Photo © 2015 by Alvalyn Lundgren. Used with permission.
There are so many things to consider when you hire a band that performs live: Safety, floor plan, power drops, generator (for outdoor events), shelter from the sun, changing room, lighting, sound engineer, band visibility… you’ve got all that down. However, there are three simple things that are frequently overlooked that can take your live music from a “B” to an “A+”.
Stage design: Avoid the graveyard effect in the middle of your event.
You’ve thought through the gobos and colored uplights in your event space. The draping is on point, and the dessert station is perfectly architected with tall heights at the back and lower trays at the front, creating an oasis of desserts in an 8′ x 3′ space. Florals are dripping off the ends of the tables from tall vases set at the center. It’s a wonderland!
The one thing you forgot? The band’s stage! It’s like a black graveyard of squares and wires right in the middle of the room view. But it’s fixable! Simply remember to dress the stage as well!
- Backdrops are a must. Add draping and a flower wall. Even well-placed lighting on an interesting texture will do the job.
- Dress the front of the stage. How about a floral swag or specialty fabric? Potted trees at the sides of the stage? What about color? Even something as simple as choosing a white stage as opposed to black will lighten the visual weight of the area.
- Throw some rugs. Inexpensive oriental rugs are a great way to soften the look of the stage and add visual warmth. Not to mention that rugs increases the performers’ safety. Have you seen how many wires they have to deal with up there? Rugs keep all the wires in place and hidden away from dancing feet up on stage.
- Add some height. You know that dessert bar that features a variety of vessels and risers at different heights? That creates energy, interest, and excitement around the desserts. The band is the same way: Lift the drummer on a mini stage so the crowd can see him or her! That poor drummer is seated for pretty much every song and would love to be able to see the crowd dancing and smiling more clearly. Bonus: The band members can hear each other better when the those at the back of the stage — the drummer, horns, keyboardists — are raised up. Give them a lift!
Ultimately, all of the elements you’re using in your space design can and should be applied to the stage as well. Don’t end up with a graveyard in the middle of your event! The band — and especially your clients — will love it.
Mind the volume: Balance the sound for louder high-energy moments and softer table conversation during dinner.
How many times have you woken up the morning after an event with your voice shot because you had to shout over the music the night before? At some events, conversation takes priority. Do your clients and their guests a favor by minding the mood of the room and manage the band’s volume. Do this via the sound engineer, not the band itself, to keep everyone happy. Just because the speaker goes to 11 doesn’t mean you have to turn it up that high (thank you, Spinal Tap).
Sometimes less gear means more. Some sound companies show up fully loaded with too many speakers, a set-up fit for an outdoor concert in the park, and crazy new tech that only results in overkill, and they OVERBILL. You end up paying for all that extra gaga. If you’re not familiar with what’s needed, call a trusted music pro to run the equipment list by them. It may save you a headache and a few ducats.
The best way to guarantee a healthy balance of sound is preemptive: Invite the bandleader / music company and sound company to the site walk-through. They can get a read on the acoustics of the space (echo, bass traps, etc.), how the sound carries (much louder if it’s flowing over water, like a pool), and ensure they bring only the right equipment to create the most perfect sound possible. Cover any and all wall mirrors or glass windows behind the band. This will cut down on the decibel level, eliminate feedback, and make for a warmer sound in the room all together.
Make sure the band can actually play their instruments and not rely on recorded tracks.
This one’s a no-brainer. Hire a band that’s an actual band that can play all the instruments needed to create the sound you’re looking for. Too often a band is hired with a promised song list, but they use backing tracks — tracks that play some of the background instruments — and play along to that. This can create problems in several ways:
The track-player gets confused. Hello, Ashlee Simpson on live national TV. That was the end of her career. Will it be the end of yours?
The band can’t take requests. Why not — they’re a band, right? Why can’t they play what your client wants? Because the band depends on the track machine to play parts of those songs, and the requested songs aren’t on the track machine. Oops. Disappointed crowd = disappointed client!
Or they do try and play the request and suddenly that 4-piece band that projects like a 10 piece band (with the aid of tracks) sounds a lot thinner than it did just a song ago!
Certainly, tracks have their place. When dancers on stage have to move at a certain beat to keep a routine tight. Or when the stage performance is synched to a large video being played or to pyrotechnical fireworks. Other than that — tracks don’t belong on stage.
So that’s it — three simple ways to get your band’s live performance to an A+. Design the stage, mind the volume, and hire real musicians. Try these three things and watch your bookings turn up to 11!
Veronica Puleo is the Executive Director, vocalist, guitarist and co-founder along with Music Director Mike Holowatch, of The Replicas Music, a Los Angeles-based talent agency providing live music in a wide variety of genres for weddings, corporate and private events.