Cover Song Challenge

Healthy competition that encourages collaboration, talent, and self-esteem 

It’s impossible to please all of your participants with song choice, especially when they’re at different skill levels and have different musical tastes. So, how do you keep everyone engaged? A Cover Song Challenge is a great way to increase participants’ motivation, give them a sense of choice/independence, and recognize their efforts. Active participants, beginners, and members who wouldn’t usually get involved all have the opportunity to try new things, collaborate, and showcase their skills.  

Participants will experience… 

  • Motivation – performers get out of their comfort zone, sing in a band/group, perform in front of others, and improve their skills
  • Choice/independence – allows singers, instrumentalists, and staff a common playlist of popular song options (that they can choose from) to learn and play together
  • Recognition – singers learn about finding their unique voice and talents as an artists and are recognized and mentored through the competition

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How to… 

  • Plan a Master Schedule for the semester for the Cover Song Challenge 
    • For example, the typical after-school music program runs 8-12 weeks during the Fall and Spring, and 8-10 weeks during the Summer.  
    • Plan an entire semester’s worth of weekly “Cover Song Challenge” themes. Try to create categories that can be achievable at any skill level (beginner – advanced). See “Sample Cover Song Challenge themes” below: 
  • Create a “Cover Song Challenge” approved Song List 
    • Choose a diverse set of popular songs with participants’ musical tastes in mind. Also be mindful of the level of difficulty and have song materials ready and adapted for various skill levels. 
    • FYI: By limiting song options from a common playlist, you give participants a sense “guided choice.” They are in control of what song they choose (even if it’s from a list of popular and current songs that most participants will like). This also allows the staff to focus on and prepare learning materials (i.e. tablature, sheet music, song form, lyric sheets, and lesson materials) for a realistic amount of songs.  
  • Each week, post a new cover song challenge in a prominent location (like on a bulletin board, etc.)
  • Participants work with staff and their peers to prepare their cover song, including: 
    • Selecting a song from the approved Song List 
    • Learning, practicing, and rehearsing individually or with a group 
    • Receiving feedback from vocal instructors/staff 
    • Setting up a recording session or performance (for their submission) 
    • Submitting their Cover Song Challenge 
  • By end-of-day Thursday, participants must submit their cover song
    • Encourage participants to submit their entries using: 
      • Cell phone audio or video
      • iPad audio or video
      • A multi-tracked session in the studio 
  • On Friday, as a group, listen to each cover song and choose a winner for the week 
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The Art of a Sound Check

Go beyond “check one, two!” Tips that help participants feel comfortable and sound their best

Many young musicians have never performed on stage in front of others and the experience can be overwhelming. Give you participants opportunities to discuss and practice seven tips to have an effective soundcheck. Topics include helping your participants understand the importance of being friendly, on time, prepared, aware, assertive, realistic, and respectful.  

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How to… 

Before a performance, schedule a soundcheck rehearsal to discuss and practice the seven tips below. Use your personal performance experience to discuss why these proper etiquette during a soundcheck is important and how it will ultimately benefit their performance and sound. After the discussion, run practice soundchecks to help participants understand what makes an effective soundcheck. Help reduce stress and make the process fun until everyone is comfortable with their sound.  

Seven Tips for an Effective Soundcheck: 

  • Be friendly: No egos. Everyone is learning, trying their best, and wants you to sound your best.
  • Be on time: Whether you’re part of a band or solo act, there may be others waiting for you to check. 
  • Be prepared: Do you have all your gear? Are you in tune? Are you mentally prepared?  
  • Be aware: Watch the front of house sound engineer for any instructions or questions.
  • Be assertive: Can hear yourself and others? Having other issues? Speak up (in a nice way). 
  • Be realistic: Don’t be shy! Perform like it’s the show – this helps engineer get accurate level settings. 
  • Be respectful: Don’t distract others while they are sound checking by talking or playing an instrument.

Specific soundcheck tips for the band: 

  • Singers: 
    • Want to sound your best? Sing an actual song (don’t just repeat, “check 1, 2…”)
    • Sing close to the mic (the sound engineer will turn your volume up or down when needed) 
    • Please DON’T tap the mic! 
    • Pointing the mic at monitors or speakers will cause feedback 
  • Instrumentalists: 
    • Set your stage level volume on your amp/instrument so that you can hear yourself
    • Please don’t adjust knobs or levels when you’re done checking (unless asked)
    • Sound engineers will make you louder/softer for the audience as needed
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Signature Events

Create a performance that participants will remember for the rest of their lives!

