Top ten tips for planning your live entertainment
Music is the soundtrack to life. It accompanies our most important moments, as well as all of the everyday stuff in between.
We each have a deeply personal connection to music. So, when it comes to booking live entertainment for a function, the challenge can be to express what we have in mind – especially if that picture isn’t so clear. Here are ten things to think about:
1. Book early
The busiest function bands and singers have comparable booking windows to other vendors such as venues and caterers. For events during peak season – from around November to March – the best bands are often booked out over a year in advance. To leave yourself with options, try to book the band fairly soon after you’ve confirmed your venue.
2. What do you want?
Who are your favourite artists? What styles of music do you like? What can you picture at your reception?
Take a moment to disengage from the planning process and allow yourself time to simply think about what you’d enjoy having at your reception. Talk to friends, browse your iTunes/CD shelves, or alternatively, strike-off what you don’t want.
Also consider what your guests would enjoy. Do they relish dancefloor shenanigans, or would they rather listen to intimate background music? Often, the best live entertainment offers a little of something for everyone.
What is a band worth? What should DJs cost? Is there a clear price line between a good band, an OK band, and an outstanding performance? In terms of price and quality, a good comparison for music pricing is catering.
We may not know all of the technical reasons why food tastes a certain way, but we and our guests can tell when it’s on the cheaper end, and likewise when it’s something special. Often, but not always, this difference is influenced by cost. Note that I said influenced – attention to detail and integrity will always win out.
This same, “You get what you pay for” philosophy applies to music entertainment. Performers come at all levels of ability and professionalism, and their charges often reflect that. Ask for a few quotes, even if you’ve already got your heart set on one particular band, and you’ll get a feel for the ‘going rate’. If one agency’s fees are miles above the rest, they may just be charging too much.
Hint: If you’ve fallen in love with a band but their quote is out of reach of your budget, don’t be afraid to negotiate. The agency may be able to offer a reduced service, such as shorter playing/call time or a band with less personnel. If they can’t offer you something within your budget, ask them to refer to you someone who might be able to.
4. Super requests
Good musicians are happy to learn song requests. These may be your for your first dance, the bridal processional, the father-daughter dance, or just a song or two that you’d love to hear at some stage. Get in as early as possible with requests; the more time the band has to learn the pieces, the better those pieces will be!
Hint: Email the band an online clip (from YouTube, Myspace or Grooveshark) of the exact song you’ve been practising your first dance to so the band can hear the exact ‘feel’ and arrangement you’re after – and you won’t get any surprises on the day.
5. Discuss all your requirements
Providing the agency with as many details as possible helps you get an accurate quote, first time. Helpful info includes:
- Venue location;
- Event start time;
- Length of event;
- Styles of music you like, or rough ideas for the event, e.g. background jazz during dinner, then popular dancing music after the speeches;
- Whether you’ll need a microphone for speeches, or if the venue provides this;
- Whether you’d like to connect your iPod to the PA (band’s sound system) at some stage. This is easily done but requires a specific connector.
Most bands don’t usually provide an MC service because they need to focus on performing. However, bands are used to making small proceedings announcements such as, “Please take your seats for dinner”, or “Please welcome the bride and groom for their first dance.” If you require this, provide them in advance with a running sheet detailing the exact announcements.
Following on from the previous point: make sure you’re aware of any potential extra charges, so things don’t unexpectedly change at the time of final payment. Depending on the agency, these could include:
- Travel fees;
- Additional PA hire charge for larger events (usually around 600+ guests);
- Microphone hire for speeches (this is often a different type to what the band’s singer will use, i.e. wireless, so it needs to be hired specially);
- Are there set fees for asking the band to play overtime on the night, should the situation arise?
7. Less can be more
A longer performance doesn’t necessarily equal a better one. While value for money is important, the live entertainment should always compliment your event, rather than be the central focus the entire time.
Most bands quote for four 45-minute brackets (known as sets) spaced over a five-hour call (though three sets is common too). This is ideal for a couple of background cocktail-style sets of music during dinner (think jazz or acoustic music), followed by a couple of upbeat dance sets (pop, rock, swing, funk, soul, etc.) after the speeches and formalities are concluded.
8. Know your booking – part one
When you’re dealing with an agency or independent band, it pays to drill down to exactly what and who you’re booking.
Some agencies consider a booking as a ‘date-saving’ exercise, while others guarantee a specific singer or band from the get-go. If you want a particular singer or musician, make that clear when you’re booking or making enquiries.
Showcases – where an agency’s band performs for potential clients – can be helpful to get a sense of what a live band sounds and feels like. But be mindful: many showcases feature different band members to the ones you may end up enquiring about and booking. This is certainly true in the case of some of the larger agencies. Again, if you want a particular singer or musician who you’ve seen or heard perform previously (on a demo, or at a showcase or another event), stipulate that it’s a condition of you paying your deposit.
9: Know your booking – part two
Read a band’s testimonials. Look for comments that align with your own values, or those you think will be important to help your event run smoothly. Some styles of comments to look out for could be: “Were flexible when things changed”, “Good communication” and of course, “Sounded wonderful!”
Another helpful way of verifying the quality of your singers and musicians can be to Google them. Do they appear to have a healthy career outside of function work? If so, this is a great sign that they’ll be something special and at the top of the agency’s roster.
Remember: There are a lot of bands and singers out there, so have a listen to lots of demos and choose something that excites you! Friends and colleagues will also remember great bands they’ve seen at weddings or corporate events, so ask around.
- Here are some common terms you might hear when dealing with an agency or band:
- Set: a performance bracket, typically 45 minutes long.
- P.A.: the band’s sound-system or public address system. Also known as A/V in some venues (audio-visual).
- Load-in: time when the band will arrive to set up (can also refer to the place the band should park their cars, i.e. loading dock)
- Load-out: when the band starts to pack up their gear and leave
- Demo: sample songs that showcase a band
- Arrangement: you may ask the band to play a shortened arrangement of a song for your first dance (e.g. an arrangement with a short intro, one verse and one chorus only.)
- Key: If you have a friend or relative who wants to organise to sing a song with the band, they need to be able to tell the band what key the song is in, or else you may get a:
- Train-wreck: performance that has failed to reach an optimal level of craftsmanship! Luckily, these are rare with great musicians!
Having live music entertainment at your event is a really special thing. It brings people together and adds a sense of occasion unlike anything else. Trust your instincts and you’ll find something great. Break a leg!
© Mr Boutique, 2012.