Posts tagged ‘Musician’s Union’

Covers vs Originals … ?

Many of us start life as creative, professional musicians with an absolute aversion to playing anyone elses music ever at all. No way! We want to tell our own stories and have something original and unique to say that no-one else has. For others, it’s the opposite – not everyone is a natural at songwriting and composing and there is a fine career to be had just playing and interpreting what’s already been written.

I prioritise my own material 95% – confident to call myself in general terms a ‘jazz musician’ as the idiomatic jazz references in my work are unmistakable. Over the years I’ve found an increasingly interesting (and sometimes rocky) relationship between covers and original music and getting known for doing both.

Here’s my Top Ten (and somewhat random) Tips and crazy notions to navigate and have fun with the covers/originals balance.

  1. Never forget that what lies in your own brain, imagination and invention is your gift to the world. You have a duty to bring it forth. Original art is everything. You’ll know if you have something to say with your songs as they will write you – you won’t have a choice. Never block the flow, you will make yourself ill if you do. Trust that you have something to say and get out of the way of creation speaking through you!

  2. As a child, I was told off, (in a grudgingly admiring way) by my piano tutor for using our lessons to show her my own compositions. She wanted me to focus on the Purcell (yuk …) and Mozart (yawn …) that we had to study. In her head, this was clearly the concert pianist path. I was more interested in making up my own chord sequences, although I felt guilty for including a hooky progression from a current TV show.

  3.  It was at this point that she was more helpful and told me not to worry about little steals and derivations and that the famous composers quoted from each other all the time – both deliberately and unconsciously.

  4. One huge and obvious advantage of sticking to your own work is that the royalties and rights are yours. No need to negotiate or buy access or clear it with anyone before you record. If original work is your default process then you find yourself wanting to record a cover and then sell the resulting album, it can feel (and is) somewhat more complicated.

  5. An advantage of doing covers is that (for me) there is a blissful and much needed buffer zone of objectivity. What a relief to leave my own stories behind and put something less risky on the line! If the audience rejects it, (either the storyline or the melody) it’s so much less personal.

  6. Approaching and arranging  great popular standards can and will make you a better player and composer for your own stuff. Tackle John Coltranes ‘Giant Steps’ just for fun – it’s such a good theory lesson and can be treated and redone in endless ways. (A repertoire of classic covers also serves as ready teaching material.) Program your set so that you hit a new audience with 4 originals, then a really popular standard that shows off your skills but continues the theme. Like dominos, make sure they’re connected by something – subject matter/mood/tempo/key. If you can get your original songs mistaken for classics then this is a good thing and means you’re writing the standards of the future! I had a (not very pleasant but certainly interesting) post gig scenario once at the Isle of Wight jazz festival. A well known festival director accused me of plagiarising my own songs. He was drunk and out of order and quite aggressive. Horrible – but it was proof that my songs are strong!

  7. Unless the fee is really good, (weddings!) only choose covers that you genuinely love and will stand the test of time and endless repetition as part of your set. Be steadfast in refusing requests (to perform/arrange/prepare/record/deliver) popular songs that you honestly don’t like – it will erode your soul.

  8. Check out other musicians who’ve covered songs maybe more or less successfully than the original songwriter. What makes a great song? One that can be endlessly reinterpreted or one that is untouchable? I fell in love with Carmen McCraes version of ‘New York State of Mind’, then Oleta Adams version – long before I realised that Billy Joel wrote it. It’s a truly solid song, great melody, feel, structure and storytelling. Removed enough from the author that it can live an independent life. In my own set, I include a few K pop songs – which have been translated (into Japanese) for the (huge) Japanese market. One of these, ‘Juliette’ started off as ‘Deal With It’ released by ‘High School Musical’ singer, Corbin Bleu. Then K pop giants Seoul Media bought the rights and transformed it utterly for their top boy band ShinEE – but kept the melody and structure. (Geeks and enthusiasts, listen to the original HERE. The Korean cover/transformation HERE and the Japanese translation HERE.)

  9. Choose wisely – though if you fall on your face, that’s half the fun. I refuse to do Joni Mitchell covers, despite being asked. To ‘superfans’, she is an immortal (rightly so!) and only Joni can do Joni. Likewise Prince – if you attempt it, better do it right! When choosing a cover, have fun taking it as far away from its original incarnation as you can. Mess with the tempo and instrumentation. Strip everything back to the song. See if you can take an industrial metal number and redo it for acoustic jazz guitar. Check out Amy Winehouses version of The Beatles ‘All My Loving’ – which in my opinion is better than the original.

