Rock and roll lifestyle

Hotel cover bands are usually 6-piece or 7-piece. There’s a drummer, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and usually three lead vocalists (1 male, 2 female or vice versa). Also band members are quite often multi-instrumentalists: the keyboard player might come to the front to sing the odd song, the guitarist might do a rap, the bassist can switch to keyboards.

What is expected of the bands? Well usually they will play 6 nights a week, starting around 10pm and finishing around 2-3am. Their performance will be divided into 3 or 4 sets, and in between a DJ plays. They are expected to rehearse 3-4 times a week too, and learn new songs (especially very recent hits).

They are encouraged to socialise with the guests at the club between sets (although some do it better than others). If the guests feel a personal connection to the band they are more likely to return. Also guests may buy drinks for the band which all adds to the revenue figures. Bands who act as if they’re U2 and storm off to their dressing room at the end of each set are not really doing their job.

What are they paid? This depends on the band’s quality, experience, and what the agency can negotiate, but each band member can expect to get around $2000-4000/month with free accommodation and food at the hotel. If they are any good, drinks will be paid for by guests so theoretically most of the money can be saved. Doesn’t always work like that though – there is plenty to spend money on in Asia after all! Anecdotal evidence suggests rates are going down.

Contracts are generally for 3-6 months, after which they will often move to a similar bar in a different country (usually in South East Asia or the Middle East). Some places adopt an unofficial rule that they will not take a band who has played in that city recently. Band members are generally aged from around 25-45 but there have been some younger or older than that. What do they do when their career is over? Run a bar? Become an agent? Retire to a tropical paradise? Keep on rocking?

The lifestyle can only be described as … weird. It involves a lot of sleeping in the morning, partying/drinking at night, listening to drunk people telling you how great you are, female attention (for some), playing the same songs every night. [Incidentally, in each new band that comes to town, an average of 1-2 of the 5 male members starts a long-term relationship with a local girl, then spends the next months/years trying to return]. But the attention is transitory – once the band packs up and moves on another one comes to take its place. And what bands sometimes don’t realise is that most people go because of the bar’s reputation not because of the band (more on that later). Oh, and don’t get sick. Unless you’re actually in hospital you have to get up on stage!

OK, so it’s not quite the rock and roll lifestyle, but you get paid for singing songs and drinking each night, so who’s complaining?


Why write a blog about cover bands?

Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila form a kind of golden triangle in South East Asia: pollution, traffic, entertainment, massage, clubs and all the other good stuff. There are others (let’s call them sub-triangles): Yangon, Ho Chi Minh and KL? Phnom Penh, Cebu and Hong Kong?

Anyway, if we dig a little deeper into the “entertainment” aspect we find “musical entertainment” which takes many forms. Technoclubs, lounge clubs, pub bands, hotel bands, karaoke clubs, live gigs to name a few.

As the title suggests, this blog is about the cover bands. I’ve never come across any bands playing original material for entertainment as you would in Europe or America. I’m not saying there aren’t any, in fact I’m sure there must be some. Band members are mainly expatriates from places like Canada, New Zealand, Colombia, U.S.. In fact Canadians predominate, especially French-speaking ones, I have no idea why.

The covers bands I am talking about play in the big hotels around the region: Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La, Le Meridien, Ritz Carlton, Hilton and others. Some are real bands that have been together for years. Others have been put together by agencies just for a particular gig.

It can be a bit of a murky business with dodgy practices abounding, and of course at the root of it is the desire of 5 star hotels to get guests into their clubs spending big money (ie considerably more than they are paying the bands). The guests are mainly visiting businessmen staying at or near the hotel in question, and women who, depending on the country or the bar, either trying to trap one of said businessmen for romantic purposes, or just enjoying a night out with friends / partners (and all points in between). A lot has already been written about that particular dynamic.