How I've Made Music My Full-Time Gig
Cover bands have been one of my most steady streams of income. I had never played keyboard in a band (aside from a jazz band) until I boarded my first cruise ship. There I was thrown headlong into the gig and had to learn hundreds of tunes in a short period of time in a week!
In a cover band, the keyboard player’s role is to fill out the sound, so it sounds more like the original recording. It is also to create live energy by adding different sounds (string, organ, and phaser pads, etc.).
Playing in cover bands forced me to learn more by ear and experiment to find the right sounds and figure out which parts needed to be covered. It was a lot different than playing classical music, where every note I needed to play was already on the page.
As I mentioned in a previous post, when I left cruise ship life and moved to Denver, playing in cover bands helped me get my feet on the ground. Even though I had built a solid library of tunes, there was still a lot more to learn.
On cruise ships, sheet music was provided, but now I was expected to learn all the tunes myself. I realized that learning by ear, while a little more work up front, helped me retain the music better. This was a good skill to have, as sheet music wasn’t always readily available for newer songs.
Many cover bands can’t afford to hire all of the musicians needed to recreate the original bands, so I was often expected to learn horn parts (brass and woodwind lines). I learned from feedback that finding the right sounds, playing all the parts, blending with the band and being technically proficient provided challenges for most keyboard players. So my ability to juggle all these roles really gave me an advantage.
Playing in cover bands meant lots of long days and nights, especially with all the set-up that’s required. Much of the work is at weddings, corporate parties, bars and festivals. Fortunately, the food and drink is good, and the audiences generally want to be there and have a good time!
In addition to being a good source of income, cover bands have really connected me to other musicians. Especially when I have moved, cover bands have given me a community and helped me make my new city home. So many talented musicians play in these bands, and their recommendations have brought me further in my career than I ever could have alone.
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Nate Hance is a professional pianist, entertainer and composer living in St. Paul, MN. He grew up in Minot, ND but has traveled around the world playing music. You can listen to the six albums that he has written as well as check out his goofy music videos on YouTube