Important Things Every Aspiring Band Member Needs To Know
Playing in a cover band can be as simple as having some fun in front of ten people for free drinks, or you can find yourself playing to auditoriums full of people on tour for big money.
The road between the two is long, but if you want to get a jump start on your journey from strip mall dive bar to Vegas Strip regular, check out our top tips – and get your ass in gear!
Make Sure Your Gear Works
This seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many guys play their first cover shows with constant gear problems. Guess who’s getting kicked out of the band?
Make sure your guitar is in “gigging condition.” Setups are easy to do, but you can do them yourself quite easily with proper preparation.
Use as few pedals as you need but the first should be a tuner (so you can tune between each and every song – and sometimes during) and the last should be a good quality preamp pedal (in case the venue backline is total crap and you need to make your own tone). In addition, make sure your patch cables are high quality – you don’t want to try to track down the bad one in the middle of a show.
If you’re bringing an amp, make sure it’s rock solid but if possible, look into something like a Kemper or other modelling/profiling amp that will cover all your bases and has a lower risk of total failure.
Finally, bring spares of everything. Make sure you have at least one of all of the essentials, and then add an extra of all the show stoppers. You should have two capos, two tuners, multiple packs of strings, 2-3 cables, spare straps etc., etc., etc. No issue should be any more than a minor delay.
Know the songs backwards
Too many guys are like “yeah, I know Stairway, I’ve been playing it all my life” and then they get to the gig and get lost half way through because a fight broke out at the other end of the venue.
Band practice is great, but playing at home is key to internalizing the songs until nothing can make you lose your place. Play the songs over and over and over until the lord god Bob Dylan himself could walk to the front of the stage without you missing a note.
Messing up a song once is embarrassing, mess up a few on your first night with the band and you’ll be seeing the band leader’s name in the wanted ads.
Learn To Read Music
A lot of us learned guitar by ear and have a knack for picking up tunes after hearing them a few times.
However, being in a cover band often means you get to a wedding gig and someone says “hey the bride really likes that one Van Halen song, can you do it”, and then next thing you know you’re in the van trying to memorize “Eruption.”
Far easier is to have an ipad on a stand with the tab or sheet music for a song so you can play and read it.
Realistically, no cover band plays the same set for a whole season, much less night after night. It’s entirely possible you’re going to get new songs thrown at you every week, and if you’re relying on your memory to get you through, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Learn to read tab, learn to read sheet music, and then bring something along to get you out of those awkward situations when you have an hour to set up, warm up, and then play a song you’ve never before heard.
You’re More Valuable If You Can Sing Backups
This one is a doozy. You make yourself infinitely more desirable by covering multiple roles in a cover band. While it’s kinda tricky to be both the guitarist and the drummer, it’s infinitely easier to get your singing up to the level where you can play the guitar and do some basic backing vocals, as well.
In addition to full band work, there are always a ton of singers who are looking for one person to accompany them on guitar and do some backing vocals – those can be easy gigs, and with only two people in the band, there’s good money in them.
It really is that simple – get your singing in gear and pick up more gigs.
Be The Guy With The Van
For those of you who can’t sing, and even those who can’t play lead, there’s one last way to make yourself more desirable than the competition – be the person who get the band to and from the gigs.
For local bands it’s not unusual for everyone to show up separately and bring their own gear, but once you step up and start playing weddings in out-of-the-way locations, it will l be much more practical for everyone to show up together.
To get these gigs, you need to step up your transportation and having a van can be that simple step. Hell, even just putting a trailer on the back of a minivan is enough to get most bands, and their gear, where they need to be to play.
Making money from music is the dream, but for the guys who think playing in covers is always as simple as showing up and goofing off, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, if you’re playing for drinks that stuff works, but if you want to make actual money, you need to sharpen your game and show up right!
About The Author: Brian Kelleher is the content manager at KillerGuitarRigs.com and wants to tell you all about guitars. He’s been playing music since 1986 when his older brother taught him to play “Gigantic” by The Pixies on a bass with two strings. Since then, he’s owned dozens of instruments from guitars to e-drums, and spent more time than he’d like to admit sitting in vans waiting for venues to open across Europe and the U.S.