DANCE / COVER BAND
Alternate Career Titles:
Bar Band, Tribute Band, Lounge Band, Production Show
Career Overview: Performs covers of popular songs so the audience can dance and have a good time at clubs, bars, casinos, lounges, and schools.
Average Annual Salary: $200-$300 per person, per show
Career Salary Range: $50 to $1,000+ per person, per show
Start a Dance / Cover Band
The job duties of a Dance / Cover Band include “learning music, rehearsing, scheduling, performance, [dealing with entertainment industry] politics — that’s pretty much the majority of it,” says Jason Tanzer, Founder, Owner and CEO of Dustree Productions, a top Las Vegas production company that creates, develops and produces Cover and Tribute Bands. He works with the groups from the ground floor up, helping them do “everything from conceptualize to book,” which includes “finding the right Singer, organizing and casting the show, creating the set list, producing the tracks, rehearsing them and bringing them to stage.”
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Advancement for a Cover Band usually comes through drawing bigger crowds and getting booked at more prestigious venues, both of which can result in higher income per gig.
Education & Training
A music college degree isn’t essential to be in a Cover Band, but a high level of musical and performance skills are required. “I’m not going to work with someone if they’re pitchy, meaning they sing out of tune,” Tanzer says. Apart from basic musicianship, the ability to play different genres of music is important, as it means you’re giving yourself more opportunities for work. Professionalism is key, too. When looking for people he can work with, Tanzer says, “Vegas is one of the largest markets in the world, if not the largest, so I prefer them to have the basic protocol in decorum, [plus] talent.”
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Experience & Skills
Performance experience will help a Cover Band create a compelling live show, although this can, of course, be learned on the job. Tanzer says the main skills required are whether a potential Cover Band member “can fit the mold of what we’re trying to achieve, can they pull it off without looking like they’re sweating. Vegas is a different beast; you can’t be too arrogant or stuck in your mold.”
Successful Cover Band members have a combination of humbleness, respect, and professionalism—yet still have the ability to put on a show. “Half of what I like about the magnanimous onstage personality is half of what I don’t like offstage,” Tanzer says, referring to the Rock Star attitude that can sometimes be a problem. He gives the example of members of Cover Bands giving off a diva attitude, in the same way that the original performer of the song does. The difference, he says, is that the original, famous performer “writes her own ticket, plain and simple. She’s still going to be successful with and without [the people on her team or the concert venue booking her]. The difference between production shows with musical theatre and Cover Bands, is that the venue really has multiple options they can choose from. There are ten other bands who are good enough and they can be picked instead. These are greater entities than the people involved.“
The performance schedule of a Cover Band “varies as much as you would imagine,” Tanzer says. “The high end would be four to five nights. The average is two to three and there are others who work whenever.” Fortunately, for those interested in playing music full-time for a job, he says, “the majority of people in Las Vegas on the Strip make a living doing this.”
Although Cover Bands in smaller markets will probably spend a good deal of their time booking shows, rehearsing, and essentially managing themselves, for a Vegas-style professional Cover Band, a Manager or someone in a similar capacity will handle these duties. How much work a band will have to do offstage, Tanzer says, “depends on who you work for and how organized they are.” For a Cover Band backed by a management and production team like Dustree, prior to the show “they’ll [already] have the setlist, the backing track, the call times and all they’ll have to do is put in their time.” As for the set, “they probably won’t even work on it till the week before. Most artists aren’t generally just sitting around rehearsing all day. The people who have steady times probably rehearse four or five times a year. When they launch new material they may rehearse for two weeks, learning the material — maybe for a week or two.”
An aspiring Cover Band member can either put together a band on their own or audition for a role in a production. Tanzer says that of the Cover Bands on his roster, around “85% are in-house productions and 15% percent [are groups] that I absorbed or signed.” To find talent, he simply goes to shows or asks around, so taking an active role in your local music community is essential to launching a career. “Once you’re in an industry, you have the channels and the communications trails within that,” Tanzer says, so he finds talent by “Facebooking events or [reaching out to] the network of people who know what’s going on. It’s basically networking. If I’m looking for a rock Singer, I’ll go to a rock venue and find people.”
It’s also important to know what skills you provide, and what image you give off. He says, “they have to decide what they like, what they want to do, what they’re qualified to do, what they’re capable of executing well enough to be believable and then figure out if they’re willing to do all that within the parameters of what will be paid.
