In this episode, Jared interviews Steve Witschel, bass player, singer, and creator of Cover Band Central, one of the largest communities of cover band musicians in the world.
Hey, what's up gigging pros. It's Jared and I am so excited. Today we have a special guest on the podcast. We've got Steve Witschel, and he is from New Orleans. He is a lead vocalist and bass player. He's played for many cover bands over the years. And he is also the founder of Cover Band Central. Steve, thanks so much for being with us today. Thank you, Jared, psyched to be here. Awesome. Well, I am super pumped to talk to you because I've been a member of Cover Band Central for years. And the discussions that are in that group are just inspiring. Also a little crazy from times, time to time. So I'm curious about you, could you tell us about yourself and your whole musical background? Sure. I started playing bass. When I was 15. I had been into sports prior to that. And I had a couple friends who had instruments and they were they were jamming with each other guitar player and drummer. And they were my friends that I played sports with. And I felt a little jealous that they were hanging out jamming together. And so I said that to the drummer. He said, we'll get a bass. And I said, alright, and I went to my mom and said, Mom, I want to base and she said, Get at least all BS in your next marking period in high school, and get a job, and I'll pay for half. That was the deal. Wow. And so I was very motivated. So I did it. I you know, I did well in school and I went and got a job at a I think it was a pizza place washing dishes. And I got a bass and immediately started taking lessons taking private lessons. As soon as I had the bass, I started taking private lessons. And then I signed up for music theory in high school, music theory class. And the timing just kind of worked out where I just started learning how to play the instrument with my instructor, and then then started learning music theory. And I also started jamming with my friends. So I got this really good education from all these three sides right from the beginning. And that was invaluable, really, because it really taught me you know, all the aspects that I needed to know to to become a working musician, even though I didn't really know at the time. I was just doing it for fun. Yeah, for sure. That's amazing. Do you remember how you found your first private instructor? That's a good question. Um, I think it was through somebody in school because it was or No, gosh, I don't remember exactly. It had to be through somebody in school. But I know it was the brother of this girl that I went to that was in my same grade. And he was older. But I think I found it through another kid in school who was taking lessons from them that said, Oh, go go to this guy. Yeah, okay. And I was it was before I had a car. So my mom had to drive me to the lesson. And it was a half hour lesson. So she would drive me drop me off and and then come pick me up half an hour later. Awesome. So at first you picked up the bass, because you wanted to hang out with your friends more. Is that right? Yeah. And did that motivation change over the years? Oh, yeah. Because I was always a huge fan of music. And in fact, when I was really, really young, I remember that there was a piano in my kindergarten class, and I would go tinker on it. And I learned, like, figured out how to play chopsticks on it. And, and from that, from that early, I wanted to play an instrument. And, you know, my parents were, we were living in a small apartment and my parents weren't able to get piano. And, you know, bass wasn't, or anything else wasn't really even a consideration at the time. So. So I music, but I always listened to music. I listen to music so much as a kid. I had a little transistor radio, that I used to ride my bike around and listen to it. And my mom used to listen to music all around the house all the time. And she sang, she sang beautifully. So I started to kind of hang out with my friends but I very quickly fell in love with making music rather than just listening to it and and I found that I was pretty good at it from the beginning. So that that helped a lot that helped motivate me to get better. Yeah, it's awesome. Who were some of the artists that you listened to? Um, I was into rock. You know, when I started playing I wasn't really into rock until a little bit before I started playing but Led Zeppelin was one of my huge ones. The who the Beatles those were the three big ones and then later just just about every rock band Pink Floyd and rush and Van Halen and and all the all the rock bands of the of the day. That's awesome. In fact, one of the first concerts my parents ever brought me to when I was probably too young to go to concerts, they brought me to a who concert. And my, I don't remember much about the music, but the thing I do remember most and if my parents listened this episode, they'll get a kick out of it was in the parking lot as we were going in some guy from his car was super drunk or high or both, and start singing at me and my brother, which were like, five and seven years older. He's yelling at