Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Music and the Special Event

Lethbridge Legion Pipe and Drum Band members perform at our Robbie Burns event in January 2010

I try to attend as many events as possible in the community so that I can get new ideas, see what didn't work, and generally grow my events based on what I observe.

One of the things that is so important to events, and is often missing or overlooked for its importance, is music! And we know it is important as if you look back at any period in history, much of the focus of events! It is found in every culture and every time period. It is an emotional experience and every event planner knows that emotions are key to your attendee feeling like they had a great experience.

Music can be the background sound that allows conversation to occur over it, just setting a mood for the room; or music can be the focus of some, or all, of the event.

Whether it is a live act or canned music, is important to consider. When an event planner considers the audience, the purpose of the event, the set up, and the needs of those at the event (both hosts and guests), it is usually fairly obvious of which is your best choice (and I am biased because I always choose live music over canned when I can, but budget restrictions can affect the opportunity to use actual musicians).

Sweet Adelines perform at the Galt Museum's Grand Re-Opening May 2006

If an event is going with canned music I always tell people to hire a DJ - don't just pop in a CD or have a friend "spin tunes" for you. There are so many people out there that believe that they can do the job, but really, especially at some events, this person becomes a huge part of whether or not your event is a success or flop - you don't want to have a dance and have a DJ that can't transition from one song to the next, or people won't be spending the night dancing, for example!

The amount of musical choices in any community is usually far greater than most event planners realize. Of course there are the tried and true bands that everyone has seen a million times - you are pretty much guaranteed a great time with these professionals. But don't overlook the local college or university - there are some outstanding musicians who would love to gain experience to add to their resume/portfolio, for example. And if you are looking for a specific theme, this is actually often the way to go because a student or professor is, for example, more likely to know the sounds of the medieval times and be able to perform that, if that is what you are in need of.

If you have enough time before an event, you can even coordinate with a music school or conservatory to have students learn and practice the music and perform at the event, but one should give themselves at least 6-12 months in advance if wanting to find a music teacher to work with to go this route.

Do you know much about a sound board? Do you know what an IM is, or a DI? Probably not....and you probably aren't a professional in acoustics, either. So, if the event is big enough, in a tricky space to work in, or has other challenges that you can foresee, look for a sound man/woman to help you. The last thing you want is for half of your audience to not be able to hear the musicians, or worse yet, the musicians to not be able to hear themselves and therefore struggle with their performance. Most often, the musicians will know if this is something that would benefit their performance based on the size and location of your event, and your expectations of their performance.

Be honest with your musicians - if you want them for background music, most musicians are fine with playing while people mix and mingle and eat, but they like to know to expect that. If you want them to be the stage presence, let them know that their set will be the focus of that time period. Trust them, ask them questions, and work to meet their needs and you're event will be all the better for it.

Oh and please try to find a way to pay them - if it means finding more sponsors, then try hard. Musicians are often taken for granted - being asked to perform for free at many many events. As event planners we have to remember that for many, this is their job and that just as we probably don't plan a lot of events that we waive our fees for, we should not expect that of the professionals we hire. If they are willing to perform at no cost, I recommend offering an honorarium that you can afford.

I have been very fortunate to have worked with many many talented people in Lethbridge and area. For example: Jon Helm, who did perform at my Medieval Feast on some replicas of medieval instruments; canned medieval music that our local Lethbridge Medieval Club performed dances to at the same event worked well for their needs; Herb Hicks Quintet did a wonderful performance at my 1940's Dance Hall just last month - playing some of the hits of that decade for the audience to dance to (and dance they did), while only a few months earlier, the same group did a wonderful job of being background music at our donor appreciation party.

Cave Cantemus - a local choir, performs at the Medieval Feast (May 2008) doing Gregorian Chants and other period pieces. This group found me, I didn't even know of their existence and was excited to have their amazing performances at our event.

I have also recently had one of our volunteers, Tyler Stewart, do some beautiful guitar playing to set the mood at our Wine Tasting fundraiser (and you can hear him on a video of the event posted at halfway down the front page). And for our Beer Tasting event this year, which will be themed on the Galt Hospital, we have approached a band made up of local doctor's, because that would be so appropriate and fun, if they are available! I have had student choirs and senior's groups perform at our grand re-opening in 2006, along with some lighter sounds mixed in with a bit of the louder, faster rock style music - something for everyone at an event of this size with this diverse audience. I have worked with everything from folk singers like Maria Dunn to country music artist Gord Bamford, at Galt events.

Herb Hicks Quintet at our 1940's Dance Hall in May 2010

But I have also made my mistakes and have learned from them (I won't outline them here though am willing to share the stories, like the time we had no power and had rock musicians - we never got our power, they never performed - yikes!) I think the most important thing to avoiding mistakes in this area is to keep in touch with the local music community - watch to see who is performing, check them out, ask around (often friends of friends are amazingly talented musicians who do not necessarily perform normally but may consider it), and support the local music industry with, at the very least, your interest - it is often an evolving industry in each community as people move away or move to the community, places where live acts can perform open and close their doors, and with different people jamming together as they meet each other for the first time.

Music is such a wonderful and important thing and should not be taken for granted when planning an event. Spend some time calculating your needs and then don't drop the ball, carry it through to the end, in this area of your event, and your event will be better for it.

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