Playing covers is bread and butter for thousands of musicians worldwide. To my ears, a lot of the time these covers do not do justice to the originals. The main causes of poor or average sounding covers are:
- Lacking the skill/diversity to sound like a particular record
- Emulating a record well, but just copying it (sometimes this is OK, but often it’s just a bit lame)
The solution is:
Making killer arrangements and really owning the songs you play
Done right, this should be more enjoyable for audiences and musicians alike, as it provides more of the ‘real deal’ experience of going to see an original show.
You may not have the time, or lack the skills to professionally MD every song you play, but in that case steal arrangements and learn from them. The internet is full of the live arrangements that the original artists are playing, and many are completely amazing.
I love the live versions of songs by Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Usher and countless others. If you’ve never gone in search of their live shows, you might be pleasantly surprised. Even musicians who say they don’t like pop will still appreciate the musicianship displayed on that level – the live arrangements are far cooler than the records in my eyes!
If you learn someone else’s song, know the single version, and also learn the best live version you can find. Use them to inform and guide your band.
As a drummer you can listen for great stops, stabs, fills, intros and endings and work them in to your own bands arrangements if you want. Everyone obeys you, you’re the drummer.
I once stopped a whole song epically after the first chorus, I was in another world (I think because of technical issues on stage), but the song still stopped neatly. That was dumb, but it goes to show that if you set up feels, fills, stabs, stops and endings well, everyone knows what is going on and follows you. That’s probably the second most important thing to groove, in professional drumming.
The videos I’ve posted in this article are some good examples of live arrangements that stray from the original records in good and interesting ways, and are a great place to start.