Cover Artist vs. Original Artist: Which Way to Go?

This must be the question that most people ask at the beginning of their musical journeys. It can define your future and how people will remember you as a musician.

The direction you choose needs to meet your needs as a musician, how urgent your need for income is and the type of stability you need.

Let’s look at the comparison between being a cover artist and being an original artist.

Cover MusicianOriginal Musician
Possible VenuesPubs, Restaurants, Weddings, PartiesFestivals, Private shows,
Duration Until SuccessImmidiatelyBetween 6-36 months (not before the first single release)
Set Length 1-3 hours30-90 minutes
Audience TypeRegulars or guestsFans or potential fans
Income TypeMainly from performancesPerformances, Royalties, Merchandise etc
BookingsWebsite, Personal contactSocial media, Manager
A comparison between being a cover artist and an original artist (also for bands).

Food for thought: All original artists have performed a cover once in their lives before, but not all cover artists have written and performed their own originals before.

Being a Cover Musician

The quickest way to make music and perform live is by performing a cover set. There are tons of public venues looking for talented and experienced cover bands to entertain their guests.

You will still need:

  • At least 2 x 45-minute sets to perform
  • A press kit to present yourself that includes at least 2 recorded demo songs
  • BONUS: If you have your own sound or PA system.
  • BONUS: A website for potential bookings

Possible Venues

It is quite easy to line up shows as a cover artist. I categorised them into 2 different types of venues:

Local Venues

These are your local pubs, restaurants and theatres.

Get in contact with venues: Make a list of all the potential venues in your area and place them into categories of restaurants, pubs, and theatres. Email your press kit to them to arrange a possible meeting or an easier mid-week show.

Start with easier slots: It is important that both artist and venue manager feels comfortable with the cooperation. Therefore a calmer mid-week show would be a great start for less experienced performers.

Broader Venues

These are mostly parties and weddings.

Shape your set: When we look at bookings for parties and weddings, you would need to shape your set in such a way that you can perform multiple songs for all generations present.

Be adaptable: During your set, you will also need to adjust and adapt to your audience.

You are delivering a service and therefore your professional approach to making a success of the party is much appreciated and will certainly win you good reviews.

I’ve personally also coached and corrected bands that felt like the audience needs to adapt to them, which is the wrong type of perspective when you are hired to entertain a party.

Your website: This is where your website reflects who you are and what type of performance you deliver.

Share your setlist: Don’t be shy about sharing a previous set list for potential customers. This is exactly what will convince them that you are the one to perform at their party.

Duration Until Success

As a cover artist, you will already experience success after your first show. It is up to you how long it takes to get to practice a set, book a gig and perform.

Your success will be rated in getting paid gigs and sharing the expenses. Then you know you are making a success.

Perhaps setting up some goals with your band members could help you set you on track. I wrote an article about Goal Setting for Bands and Artists which I recommend you scan over.

There’s nothing wrong with performing one trail show for free just to show what you can do, but don’t go home empty-handed after the second show at the same venue.

Set Length

For a cover artist, I recommend performing 2 sets of 45 minutes each at least.

It is good to build up with a set and curve it down again, but also give yourself a chance to take a 30-minute break to regroup, interact, reflect and readjust before you hit the stage again.

You should also charge per hour of performance, which in this case will be 1,5 hours. If you have the capacity to push the time a little, do so. 😉

In some countries, venues are forced by law to have live music finished by a certain time. So make sure that you are aware of the time limits.

My Tip: Set a long-term goal for yourself to have enough content to perform for 3 hours.

Audience Type

I will categorise the audiences into 2 types:

Local Venues

Your local pubs and bars will host random people from the public that chooses to come to this venue.

The advantage you have is that the audience is already there and you have a chance to entertain.

The disadvantage is that they might not be there to listen to live music or your style of music. That’s why I find it important to have a trial show before you agree to long-term cooperation with a venue.

My tip: Build resilience towards members of the audience who react in a disrespectful way. You will encounter many people that can be rude.

There’s also another side of the coin: You can be so good, that by-passers are being lured in by your unique and original entertainment style that you will find your match with a venue.

I’ve been on holiday recently to Italy, and the band that performed at this restaurant was so good that the people queued outside just to get a place to sit. I couldn’t resist speaking to the frontman, and he told me that they are regular performers for this restaurant.

From Friday to Sunday, they perform 3 sets of 50 minutes each and that is enough for him to make a living from.

He also occupies his time with an artist management program where he provides performance slots to upcoming performers and coaches them show by show.

If artist management is something that you might be interested in, don’t miss the article I published about What Makes a Good Artist Manager, and How To Become a Music Manager that will provide you with some easy-to-follow information.

Broader Venues

Weddings and parties are a once-off chance to entertain people who do not know much about you.

