The First Song

I read this article in our local newspaper last week and it was about a band here in Ottawa playing cover songs and the tone of the article really bothered me for a couple of reasons. I expressed my distaste for the article on Facebook - venting, really - and it seemed to spark quite the discussion amongst friends about the topic of cover musicians and people who play original music.

The first point that irked me was the lead in to the article, describing a local guitarist as the kind of person who is not the type of musician you would "normally find playing other people’s songs in a cover band" - in fact he had spent years trying to "avoid that fate" by playing original music. Secondly, the journalist asks: Why? What prompted such talented and original musicians to tackle some of the cheesiest songs of the 20th century? I assume she is referring to the music mentioned in the article which is the 1970's to 80's pop including artists such as Steely Dan, Billy Joel etc - the type of music I have been playing every weekend for the past ten years. This sounds like anyone playing these songs is deemed to be cheesy and not challenging themselves creatively.

So have I succumbed to an undesirable fate, according to this article? I wonder how many of those musicians play music for a living and know what it takes to survive with music as your career. I do. I have ten years to prove it. And that's why it frustrates me to hear someone put down musicians like myself who have had to pay the bills playing cover songs in order to support my artistic career.

I've always felt caught between the two worlds - on one hand, playing covers has been a saving grace that has kept me employed, has allowed me to learn and appreciate songs that were already written, and giving me an opportunity to practice and sharpen my performance skills. On the other hand, I've always felt the need to write original music and I love to play it but the audience isn't there in the same way. If I could ever sell enough albums to make another one, I'd be happy with that.

As someone who aspires to make their own art, I have felt doubtful and trapped when my music doesn't push forward as far as I'd like. I have too many offers to play weddings to possibly accept them all, but I can't get into a non-local festival. I can get a $20 tip to play Piano Man, but I can't sell an original CD for $10. There are times when I have to remind myself that I wanted to play music for a career, and guess what. That's what I'm doing and I've accomplished it pretty well.

I'd love to push my original music further, but at the same time there's no shame in making a living making people happy with the songs they enjoy hearing and I enjoy playing.

While the Facebook thread got off topic and a little heated at points, I still feel the same way and it made me want to do something I haven't done before. I'm proud that I know over 300 songs and I'm going to try to record one every day in 2014 - some covers, some originals, to try to challenge myself in a different way.

Today is January 1, 2014 and the very first song ties into this whole discussion. It's about playing covers songs for people but making it a promise to myself that I'll keep writing and keep contributing to the creative side of music as well. It's called The Last Song. Thanks for reading and listening.