us teach him young that hemp is good. There you go. So, amen. early lessons. What do you remember what year that was? Oh, I wish I could it was in the mid 90s. Okay, maybe like 96 or seven. Okay, yeah, cuz my first concert was the who. And my mom brought me it was, it was my mom, and my neighbor's mom and me and my brother and my neighbor, who was about our age. And it was 1982. And it was the whose farewell tour that's what they call it. And they had an album called it's hard. And they were, you know, they touted it as their their farewell tour. And obviously, they've toured many times since. It's a marketing tool, the farewell tour. Yeah. So awesome. So you're obviously very passionate about music. You've been listening to it, playing it for a while. Where has that taken you like, pre COVID When things were all good? What were you doing with music? Well, I was playing I live in New Orleans sound from New Jersey originally, but I I've been in New Orleans for 11 years now. And I was playing on Bourbon Street full time, which is what I've done for most of the last 11 years. That's been my only job. I haven't had like a quote unquote, real job. Yeah. So that's what we were doing. We were we are playing full time. That's awesome. I know we got shut down. Yeah, for sure. So I have a lot of there are a lot of musicians who listen to this podcast who are not necessarily in the cover band world. Okay, could you kind of describe to them what the Bourbon Street Scene looks like? It is primarily, I mean, I'm almost exclusively covers, but there's so many clubs. If you go just walk up and down Bourbon Street where there's musicians playing some full bands, some just like acoustic and with vocals some traditional type of New Orleans music like jazz and Cajun and Zydeco. And but a lot of just general pop popular music, which is what I, I played in a band where we were playing popular music really kind of tourist trap music, the popular songs, the ones that everybody is sick of playing and sick of hearing about those little ones we played, and those are the ones that worked, you know, so that's why we played them. And it's it's a scene man, it's it's not something that everybody can do. It's it's a lot of work. It's it's a, it's a long night, you generally start around seven or eight o'clock. And quite often you go to 212 o'clock in the morning, and you're just on your feet, you're playing, you're playing and they we would do generally like five sets, six sets, seven sets, sometimes eight sets, and a set was considered 45 minutes. And but we would run sets together. So in some cases, we would do four sets, which would be three hours, but take a half hour break and come back and do another four sets. And do that night after night. And it's it's a lot of it's not for everybody, you have to have a lot of endurance. You have to you have to be okay with playing these songs that everybody's tired of, and sometimes playing them more than once in a night. Yeah, it's like I consider it like boot camp for for musicians. So if you can, if you can make it on Bourbon Street, you can pretty much do any any other gig. That's awesome. That's like a quote right there. And maybe I'll use that as the episode title. Yeah. So that's super cool. How did you break into that scene? And this kind of goes along with my question. Did anyone ever teach you the business of music? I wouldn't. I don't think anybody ever really taught me I did go to college for a little while. And majored in music and there was some of it in there, but not really real world stuff. I've now I just kind of learned it on my own, by reading by experiencing. Yeah, but as far as how I got involved in New Orleans, it's a long story, but we do have an hour right we do. But I'll tell the story because it's very good story. It's very inspirational, I think for anybody to to hear this story. I was living in Jersey and it was early 2000s 2004 for three and four, and I wasn't working a job, I had lost my job. And I was looking for I ever since I started playing, I always wanted to be a full time musician. It was something that I just, I didn't want to work a real job. I did work many real jobs, but I didn't want to, I wanted to play. And when I was young, I wanted to be a rock star. But after I realized that wasn't gonna happen, I still wanted to play music for a living. So when I wasn't working, I was I put an ad out on a musician's classified site. Just saying bass player available, blah, blah, blah. And this guy got in touch with me, from Minnesota, and he said, I got this great cover band, we got all these gigs, blah, blah, blah, just need a bass player. And I was very skeptical. I'm in Jersey, and it's like, Minnesota, what am I gonna get your Minnesota playing cover band. But this guy was very persistent. I talked to him on the phone a bunch of times. And I was still very skeptical, but I was like, I had some money saved. And I was like, you know, what, what the hell, let me just do this. Let me just let me try something radical. So I, I didn't know how long I was going to be gone, or whatever. So I kept my apartment where I was, and I rented a car, and just packed up