Karmin & 2CELLOS: Using Cover Songs To Find Fame And Fortune
Playing cover songs is an odd phenomenon that's often considered a crowd-pleasing yet uncreative approach to music. Yet occasionally, we see examples of cover songs done in such a unique manner that the artists can achieve a higher profile and sometimes find breakout success. The recent examples of Karmin and 2CELLOS show how to boost a career by doing creative versions of covers; though not without possible downsides:
Karmin Covers Chris Brown's Look At Me Now
Karmin is the duo Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan who describe their work as acoustic pop. Their YouTube covers of hip hop, rock and pop hits draw on their original approach but their cover of Chris Brown's Look At Me Now, which first attracted me, is rather different from their own compositions.
The original song features Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne but I found it rather lackluster despite its popularity. However, seeing Karmin's version, especially checking out Amy's persona and performance style, totally hooked me and I admit to having watched the video over and over again. I'm not alone in appreciating this video as a recent appearance on Ellen, an appearance with The Roots and 13 million plus views on YouTube demonstrates.
2CELLOS (Stjepan Hauser & Luka Sulic) Cover Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminals
The above video of Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic, as 2CELLOS, covering Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminals has been a huge YouTube hit, earned them an appearance on Ellen and led to a recording contract with Sony MASTERWORKS and a spot on Elton John's upcoming summer tour in Europe.
I actually found out about them through Mike Relm's video remix of their video with the original Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal video. Now they have an album on the way in July that will include additional works by Guns N' Roses, U2, Trent Reznor and Kings of Leon.
Unlike cover bands for whom success is both defined by and limited to nearly exact reproductions of well-known hits, both these acts have succeeded by reframing the originals with unique takes. This works particularly well for 2CELLOS since classical music is primarily made by cover bands. What will happen for Karmin feels a bit less clear since they probably don't want to make a career out of covering other people's music but are getting known for exactly that.
Both Karmin and 2CELLOS show that covers can be done in a manner that demonstrates one's own artistry and allows for commercial success. It's certainly not for everyone but, if you're able to bring a fresh look to a classic as, for example, do great jazz musicians, then it's definitely worth a shot at combining artistry and marketing without shortchanging either. And, hey, you might get a cosign from the originator as did The Gourds for their cover of Snoop Dogg's Gin and Juice.