Your goal should be to please the event host, whether that be the wedding couple or the birthday person.

The guests are there because of them and you are bringing the extra spice to the party.

Make sure to leave a mark for yourself and to leave your band name on the lips of the audience. This is an excellent chance to build a relationship with potential clients and to get booked again by someone else.

Often people want to relive the moment they enjoyed with you at a wedding or party and would want to book the same band to recreate a similar vibe or feeling at their party.

Income Type

Rule of thumb: Don’t play for free!

Even if you charge a small amount to start off with, that’s acceptable.

Have respectable standards for yourself and make sure that you get paid your value.

You have placed an enormous amount of time and money into your passion to entertain others, and nobody should take advantage of you.

I would recommend newcomers to perform for 50$ an hour per musician only for a start. And then work your way up.

  • Solo artists: 50$ – 150$ p/h
  • Duo: 150$ – 250$ p/h
  • Trio (Small Band): 200$ – 400$ p/h
  • Medium Band (4-6 members) with 2 full 1-hour sets: 400$ – 700$
  • Large Band (+6 members): 600$ – 800$
  • DJ: 80$ – 150$ p/h

We generally go according to the rule of $50-$150 per artist per hour.

Agree on your rate before the time with the venue. Never perform for a door fee or cover charge. This is not a guaranteed income.

A cover band entertaining an audience (Photo credit: Canva)

Monetization Ideas

While performing would be your main source of income, it would be recommended to look into other possibilities to monetise your performances:

  • Place a visible Tip Jar so that people can voluntarily place money in for you.
    • This can stretch your agreed rate by another 100$.
  • Reconsider the number of members you need.
    • Money being divided by 3 members are much better than by 5.
  • Invest in becoming a better frontman.
    • Having a talented lead singer as an entertainer that’s able to keep the audience engaged will lead to increasing your rates and filling the venues.
  • Do the mixing from the stage.
    • This saves you money from having to hire a sound engineer.
  • Negotiate to include a meal and drinks on the performance day.

You can get creative about how you can stretch your income suited to your needs. If you have some more clever ideas, please add them to the comments below.


There are various methods to do your bookings as a cover band:

  • A website is still a great idea for a cover band.
    • This is your marketing platform and you can run your band like a business.
  • Over a band email
    • Especially with a cover band, which is a business band, has an email where they can be contacted at.
  • Social media inbox
    • If you do your own management, it’s also easy to keep track between members by just agreeing on performances over social media inboxes.
    • It’s ok for a start, but when the gigs start to pile up one tends to lose track of the “where” and “how much”.
  • Get a manager

Bands tend to find their own systems of how to manage the gigs between them. You will find your rhythm too!

In the case of weddings and parties: these are usually once-off events. You will get rebooked if your performance and pricing were accurate for other events by the same customer or people from the audience. This a fantastic opportunity to cash in and set the standard of your pricing.

Being an Original Musician

To become an original musician you’ll need patience and ambition, and realise that the road to success comes only with consistency, perseverance and often having a thick skin.

If you are at the stage where you would like to start an original band, I wrote a detailed guide to support you with a checklist of things you need. You can find The MEGA Starting a Band Checklist here.

Possible Venues

You will perform in pubs, specialised artist venues and theatres in one of 3 varieties:

  1. As part of a band night (all bands equal)
  2. Opening for a more successful artist
  3. Being the headliner (and having others opening for you)

Once you become more popular, festivals are another opportunity to get into.

Festivals offer the biggest stages and the biggest opportunities. It’s here where you’ll perform with the biggest names in your genre and share the backstage together.

I’ve met many new people and used this as a great chance to network and promote ourselves as a newly arrived band.

Duration Until Success

This usually depends on how quickly you manage to reach your goals. But I wouldn’t recommend quitting your day job within the first 24 months.

Don’t expect success before you launch a hit single and a music video to support it. Only when your content is played over the mainstream media platforms you will be taken seriously, and this can take months, if not years of endurance and perseverance.

When my band launched its first single and video, it was the start of our success. We were invited for interviews, to festivals, to perform together and to collaborate. Our song reached the charts and got included in various compilation albums. Then you know that you did something right.

Set Length

Most concerts are between 30-90 minutes, but this will usually be communicated to you during the booking.

Here’s a summarised breakdown:

  • Band nights: 45 minutes (15 for transitioning)
  • Battle of the Bands or Music Competitions: 20-45 minutes
  • Festivals: 30-90 minutes
  • Private bookings: 60-90 minutes
  • Opening for another artist: 15-30 minutes

The focus should rather be on how many songs you’ll need to prepare. In this case, I’ve written a Full Guide for How Many Songs Per Live Performance that would help you with preparing the correct amount of music.

Audience Type

The people who are present are the ones who want to be there or who came with people who’d like to see you perform.