what I thought I would need and drove to Minnesota, and met up with the sky. And then started rehearsing with this band, he had recruited people from all over the country. So we all kind of met there, this guy's house. And it was in just like, this the sticks, man. I mean, it was a the town was born in Minnesota. And it was, like population of like 250, or something like that. It was, were alarm bells ringing when you arrived. No. But we just all met for the first time there. And we started rehearsing, and there were some gigs that we played, but it wasn't what the guy had promised that there, there were gigs that he had told us that just weren't didn't even exist. So we lasted five weeks, and then left. And but I had made friends with, you know, everybody else in the band. And I came back to Jersey, and I think it was it was it was 2004. And then I started just kind of jamming with bands locally. And did that for a little while. And then the guitar player from that band in Minnesota moved down to New Orleans, and he started playing on Bourbon Street. And there was a he had, he was in a situation where they needed a bass player. And there was this other guitar player, his name was Tim. And he told Tim, you should get this guy from Jersey, this guy, Steve. So Tim contacted me and said, Hey, why don't you want to come to New Orleans and play. And I was like, you know, I just had this experience in Minnesota. And I'm like, I'm not moving in the world. Like at the time, now I have, I have a job, I have bands that I'm playing in, I had a girlfriend, like, I'm not just going to pick up a move to New Orleans. So over the course of the next following the following years, every once in a while, he would contact me and say, Hey, I got this situation where I need a bass player. And I would always just say no, no, no. Then 2010. Same thing calls me I still have this voice mail on my phone. And he said if there's a situation, this club might be opening up, and I want to put together a new band, and I want you to be the bass player. And I said, you know at first I'm like, No. And then I was I was teaching at the time, I was teaching bass. And I was driving like 45 minutes to people's houses to just teach for an hour. And I remember this very vividly, I was driving home from this lesson. And and I I had already heard that voicemail. And I'm thinking about I'm like, Why do I keep saying no to this guy? Like, obviously, he really wants me down there. And, you know, it's probably a really good scene. And, and then at that time, I was working in kind of a shitty job. I was just teaching I didn't have a girlfriend, I was only playing in a couple bands very infrequently. I was like, Why do I keep saying no to this guy. Maybe I should give this a chance. And I just made the decision right there. And I kept in touch with him. And I was like, you know, is this club open? He's like, God, I know. Yeah, blah, blah. And I was like, Screw it. I'm just gonna make this decision. I'm gonna go, I'm just gonna go and I'm gonna see what happens. And so I quit my job. I put in my two weeks notice and packed up my stuff in a U haul and I drove south. And that was it. I didn't I didn't know I didn't have anything guaranteed. I didn't know what what the deal was, my mom at the time lived in Mobile, Alabama, which was about it's about two hours away from New Orleans. So I went there first hung out with my mom for a couple days. And then my brother also lived in that area. So, after I was there for a couple days, I was like, hey, my brother's like, Hey, let's go to New Orleans and check out the see and see what's going on. All right, so it was a Saturday and I I texted Tim, I said, Hey, I'm gonna come into town tonight and just say hi, come see your bad because he was playing in a different band at the time. It's a cool, so me and my brother go in town, and just hopping around, we got dinner and just goofing around. And then eight o'clock, Tim calls me and says, Dude, can you complete a night? Like my good? My singer gotten a minor car accident. She's not gonna make it. My bass player is gonna sing. Can you can play? I was like, Yeah, hell yeah, I'll come play. Yeah. And I had a good, decent idea of what the songs were that they played. But I didn't know what their setlist was, or anything, but I didn't care. I was just excited to be in New Orleans. And I'm like, Yeah, I'm gonna go play every street. This is just awesome. So I was, I mean, I was literally running and jumping up and down Bourbon Street, running down to the club. Got there, got a beer got on stage. I was all smiles and they're like, Do you know the song I get? Play the song. Do you know this song? Yep. And it would just basically went like that for the rest of the night. There was like two or three songs that I didn't know. Wow. That's awesome. And then so I played the whole night, my first night in New Orleans. And then as a result of that, I got hired for that band. Yeah. That's incredible. Trial by Fire a little bit. Yeah. Yeah, basically. Yeah. So I love that, like, I totally understand where you were at in New Jersey. So I think many people are kind of in that same situation where they're teaching. You know, I was teaching 25 Students driving to their homes, teaching like violin and piano. And it does become this grind that you kind of start to, to lose yourself a little bit. So yeah, I mean, I didn't mind it. I was I was I kind of liked teaching and the drive kind of, you know, made it. Not as much fun, I guess, but, but it's just wasn't what I wanted to do. Really? Hmm. I wanted to play. That's awesome. So then how many years ago did you start playing on Bourbon Street? It was 2010. So it was 11 years ago? Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So that's awesome, since then, is that about when did Cover Band Central start to come into existence? That was 2014 or 1320 13. And the story of that is that I on Bourbon Street, I've played in many different bands. And I've played on many different clubs, because things situations change, personnel changes, management, changes, clubs, clothes, things like that. So in 2013, a club that I was playing at closed, and I didn't have a job for a little while. So again, my mom was living in mobile. And she hers, she started to get to the point where her health was starting to fail a little bit, and she lived by herself and had a dog. And that was it. And so I decided to go live with her for a little while, since I was American and, and it turned out to be very good timing because she needed somebody around so I, you know, did her shopping and cooking and things like that for her. And but I had a lot of free time. And I did end up finding some places some people to jam with mobo. And I was, I was coming back to New Orleans every once in a while this sub. But I had a lot of free time. And I remember that, while I was playing in New Orleans prior to that, I was I was just I was loving it, I was having such a great time, we're playing at these, you know, packed rooms with with killer musicians. And I remember being on stage thinking to myself, like what was it that I did right? To get to this point? And I don't mean, learning how to play my instrument Well, or, you know, things like that. I meant, what what are the little things that I did, right? To get to this point. And I remember thinking about that over and over again, while I was playing. And then I'm at my mom's. And I'm like, Man, I really need to write that down those things, what are those things that I did, right? So I started writing them, I made a list of stuff. And then I wrote an article, I found this site called Hub Pages, where you can write articles basically like blogs and make a little bit of money from from that. So, so I was like, All right, like let me write this article on Hub Pages. And I called it 16 tips on how to be successful as a musician in a working band. That was that was the title of it. And and so I fancied myself a pretty good writer, so I really put a lot of work into it and did a lot of editing with it. And and shared it On Facebook, and I got up and I had a lot of musician friends on Facebook. So I got a lot of good responses from it. And people were sharing it stuff. I'm like, Okay, this is cool. And I was like, Well, I want to do some more writing about other stuff. And but I want to find the place where the audience's that's that this is going to resonate with. So I started looking around for groups and pages and stuff on Facebook to find the right place to share it. And I couldn't find it. So I'm like, I reverted to this thing that Jack Canfield said, who was the author of a creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul. And he said, if you're looking for a book on a particular topic, and you can't find it, that means you were meant to write it. So I felt like, okay, that applies to this. I'm looking for this group of, you know, these these people, my people, my audience, and I can't find it. So I, I guess I was meant to create it. I mean, this, this thought process just happened just like this. And I was probably sitting there watching Comedy Central. I'm like, What am I gonna call this? I'll call government Central. Okay. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I started with, yeah, came from. Yeah, and I started the group first, that was the first thing that Facebook group, so that was 2013. And, and it, you know, it did pretty well, in the beginning, I got, again, a lot of my friends who were musicians, so I got a lot of those people to join. And then, you know, slowly, but surely, it kept growing. You know, it wasn't, it wasn't huge in the beginning. And, and then I started writing more, and I started sharing it, and it was doing well. But I was like, this isn't exactly what I'm looking for. So I saw, I looked into pages on Facebook, and I did a lot of research on it. And so and then I started the Caribbean central page. And so it was it was several months after I started the group. I don't remember exactly how long but but several, several months. And then I started kind of a posting schedule for the page. And then that started to grow much quicker than the group did. And then I was like, Okay, this is what I really need to put my focus on. So for the next couple of years, that's really what I did. I, I