Tips For Going Pro With a Cover Gig

In the past year I started doing pro cover gigs. Some were solo, some were duo, and some were just filling in for a singer in a band.

I was fortunate to start learning guitar with a teacher who made me sing and play at the same time for every lesson. Every week I had about 5-10 new songs. And when I started performing original music, I always had one cover in the set that I put my own twist on.

I was approached by three different people to do cover sets last year. I really wanted to do it, and had no idea how I was going to get through three hours of singing AND guitar playing by myself. One of those gigs was to play covers for ballroom dancers to practice to. (Talk about pressure to stay on rhythm.)

I accepted the gig that was easiest to start with. A slow, Sunday afternoon at a dive bar. I had to work out three hours of material, so I had to do a lot of practicing and figuring out songs and best keys for me to sing in. I did not memorize most of the songs. The owner was okay with that. You will find a lot of people online writing that to be a pro you need to memorize everything. Well everyone needs to start somewhere, so do what you need to do. People nowadays have iPads, but I prefer my binder. But another reason to have the iPad or a computer is for requests. You can have a whole database of songs loaded in that you can use on the fly.

If you don’t know what songs to start with then download a set list from any cover artist website. People request similar things all over. Know the type of clientele that frequent the venue. If you’ve got bikers coming in, then you better have some good rock songs you can pull off. If there are college kids who like to dance, have some good rhythm songs, and popular songs with great choruses. Just check what other bands do, and you’ll have a starting point.

Gear wise, you might need to start investing.

For my first gig, the venue had a cheap PA, amp, and even a mic for me. I just brought my guitar, music stand, and book.

Once word got out about me, I got pulled into duo sets. The person hiring me brought in the PA system. It was quite large. The venue was much bigger, noisier, and it was a Saturday night. My load got heavier. I needed a mic stand, mic , music stand, guitar, percussion (on songs I wasn’t playing guitar) and all appropriate cables. And the latest most valuable thing for my sanity was a book light. I couldn’t see my notes or lists in the dark venue!

On my last gig, I forgot all of my percussion and ended up banging on my guitar for rhythm, while my partner of the evening played his songs and I did harmonies. It worked out, but you do need to invest in at least a shaker and a tambourine, or maybe even a cajon if you really trade songs.

If you are expected to bring the PA, then you can check out this link. It gives you some tips on choosing the right PA for you.

As for how much you should get paid, I couldn’t tell ya that one. Every gig was different depending on the venue, the date, how big the band was, etc. And often times when people request songs, they like to tip you…even if you don’t know the songs. I always made it a point to learn the songs for the following week. It made the customers happy, and they kept them coming back.

Oh!!! One more thing. Banter. You've gotta be comfortable talking to the crowd. That can be the hardest part until you start playing a bunch. Just be natural!!!

Good luck!!!!

Dorit is a rock singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and Middle Eastern Dancer. She has performed internationally on concert stages, TV, film, and theatre, and has inspired many students to find to their own expression through music and dance. Dorit’s current goal is to self produce her album and complete an acoustic guitar she hand built as a teenager at the Bronx High School of Science. Her influences include Led Zeppelin, Middle Eastern music, Latin music and old school hip hop -- anything with great rhythm. Find out more about Dorit here>>

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