What is a Cover Artist? Things You Should Know

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Since I’ve gotten into YouTube as a source for new musical finds, I have been exposed to not just new and untapped sound, I’ve found a plethora of musicians that create new recordings of songs I love. These are collectively known as Cover Artists. 

What is a cover artist? In popular music, a cover version, remake, cover song, revival, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording by someone other than the original artist or composer of a song. Therefore, a cover artist is a musician or musicians that are known for remaking or “covering” music that is not their own original song.

A lot of people think only of vocalists as cover artists, but in truth, this type of musician can run the gambit of style and set up. Keep reading to find out more than you ever thought you’d need to know about cover artists.

What Different Varieties of Cover Artists Are Out There?

  • Tribute Act  – They are performers that make a living by recreating the music of different artists or bands. Most tribute acts emulate classic rock acts and often draw from the music of performers or bands that are no longer performing or touring.
  • Cover Acts or Bands – These are entertainers who perform a wide variety of cover versions of songs to please their audience. Usually, these songs chosen are well-known crowd-pleasers.
  • Revivalist Artists or Bands – These artisThese artists and bands focus on curating or recreating such music to introduce younger generations to it and keep it alive. These bands or musicians help bring about a sense of nostalgia whenever they perform, even though they may add their own flavor to the music.

Now, this isn’t to say that a well-known entertainer cannot also record a cover version of a song. There have been a lot of songs out there that have hit Billboard’s Top 40 and brought even more notoriety to their latest recorder – that actually began as someone else’s song. However, I am setting aside the designation of a true cover artist as someone known for doing this with the music of other musicians and doing this to great success. And my focus is on the Cover Act or Bands I have found on YouTube.

Is it Legal to Cover Someone Else’s Music?

Since the Copyright Act of 1909, United States musicians have had the right to record a version of someone else’s previously recorded and released tune, whether it is music alone or music with lyrics. A license can be negotiated between representatives of the interpreting artist and the copyright holder, or recording published tunes can fall under a mechanical license whereby the recording artist pays a standard royalty to the original author/copyright holder through a performing rights organization (or PRO).

I wrote an article that goes further in-depth about those organizations and licensing in general.  This makes covering a song safe under copyright law even if they do not have any permission from the original author.

Which Cover Songs Wound Up More Popular Than the Original?

On occasion, a cover can become more popular than the original. Did you know Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” is actually a cover of Carl Perkins’ original song? Santana’s 1970 version of Peter Green’s & Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” was a bigger hit for him than the other artists. Who could forget Whitney Houston’s versions of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and also George Benson’s “The Greatest Love of All”? I know I couldn’t. And sure enough, I have Soft Cell’s version of Gloria Jones’s “Tainted Love” on my playlist. Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” made musical history. 

A cover song can actually become a defining song for a musician’s career. This can be both good and bad for the artists. In some cases, it’s the cover song that is remembered and not the person’s own work. Though Soft Cell had 12 singles hit the English charts, they are considered a one-hit-wonder and that hit happens to be the cover they made of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love”.

In other cases, the cover performed is simply a boosting moment in a well-made musical career. For instance, Sinead O’Connor recorded a song that Prince had tossed aside and used on an album he made with The Family (a funk band he formed) and it shot straight up the charts and swept the MTV Music Awards in 1990 – “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  Lucky for us, both O’Connor and Prince had successful musical careers and other hit songs beyond this one. 

So what is the king of the cover song? My opinion is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. There are more than 800 versions of this song that have been recorded and performed live since it’s release. Rufus Wainwright’s cover version may be the most well known, but Jeff Buckly also made a notable cover of the song. 

I wrote an article covering cover songs ending up more popular than the original.

Who Are Some Good Modern Day Cover Artists?

I’m talking about musicians who are not just known to have their own work out there, but people who have made a name for themselves as cover artists. YouTube has helped a lot of these artists have a constant platform that leads people to other important links for selling their music and making a career from their art. I wrote an article about how influential YouTube can be for musicians, here. But please look these artists up so that you can decide on whether their covers are better than the originals. Also, you may become a fan along the way! I’ll link the YouTube channels available to them below!

J. Fla is a South Korean singer who is known for her covers of popular music. In 2017, she released her own album entitled “Blossom”. She is signed with Sony Music Japan. She has over 16 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Kurt Hugo Schneider is not only a performer himself, but a promoter, producer, and filmmaker for other YouTube acts. As of the writing of this article he has over 13 million subscribers on that platform and is still growing.  

Leroy Sanchez is a Spanish born singer and songwriter that added his first cover to YouTube at the age of 15. That was nearly 15 years ago and he currently has 4.3 million subscribers. He has become famous for his cover songs and that’s what got him a producer and boosted his career. Even though he has original music out there, he’s still uploading covers. 