learned a lot more about pages, I created more content, and, and tweaked, you know, the posting schedule and all that and, and figured it out as I went along, basically. Yeah, and started to grow it. And then then, you know, a few years later, the group started to kind of explode. And that was a, it was like an 8000 current count was hovering around like 7000 8000 people. And then all of a sudden, it was just, it grew like massive. And what happened was, people were coming in there saying, Our follow for follow kind of thing. Here's my page, follow my page, and I'll follow your page. And that seemed that like, for some reason, I don't know why, but that that's the one. That's the thing that started to really make the group explode. Oh, wow. And yeah, and now it's at 59,000 I think. Yeah, that's really, really cool. So what do you think it was about, like the follow for follow or just what you were doing that started to attract musicians in droves? Um, I guess it's just the word got out. It's because I, you know, starting Cover Band Central, I was like, I know, there's this audience out there. I know, wherever you go, because I've been around like I've toured the country many times. And but and, you know, I haven't been overseas before, but I know that there's musicians all over the world that do what I do kind of that I think every musician picks up an instrument, not to learn scales, but to play their favorite song. You know, I mean, there's people that are kids that learn because their parents make them you know, study in school or whatever, but I think for them for the most part people especially the people who are still doing it have done it because they love music they love and there's there's musicians that they love that have inspired them. So I knew that this audience existed but it didn't have a home so I felt like there's got to be millions of people that would that this would resonate with that would want to be in this kind of group or follow this page. And I don't have millions of followers yet but I still know that that is possible and the group still continues to grow the page still continues to grow the post reach I get is ridiculous. It's it's it's in the multi millions of of people that see the posts from carbon Central, so Wow. Yeah. Okay, that's, that's amazing. And so I imagine when COVID rolled around in 2020, I imagine the group probably started to pick up even more. What did you notice? Anything happened about that time? No, I don't think it picked up any more or less. Yeah, I mean, everybody kind of discussed what was going on. And, you know, there was so many debates, as we know, in the whole about the whole thing. And that was really very active in the group to those kinds of debates, which gets ugly at times. But yeah, but it definitely was happening. But I approached it as I've always been a proponent of Facebook Live of live streaming, as soon as Facebook Live was a thing. I got right on it. And, and I was doing live streaming for the page and stuff. And so I saw it as an opportunity for performers to, to do live streaming, because we were all stuck at home. And I figured, okay, I got this big audience, maybe I can help out people. So I started to kind of promote that idea of like, I'll let me know, when you're live streaming, give me the link, I'll share it on carbon Central, you'll reach this audience, this huge audience. And I didn't charge anybody but I just said, you know, if you want to throw in a little tip, here's the link to that. So that's the way I handle COVID. Yeah, for sure. But it's, it's amazing. You've given a home to 1000s of musicians, and you probably will reach your millions soon. So you've given so much value to the community, have you gotten what you were hoping for out of Cover Band Central, I'm kind of buttoned there's so much more, so much more that I really want to do with it. And it's been, it's my baby, it's something it's my passion, something I work on every single day. And I have really basically since I started, I wrote an e book years ago. And I took it down from the site when COVID hit because I didn't think that it was really relevant anymore. But it's called Cover Band Riches. And I've been working on adding some content to it, editing it. And I'm going to rerelease it actually, probably next week. And so that's something that's going to be available. And I'm also going to do a a private membership group, as sort of like a study group for the book. So I'll take each week, I'll take one chapter, and I'll come in and do a live stream. We'll talk about that chapter. And I'll kind of expand on it and tell different stories about it, and get other people to interact with that. And I'm going to provide some other content for the for the membership group too. So that's something that I'm going to do. That sounds awesome. Yeah. Sounds like it'd be super helpful for cover bands starting out, or ones that are further along in their career to Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And because people, you know, you're a part of the group, you know, people kind of get a little sick and tired of the same topics that come up over and over