Skip to main content

Turning a Cover Song Into Your Own

(Image credit: Damian Fanelli)

I love a great cover performance. Especially one that has a different take than the original, but remains recognizable.

When I hear an artist do a great cover I am even more interested than when I listen to the original, because the artist took something that’s already familiar and added their own personality to it. Not only that, but the new performer is paying respect to another artist.

If you are anti-covers, I would suggest taking your favorite song and sitting with it. Get really familiar with it and finally play it for your friends or audience and watch them sing along or cheer for a song they already love.

Even though it’s not your own song, it feels amazing to be appreciated for appreciating something else. What do artists and entertainers do? Entertain! And if your audience is happy, then you have done your job and they want to hear more.

Covers are even more important when you need to cover your own song. What?! Yes. Because lots of artists pay producers and studios to produce an album that they can’t even play live or afford to pay the musicians they’d need to perform it like the recording.

So unless you never leave the house, you’re going to have to find a way to cover your own song. This is very necessary! Otherwise you are going to end up doing a karaoke version of your own song, and that won’t work in many music venues. In my case, I had some songs recorded, and I couldn’t afford a band. I had to make my own new arrangements to be able to play my material solo. I also did a bunch of covers on YouTube for my own sake, and from there I actually got hired for several three-hour solo gigs in NYC.

Here are some things to think about to make a cover song your own:

1. Pick a song you already love
If you can’t figure out the original chords on your own then find the best version of a chord chart you can online and play through the song

2. Pick the right key for you
Use a capo if you need to change the key of the song for your vocal abilities. Sometimes the change of a key does wonders. Or even singing an octave up or down.

3. Play with the melody lines and rhythm
If you have a great voice this is even easier because you may have skills the original artist doesn’t have. Perhaps you hear an interesting harmony, or a really great riff. Get a little goofy even and play with the tune. Have fun with your vocals. If you do it a bunch of times you’re bound to get something interesting.

4. Play with genres
Is the song Metal? You might grab a nylon guitar and fingerpick some riffs and slow down the song. If the song is folk or light pop, get into power chords perhaps speeding up the song and getting growly with the vocals.

5. Lightly change the structure
Try starting with a chorus instead of a verse or vice versa. Or play around with speed, and emotional quality of the lyrics. It’s probably best not change lyrics at all, but a slight structure change can be interesting.

6. Pick a song sung by the opposite sex
I absolutely love doing covers by the opposite sex. I love to cover Robert Plant songs, and one of the best covers I saw in NYC was a local male artist covering “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” by Cindy Lauper. So find something you already love that is easy enough for you to play on your instrument, and mess around with keys, timing, dynamics, personality, melody lines, rhythm…and hit record!!! Dare to be different!

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>>