If you’re planning a wedding, work function or birthday party, the chances are this is the first time you’ve ever had to hire live musicians. Here’s a few things a lot of people don't often consider that can help your event run a bit more smoothly.
What will your Guests like?
Clients, especially wedding clients, often want to pick and choose songs from the set list, and that’s great. I love working with people to make their event in to something they’ll love, and quite frankly if I can have the occasional week off from having to play Mr Brightside I’m not going to complain! However, having recently planned a wedding myself, I know how easy it is to forget that the experience of your guests is every bit as important as your own. The music and the food are usually the two things guests enjoy most at any party, and it’s not much of a party if you’re the only one dancing. Yet at several events I’ve had a long list of songs the client wants me not to play, only for the audience to beg me to play those songs on the night. An experienced musician will know which songs have the best probability of getting the majority of your guests up to dance and have a good time.
If you want your guests going home satisfied, the best thing to do is often to give the musicians a free hand to choose 90% of the set list. If they’ve been performing for a while your function musician should be pretty good at gauging an audience and knowing what they’ll like based on their age and how they react to the first few songs they play. I usually start my sets with an old song, a modern song, something a little rock ‘n’ roll and maybe a pop or soul song. From the reaction those four songs get I know which ones to scrap and which ones to add to my set list for the rest of the night. Tell your band one or two songs you absolutely want to hear, one or two you absolutely don’t and hopefully they can do the rest. Not only is it better for your party, but it’s less work for you as well!
Does Your Venue Have a Sound Limiter?
This is the one I often find catches out clients the most. A lot of venues have restrictions on the volume of music, and the times at which it’s allowed to be played. If it’s a hotel the reason is fairly obvious, but a lot of other venues have restrictions placed upon them because of frequent complaints. Where that becomes a problem is that clients often don’t find out about these restrictions until after the venue has been paid for, because they didn’t know to ask and the venue owners didn’t want to lose a sale by bringing it up themselves.
There hasn’t been a summer yet where I haven’t had a client give me a panicked call because a venue has just emailed them their noise restriction guidelines a few weeks before the event. Overly strict noise regulations can really ruin your night. As well as taking some of the atmosphere out of the event by reducing the volume of music, you’ll also see a reduced level of performance from the band. This is because they’ll all be watching the sound limiter throughout the night to make sure they don’t see a red light, rather than engaging with your audience as both you and they would prefer.
Here’s some questions you can ask your venue to sort the good from the bad
1) Do they have a sound limiter?
A sound limiter is a microphone hooked up to a box that cuts the power to the stage when the sound exceeds a certain limit. Some bands will refuse to play in venues that have these point blank because the sudden loss of power can damage sensitive musical equipment.
2) If it has a sound limiter what is the decibel limit?
Most are set to 90 db. It’s quite a low limit, but it’s achievable for smaller bands to stay under this limit. A band of more than four will probably struggle, and you may wish to consider booking a smaller group if you’ve already paid for a venue with a limiter. Some venues have decibel limits of 80 db. This isn’t far above the volume of a room full of people talking. I’ve played events with an 80 db sound limiter where the sound of the audience cheering after a song has cut the power out. You could maybe get away with an acoustic solo singer if you absolutely love the venue or you’re already booked in, but otherwise avoid these venues like the plague.
3) How close is the limiter to the stage?
I’ve played a few venues that had reasonable limits, 90 or above, but the microphone picking up the sound was right by where the speakers would be. This is the part of the room most sensitive to volume change, and so the slightest fluctuation can set it off. Since noise complaints come from neighbours, the microphone should be at the opposite end of the room to the source of the music, giving a more accurate reading on what the sound is likely to be outside.
· How Flexible is Your Musician?
Booking any kind of party music can be one of the biggest expenses of the process, so you want to get the most for your money. Here’s a few things to check your wedding guitarist, singer or function band will do before you send your deposit.
1) Do they provide music in between sets?
If you’re hiring a party band or a singer for an event their performance will, assuming they’re good, be the part of the night that your guests will get up and dance for. To keep the atmosphere going in between sets some people hire a DJ as well. However people often take the gap between live music sets as an opportunity to get a drink at the bar or go chat outside, so you can often end up with your DJ playing to an empty dance floor. Your function musicians will already have provided enough sound and lighting equipment that they should be able to run a playlist of songs through it at a loud enough volume to keep the party going. They should even be able to take requests as well. It won’t be exactly the same as a standalone DJ, but it should be good enough to give those that want to dance something to dance to when the band is taking a break, and save you shelling out for additional entertainment.
2) How flexible is your band?
If you’re booking music for a wedding or a birthday party, then certain points in the day hold a special meaning. I’m often asked to learn specific songs for brides walking down the aisle, first dances or a birthday boy/girl’s favourite song. It’s one of the best parts of my job, and having those special songs played by a live musician can elevate an already special moment. Not everybody is willing to learn those songs though, so make sure your guitarist, singer or band is willing to take a little trouble to make your day go exactly as you want. Other things you may want your musician to do include performing in different locations throughout the day, or
allowing you to use their PA system for speeches or giving out awards if it’s a corporate function. You should ask about this in advance, as some musicians may not be willing to allow other people near their equipment on the night.
If you've already thought of all of these things then congratulations, you're already well ahead of most people and you probably don't have anything to worry about. Overall the best thing to do is talk to your hired musicians. Get a feel for what their personalities are like, because those will come through on stage. As well as this, most musicians you hire will have experience of a lot of different functions and parties and may even be able to give you advice on things like your running order for the evening and other suppliers.