again, or the silly debates. So having a place where people are going to take things a little bit more seriously. And there's not going to be any of that nonsense in there is, is something that's beneficial, I think, oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, we've all seen the cargo shorts, posts and iPads on stage those debates. It's crazy, man, because I never knew that that was something that was a thing that was going to cause so much debate, you know, that the cargo shorts. I mean, I get it, I understand it and and I but I just never foresaw anything like that, or the iPads thing, or the backing tracks thing. You know, just music stands in general. That's something that people talk about. There's, there's these these sticking topics that come up every once in a while and they just over and over again, those those are the ones Oh, yeah, they become memes. And yeah, basically. Awesome. So I've got a couple questions about advice. So what are some pieces of advice that you can give to gigging musicians just from your own experiences? Boy, I mean, there's a ton of them ton of pieces of advice. Make sure you love what you're doing. For one you know, I'm sure you've done it and everybody else has played with people that aren't enjoying themselves. And that's a drag. Yeah. The first thing that I say in the book is have a specific goal. And for gigging musicians, that's that would be my one biggest piece of advice, have a specific goal? You know, know what you really want to do? Because that's going to inform The things that you're going to do to get to it, you know, that's going to inspire you to say, Okay, well, I need to do this and this and this to get to achieve that goal. If you don't have a specific goal and you're just kind of floundering, then you're you're not going to excel really in the business. Yeah, for sure. I had an episode about that goal setting for musicians. I'm curious if this doesn't have to be your own personal goal if you don't want to share, but what would be an example of a specific goal that would be appropriate? It could be anything, it could be like, I want to make $200 a gig. You know, I want my band to make $200 a man, that could be a specific goal. So if you set that as your goal, then the first step is to find like, alright, what are the bands in your area that do make $200 a man who are they? Where do they play? What do they play? How do they dress? How often do they play? What's their setlist? Like, go see that band? Get to know those people talk to them? Usually musicians are pretty cool. And you know, if you ask them questions, like, you know, looking for advice, most musicians are very free to give that advice up. So get into those shoes, basically, uh, whatever that goal is that you want. If your goal is you want to play this one specific place in your area that is like the biggest venue for bands. Go there, get learn the people. The people that work there, get to know the bartenders, the doorman the you know, find out everything you can about that place about all the bands that play there who books and go study those bands. And then be honest with yourself in comparing like how what they're doing versus what you're doing what what can you improve, to get to that level? And once you identify those things, then you can just simply work on them and, and achieve it. Wow. Because there's not, it's not always about who's the most talented. It's just about who's doing taking the right steps to to do the thing. Yeah, I mean, if there for all musicians who are listening to this podcast, that last minute was like lightning round music career advice. So thanks for sharing that. That was incredible. Yeah. So we're coming to the end of this episode. I want to thank you so much for coming on the podcast, what are some of the ways that our listeners can interact with you and Cover Band Central? Well Cover Band Central is a big world now. There's the Facebook group. And there's the Facebook page. We do a pot, we do a podcast once a week. So that's, that's something you can check out. There's the website, CoverBandCentral.com, where everything lives, so you can go there and sign up for a profile. It's free. It kind of operates like Facebook, there's a newsfeed, you can do all the things that you would be able to do on Facebook, encore events, calm, you can make friends, join groups. There's a lot of resources on that website, too. There's a lot of articles that I've written. All the articles that I've written really are on that site. There's a meme gallery for people who want to find funny musician memes or inspirational musician memes and share them. So that's really the the home for everything. What else am I missing? Like I said, the book is coming out probably next week. I'm sure there's things that I'm forgetting now. On Instagram, you know, into all the socials, we're on all the socials too, for sure. And if you want to send me more I can put it in our show notes. Okay, cool. That's Steve, thank you so much. This has been amazing. And to our listeners. Thanks again for tuning in to another episode of The Gigging Musician Podcast. Remember, you are just one gig