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A swing band leader, or a musical wedding event planner?

A swing band leader, or a musical wedding event planner?

A swing band leader’s function is not just to turn up and play music, that’s only one part of the equation.

Managing logistics on a wedding day are really important. When and where best to set up in the room, set lengths and timings, liaising with the other wedding suppliers (e.g. with the photographer to get the best 1st dance shot of bride and groom, band and guests) and many other things behind the scenes.

Professional wedding entertainers know what works, and can respond to the mood keep things moving. I place a lot of importance on getting a feel for the room and audience. There are different kinds of wedding crowds, for example “full on dancing” crowds, some “dance and the sit and listen” crowds, guests who want to listen and chill, and so on. E each person has their own way of having a good time, so it’s important to keep tuned in and to know what’s needed.

I constantly check the room to gauge the reaction, to feel the energy of the room and monitor the mood constantly. I keep checking with the organisers or hosts to make sure everything is to their expectations and make sure that whatever the band does is tailored to best suit the program. Some have more energy than others, so it’s important to know when and how to schedule wedding music to get the best results.

One of the most important ingredients for any wedding band is the setlist. Not just the style of music, but which particular songs to play at different times, based on reading the audience and the mood. Whether it’s swing, jazz, soul or Motown, it’s important to be able to switch styles at a moment’s notice, rearrange the order of songs, or change the setlist timings so that the music fits in smoothly with other things going on (e.g. the evening buffet) at the event.

You should expect your bandleader to be a musical event planner.

 

 

Get the wedding band setlist right , keep everyone dancing.

Get the wedding band setlist right , keep everyone dancing.

Who can’t recall attending one wedding reception in life that could only be described as a washout? The guests were making polite conversation; the wine was flowing, but the dance floor resembled an ice-rink in the height of summer. Even the kids preferred the stilted conversation of grandparents, to the mediocre efforts of the wedding band. It probably wasn’t their fault. No doubt they were just playing the usual set-list reserved for receptions, but if the music isn’t catered for the guests in question – it can alienate everyone!

Although there are classic songs that tend to be the most popular, it’s important to have generation appropriate setlists.

Whether you’re seeking a customised play-list for a themed reception party, for example Swing & Rat pack, or you’d prefer an eclectic mix of soul and Motown hits, it’s important to compile a mixture of energetic up-tempo coupled with some slow, melodic ballads for those romantic moments.

With the average wedding reception comprising in excess of 150 guests, it can be difficult to find music that will appeal to all, however consideration for the diversity, age-ranges and conservativeness of your guests can play a big part in getting the music right.

Not everyone appreciates the contemporary efforts of loud pop bands, so it’s important to consider a broad range of genres, whilst sticking to tracks people will be familiar with. Your secondary consideration relates to the age-range of your guests _ the elders probably won’t appreciate an endless night of Lady Gaga and the latest chart hits.

If music is the recipe for a well-remembered wedding party, then variety is the vital ingredient. The bandleader’s ability to read a crowd’s response is key to the instantaneous decisions made during a live set and the bands repertoire is so important when it comes to being inclusive, since too much of one genre can alienate others. Bear this in mind when you’re choosing your wedding band.

 

 

 

 

Choosing the right venue for your wedding entertainment

Choosing the right venue for your wedding entertainment

Once the ceremony, reception and meal are over, its wedding party time and choosing the venue with the right kind of room to party in is not to be underestimated!

Venue sales managers will give you lots of good reasons as to why you should book their venue from the point of view of location, food, price, service and so on.

However what they very rarely talk about is how practical the venue actually is when it comes to wedding band entertainment. Some venues are better than others in terms of the suitability for your wedding entertainment and this can affect the whole party atmosphere and how the band sound.

Having played at hundreds of venues across the country in the last few years, we get to see how venues operate behind the scenes. So when you are choosing your wedding venue here’s some things to look out for to avoid disappointment.