  10. In these days of social media and Youtube – well placed (and non copyright infringing) cover versions and treatments of other artists songs can really work in your favour by drawing fans into your world, your website, your mailing list. The next generation of music lovers is always growing up in waves, discovering the great artists for the first time – they may be led to your version first – or next – through search engines, key words and hash tags.

No one has covered my work to my knowledge. How would I feel … I think I would hate it! I want to be the unique legend that non-one else can do! (But one day I guess it might happen.)


Here’s a clip of me singing ‘Feeling Good’ (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newly) in Trafalgar Square, with my own pre-recorded piano arrangement. (I like this song so much, I later did a different version for guitar.)

Lastly, find out what you need to know to protect your work (copyright – there’s more than one way to do it) and tread respectfully and honestly around others. If your songs are out there, live, recorded or online – there are multiple royalty avenues that you can and should access. Be clear (onstage and everywhere else) about the intellectual ownership of your own work and seek advice before recording others.




Musicians Union – Benefits, protection, legal advice, community.


BASCA – British Academy of Songwriters, composers and authors.


Performing Rights Society – Music copyright, royalties and licensing.


Follow FayePatton on Twitter



Thoughts on music and martial arts.


I practice Aikido, Wing Chun kung fu and Tai Chi. On two occasions, I have found myself in A + E with an injured hand. The first time was an avulsion fracture on my right thumb incurred during Aikido. I literally chopped downwards onto someone’s head. (they were supposed to duck, but didn’t. Bone on bone – ouch.) The second was a less serious but at first equally inconveniencing and very stiff torn muscle in my palm. (Caused by an intense boxing session without warming up the hands first.)


Both times, casualty staff looked at me as though I was mad when I explained that yes I did rough ‘contact sports’…and was also  a professional pianist and guitarist. Their faces actually showed  far more pain than I was in. I wanted to say, ”no really, it’s all alright – and here’s why!” For me there’s a natural, mutually enhancing relationship whereby martial arts feeds directly into music and back again. I’d recommend every aspiring martial artist study some sort of musical discipline and vice versa. A martial art, like dancing, requires a strong sense of left/right brain and body co-ordination. You combine an alphabet of set moves, with wider principles and patterns. At best, you want to be able to improvise communicate and express, solo and with others. In all cases, hands are of vital importance, so is breathing. Professional singers know that our craft involves athletic levels of abdominal support and breath control. The language of music and fighting can overlap in ways both metaphorical and concrete. MCs can ‘battle’ on the mic. Boxers can spar with broken rhythm, lyrically or poetically. Or box in phrases (punches in bunches). Negotiating the industry requires ninja stealth and courage, stoic resilience, patience, timing, Yoda-like calm and the ability to strike when the iron is hot. Some tips for basic hand maintenance include: soaking your hands after training in hot water after training. This is also true after marathon gig or practice sessions. Always take time to rotate wrists in circles before martial arts training. Visualise  energy evenly distributed throughout the hand and whether it is a palm strike or a fist that you are using – make it neat. Stray fingers bent back or caught in someone’s Gi, belt or nose, really hurt like hell! If like me, you have classical guitar nails, wrap them with the wonderful invention that is micropore tape. Massage the fleshy parts of the palm before boxing. When you box pads or bags remember to employ technique, not force and again visualise your energy evenly distributed, like light or plant sap through your forearm. Forearms and the tendons they contain are very important. Bruce Lee’s notebooks have whole chapters about them. He did ‘Zottman curls’, which I recommend. Holding a reasonably heavy dumbbell in each hand, and keeping the arm still, rotate slowly and evenly from the elbow in a clockwise direction. Alternate sides so that you have room to do it! The trick is to do that descending curve nice and slow. If you have played guitar for a long time, your forearm tendons will be in pretty good shape, but I do like this extra exercise. Avoid hard/hard contact such as knuckles on heads or other knuckles. If you do break or strain something remember that as a martial artist your pain threshold might be too high to realise it. Especially if you are flooded with endorphins and adrenaline, therefore know your own limits and warning signals.



Some resources if you injure your hands:

Musicians Benevolent Fund

Musician’s Clinic

British Association for Performing Arts Medicine

Musician’s Union

I include this for fun – an example of 3 musicians displaying warrior prowess and a study in hand and wrist mastery. The Trio Project  (Hiromi Uehara,  Anthony Jackson and Simon Philips) live at the Tokyo Blue Note. The Trio project will be playing at Cadogan Hall here in London, 13th/14th/15th April.


Follow FayePatton on Twitter