will not reiterate that fact. If you are a cover band, and you are not making at least 4 bills from the house, having drinks/food taken care of, and making at least another 2 bills from requests/tips then you have not been listening.

Instead, I just want to say that since you are playing 45 songs in four hours, at least eight should be originals. Your third set of the night has at least four of the originals, and two originals should be in each of the first two sets. In the first two sets, you should not call attention to the originals. The audience will think the song is a cool cover they do not recognize. By the third set, you can announce after you play the first or second original that it was your song. Feel free to sell merch between sets.

If that song went over well, the audience will actually request more originals, which you will play later in the night. Once the town knows your set, people will start following you around like an original band. When you play your original music sets, advertise that fact to the crowd, and they will come in drones.

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