  • Layout of room for entertainment
    • Is there enough room for the band and the dance floor and will everybody be able to dance close to the band?
      Are there any pillars in the way which block the entertainment?
    • If the room is L shaped, or the bar is in a separate room, this can make it extremely difficult to create a party atmosphere since guests may congregate for the evening in areas far away from the band.
    • Is the evening buffet in a separate room? This will take guests away from where the entertainment is. Much better to have the buffet in the same room.
  • Timings
    • Is the venue rigid on their timings? (E.g. are they thinking of their own Timings for service and food organisation rather than planning your event based around what you want ?) For example, if they insist on serving the meal at 5 o’clock, but the ceremony is at 2 PM and the evening guests arrive at 7:30 PM (and there’s no separate bar area or lobby where dinner and evening guests can be around in in a break) then this can cause problems since guests need to always be taken care of.
    • The venue should confirm how long they take to turn the room round after the meal and before the entertainment, and how they will provide access for the band to set up quickly and efficiently. Otherwise this can throw your carefully planned timings into disarray.
    • Most weddings run a little late, either the photographs might take a little longer than planned, or the venue might be late with the meal service and this can affect things considerably. Remember that all the other suppliers are dependent on the venue being flexible, (e.g. Chocolate Fountain, photo booth etc) otherwise things may not go to plan.
  • Acoustics: The best acoustics depend on a number of factors. Obviously there’s a difference between marquees and function rooms. Sound in general needs to have walls to bounce off; high ceilings are not ideal. Best to have a chat with the bandleader, they will advise on what works best.
  • Noise Limiters
    • If the venue has a noise limiter installed then beware! Sometimes these contraptions can be a source of irritation and spoil your party.
    • If the noise limiter is set up correctly then depending on the type of music (e.g. as long as you’re not booking a heavy rock band or an insensitive DJ) there shouldn’t be a problem. We have worked at many venues with noise limiter’s installed and have had no problem, whereas with others where they are not set up properly the moment you play the first note all the electrics cut out. This has nothing to do with the band, for more information see my article on noise limiters.
    • On the night you must have someone from the venue who is able to disable the sound limiter it if it’s not functioning correctly, otherwise the band/DJ will either be forced to play quietly or the party will keep on getting disrupted. Many venues gloss over this point; do not compromise.
    • Many bands actually refuse to play at venues where there is a noise limiter installed. It’s a bit like having potholes on a racetrack. The whole point of being there is to drive. So if you are a venue with a ropey sound limiter, you should not be advertising yourself as a venue for loud entertainment.
  • PA: Does the venue only allow you to use their PA? Sometimes aht they have installed can be totally unsuitable for all but the simplest forms of musical amplification. This can restrict your choice of band and since some venues have serious noise limits it can be disastrous if you only find out after you’ve booked.

Live Stings and music For Awards Events

Live Stings and music For Awards Events

‘Stings’, a.k.a. walk up music, have their origins in the broadcast world, where they are also known as idents and are widely used to reinforce channel branding. In this environment they are just a few seconds long, they provide short visual and musical punctuations between programmes, and capture attention before shows begin, much the same as jingles. These stings give TV and radio channels a real personality, and sometimes even become better known than the programmes themselves – think of BBC’s Pick Of The Pops or the Parkinson show theme.

Stings can kick start the event announcements or be used to get people to take their seats. As the name suggests, stings should be short and sharp. In the broadcast world, they’re sometimes just 4-5 seconds long; in the events world, no more than 1 minute in total, and then only if you are waiting for winners to pose for photographs and to fill the time till the next announcement.

A good sting has flair and personality and brings events to life. Most corporate awards events tend to use pre-recorded stings, since very few bands have the ability to play live and do it well. Any covers band can try, but unlike a live dancing set they need to be absolutely spot on and know how to cue in and out in perfect timing to suit the compere and what’s happening on stage.

Don’t underestimate the extent to which the right music played by the right band can really make your event fly. Music both sets the tone for an event, and provides an atmospheric undercurrent. We have a specially written and arranged repertoire of live stings for awards events that we know work well.

