Few things add ambiance and style to an event as well as live musicians. Unfortunately, many event organizers are fearful of bringing in live musicians. They’ve heard horror stories about the diva that wants 350 RED M&Ms (“and so help me if I see one green candy in that bowl…”) or they think that bringing in an acoustic duo is going to cost them more than the refreshments.
Thankfully, that is not true.
Most live musicians are wondeful to deal with and will work very hard to help you craft the event experience you have in mind. None the less, the following 5 tips will help you in finding, securing, and working with live musicians for your next event.
1: Be honest from the start.
Are you looking for a quartet to play background music at a gala dinner? If so, then don’t reach out to local pop singers. This one might sound obvious, but a lack of honesty about the gig is one of the first things that will throw a wrench in your gears. Different musicians offer different types of music. Some provide background music, some only perform as a featured soloist.
Being honest with the artist from the start ensures they know the details of the gig and are comfortable with them. Outline the type of entertainment you want for your event. If you want background music, say so! If you want a few featured pieces performed when the meal is first served, communicate that as well.
2: Recognize the talent you are hiring.
It takes years (sometimes decades) to train musical talent and that training is expensive. The cost of lessons, instruments, sheet music, coaching… it all adds up. (Interesting Fact: instruments like a quality piano or violin can cost as much as a brand new car. A Model D Steinway piano retails for approximately $150,000 USD!)
Musicians are skilled professionals and should be compensated as such. Asking them to perform for free or to perform for “exposure” is an insult. It’s also important to remember that there is more to being a musician than time spent on stage. Just like an event, it can take weeks (or months) to put together a set and rehearse it properly.
Keep this in mind when seeking out live musicians. By all means, you should be comfortable negotiating their fee but please do so respectfully.
3: Invite your musicians in to see (and hear) the space
Have you ever attended an event that is so loud you can’t hear the person next to you? What about an event that required you to cover your ears when someone was speaking on stage but you then have to reach for your ear trumpet to hear the band?
The acoustic of an event space can be tricky to figure out. It will also change (sometimes drastically) when people are in the space. An empty room and a full room do not react to sound the same way.
Connect your musicians with the audio-visual team so that they can discuss amplifying instruments and setting speakers around the venue to provide a pleasant audio experience. Ask your musicians and the audio-visual team how much time they need for sound-check and ensure that it’s scheduled into your event setup.
4: Check Those Riders!
A “Rider” is a document that outlines what the musicians need in order to perform at your event. Typically, there is a tech rider that is specific to the a/v equipment they need. There is also a Hospitality or Green Room Rider that outlines what the artists require back stage. This is where you hear tell of A-list celebrities asking for extravagent or weird items. (Check out this article on celebrity rider requests.)
Don’t worry! Most artists have reasonable riders that outline things like water (room temperatore and/or chilled), herbal tea, and finger sandwiches.
When reviewing the rider, request clarification on any items that require it. It’s also important to never substitute items, no matter how similar you think they are. I once experienced a tricky situation where a classical singer was given chilled water instead of room temperature, which would have affected her performance. Luckily, there was room temperature water sitting in the tour van that we were able to bring in!
5: Take 5! Or 10… or even 15!
I was onced hired by a bar to provide live piano music for a special event. This was one of my very first live gigs back in the day… The bar requested music from 10:00 PM until last call at 2:30 AM. I showed up, setup my gear, and started playing a variety of Beethoven, Chopin, and other classical selections.
After performing for an hour or so, I excused myself for a short breather. Heading to the bar’s washroom, I was approached by the owner who was a little upset that I wasn’t at the piano. It appears that they were under the impression that hiring me to play from 10:00 PM to 2:30 AM meant that they would get four and a half hours of non-stop music.
I politely explained that for me to perform to the best of my abilities and to avoid injury, I would require short breaks. The owner didn’t seem to care. I had been upfront with the bar’s staff that I would require breaks but never sent anything in writing and never confirmed it with the owner who was paying the bill. Unfortunately this little point of confusion resulted in them noting they would not require my talent at future events.