The late Christina Grimmie was a cover artist before performing on The Voice and then bolstering her career on the show. One of her best songs is actually a cover of a Nelly song she collaborated with Sam Tsui – “Just A Dream”. She was unfortunately gunned down after a performance by a stalker. But her songs and the YouTube account associated with them still have over 3 million subscribers!  Original Song: “Just A Dream” by Nelly

Boyce Avenue is an American cover band formed by brothers Alejandro Luis Manzano, Daniel Enrique Manzano, and Fabian Rafael Manzano. They were signed to Universal Republic Records, but as of 2011 became so successful that they created their own independent record label 3 Peace Records. They are well known for covering both classic hits and popular music. They are also known for their amazing collaborations with other artists. They’ve released their own albums along the way and they have 14.7 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Sam Tsui and his naturally high range had him known in the music industry for covering songs that had been released by female artists. His artistry and popularity came from creating “mash-ups” of songs, covering two or three songs together into one performance while singing them in octaves that the originals never reached. One example is this lovely collaboration with Casey Breves where Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran is mashed up with I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith. He has also released original content, entire albums, that can be found on his YouTube channel where he boasts over 3 million subscribers. Look at “Gold Jacket” from a year ago. 

Pentatonix is an American a cappella group consisting currently of vocalists Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola, and Matt Sallee. Avi Kaplan was a former member of the group and now has a solo career. They are known for covering classic songs and venturing into holiday songs and contemporary Pop and R&B. They also collaborate with other artists and have been successfully touring for years – they host a YouTube channel with over 18.8 million subscribers. 

Lindsey Stirling is as unique as they come. She dances. She plays the violin. She covers classics. She has a flare for the dramatic. I remember coming across her right after she was a contestant on America’s Got Talent. Her specialty was covering songs and especially songs from video games and fantasy realms. Some of my favorites are a cover of Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” that she collaborated with Pentatonix on, her Lord of the Rings Medley, and Dragon Age. And I can never forget her original Elements and Crystallize – the Dubstep in them mixed perfectly with her playing and then her dancing?

Wow. She now has 12.8 million subscribers on YouTube and is now one of the most successful modern touring musicians out there. She has so many collaborations that there just isn’t a favorite for me. The pandemic hasn’t stopped her, she introduced a new album, “Artemis” right before tours were canceled and has recently released a new song and video – Lose You Now featuring Mako.  

Peter Hollens is an a cappella performer whose specialty is videos showing each portion of a song within a grid as it’s performed. Confused? Be sure to check out his version of “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher”.  His YouTube channel boasts over 2.5 million subscribers at the moment. He collaborates with many other artists. What he’s most known for is adding some quirky comedy to his videos and his full medleys of famous classics. As a perfect example, take a look at his Disney Villains Medley featuring Whitney Avalon.  

LeeandLie as she was first known on YouTube is Amanda Lee aka Amalee. She has a very smooth voice and is not only a singer, but a voice actress. She posts covers of anime and video game music. She’s an extremely unique artist in that instead of just singing a direct translation of English or Japanese lyrics, she writes her own, gets personalized art to go along with it and a track made to go along in one video. She had 1.75 millions subscribers as of the writing of this article and has released an original album called Hourglass.  

The Piano Guys started in a little Yamaha Piano Store in a tiny town of Southern Utah. According to their YouTube biography, “Paul, a Yamaha dealer who dabbled in videography, Jon, a professional pianist, Al, a music producer and studio engineer, and Steve, a cellist with a creative superpower called ADHD, all serendipitously joined forces…” and the rest is history. They have 6.9 million subscribers and are watched over 3 million times every day. They began with creative covers of songs and now have their own original music available.

Their Christmas songs are beautiful, both the standards and originals. For example, We Three Kings gets a modern twist and Carol of the Bells is stretched to a challenge for 12 cellos. Their videos can be majestic as in Beethoven’s 5th mixed with Secrets by OneRepublic, beautiful covers such as Chistina Perri’s A Thousand Years by Piano and Cello all the way to quirky – as in their Cello Wars (Star Wars Parody) Lightsaber Duel. Can you tell I really like them? 

Alec Chambers loves to cover songs and asks his fans on all of his social media platforms for requests all the time (580 thousand subscribers on YouTube alone). He has an amazing voice that resonates with fans of modern pop music. In addition to covering music, he has released his own music, “Something To Cry About” is available if you’re interested.   

Cimorelli has been singing for 10 years and has 5.5 millions subscribers now. This is a band made up of sisters: Christina, Katherine, Lisa, Amy, Lauren and Dani. They started just for fun and now have made a go of their YouTube fame. Their music consists of a cappella singing with occasional instruments. They also post videos covering life and it’s ups and downs to share with their fans.  

Walk Off The Earth are actually Canadian Indie Rockers who found their own unique style to use while covering both classic and contemporary songs. They are very visually appealing from an entertainment standpoint (in the video for the cover of “Somebody That I Used To Know” they all seemingly play on one guitar and in others they move from instruments into a cappella singing). Their harmonies when placed upon songs create a new work of art.  They also have original music to offer their 4 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Alex Goot is a one man band, producing songs of old and new hits. A multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass, he makes videos in which he not only sings, but plays the instrumental parts of the songs. He currently boasts 3.7 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Should you want to learn any more about these artists, please see our articles featuring individual “untapped” musicians.

Rachel Adams

I would have previously thought of myself as an audiophile. But by gaming and listening to my children and their friends, I've been introduced to an entire realm of artists that are not on the radio.