Wedding Entertainment-Choosing the right wedding Band

Wedding Entertainment-Choosing the right wedding  Band

Choosing the right band for your wedding reception needn’t be a daunting task. The key is finding a professional band that is experienced performing at wedding receptions, is diverse enough to accommodate a wide range of musical selections, is efficient, professional and reliable service…and most of all turns up on the day with a smile and produces a great sound!

It takes more than just good musicians to ensure wedding entertainment runs smoothly. Not only will your wedding band provide party entertainment, but the bandleader will often times act as emcee in introducing the wedding party and turning your guests attention toward particular highlights of the evening, such as the first dance, father/daughter dance, and any special requests.(Even announcing the buffet!)

So great care and consideration should be placed in choosing the right band as well as the right bandleader.

When contacting different bands you should have several goals in mind. You want to know something about the band, the musicians, their history and level of experience performing at weddings, the general style of music they play, how they dress, and of course the logistics… rates, packages, options, availability, etc….

Of course one of the most important factors in choosing a wedding band or orchestra is their sound, however most professional function bands only play private events so it’s not easy to see them first. But a good band should be able to provide you with a live music sample or live showcase video performances on their website.

Firstly, make sure the videos are truly live, not mimed. You’d be surprised how many bands (sadly) do this and it really does make a difference, as some bands are simply better on stage performers than others. If it looks acted on the video, then how good are they at managing a live audience…a very important skill to keep the party flowing!

Make the investment in a professional band, and always speak to the bandleader before booking-you won’t regret it!

Top quality entertainment is crucial to the success of your party and you and your guests experience(and memories), so Its important to put as much emphasis on the band’s budget as you would on any other part of the event, otherwise you may be disappointed on the day.

With wedding entertainment and function bands it is definitely a case of “you get what you pay for”. It’s a common mistake to start by booking the wedding dress/suits, venue, catering, flowers etc. and then use the remaining budget for the band, which means the decision is made on price. Although more expensive is not necessarily better, this is a key investment area, especially for the one day you need to be certain that the entertainers really know what they are doing. Some key points to consider:

• If you choose a band on price alone, then you may be disappointed. Professional bands do cost more because they pay good rates to professional musicians, have top quality equipment and insurance, give better service and have a great repertoire.
• Bands that charge more tend to offer higher level of service and attention to detail. They have better quality musical arrangements and most of all simply sound great and give great live performances!
• Choose a professional Band with experience of performing at weddings, who take the time to understand what you require before you book them. Talk through your plan with the bandleader first.
• Look for video and audio examples. An established group should have their music on their website and references from previous clients available for you to view.
• Where possible, book the band direct rather than through an agent. From years of experience I can tell you that most entertainment agents are simply salespeople who don’t necessarily understand much about music (yes really!) or event entertainment, whether the bands they market are actually capable of providing a great live performance or know how to act and deal with situations that arise on the day of an event. Many of the bands they market are hobby bands. Put simply, the importance of the occasion warrants a decent investment. Would you ask a hobbyist plumber to install your central heating and new boiler just because he has a nice website and he’s cheap?

Some bands and agencies take double or triple booking for the same band on the same night. This can be a quality control nightmare and you may end up getting a completely different level of musicianship than what you saw on the video.(you might have the substitute reserves) Once again, check this with the bandleader.

• Contracts and booking. Once you have found your ideal band, it is important for both yourselves and the artists to have an agreement in writing. The band should send you a contract, so make sure you have an agreement that covers these points:
o Date, venue, arrival time for artists and time they should be finished setting up
o Performance times, length of sets, how many
o Can the artists provide recorded music during their breaks / is this required?
o What equipment do the artists provide? (Sound system, lighting)
o Artist’s performance area requirements (stage size, power supply, dressing
room, storage for cases etc, meals and or drinks)
o Total fee including all extras. Also how and when this will be paid.
o Artists equipment and public liability insurance

It is imperative to have the whole agreement written down so both you and the artists know what to expect. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise on your special day!

Great entertainment can make or break an event, and is one of the things that people will remember for years to come. Whoever you chose (and of course I hope you choose us!) I hope this helps in your selection process. Call me if you would like to chat through things.[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]

Pentatonic Power

Pentatonic Power

Here’s an amazing video, showing Bobby McFerrin demonstrating the power of music with audience participation. Let’s call it pentatonic power.

