This is an age old question. Especially for buskers.
Should I play cover songs or my own songs?
If you’ve got the talent to write your own music then surely everyone would rather see you showcase your ability to write? Surely everyone would rather hear something you wrote from the heart than an imitation of the music in the charts?
But here is the sad reality of the situation; everyone wouldn’t. In fact, the majority of people wouldn’t.
The human ear loves familiarity and the general public hears the same songs on a loop on popular radio stations. Not many people love a song when they first hear it but after a couple of listens they find the familiarity of it comforting.
When you’re busking you’ve got less than one song to convince someone walking by to stop and listen to you, if it’s not a song that they know they are much less likely to stop.
This is not a question of whether you write good songs or whether you don’t. Whether your songs are better than your cover songs or whether they aren’t. It’s just a question of making a sensible song choice for your audience, and if your audience is on the move then you need to pin them down with something they know.
Here’s the important part though, once you’ve caught your crowd in a net of popular cover songs, that’s your chance to announce your own composition. Once you’ve convinced an audience to stop you have created a street show, and the stage is all yours, take it away!
I often get asked why I don’t play more of my own music while busking, and I’m flattered by the question. But the fact is I know the algorithm for a good busking set and the ratio of covers to originals is about 5 to 1.
Some musicians and buskers may turn their noses up at playing cover songs but personally I quite like paying my rent! And I learn a lot from memorising the songs that people love; I think it hugely improves my songwriting. Cover songs are a wonderful tool for gaining attention, then you can use that attention to showcase your original music.
Now that I have your attention…In September I’m taking on a challenge to write a lot more music. I am attempting to write a new song every day and put it up for you to hear it on Patreon. The most popular songs will be uploaded to YouTube the following week.