Covering other artist’s songs has always been a common practice in the world of music. It is important for cover bands and DJs who make their money by playing well known songs to packed venues, and more importantly it’s the way most musicians learn to play music. Learning chords and scales can be quite a boring experience for beginner musicians, but learning to play specific chord patterns or note sequences which play sounds that we know from a song and can now make in real life helps keep new musicians interested in practicing their craft. Every learner musician takes a stab at some classic beginner tracks at the start, be it chopsticks on piano or smoke on the water on guitar they help spur on the next generation of music titans. However, once musicians reach a certain level of success they tend to play their own original material as opposed to the songs of others that they’ve been learning for years. Why is this? Barriers to Trade.
Barriers to Trade in economics is usually a government imposed constraint on engaging in trade. It usually takes the form of a tax tariff which would be placed on some good or service to increase its price in order to discourage its consumption. For example, if a government wanted to decrease the amount of imported food that was being bought in the economy they would place a high tax tariff on imported goods so that people would be more likely to buy domestic goods which won’t be taxed as highly and as a result cheaper.
This same basic principal can be seen in the music industry when it comes to artists performing their own songs as opposed to covering other artist’s songs. When an artist writes a good song and they record it and release it they copyright the use of the song so they will receive royalties and publishing revenue. This is to ensure that they receive any payment for the use of their own song and it is a very important part of the music industry because so often is the case that great songwriters aren’t as good at performing songs. For example, Bob Dylan is considered as one of the greatest songwriters ever but is also considered one of the poorest vocalists ever.
Because the songwriter has a copyright on their own song, this means that anyone who wishes to play this song has to credit them fairly, usually this means paying them their royalties with the money that the cover version has made. So every time the Guns’N’Roses’s song knocking on heaven’s door is played the part of the royalties gained from the song are paid to Bob Dylan because he actually wrote the song and Guns’N’Roses only covered it.
So even though most artists learn to play music by covering their favorite artist’s songs in their bedroom when they were a child, as they get older and more attention is given to their music they start to play less and less of other artist’s material because there is a higher barrier to trade involved in performing it when they have to pay royalties towards the artist who owns the rights to the song they’re playing.
By Daragh O’Leary