Aspiring musicians who wish to form a band have several different career paths from which to choose. Some may compose and perform original material created by the band members themselves, as in the case of Pink Floyd or Radiohead. Others may allow a management team to select material from outside songwriters. Another option is to cover the material of established bands, hence the designation cover band.
A cover band generally selects its material from a collective pool of musical interests and abilities. Individual band members may already have dozens of popular songs in their repertoire, but they must come to a meeting of the minds to decide which songs will remain on their performance list as a band. Cover bands often limit their set lists to specific genres of music, such as country, blues, classic rock or Top 40.
Many professional musicians begin their careers as members of a cover band, which gives them the opportunity to perfect their instruments or strengthen their voices before embarking on solo careers or original songwriting. Even members of the legendary British rock group the Beatles spent years working in such a band in Germany, performing raw versions of American pop hits in local bars and nightclubs. As the band's interest in songwriting grew, they eventually added more original material to their set lists.
Cover bands usually work in local or regional venues, primarily bars and small nightclubs. Occasionally, a very popular local cover band may be invited to open for a national act, but most work in relative obscurity. Many local bars hire these bands in order to attract and retain customers, trusting that thy will perform a wide variety of songs. A cover band is not the same as a tribute band, however. While cover bands may work very hard to recreate the distinctive elements of the original artists, it is not obligated to create a note-for-note duplication.
Some musicians find working in a cover band to be a satisfying experience. They have an opportunity to perform music by their favorite artists, and the work itself can be steady once the band becomes established. Others find working for one to be restrictive artistically, since the material does not evolve over time and few cover bands break into the larger musical scene. It is not unusual to see a number of personnel changes within a local this type of band, as individual members either quit the music business or pursue other musical interests.
A cover band is also not to be confused with a wedding band. Cover bands may be hired to perform at private events such as weddings, but their song lists are not usually as varied as those of true wedding bands. They are more likely to be hired as entertainment for local festivals, private parties or fundraisers.