Cover versus Arrangement
Cover versus Arrangement
Cover versions, in one way or another, were always here. The oldest one I can recall is the famous ‘la folia’—a harmonic structure that was used in the works of about one hundred and fifty composers since the seventeenth century.
In 1952 the Chicago Tribune described the term Cover Version as a “trade jargon meaning to record a tune that looks like a potential hit on someone else’s label.” Many cover versions became very successful, some of them even more than the original song. In some cases it was a matter of luck: timing. But in most cases it was because they were more than just a cover.
A great example is the cover version of Alabama Song, written by Brecht and Weill in 1927. The Doors covered the song in 1966 and gave it a new life:
The original Version:
The Doors Version:
Recording and publishing music today is much easier than it used to be. Internet-based music streaming services (of which YouTube is the most significant), the accessibility of home recording, and smartphone video shooting are among the tools available to almost any person who wishes to record and publish music. Indeed, recording and publishing became significantly cheaper. Yet there still remains one component that cannot be obtained by technology: personal creativity.
Music amateurs’ accessibility to technology makes releasing a cover version for a song they like a perfectly natural thing to do. Some will accompany themselves with a piano or an acoustic guitar; some will put in some extra effort and invite friends to play with them. Nevertheless, the vast majority of cover versions won’t ‘say’ anything new about the song.
I believe that the enormous number of amateur cover versions out there creates the need for a new term. We need a term that distinguishes them from the cover versions that truly treat the song in depth, emphasize hidden elements, or at least grant the song an extremely new and exciting performance.
It is crucial for a professional arranger to understand this concept and to insist on it. I wouldn’t want my works to be called cover versions; anyway, not in the present definition. I believe that music lovers deserve more from us: they deserve a new arrangement. Recording a cover version is not enough. We have to get to know all the elements of the song, to treat each one of them in depth, and really create something new out of it. Something unique.
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In my next post: Approaching a new arrangement writing