Frequenting talent shows and open-mic events, I’ve noticed a growing trend: covering songs is standard practice for developing musicians. A cover, musically speaking, is essentially a recycled song. An artist will use an original song written by another musician and attempt to match the sound. It seems to have become uncommon for someone to perform an original song at a talent show. But if an aspiring musician does perform an original song, the audience cheers with excitement and surprise. What happened to the skill of songwriting and why is it such a rarity?
Social media such as YouTube and Vine are filled with covers. On YouTube, users will create accounts to share videos of themselves performing popular songs. Generally it will be a single artist singing and playing an instrument like a guitar or ukulele in their home. The same happens on Vine, the six second video sharing application. On Vine, a user will use #6secondcover to increase the video’s popularity.
The most popular YouTube cover band, Boyce Avenue, started out performing covers in 2007. The band of three brothers from Florida posted covers such as Linkin Park’s “Shadow of the Day” and by the end of 2008 the band had attained more than 100,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel. Now, Boyce Avenue has almost 6 million subscribers and are releasing their own original music on iTunes.
Us the Duo, a married couple, made their voices heard by posting covers on YouTube and then became more popular on Vine. The couple is now touring the United States and selling their original song, “No Matter Where You Are.”
One of the most popular musicians of today, Justin Bieber, also made his start performing covers on YouTube at the age of 12. Now Bieber is 20 and making an estimated amount of $53 million a year.
The list continues.
Artists have become famous for copying other artists songs, displaying their creativity later and most aspiring artists follow that same trajectory.
Social media gives anyone with an internet connection the chance to become a musician, but is this culture of covers degrading our music industry?
The emphasis on music today is on skill rather than creativity. Music is an art, not a sport. Sports focus on training and performance ability. Art is much different. Art emphasizes creative instinct and interpreting the beauty in the world. This is what makes music so special: musicians use both performance ability and creativity to create a piece.
Song covers are not bad. It would be a shame not to recycle beautiful songs made popular by other artists, but allowing the music culture to be run by covers will denigrate music to a sport.
Social media, talent shows, and open-mics can and should be refurbished with creative people performing their original material. To aspiring musicians everywhere: don’t belittle your ability to produce only covers. Put your own brush strokes of imaginative beauty on the music community and write your own music.
For what you see is
Not fantasy, it’s
Not what it gets, but gives
This is the Age of Adz
—Age of Adz//Sufjan Stevens