The reality is that people are not waiting for you to be you. I can tell you if you want to work, you have to be malleable within the industry that funds you…. [As a Cover Band member], you have to be willing to be part of the biggest part of the industry, which is dance. If you’re a guitar player who wants to do solos all day you’re going to be in a bad mood, because that’s not what’s happening. You have to be able to be malleable and flow with the times. Winger’s not performing in Las Vegas; it’s not here, it’s not popular. No different than how Nirvana crushed Poison, dance/EDM has crushed music so half of my Dance Bands have EDM sets with everything from Calvin Harris to David Guetta to Rihanna, but they’re doing it all as bands so they have Guitarists, Vocalists, etc.“
In regards to how Cover Bands are paid, Tanzer says, “They’re contractors so it’s per gig. Say I have an act that performs three times a week. I say ‘a particular venue at a particular property wants me to book [entertainment]. My commission is X.’ Something I’ve produced or own the rights to (my band name or my production), I’ll call the Band and tell them the even split. There’s a different cost structure for each level of person, but it’s whatever the rate is normally. A couple hundred dollars per person is average for Vegas, per show. If they’re working the casino lounges, they’re happy to do it for $200 and even happier for $300.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
There are no professional organizations for Cover Bands. Tanzer advises checking out legal download sites such as iTunes for help learning a tune, saying that “my cast, when they’re studying a tune, they buy material. If one of my acts is learning a Beyonce tune, before I can produce it, they study it and learn it. About twenty to thirty percent buy the tune, the rest go on YouTube and study it there.”
- “Study your instrument well enough to play any style of music. If you can’t play jazz you’re probably not going to be all that utilitarian. Is there a lot of jazz work in Vegas? No, but the majority of people I employ can play anything. Rock, country, blues, jazz, dance: the basic genres.
- You should be seasoned enough to understand how to deal with on the fly circumstances. What that means is I’ll get people fresh out of college, they’re incredible players, but they don’t have the first clue what modern music is. The majority of people that work for me, there has to be some grooming involved. You have to have some real world experience. You have to know the toolbox to get you where you want to play. You have to learn those songs before you’re even considered. You kind of have to know the songbook — the cover songbook. It can be Lady Gaga. It can be Adele. It can be Guns and Roses. It can be Steve Miller Band. The top 40 market is ever evolving, [although] I could give you a relatively stable classic rock set.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Be somebody that you want to hang out with. At the end of the day, you just want to be around someone who’s cool. You don’t want to be around someone who’s super arrogant.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Taking yourself more importantly than the equation. At the end of the day, if this is a Lady Gaga formula, it’s that she has the ability to act the way she wants because she is the one people are paying to see.”
It’s about “not taking yourself too seriously. You’re not the reason behind it. The combined total group of people behind it might get you work, but it’s not you. If you’re in a Cover Band you didn’t write the music.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“The thing that people overlook the most is, ‘do I have to do what someone else tells me to do?’ [If] we sit down and I ask them what they want to do, and they say ‘I want to do Muse,’ I have to say ‘there’s not a lot of work for Muse Cover Bands.’ I’ll say to them ‘I am in the business of trying to facilitate some of your wishes, but why would I take on a business that’s going to fail?’
Artists, by nature are not business people, so on face value they’re not thinking about the final product. They’re thinking they want to entertain, so they see something they like and they want to do it but they don’t realize that the set list has been fleshed out for many years over trial and error.“
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“The only thing I would add that you didn’t ask is, ‘is the career fun and if it is fun, for how long?’
The majority of people don’t realize that if they are looking for this to become successful, their measure of success will never be attained. If they’re looking for this to enjoy being a performer they can do this for twenty years. I see both. Are you looking to do this to become successful or are you doing it to enjoy it? If the answer is both, you’ll probably succeed. If the answer is success, you’ll probably burn out. If you’re doing it for enjoyment, you’ll probably do it forever. You could start off in a skimpy outfit in a Dance Band…[later] you could be 40, an Electrical Engineer and playing at a martini bar because you love it, doing it forever.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Understanding — and being open minded to the market share of the community in which you thrive.
When I’ll go to Chicago they might like stuff that’s dirtier and heavier — say Kings of Leon all the way up to Slipknot. I’m not necessarily speaking for Chicago, but the market will dictate the value added to the property and the desirables.
It can all be summed up in ‘what are you getting into it for?’ Are you getting into it because you enjoy it? Or if you want to be successful, you’re never going to be a name in a Cover Band. There are like a handful I can think of who have reached any kind of household name status and they don’t even know the individuals’ names.”
Jason Tanzer is the Founder, Owner and CEO of Dustree Productions in Las Vegas, NV. In addition to running a record label and providing artist management services, he creates, develops, and produces Cover/Tribute Bands.