Should Your Church Band Sound Like a Cover Band?

Chris —  May 15, 2013 — 6 Comments

“Every church I’ve ever played for just wanted a Christian Radio cover band.”

I heard this statement at a recent lunch with a local musician. Like many in my city, Austin, he’s a working musician, playing behind artists and with multiple bands. The difference is that his gigs are all at churches and parachurch events.

The sad thing about his statement is that it shows how churches easily divorce music from mission. Like her role model, Jesus, the church is called to have an incarnational presence in its community. That means that the church learns and loves the local culture, and then tries to embody what it means to be a community of Jesus followers in that time and place.

So should your church band sound like a cover band, doing renditions of what ever is popular on the Christian radio station in the area?


If that is incarnational thing to do.

People everywhere love music, but in Austin, music is the lifeblood of the city. Imagine what it would be like if the music on Sunday sounded like the music people those same people listened to the rest of the week?

I asked on Facebook for people to name bands that capture the sound of Austin.  You can hear the answers here:

Who would you add? What does your city sound like?


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It's a bit strange to hear this.  I'm watching the phenomenon of cover and tribute bands take over a large part of my area's music.  Not just church-folks.  *Most* folks. They want to hear something familiar, and reenact something that made them feel different than usual, or touched them in some way. It's the past brought to the present. But how good is that at shaping a future, especially if it didn't shape much of anything substantive when it first came around? It also makes a problem for musicians: do I do my own, drawing on what covering these great artists has taught me, or do I answer the call because I need to have food, shelter, health care, etc.?

The acappella scene is of interest here. It is mostly made of youths, getting together to have fun singing the songs they know -- which is, the commercially-designed music cranked out by the money machine. Too much so for its own good. It's nearly all covers. Really! But no amount of commercial crap, it seems, can entirely extinguish the fun of being together, singing together, working on a project together that others can enjoy.  Maybe this tells us something we need to know.  Originals, yes.  But we ourselves are originals, and together we are even more original.  Bring that to the music, and even covers and tributes can be something that bears a new spirit.  If we sing and don't bother to bring it, it will seem like the cheat it really is.


My area's local bands sound like covers of bands that play on Austin City Limits. ;-) Most of the local bands I've seen are cover bands, though, seriously.


As for Christian radio, I guess it depends if your local Christian radio is doing a good job of being incarnational or if they sound like something from another time/galaxy far far away.


I do wonder sometimes if my own involvement locally should involve more song-writing. The norm tends to be that people do not write their own music, so that necessitates covering someone else's. 


After arguing with you on your last post about "Christian" music, I did day dream for a bit about getting our church band together and seeing if we could write and perform some songs that would connect with local people in local bars. Hit an open mike night and sneak in some Gospel seeds. 


Good thoughts.


I would like to take it even further. I understand being incarnation all through my music as more than style that I play in my church, it's using music to connect and meet people with the love of Jesus, OUTSIDE of the church. There is something to be said about music within church but I find that "Christian" bands tend to stay in Christian circles. I'm still exploring what it means to be a musicianary in my city, I think it will take some time...

ChrisMorton82 moderator

@RobertLongman Hey Robert, I won't lie, this post leaves the issue a little muddy. My personal favorite example of church music was how Charles Wesley (and others before or since) would rewrite the words to bar tunes. It's not too different than a cover song.

My issue is with churches who only cover Christian radio songs. It's kind of like when we all used copy machines. Copy a sheet of paper. Then copy the copy. After awhile, you can't read it any more.

Say a guitarist on Christian radio tries to sound like The Edge from U2. Then the local megachurch wants someone to cover a song from Christian radio. Now you have a guy trying to sound like a guy trying to sound like The Edge.

Make sense?

My call (it's really the main thing I write about here) is to be incarnational. Find the music that the people you are trying to reach listen to, and, when appropriate, pull a Wesley.

ChrisMorton82 moderator

 @Merritt Great point Merritt!  It always starts with relationships. I don't know what the scene is like up there, but maybe you can find singer-songwriters that need some back up? Look for opportunities to play and get to know people? Let us know how it goes!


@ChrisMorton82 @RobertLongman  

Sounds like a mostly aesthetic objection, Chris. In my experience with church music, it doesn't matter how many copies were made, it comes down to the talent you have in your group, who are usually doing the best that they can. Also, the whole idea that anyone could say, "This song is supposed to sound like *this* is as new (historically) as the recording industry." *shrug* There is something to be said for learning a song well before teaching it to others. ;-)

Who's to say someone trying to copy Edge isn't contextualizing? Also, any songwriter isn't usually shy to share who their influences are.

I still agree with your basic premise though, it's not as simple as it sounds. If I want to contextualize with hip-hop, say. Might I seem pretentious? "I wanna roll with the gansters, but it's plain to see that I'm just to white and nerdy." Couldn't resist. 

On the note of original music. My experience with original songs in a church context has been pretty positive. It helps if you've got skill, but it if they like you they'll be predisposed to like your music. I also think there's an authenticity to an artist performing an original song, especially if it's about his/her relationship with God / self. I also think the creative act of writing a song is a unique way the artist can relate to the Father in his/her personal walk beyond just singing the songs of others, even if they never see the light of day. Certainly being available for God to use you in a unique way to bless your congregation / city is better than just assuming he wants you to sing someone else's music, right?