As anyone who has had to endure a mediocre band knows, music can make or break an event. Anyone who fondly remembers the entire crowd singing along to their favorite songs also knows this. To make sure the band you choose will create music to your guests’ ears, follow these simple tips.
Know your audience.
Selecting the perfect music for any occasion-acts that guests will remember for all the right reasons-begins with knowing your audience. Andy Gilbert, president and founder of Pacific Talent, a Portland, Ore.-based talent booking and event production company, says that planners should consider both the audience age range and the type of industry the event is for. A creative industry with a younger clientele, for example, might go for edgier music; an older crowd might prefer a cover band playing hits from the ’70s and ’80s.
"It comes down to putting my personal taste aside, understanding what’s going to engage the crowd and what’s going to make it fun for the crowd," says Gilbert.
Consider your event type.
Corporate events usually call for a band, but a soloist, such as a jazz pianist, can be more appropriate for the cocktail hour, Gilbert says. Some types of events may even justify booking multiple acts, such as a jazz trio to open the event and a big band to close the evening with dancing.
"It depends on how much we’re going to use them at the event and what we’re using them for," says Samantha Swaim, senior director, fundraising strategist and founder of Samantha Swaim Fundraising, a Portlandbased company that plans events for nonprofits across the country.
A high-end commercial cover band is best for corporate events, Gilbert says, because covering popular songs will entertain the majority of your audience. An original band playing songs the crowd is not familiar with will struggle to engage the audience and does not work as consistently or as well as a cover band, he notes. "The idea for the cover band is to create fun in the room," says Gilbert.
Know which type of bands will work within your budget.
The music also has to meet the needs of the event, including its budget and overall plan. If dancing is required, you’ll want to make sure the band can do plenty of dance songs. A big band might be tempting, but if the budget is limited, a three-piece acoustic group is likely a better fit.
Interview potential bands in person.
When evaluating dance bands, Shelly Tolo, founder and president of Seattle-based Tolo Events, an event production company with offices on both the East and West Coasts, asks herself, "Would I want to dance to them?" Also, she looks at how the band interacts with the audience. "You know a dance band is right when the dance floor is packed," she says.
Consider your theme-but don’t be restricted by it.
Music can communicate the event theme, but guests can only tolerate theme entertainment for so long, says Tolo. A French songstress for an event theme of "An Evening in Paris" might be a good idea for dinner entertainment, but for dancing, people typically want popular songs from the ’70s and ’80s, or other popular genres, such as jazz. "You can always rely on jazz," notes Tolo.
Look for the unexpected and don’t stick with the tried and true.
Choosing the unexpected-an under-the-radar band, a surprise celebrity musician-can sometimes be the better choice, Swaim says. She finds that indie, local singer-songwriters are popular musical acts for events in the Northwest. But, she adds, "You have to make sure the unexpected plays to your needs."
Because many people attend multiple events each year, Tolo is always looking for new acts. Even if a client wants to use the same band every year, she encourages them to change the selection once in a while and, if budget allows, brings in bands from other cities to add variety. "It’s OK to go a little risky," she says.
Work with bands that will work with you.
Logistical considerations aside, one of the most important elements in choosing live music is selecting a musician that you want to work with-and who wants to work with you. Says Swaim, "A band that has the time to commit to helping you with your event goals, that’s the kind of band you want to hire."
Ask your audience.
If an organization has a large social media presence, Swaim will use Facebook and Twitter to ask for write-ins or for a vote on a few possible bands for the event. "It’s a great way to get people pumped up about being there," she says.