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The Power Of “Familiar”

July 31, 2013

We all love our original songs. We think our originals are awesome and may even some of Familiarthe greatest songs ever written. And we should. They are our creation, our child, and we put a lot of work into them. But what if I told the best way to play originals was by playing covers? 

I know, I know. No one wants to be a “cover band.” That word seems like a dirty word. Covers are for noobs who aren’t good enough to write their own stuff right? Actually, maybe it’s not so cut and dry. 

There is certainly a stigma about playing covers, but its mostly from other musicians. But if look at the things from the audience’s perspective, maybe its not so bad. In fact, when you’re just getting started as a band, covers are the BEST thing you can do. Why? Because of the power of “familiar.”

People like what’s familiar. People feel more comfortable being introduced to something familiar, as opposed to something foreign and radical. That’s why people like to greeted with the same old cliches, like “Hi, how are you?” Because those things are familiar! In fact, “familiar” is so powerful that some people will actually go back to abusive relationships because its familiar! Nuts, right?

Now, instead of abusing people until they come back, why not use “familiar” to our advantage? This is why I insist that all bands (that don’t have a following of a bajillion fans) have a good chunk of covers in their set. I know, I know, covers are “boring” and “unoriginal” and it’s not as sexy as playing the stuff you wrote, but the audience wants something “familiar!”

When I started playing with my first band in 2008, we did almost all originals. Over the years, I can’t count how many people said things like, “It was good, but I didn’t know any of those songs.” “I don’t know those songs.” “Are those your songs? I am not familiar with them.” Over and over, people who saw the band were wanting songs they knew. In fact, when that band broke up in 2012, we were playing more covers than when we started because we learned the lesson the hard way.

Ironically, the main reason to play covers is so that you can play your originals. Lemme explain. Once people have been greeted with the familiar, they are more open to your own songs. In fact, I guarantee your originals will get a better reaction after you established yourself with covers than if you just did all originals for the whole show. As you return to places/venues, you can start to play more and more originals because you’re building a relationship with that crowd. But if it’s your first time in a new town, and NO ONE has heard of you, it’s cover time. And it doesn’t need to be 100% covers, but it certainly doesn’t need to be 100% originals either. In fact, if you put your own spin on the covers, people can start to hear your original sound coming through. Sure, it ain’t “your song,” but you can make it your version! It’s still familiar enough to ease the audience, but still has enough of your spin to set yourself apart as something fresh and original.

And by covers, I’m not talking about playing some obscure songs by an out-of-print EP you bought off eBay. That defeats the purpose. I’m talking about something that your audience will know (no b-side rarities). So, are you willing to sacrifice some of your ego to start playing (and pwning) other people’s songs? Remember, it makes your originals that much more powerful!

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