Playing tight - getting a feel for good timing
Being stereotyped as a “YouTube cover guy”—we keep hearing about this unfortunate phenomenon. Young artists in particular struggle with this reputation when building their following on the social video platform YouTube. Among them is the YouTube star and artist Leroy Sanchez. But what does it mean to be labeled a YouTube cover guy and problems can that present in one’s music career?
YouTube cover artists are musicians who primarily cover and publish songs by well-known artists and thus reach a large audience. Among this audience there are often groups of “super fans” who follow stars such as The 1975, One Direction, LinkinPark and many more. Once they arrive on a cover artist's YouTube channel, they are usually not interested in anything other than the adaptation of a song originally performed by their favorite artist. The actual musician playing the cover is of little to no importance for these fans. They want to hear more—not from the cover artist, but from their idol(s)—and if it's a cover, then they want it as true to the original as possible.
A well-known example of this phenomenon is the artist and YouTuber Leroy Sanchez who currently boasts 600 million views and 4.37 million subscribers. He’s an incredible talent. His first video was uploaded to YouTube 14 years ago, and since then he’s added hundreds more. Leroy Sanchez covers great songs spanning the genres of Pop, Soul, and R&B. Over the years he made huge strides and became more and more famous. Some say he is the “Spanish Justin Bieber”—the resemblance is significant, and his vocal range, harmonies and singing quality certainly could put him on the same level.
Leroy Sanchez's YouTube cover songs are currently reaching millions of people every day. His most famous videos cover hits from Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Shawn Mendes and many other greats. These typically get 20 to 30 million clicks. But what about his own songs? Are these getting views, too?
The truth is sobering. Leroy Sanchez's original songs don't even get a fraction of the clicks that his covers amass. Of all the uploads, there are already 17 originals which attract frighteningly little attention. Aren't his own songs good enough? Is his artistic potential going unnoticed? Is it a mistake to release cover songs in the first place? These questions come to mind when you look at the numbers. But let’s not jump to conclusions. If you look at a Shawn Mendes (from the same genre and age) you see that both artists started with cover songs on YouTube at around the same time. Shawn Mendes is now a world-famous megastar. Leroy Sanchez, on the other hand, is still just a “YouTube cover guy.” So the reason they’ve had such different careers built on YouTube covers is not easy to pinpoint. So let’s take a closer look at the case of Leroy Sanchez.
After his last single “A Whole New World” there was no original from Sanchez. It was almost as if he had given up his own music. Recently, however, his latest EP, “STANDBY,” was released with five of his own world-class songs. For example, listen to this track:
A potential hit, and yet it currently has less than 30 thousand hits on YouTube and Spotify. Fittingly, this comment appears shortly after the upload of his first single: "Cover versions take you further than your own original songs and that's okay, do what works for you" Is Leroy Sanchez fated to be a “YouTube cover guy” forever?
“I am very grateful for how far my covers have taken me but there’s a reason why I didn’t release original material sooner which was my goal ever since I started doing music. Now that we’re here might as well tell you a little bit about it. I signed an awful record deal when I moved to the states (about the time the Halo cover came out) and this meant that the label owned everything I wrote. I’ve written thousands of songs since then that never saw the light of day because I didn’t have a say on what music came out or didn’t.
I got out of this deal around the time I released Elevated (which is my first EP ever and also released independently!) and then I went on a world tour selling out in so many major cities! But by then my covers had already gained SO MUCH recognition that I became the “YouTube cover guy” (a title that I proudly carry with me!) But with the scale leaning so heavily toward covers it became an incredibly difficult task to draw attention towards originals (specially without a budget to market them). And let me say it again, I am extremely thankful to my covers and to everyone that’s joined me in this journey because of them 💛
I would’ve not done all the insane things I’ve done over the years if it wasn’t for them! But the truth is I simply can’t exist without writing, this is what I’ve always needed to do for my own sanity and I hope that the people that fell in love with my covers is able to fall in love just as hard or even harder with my originals. I love you all and I forever will 💛”Source: Comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fDvhNSZcpE
As is so often the case, there is no golden rule. Whether YouTube covers are the right choice depends entirely on your own goals and your potential. I think one thing can be said for sure: be careful who you cover. Sounds absurd, but there might be something to it.
Songs by well-known groups with committed fan bases can be problematic. You get clicks, but only a few stick around. Some may even react negatively to your originals. Your own songs are rarely clicked or not clicked at all and can therefore be marked as unfavorable by search and publishing algorithms compared to your cover songs with strong traffic. So it might be worthwhile to cover lesser-known songs, of which there are plenty of great possibilities.
Basically, playing and learning cover songs helps your feeling for good songwriting enormously. It is a perfect musical exercise with great potential for further development. In addition, you can quickly reach a large number of listeners and keep them hanging around your channel.
In the best case, you start right away with a balanced mix of well-chosen cover songs and your originals. This can help you to combine both and to get your listeners used to you as an independent artist at the beginning of your career. If you can learn a lesson from Leroy when it comes to label contracts, nothing stands in your way.
If you are already busy writing songs and are still looking for musicians for your project, check us out. At mukken.com you will find a large community with many committed and creative people from all genres. We hope to connect with you soon!
Originally published on December 14, 2021, updated on December 14, 2021
Main topic: The 10 most valuable songwriting tips