Many participants in your music program probably won’t become professional musicians but why not give them a chance to feel like one while performing on stage?! Creating a Signature Event helps participants look forward to participating in an annual performance and gives them a goal to work towards while building their self-confidence and self-esteem. Whether its an Album Release Party, Awards Night, Talent Show, or Vocal Competition, help your participants dream big as they perform for their adoring fans! 

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How to… 

Create a Signature Event that involves your participants in something bigger than they ever thought possible. Here are some general tips for creating a memorable Signature Event: 

  • Go big!
    • Book a professional concert venue (e.g. House of Blues, Hard Rock or local college auditorium)   
    • Rent a red carpet, staging, sound system and lighting 
    • Secure corporate sponsors and special guest performers 
    • Document the special occasion by hiring professional photographers and videographers
    • Create awards and custom swag (e.g. t-shirts, posters, etc) 
    • Create a buzz promoting your event in the press and community
    • Invite other program departments to help – for example: 
      • Invite the Dance Team to choreograph a dance routine and perform on stage 
      • Have Visual Arts participants design a flyer or custom T-Shirts
      • Have Teen Center pass out invitations or help with setup/teardown of equipment 
  • Invite everyone! 
    • Plan for EVERYONE in your Youth Development Organization to attend 
      • Shutdown all other program areas – rent buses so all youth members at your organization can attend
      • Staff help chaperone participants in the audience 
      • Administrative staff and board members should also attend 
    • Parents and family members 
      • Pick a family friendly day/time 
      • Make sure the venue has parking or public transportation 
    • Donors, sponsors, foundations and program partners 
      • Highlight how their contributions and support made the night possible 
  • Prepare! In addition to the logistics discussed above, be sure to: 
    • Work with organizational staff to make sure you choose a date/time free of other program or event conflicts.  
    • Develop a rehearsal schedule so participants are confident on stage 
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Open Mic Nights

Forget recitals… create youth-led performances that they look forward to! 

A culminating performance has always been the perfect way to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a young musician. Hosting an Open Mic Night promotes a supportive environment (regardless of skill levels) that is reflects your teen’s diverse styles and musical tastes. They can also be collaborative (featuring bands and groups instead of solo acts, like in a recital) and can be youth-led, empowering participants to take on more leadership opportunities.  

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How to… 

Open Mic Nights become the primary performance opportunity for all participants.

  • Create a regular schedule (e.g. 1st Thursday of the month).  Participants stay motivated and grow musically when given a goal to work towards
  • Use your weekly programming, workshops or lessons to help participants prepare
    • Participants should choose songs they would like to learn and perform
    • Encourage participants to learn songs with the goal of performing at next Open Mic (don’t linger on songs too long… participants will get bored)
    • Help participants collaborate and perform the song in a band 
      • Create a band on their own with their friends
      • If a participant doesn’t have friends ready to play, mentors can use youth leaders or other talented musicians to form a band around them 
    • Individual/solo acts or other studio collaborations are also encouraged to perform
    • Performances can include: Acoustic acts, Vocalists or rappers performing to a track (originals or covers), Showcase original music productions or Music Videos
  • Youth-led event – There are other ways participants can be involved (not just performing on stage). Work with participants to: 
    • Design flyers and Marketing plans 
    • Determine setlist
    • Setup Equipment and lighting and run the sound board 
    • Be the Host or emcee 
    • Promote and support the performers
  • Transform the vibe of your music room into a concert venue
    • If possible, set up a stage with stage lights
    • Encourage dancing, cheering and an overall supportive environment 
    • Invite everyone in the building (e.g. Teen Center participants and staff) and friends/parents 
  • Promote a supportive environment 
    • “We are all still learning” attitude 
    • Audience cheers for everyone despite skill level (discourage booing) 
    • Ask audience to encourage/cheer when nerves are high 
    • Don’t pressure a participant who is not feeling ready to perform
  • Optional: Set a Theme for each Open Mic – ie. “Genre of the Month: 
    • Genre-specific events that promote learning about different styles of music including Hip Hop Showcase, DJ Showcase, Cover Song Showcase, Decades (e.g. 70s night, 80s night, etc.) 
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