We don’t know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale—or at least the audience’s familiarity with it.

A bandleader, or a musical event planner?

A bandleader, or a musical event planner?

A function band’s role is not just to turn up and play music, that’s only one aspect of what should be provided.

When you book a band for what is a very important occasion, it’s important to know that you are dealing with people who not only have a great live sound, but also know how to deal with of all the other aspects of providing successful event entertainment. Booking a band is a big investment, and you can’t afford not to know who you’re dealing with; only finding out on the day is too late.

Most people looking for bands listen mainly to the demos online, but that doesn’t tell you how good the band actually is at managing all aspects of their environment on the day so that everything works well. Searching through agents give you lots of choices, but (sorry to say this) most of them don’t actually know much about musicians or event management and usually even less about a bands ability to provide good service as with any other event supplier. Good wedding planners and event managers know this from experience.

When you search online you’re confronted with thousands of bands all claiming to be something special, agencies that promise you an amazing choice, and some have great sites and demos, others not so great. But to use the BBC documentary title – “Behind the music” is often what counts. So when you’ve identified your favourites, always talk to the bandleaders before booking to ensure they “get” the following points:

  • Planning and discussing beforehand so as to get an understanding of client’s expectations, liaising with the venue and other suppliers. That will make all the difference on the day to the smooth running of the event.
  • Efficient logistics, e.g. access to the venue, when best to set up and where, get-in times, equipment, lighting, set lengths and timings, stage area, and so on.
  • Constantly checking on the day with the organisers/venue manager/caterers to make sure the band’s timings are coordinated and making sure that whatever the band does is tailored to best suit the program and keep things flowing smoothly.
  • Knowing how to work an audience, being aware of what’s happening in the room and responding to the mood of the moment to ensure they are having a good time throughout. There are non-stop dancing crowds, dance and sit’n listen crowds, guests who are not dancers so want to listen, chilled events where dancing is not on the agenda, and so on. Each event is different and each person has their own way of enjoying the party, and it’s important for the bandleader to be able to read the room.
  • One of the most important ingredients for any band is the setlist -this can make or break a party. Not just the style of music, but which particular songs to play at different times, based on reading the audience and the mood. It’s important to be able to switch styles at a moments notice, rearrange the order of songs, play special requests, or change the setlist timings so that the music actually works for the mood of the crowd.

Too many bands, especially the many hobby bands found online, (also known as weekend warriors) think that being booked for a wedding is just about turning up and playing the songs they like (and feeling cool on stage) – but ensuring that things run smoothly behind the scenes, knowing what works logistically at different times and having the experience to deal with any situation on or off stage is critical to you. So in other words, the bandleader needs to be a musical event planner as well as a musician.

Of course I would love you to book us. As a bandleader and performer, I care deeply about providing top-class entertainment and customer service second to none, and a memorable event.

But whoever you choose, always try to talk with the bandleader before making a decision. You will get a clearer idea of how good they are at providing an all round service and know whether they understand your vision. When you are satisfied they know their stuff, then (and only then)…book them. You will thank yourself later.

 

 

Do you really want a swing band?

Do you really want a swing band?

Most people love swing music in some form or other, and clients have the image of a Swing Band or Rat Pack Band providing a sophisticated atmosphere with quality music style for their event. Many people want something different and upmarket (as opposed to yet another generic pop band), and that’s certainly a great choice given that swing music is still massively popular.

Swing music is great to dance and jive to, but it can have limited appeal at a party. Yet another “Mack the knife” style song at 11.15pm after an hour and a half of swing doesn’t always hit the spot for party people, who by that time want something more funky!

So when it comes to private parties the band must be able to deliver and authentic Swing sound, whilst also having the ability and flexibility to play other, more contemporary dancing styles that appeal to a wider audience and make sure that all generations can party together.

Unless your event has a purely vintage theme, e.g. a rat pack evening, it’s important to ensure that the band has the ability to transform into a “party band” later on in the evening – and sound like one! Lets face it, “Everything” by Buble, although a great song, doesn’t have the same effect on the dance floor as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” or Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”.

