MUSIC: Original Bands vs. Cover Bands

Below is the 225 Magazine cover story we were featured in that was published on Friday, May 30th 2014. Written by Maggie Heyn Richardson

Live music is ingrained into the culture of greater Baton Rouge, where bands are an essential part of festivals, outdoor concerts, weddings and even funerals. But as music lovers bask in the rhythms, musicians must make tough decisions about how they'll earn a living: as original bands that write and play their own songs, or as better-paid cover bands that perform someone else's hits.

 After playing in cover bands for a few years, 24-year-old twin brothers Thurman and Torrence Thomas made a conscious decision to perform only their own original music.

 "As a musician, you have to decide between being an echo or being a voice, and we ultimately chose being a voice," says Torrence Thomas. "We have something we want to say, and we weren't going to do that playing covers."

 The Prairieville-based brothers took a sabbatical from performing, and for about eight months, they worked on writing their own music and lyrics. They re-emerged as Ask the Thomas Brothers, a duo with a fresh, edgy brand and a musical style that's been described as Coldplay meets Kanye.

 It's gratifying to play your own stuff, say the brothers, but it's also tough to make a living in the Baton Rouge market that is dominated by cover bands.

 Still, the brothers are resolute. 

"Original music creates culture," says Torrence. "Cover music does not." 

The Thomas brothers, however, are quick to acknowledge the level of talent required to play in a cover band, which must be nimble enough to play anything a crowd wants to hear. That means belting out Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and "Happy" by Pharrell Williams in the same night, while sounding as much like the original recordings as possible. 

"You have to be a skilled musician to do that," says Thurman. In their cover music days, the Thomases performed occasionally with one of the most established cover bands around, MoJEAUX. The band plays about four gigs a week and has a set list that could fill 60 pages or more, says general manager Kellie Solari-Autin. 

MoJEAUX plays weddings, festivals, fairs and events all over the U.S. Solari-Autin says they have talent and a strong business model.

"You can have cream-of-the-crop musicians, but you also need strong management so that you're focused and successful," she says. 

Playing in a popular cover band makes it possible for MoJEAUX's singers and musicians to follow their passion while getting paid. And even though they're not expected to write their own music, they do get to exercise their talent by learning and practicing new popular songs all the time. 

"You would not believe the amount of stuff they can play,"she says.