There’s plenty of opportunity to perform with other bands so you can also do fan sharing and promote each other to your fans. People listen to more artists than just one and we all need to find a way to the top. Why not support each other?

Be aware that as a new original band, you will often play in an empty venue. You could organise a small handful of people to come, but the reality is that creating a following as an original band is hard work at the beginning.

I would recommend you read my blog post about How to Build a Following and Finally Fill Your Venues where I give you some clear advice on overcoming this hurdle.

This post was written and posted by De Wet from on 27.06.2023. The content was stolen from me if this blog post is seen anywhere else.

Passionate fans would carry you through thick and thin (photo credit: Canva)

Income Type

In the beginning, you will probably pay more than you get out since you’ll struggle to fill venues as an unknown original band. That’s ok if this is your passion and hobby. Just take it gig by gig and actively work to reach your goals.

Once you have a name and you are filling venues, you’ll start to get regular bookings instead of scouting for opportunities.

Depending on the set length, the type of gig, and where in the world you are, you’ll be able to charge about 1000$ for a band with one single on radio play and a music video.

Performance is important, but never undervalue yourself. Rather play one gig less than being undercharged. You have content running on the major media platform where your publicity is being done.

Focus on arranging interviews, and reach out to podcasters and music bloggers to add to your publicity campaign.

These ideas will get your venues filled and in the process, make you a popular band to book which means price increases.

Perhaps my blog post about Steps to Reach Your First Paid Gig – From Zero to Hero could be of benefit to you!

Monetization Ideas

Except for the performance money, let’s look at some of the other areas where you can generate an income:

  • Music release
    • Most artists do their own music management on the platforms CD Baby or Distrokid
    • They divide your income already among the band members
    • Self-Market Your Music
  • YouTube
    • As soon as your music videos start to reach a certain amount of views, you start to cash in.
  • Merchandise

There certainly are many more ways, and if you know any others, please add them in the comment section below.

The key as an original artist is that you need to produce new hits for people to actually have an interest in you. Keep writing and recording and you will be successful after 24 months.

Many bands become successful because of just being on the scene consistently even though they are pretty average.

Believe in yourself and work hard. It is not impossible to reach the top if you deliver something unique and different. Produce something that this world has not seen or heard of before.

Can I make a living from being in a cover band?

You can certainly make a living from being in a cover band. Being in a cover band offers the chance to have a flexible schedule and therefore requires more responsibility and commitment from a band to stay on the lookout for opportunities to perform on a regular basis.

If you can manage to have 3 routine bookings per week where you perform for 2 hours per concert at either the same or various locations, at a 200$ per hour rate, you would make about 1200$ per week. That would mean your monthly income would be about 4800$ per month.

As this is your own business, you should run it as one and keep track of your expenses and claim the applicable taxes back.

Take note: I am no tax or financial advisor, but just a musician sharing my thoughts.

What are the disadvantages of being in a cover band full-time?

  • You work at night and your schedule is different than those other people’s.
  • Being in a band is VERY hard work
    • Band members are unstable
    • Practices are a challenge to arrange
    • You never get to play your own music
  • The entertainment industry is competitive
  • You will need some experience before going full-time
  • Stable and trustworthy venues are hard to come by
  • Make sure about the royalty fees of the songs you are performing

What are the advantages of being in a cover band full-time?

  • You perform regularly and consistently
  • Your path to achieving an income from music is smoother and greater
  • You have the daytime to commit to a day job or side hustle.
  • You can expand and perform at parties and weddings on free days.
  • You will be appreciated from the first song
  • Members are easier to replace and it’s easier for new members to adjust
  • Selling merchandise becomes less relevant
  • You are able to get into a routine

Do all band members always get paid equally?

This depends on the arrangement between the band members. Usually, bands would divide the income fairly between them because the production is a team effort and each member contributes to making such a performance possible.

More establish bands invest in the specialists that they need. For instance, when an experienced frontman assembles a new band, he could pay his members depending on their musicality-skill level, experience level, other skills and contributions to the band, and also the network or contacts that this member can offer to take the band forward.

I hope you found the answers that you need in this article. If you can think of any points that you can share from your experience, please drop them in the comments below.

Have a good one!

De Wet

The dream started during a school tour at the age of 15 years old. One that might take a long time to reach. De Wet was 16 years old when he got his first bass guitar as a gift from his dad. The guitar was found, hidden under boxes. As if it was waiting for its owner to come by and pick him up. He practiced every day to improve and to teach his fingers to dance to the music. After finishing high school, he played in various bands where he collected valuable experience, before being signed by a record label as an upcoming band. He reached success at age 22 when he released two albums with his band, which also included televised music videos for publicity. By age 24, he co-started management, artist promotion, and booking agency for successful and upcoming musical acts.

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