Last year when I performed at the 10th Annual Launch Music Conference, I was quite impressed by a rock band that covered Blackstreet's "No Diggity" track. The whole room was jamming and singing along because it was a popular throwback and because the crowd dug the new spin on it. It was so dope to hear a indie rock band cover an RnB classic!
It gets better! Fast forward to the next day of the conference during my mentoring session with Mfn Love (PnB Rock's manager) we discussed my struggles with bettering my songwriting. He said "Who would you love to write for?" I said "Rihanna" without hesitation to which he immediately followed up with "And which one of her songs have you covered?" ... I was stumped, schooled and back at the drawing board because I had slept on the covers!
I’m going to get into what they are and my top 3 reasons why artists should do them.
Cover songs are re-released and/or alternate versions of a previously released song. It can sound close to the original like Mary J. Blige's cover of Shaka Khan' s "Sweet Thing" or completely different like Framing Hanley's cover of Lil Wayne's "Lollipop".
Either way you do it, if it's done well? A cover can benefit an artist in several ways but here's my top 3.
A) First reason? Income! You (and the original artist) can make money off a song that’s already a hit!
According to a 2016 article by Digital Music, (https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2016/10/31/make-money-cover-songs) there are ways to legally make money off a song that's already been released. This is a great way to challenge yourself and creativity especially during a time you may have writer’s block. The words and hit potential are already there all you have to focus on is how to rewrap the gift!
Bonus: Depending on how popular it is... when you perform the cover live, people who might already know the words may even sing along!
B) Second reason? Notoriety. Your version may become equally or even more popular than the original! To date, there are several cover songs that are considered 'better' than the original. Now I want to be careful with that word because music and the technology that we use to create it has changed; with it? Sound and tastes. But how cool would it be to have a legend's original song compared to your alternate version? That's what Bestlife did last summer when they published an article titled “50 cover songs that are way better than the original” (https://bestlifeonline.com/cover-songs-better-than-original/). What if the next time they compiled a list, YOUR cover song was on it?!
C) Last but not least, gain praise and or respect from the original artist/Songwriter! “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton was covered most popularly by Whitney Houston 22 years later! Country music singer and songwriter Parton wrote the song in 1973 for her mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was separating professionally. Whitney re-recorded the song for the Bodyguard Soundtrack in 1995. Both artists are legends in their own rights and talents, but even Dolly had to admit that it was Whitney's version that gained more global attention. Hollywood Reporter quoted Dolly saying “Whitney is the one who took it worldwide and really made it a household word – or song, I should say – so I’ll always be thankful to her for that." The song was even played at Whitney's funeral which Dolly attended!
Now, a precaution before you start heading to the studio: Stay legal. These songs aren't your original works so you'll need certain clearances in order to avoid copyright infringement and there are some distributors that help artists release covers by assisting them with getting the right licences. If you're unsure how to get the clearances on your own, it's best to use distribution sites like those.
The next time you get writer's block or just looking for ways to creatively challenge yourself, remember that cover songs have got you covered.