While playing cover songs doesn’t hold much creative gain for musicians, it is a way to make a little coin and stay connected to music.
If you ask around Tulsa, music fans won’t hesitate to tell you that the city has boundless talent. No matter what your taste in music, you’ll likely be able to find a band that fits your comfort zone.
Our city is filled with great songwriters and musicians who are making an impact locally, regionally and even nationally. If you just want to relax and enjoy songs that you know and are familiar with, Tulsa’s cover bands have got your back. If it’s hits you want, they can get the party started—and keep it going.
So what motivates someone to devote their time and energy to playing in a cover band? Is it for fun or fame and fortune? When asking a handful of local musicians, the common sentiment is that they do it primarily for the enjoyment – although making a little extra cash never hurts.
“For us, it’s really about the love of music,” says Tylisha Oliver, lead singer of FuZed. “Originally, we [Oliver’s husband, Myron, plays sax and keys in the band] were working so much, we needed an outlet. The band was really born out of a desire and need to escape our jobs and the corporate life for a little bit. For us, anyway, it’s not about the money.”
Even so, playing does take a lot of effort, and as such, it can be work. Does it pay well to be in a cover band? That depends on whom you talk to and how they go about booking shows.
“It’s not bad, but it could be better,” says Oliver. “Some people may do it because there’s more money in it than playing original music, but it’s not really that much. We make more playing private parties and corporate events, so we make money more by quantity than anything else. We play the clubs a lot to be seen more and get more private events.”
According to Derek Thrasher, who plays in party band Deuces Wild as well as the more acoustic and Americana based duo Maverican Goose, “It really depends on the venue and the band.” “If it’s four guys just playing what they like and getting booked at OK bars, the whole band may make $300 to $400 – which ends up being about $75 to $100 per person.
“It really helps to cater to the venue. Every club has a different demographic and if you cater your set list to meet that, you’ll do better and can make better money. If you don’t keep that audience happy, they can hire a great DJ for a lot less.”
Which leads to the question: With DJs and EDM becoming more popular, is there still a demand for cover bands?
“It’s gotten a little harder lately, but the demand is still there,” says Thrasher. “Part of it has to do with venues: Sidelines has closed, but that audience is now largely at The Run; Baker Street closed and that crowd now goes to PJ’s; and CJ’s is under new management and starting to book bands again. The casinos have helped, though, because they’re committed to having live entertainment every night.”
Randy Patton, guitarist and vocalist for Hi-Fidelics, agrees. “We started out playing the clubs, but we’re pretty much just playing casinos now,” he says. “The casinos can afford to spend more money, because for them it’s more about entertaining guests and keeping them coming back. If it wasn’t for the casinos, I’d probably still be working [my day job] at Lexus.”
That demand also depends on what kind of band you’re in.
Jason Gilardi, former drummer for Caroline’s Spine, currently plays in the ‘90s cover band, Amped, as well as ‘80s tribute act, Dead Metal Society.
“Amped is more of a garage-type cover band and we still play regularly, but it’s gotten harder to book shows and get people to call you back,” he says. DMS [Dead Metal Society] has kind of evolved into something else over the years, and it has its own audience.
There are pros and cons to being in a tribute band, however. Yes, the money can be better, but it also involves a lot more work.
“For us, DMS is kind of like another job,” Gilardi says. “It’s really more about making it authentic, If you know a song, we want to play it as you remember it. We’re always working on the show and how to make it better,”
The one question that remains in the back of many people’s minds is: Does playing in a cover band mean you’re selling out?
“When I first moved here, I thought ‘Those poor guys have given up.’ I realized, though, some people aren’t interested in writing and touring and all of the other stuff that goes with it,” Gilardi says. “They just love playing and if they’re having fun, that’s all that really matters.
“It’s different now. At my age, I don’t feel like starting a new band and touring and sleeping in a van. I get to play in two bands, in two different genres that are important to me. I love them both and look forward to every show with them, and it’s still fun.”
And although most people use their band as a side gig, Randy Patton was honest in sharing, “I still write my own songs, but it was a crossroads for me. I can go this direction and play my songs in the clubs, but not make a living at it. Playing covers has enabled me to not have to work a day job and develop other skills – like building motorcycles – and I’m still playing music and enjoying it.”
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