Recent trends in music have had artists going further and further outside of their primary genre for creative inspiration and to find new audiences. If there’s one group that’s able to take a standard formula and completely change up the look and feel of it, it’s the music industry. Pop hits are being turned into funk songs regularly. Hip-hop anthems are being re-imagined as bluegrass… there are no rules.
But when you’re looking at blurring the line between two genres in a cover song or paying tribute to another style of music with an original composition of your own, there are a few crossover techniques you need to be using to get the best possible results.
Be Intentional With Instrumentation
When you’re in a small band, it can be easy to just settle into your same old role, but with covers and crossovers, you’re afforded a unique opportunity to experiment a bit more than you otherwise would.
I’m not saying you need to go out and learn a new instrument, but programming something or bringing in additional musicians to supplement your sound never go further than they do in these situations. If that song you’re covering or genre you’re mimicking is known for its wailing saxophone solo or a prominent pedal steel, consider bringing someone in to help make it happen in your song too.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s really not a need to stick to the instruments used in the original, and some bands use this as an opportunity to take a hard turn toward their own style. As cool as that saxophone coming out of nowhere might be, performing the same solo on a different instrument altogether might be equally as effective. We’ve seen this happen time and time again with bands that trade in distorted guitars for ukuleles, banjos, bagpipes, and more.
The takeaway here should be that crossover songs are the perfect opportunity to try something new. Put YOUR spin on things and make it your own!
Cover What You’re Comfortable With
One of the biggest issues for most of the bands trying to go down this path is that they’re choosing the wrong songs. If you’re not a fan of the original track, what makes you think you’d do a good cover of it?
I see this all the time – rock and metal groups covering Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber because they think it’ll be funny. It ends up sounding like garbage.
Yes – there are bands that do these kinds of covers in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion, but at the end of the day there is some level of respect and appreciation for the original there. The best bands playing these kinds of covers do it because they feel like they can add something to the song. If you’re just doing it because you think it’ll get a good laugh, you’re not going to get the viral attention of someone who’s actually a fan of the original.
Experiment Within Your Own Catalog
One of the coolest things that I’ve seen artists do recently is put out re-imaginings of their own work. There are tons of songwriters out there who write using acoustic instruments. By the time you get to the final radio-ready mix, the songs are sometimes unrecognizable.
If you’re up for the challenge, changing the production on some of your existing songs and putting out acoustic or alternate versions of your tracks can be the perfect way to show your fans another side of your art. Just check out this example from Joel Hokka, who recently released an acoustic version of his band’s single using Gain Reduction 2 in a less aggressive way:
As you can hear, Gain Reduction 2 does an excellent job of adding some grit where metal and hard rock vocalists would traditionally push their own voices to the point of distortion.
Sweeten Up Your Sessions
One of the reasons pop music covers such a wide range of styles is that it’s constantly borrowing from others. Listening to pop radio, you can hear a song with rock anthem guitars immediately followed by an EDM-infused track. Learning how all of this instrumentation fits together is essential for any producer or mixer looking to be successful in multiple genres.
Check out our eBook, The Producer’s Guide To Synthesizers & Sweeteners when you’re ready to get started.