By Adam Waldman
In a recent article entitled Modern Technology Has Destroyed The Shelf Life Of Rock Music, it was discussed how music has become commoditized. Once upon a time, we either had to own music in some form, or wait to hear it when it came on the radio or MTV. Now with streaming, everything is basically on-demand.
The deep connection that we once had with music has been replaced by a superficial relationship that is due (in large part) to an endless supply of new songs. Quality is not the issue, quantity is. There is simply too much quality rock music out there to be curated. Making things even more challenging is the fragmenting that has taken place with subgenres in the rock and metal worlds.
Some of the biggest selling rock bands in history are still coming out with quality music, but it’s their catalog that still has the deepest connection with the fans. If you question this theory, try to think of a time that you’ve seen an artist with a history that predates YouTube, and then ask yourself if you’ve been disappointed that a newer song of theirs wasn’t played in concert. This phenomenon has always existed to some degree, but these days, it’s gotten to the point where a number of established artists tour in support of their existing hits without ever releasing new material.
If some of rock music’s most notable artists can’t get large fanbases to have a deep connection with new music, what chance does an up-and-comer have to do so? Of course, there are always going to be handful of songs at any given time that are extremely popular, but it’s become increasingly more difficult to get noticed without spending a ton of money on promotion. Therein lies the problem.
The artists with the biggest budgets behind them tend to already be established. Relatively few newer artists have the kind of promotional dollars behind them that would give them enough exposure to rise above the din. So what can rock artists do to get noticed without breaking the bank? The answer is simple…
Take a song that already has a deep connection with people and make it your own.
There’s still plenty of time left in the year, but so far, it’s hard to think of a hotter rock song in 2018 than the Bad Wolves cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries. Their version of the song, which would have featured guest vocals from Dolores O’Riordan if not for her untimely passing, is truly inspired. For my money, it’s better than the original.
With countless rock artists fighting for a diminishing piece of the pie, getting noticed is more challenging than ever. When done correctly (and with a little luck), a cover song can be the lightning rod that rising artists need to get on peoples’ radar. It may sound like the antithesis of what rock and roll is supposed to be about, but from a business perspective, a great cover song can create leverage for an artist to reach a wider audience.
There are many people who love hearing new interpretations of old songs, but there are also a number of people who have burned out on the trend. Cover songs are here to stay in some capacity. They have been around for rock music’s entire history, but not usually to this degree. While the trend could start to reverse, it is likely to have more staying power than some would like because it is a way for artists to make a splash in an ocean of music.
Music has always been a business, but in the past, artists were able to focus on the music while “the machine” focused on making money. Those days are gone, and will not be coming back for the majority of artists (especially in rock). Just as big box stores used discount albums to bring in shoppers to purchase more high-ticket items, rock artists use cover songs to build their respective fanbases and (hopefully) to get radio programmers to take notice. Like it or not, it’s a smart business decision.
What are your thoughts on this growing trend?