Photo: Joby Sessions/Guitarist Magazine/Getty Images
Anatomy Of A Viral Hit Acoustic Cover Song
Posting a cover on YouTube is a well-worn path for independent artists seeking to traverse the internet jungle and land the attention of an audience. From Shawn Mendes to Alessia Cara, many artists of many genres have taken this tack to success, but many, many more have tried and missed the mark.
In Mendes' case, he spent his early teenage years covering everyone from Adele and Rhianna to Leonard Cohen and Lynyrd Skynyrd on his way to pop stardom. Cara covered the likes of Amy Winehouse, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, and more. For these two budding pop stars, covers were the ticket to success. But cover songs are all around us (consider the popularity of modern singing competition shows). And as an emerging artist, covers can be a tool to get your talents in front of a new audience.
It's tempting to look at the video's 11+ million views and point to the success of the source material – after all, you read it right here that "Africa" is allegedly considered by science as the "best" song ever (a case we would bet is far from closed). But as SonicBids' blog points out, the crux of why this YouTube cover took off like a rocket is talent. Masse's voice not only evokes visions of Toto singer-at-the-time Joseph Williams, he sings the song with a combination of skillful accuracy and authentic passion listeners are looking–or rather listening–for today.
What about the look? Masse's video is a single shot of he and a bandmate playing at a pizza parlor. In fact, many viral YouTube cover videos rely on their low visual production quality to highlight the musical performance. [However, for the best of both worlds, check out the cover versions of GRAMMY ReImagined].
In the case of many viral hits, choosing the right cover is where the magic happens. A familiar tune can bridge the gap between the eager fan and an unfamiliar artist, but a quick search of any of today's biggest songs can also turn up a sea of competition. But popularity doesn't necessarily mean a song should be avoided. A request for Weezer to cover "Africa" recently caught enough web attention to convince the band to tackle the classic, so clearly all of the song's fans worldwide still hadn't–or couldn't–get enough.
SonicBids' analysis goes on to note that Masse's consistency in posting new material on YouTube contributed to the success of their "Africa" cover, but also reiterates the importance of the talent of the collaborators you choose, calling out spot-on harmony vocals from bassist Jeff Hall as the viral video's x-factor. "Don't work with musicians unless they meet your standards," the blog advises, wisely.
Despite the strategy, for many artists, there is a joy of covering songs that is a reward in itself. Sometimes it's easier for songwriters to get lost in a composition they didn't create, the same way it's easier to get lost in a house you didn't build. The trick is knowing what will take off next and, more importantly, having the talent and consistency to capitalize on the opportunity. Happy covering!