One of the great slogans in the Seth Godin/Linchpin world (which I actually enjoy poking around in) is, “Cover bands don’t change the world.”
It’s a call to be unique to seek to strike out to do something bold and new in the world, to be disruptive, to reach for something that’s never been done.
It’s also obviously a bit of a slap in the face to anyone who may be a feeling slightly more conservative or iterative. Folks who are not as “disruptive.”
(It’s also an insult to cover bands, but who’s counting?)
As usual, the truth behind the slogan is a bit more cloudy, because in a sense cover bands have changed the world, and actually continue to do so, primarily because many of the most iconic and world-changing bands in rock history started out as cover bands.
Beatles? Cover band.
Stones? Covered blues.
The Who? They called their versions of Motown songs they covered, “Maximum R&B”.
The Band? Started out playing rockabilly covers in honkey tonks all over the midwest.
James Brown? yup.
(Now, I get that these artists are all “old guy” bands, but I’m taking the approach that the verdict is still out on how much Arcade Fire, The National, Coldplay, etc. are going to change rock and roll. That being said, I know the Black Keys at least know blues really deeply, and I’ve heard at least a couple covers from them.)
Now,I get what Seth is saying: you really do need to find your own unique voice. But here’s the deal: all these artists who later changed the world were cover artists for a significant and formative time in their career.
So what’s the point? Well, I’m not just being contrarian. Being in a cover band has its advantages, and in fact provides critical experience for working your craft.
Because when you’re in a cover band, you get to learn.
You get to learn what makes a great song…
You get to learn how to work in a group with others…
You get to learn how to work a crowd…
What gear works in a bar, versus in your bedroom…
What outfit looks ridiculous on you…
Don’t get me wrong: aspiring to something great is absolutely critical and something to be encouraged.
But before you change the world you might want to be good at your craft. Lots of bands start out wanting to change the world, but their ambition greatly (and almost tragically) outstrips their ability.
So maybe you’re in a “cover band” right now…
… Maybe the organization you’re in isn’t as wildly creative as you’d like;
… Maybe the position you’re in isn’t the perfect fit;
… Maybe your platform isn’t in front of the “right people” yet.
If this is the case, than here’s what you do:
- You get better.
- You dig in and learn.
- You figure out how to with others (particularly a drummer who doesn’t keep time well and a singer who doesn’t always sing on pitch).
- You learn what “excellence” looks and feels (tastes and sounds?) like.
Your “cover band moments” are not wasted. They can be the crucible, the workshop that helps you develop and hone your craft for the moment when the world comes calling, and needs you to give something to it.
… Now go practice.