Demo Cassette Tape

I was reading the Lefsetz Letter (which you should ALL be doing and I learned something really cool. Those of you that know me better are aware that I have a long history with the Allman Brothers Band. It was Bud Snyder from the Allman Brothers camp that brought my hair-band from Wisconsin down to Florida back in the day; he really catapulted us into the higher levels of the music business. I should say that before we met Bud I just wanted to get on MTV. Bud gave us INCREDIBLE access to the ABB; I was privy to countless recording sessions,How To Record A Cover ABB imagerehearsals, and shows. When I saw (and still see) Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes playing guitar I realized I didn’t know shit; I was hair farmer that had to rethink this whole music thing. “Dreams” might be one of my favorite songs from the Allman Bros (also the first song Greg ever wrote, btw) and I always enjoyed the Molly Hatchet version of this song because they changed it so much. Well, I learned from the Lefsetz letter today that it wasn’t Molly Hatchet but actually Buddy Miles that totally messed with that arrangement and made it his own. Molly Hatchet ripped off Buddy Miles and brought the cover to larger audience on rock radio which was thriving at the time.


So this information got me thinking about cover songs.Covers can be an AMAZING way to connect with a larger How To Record A Cover Karmin RS imageaudience because the melody and lyrics are familiar to people. So many acts have covered great songs that actually broke them, exploding them into the mainstream awareness; Van Halen’s cover of the Kinks “You Really Got Me” comes to mind. Covers on YouTube have been quite effective for acts like Karmin and Noah who have used this medium and their super creativity/talent to garner millions of views, creating massive awareness; thus, launching their respective careers. Many acts have done HORRIBLE unimaginative covers that were shoved down our throats on radio and sadly, made those acts money as well.


Here’s what I want to talk about today since radio is dead to us, we can’t make bland, uninspired cover song recordings and expect them to break us or even create the slightest amount of momentum in today’s online marketplace.


How do we record a great cover?

As an artist, it is mission-critical TO BE AN ARTIST when you record a cover! You need to look at your strengths and weaknesses and strategize as to the best way to adapt this cover to your lane.

This is How To Record A Cover

For instance, check out the incredibly talented Karmin on the Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, and Busta Rhymes, track Look at Me Now. Karmin and her husband create a super simple keyboard arrangement and let her do her thing. WOW, just amazing how she nails the Busta Rhymes parts. This video has 84 million hits! That’s more exposure than a hit song on national radio people and they did it for free! Check out the original version HERE to compare arrangements and the feel of the two tracks.

Let’s study Noah’s KILLER adaptation of the LMFAO song called “Sexy and I Know It”. Here is the LMFAO Version first. Now, look how Noah combined his highly distinctive voice along with a super artistic guitar arrangement that brings the enchilada into his specific lane HERE I LOVE THIS KID! Listen to how he explains the 2 or so weeks it took to create an arrangement that would work for him. And did it EVER WORK FOR HIM with 18 million views! Notice how Noah took some artistic license to change the melodies in a couple places to suit his strengths.

How about an artist that doesn’t have a gift from God in their voice? How would they change a cover to make it their own? Check out Marilyn Manson’s version of the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams“. I’m not a huge MM fan, but DAYUM this is a fantastically unique cover that is all his own! In case you’re too young to know the original version HERE it is.

While we are on the topic of dreams:

Check out Allman Bros “Dreams“. Then check out Buddy Miles version HERE. So cool how the Allman Bros have a dreamy hypnotic feel to their track and Buddy Miles gave it a Rock & Roll pulse of sorts completely changing the vibe and feel…so FREAKING COOL! Love the horn arrangement in the Miles track btw!

How about the drastic and amazing differences that Johnny Cash did to Nine-Inch-Nail’s ‘Hurt”; btw, I think How To Record A Cover Johnny Cash imageJohnny tracked this from his death bed y’all. HERE is NIN’s version. HERE is Johnny Cash’s. Again, notice Johnny’s artistic license on the vocal melody in the choruses.

Here’s a GREAT one! Talk about changing lanes!! Here is Jay-Z’s “99 Problems“. Now check out Hugo’s Version. Here we can listen to how Hugo REALLY took artistic license just using the hook and completely changing the lyrics in the verse. (I love this btw because it’s BADASS)

Compare the original version of “Take Me to the River” by Al Green to the incredible cover that The Talking Heads did HERE. Notice Al Green’s groove is bouncy with an R&B style in the structure of the song. The Talking Heads change the feel to a more plodding decisively rock beat with tons of space. Also, check out how they expertly restructured the song to fit a more pop style to ensure they would reach their audience. AWESOME!

How To Record A Cover Manfred Mann imageHere’s another good example of an artist taking liberties with the arrangement and lyric content. Check out Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” from his 1st record and compare to what Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did to it which turned it into a #1 hit. MMEB started with the hook, and put in tons of kick ass counter melodies along with the “chopsticks” piano arrangements at the end. How cool is that?


OK, so a bunch of these made TONS of money but only because there was radio and these covers were force fed to us. This shit won’t fly online. And YES, I definitely have a hard-on for bands that take the exact same feel, same arrangements, with no iconic vocal talent or artistic signature and just “rev up” an old song by adding heavier guitars. Come on, man!!

Here is Alien Ant Farm’s version of Smooth Criminal. Here’s the original from Michael Jackson. I mean really? Did AAF just get the multi-tracks session from MJ and re-cut everything track by track?? How much more UNIMAGINATIVE can they be? “NONE MORE” (to quote Nigel Tufnel). I feel like AAF would have ripped off the cool super leaning dance step you see at 8:20 into the video if wasn’t for Michael Jackson having a patent on the shoes required to pull it off.

Here is Sheryl Crow’s LAME version of Sweet Child O Mine. It’s gonna take more than a big string arrangement and How To Record A Cover Shery Crow imagesome color fiddles to distract me from the fact that not only did Sheryl rip off every single one of W. Axl Rose’s vocal licks from the original track, but they even ripped off the melodies from Slash’s guitar solo as well. WTF? Here’s the original Guns & Roses version. Sheryl also covered Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (she just can’t help herself) and this is a bit more inventive production wise but I’m still pissed cuz u just don’t cover Skynyrd without getting grilled. What is anybody gonna bring that’s more interesting to the track than the original? Sometimes, the original band just flat gets it right!

Godsmack’s version of “Rocky Mountain Way” is well. is it the same version as Joe Walsh’s with heavier guitars? Huh? Oh, there’s the inventiveness the My .38’s loaded I’m ready to crack line. Ahh, thank GOD they kept Joe’s solo note for note and tone for tone with the wah-wah pedal. I don’t get it? When did Godsmack become your average bar cover band? Was that the goal? This version is so cheap.

Bottom line; if you can’t bring something NEW to it then don’t! I played plenty of covers as close to the original recording as possible to make a living playing live in a band; it was effective. You don’t want to take this same approach to record a song that will have some definitive effect on your artistic signature; that’s so boring.


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4 replies
  1. Henry
    Henry says:

    This is a great article, thank you. To many music blogs focus on technicalities and miss the big picture, this doesn’t. Also, totally agree Sheryl Crow is hopeless in many ways. Meeting her only confirmed my views.


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