Joe Cocker Masters Generating Value From Covers

By Jill StarbuckPellegrino & Associates

For most musicians, singing cover songs takes them to local bars, coffee shops, and other small venues. Rarely do musicians make it big unless they write their own music or at least sing originals from a paid writer. Joe Cocker was an exception. While he spent nearly a decade in local bars before he became famous, he defied the odds with his popular renditions of classic covers from some of the biggest musicians in the world. Cocker did write some of his own songs, but it was his cover renditions that helped him gain fame.

According to Celebrity Worth, Cocker was worth $60 million at the time of his death—no small amount for a cover singer. How did he do it? Cocker didn’t just sing cover songs; he made them his own. They had a completely different feel with often just a hint of the original sounds. But perhaps more importantly, Cocker became a phenomenon for the way he sang those songs. No other singer in the world compared to Cocker’s singing antics. He was one of a kind. His wildly spastic performances, along with his raspy, bluesy voice made him stand out. In the music world, he was a genius for taking other people’s songs and making them his own with voice and motion. By doing so, he created a brand for himself.

While all celebrities create their own brand in some way, Cocker’s brand was especially unique because he based much of his brand off other people’s work. Typically, a celebrity finds fame by bringing something original to the industry. Yet, Cocker seemingly tackled the impossible—and won. But not without a struggle. The fame, pressure, and constant touring took a toll on Cocker, leading him down a path of depression and alcoholism for a while. Luckily, he persevered and overcame addiction.

Through is perseverance, Cocker brought one of the most memorable voices to the music industry. His raspy voice made each performance seem like an incredible effort. But it was his hoarse voice that lent credence to his talent and endurance. Over the span of his career, Cocker’s antics and singing ability provided fodder for comedians, landed him in the musical Across the Universe, and made him world famous. He released more than 40 live, studio, and compilation albums and enjoyed nearly 70 singles. In 2011, the Queen of England awarded him an Order of the British Empire for his contributions to the music industry. He also won many other awards including Grammy awards and Golden Camera awards.

Based on his accolades, it is obvious that the world recognized Cocker both visually and lyrically, which is important to his brand. A person’s brand presents the most value when it is in demand. In order to be in demand, a brand must be recognizable. While his music fell into the mainstream as he aged, he continued to perform and release albums. Both imply that demand still existed. And with any brand, constant exposure provides more recognition and value. Cocker’s refusal to give up, his ability to reinvent songs, his signature moves, and one of the raspiest voices in music history all helped make him a master of cover songs. He goes down in history as one of the most recognized in the music industry.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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