It’s hardly a secret that covering other people’s music and placing your cover versions around the internet can be a good way of getting people to notice you and your original music. The first time I remember seeing this phenomenon work in a big way was when Marie Digby covered Rhianna’s “Umbrella” some time in 2007. Said video has been viewed more than seventeen million times to date. This cover version would lead to the song peaking at #10 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 singles and several synch placements and late night talk show appearances. It quite literally put her on the map.
Now clearly I’m not suggesting that you going out and doing a bang up job of covering The Devil Went Down To Georgia with your Kazoo orchestra will lead you to fame and fortune, far from it. Still it can be an inexpensive way of getting some attention for your music.
Well – I walked down 42nd street yesterday and I think it told me everything I needed to know about our culture.
Christ – no wonder the film industry felt the need to up the ante with the resurgence of 3D movies. You would have to appear to be throwing shit at people to get them to pay attention to you or your brand. EVERYTHING was an ad for something. The whole place was drenched in neon signage telling me that I smell and without the help of expensive products, that I was destined never to date a model and oh by the way – I’m old because I’m not under 22 years of age. I was also reminded that I should be ashamed that I don’t have 3% body fat – but here – have a 3,000 calorie blooming onion and a Cinnabonn – the “normal” people in our ads eat six of each daily and they are thin and smiling!
(Seems like a random rant, I know but wait for it)
If this is culture at large – why wouldn’t music and music marketing follow suit and be subject to the same perils and poisons? My MySpace account is full of pretty people’s avatars that want to put some kind of html on my comments page to the tune of 50-60 / week and I’m not even the biggest MySpace user. I get invited to roughly 30 events per week by my 900 Facebook friends of whom I really know maybe 300-400 and of those only about 50-60 very well. Don’t even get me started on my email inbox. I ask myself daily – “Wait- how do I know this person and what are they trying to sell me?”
So, Why Covers?
My own experience with covers – particularly video covers- leads me to believe that people gravitate to them because there is something familiar to hold on to. How bad could it be if I already know something about what I am going to experience? Won’t this song have a better chance of being better than the myriad of potential disappointments that over-saturation often leads to? I am going to guess this is why we have 31 flavors of every successful product these days – different enough to get you to buy more, similar enough to not trigger your justified sense of consumer neophobia.
They used to say it took seven or eight impressions to make a sale. I have no idea what that number is today when we process so much more information and are treated to advertising signage in front of the Urinals in the mens room (I have no idea if women have similar signage in the ladies room – I think this should comfort you).
So- before I use this rant- er blog post as an excuse to share with you some of the more creative and well executed video covers that converted me from jaded bastard to fan here is a bit of advice in selecting your cover from a practical point of view. By all means if you have creative reasons to pick a certain song ignore this advice but at least hear me out.
In a world after the success of Maria Digby – the video cover idea has become all too common and it has become more difficult to get attention through YouTube searches as more cover tunes and more videos in general continue to pour in to that site. How do you combat this? As usual with me I get on a soapbox about getting found in search so this is sort of SEO related.
The general rule of thumb is to look for a cover that is under-served meaning a song that comes up with relatively few search results but has a high demand. How do you determine this? Well – much like doing keyword research for an Adwords campaign on Google- you can do the same with YouTube. YouTube has a promoted videos tool that allows you to see an estimate of what people are searching for on a monthly basis. Combining this with the pure volume of search results that come up for a song in a regular query and the number of overall views on the top 3-5 results of that query and you should be able to get a sense if there is an under-served demand for a particular song to cover. One thing I can suggest is – STOP COVERING LEONARD COHEN’S HALLELUJAH. Even Leonard Cohen wants you to stop.
Anyway – if you select the right song, correctly tag it and maybe even add a drop of promoted ads (yep – while I can’t confirm it I believe Google and YouTube reward you in your “organic” search if you spend a bit of cash with them) you could be come up on the first page or even top 3 search results for that song name and be found by anyone looking for that song on YouTube. If the original is a song that makes sense for your audience or even if you just do a compelling enough version you may wind up with fans who may have otherwise been too jaded to risk their most precious commodity on you and your music – their attention.
*** Yes – you do have to procure a synch license from the publisher of the original song to do this legally. I am not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice but I can tell you I have not heard of anyone getting worse than a take down notice for such a use.***
Here are some covers that made me fans of the original music made by each of these artists:
Jay Wasco – “Heart of Gold”
The Civil Wars – “Dance me to the end of Love”
Gavin Castleton “Sledgehammer”