Not all musicians know how to play more than one style well. Playing big band style swing music from proper musical charts requires professionally trained jazz musicians, whereas pure pop and rock musicians can’t play swing. Jazz musicians however can play most other styles (think Funk Brothers, responsible for most of the Motown hits). The same goes for vocalists. To sing swing, you need that smooth crooner timbre in your voice and the phrasing, but not all singers have what it takes to cross over to other styles (without sounding like Sinatra channelling Otis Redding) where you need that raspy edge and rocker attitude for pop and soul.

So if you decide to book a swing band and you want them to be able to carry the evenings entertainment, then it’s worth spending some time scrutinising how well they play other styles. Having a variety of genres, a setlist that flows and knowing how to flexibly work the crowd with appropriate tunes at different points throughout the evening will keep the party flowing. Plus you can still finish with a grand “New York, New York” finale!

 

There’s no such thing as swing music, only music that swings!

There’s no such thing as swing music, only music that swings!

Many musicians say that there is no such thing as swing music, there is only music that “swings.” And when you’re dancing to swing music, it’s really got to be ” swung” and that involves musicians who understand the structure of the music.

To use the words of the Newcastle University swing dance Society.

“Almost all music in the modern charts has no swing to it at all. The tempo of the music is kept by the drummer, and every beat is as important as every other beat. The main notes of the tune and the main words of the lyrics tend to be played or sung on the beat, and the beat is relentless. This is sterile for a good swing dancer. There is nothing there for a swing dancer to work with.

Good music for swinging to has “hits” and “breaks”. A hit is an excuse for a wild kick or the like, it is a note or group of notes that stands out from the rest by being louder, or higher, or sharper than the others. A break is a moment in the music when there is a sudden lull, perhaps even absolute silence. This is an excuse to do the opposite of dancing to a hit – to slow things down, makes smaller moves, and perhaps even come to a complete halt.

Other styles of music may also have these hits and breaks, but importantly, in swing, these features are predictable – a dancer can hear them coming, even in an unfamiliar piece – because they are signalled by the musicians. This means that the dancer can make himself ready for them and honour them when they come, rather than be surprised by them.

In jazz music, the tempo is not kept by the drummer, but by the bass player. The drummer is therefore free to do what he wants, perhaps coming in late or early, perhaps using a stop-start style…

To understand swing music you’ve got to feel it and live it. For the musicians it’s all about playing with time, which is the exact reason it’s so danceable. The musician gives the dancer time and space to play, to create, to respond. There’s also the space for each instrument to play within the framework of the melody and rhythm and create spots in the music where there long or short notes, where the musician can take advantage of the structure to bridge phrases.”

In order for an instrumentalist to play swing music and really make it swing they will need to have either studied jazz (or to have the most amazing ability to play by ear). Jazz musicians can play other genres e.g. Soul, (The Funk Brothers were originally Jazz Musicians) but non-jazz trained musicians will not have the ability to play swing and jazz and really make it swing, since they’ve never played with time. ( as opposed to playing in time e.g. the correct rhythm)

Any swing band leader who plays for swing dancers should know the rules…songs should be no longer than 3 and a half munutes(so you can change partners), vary the tempos, mainly four in the bar and play for the dancers, not for yourselves!

Oh, The First Dance From a man’s perspective

Oh, The First Dance From a man's perspective

Hey Grooms to be….let’s talk about the fearful first dance at your wedding. A scary thought? You’re not the only one. Almost every man fears the duty of leading their bride on the first dance. Whoever decided the man should lead the dance, anyway? We’re not know for our multitasking abilities, so I understand if it feels daunting!

It sure is an odd concept, but it’s an argument that isn’t going to win with your bride-to-be. You are going to have to learn how to dance to a swing band. But it doesn’t have to be as trepidatious as you anticipate it to be.

The first dance is one of the most popular wedding traditions. It has been carried on throughout centuries and centuries, and certainly isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. So you, as well as many other men, are simply going to have to put on some dancing shoes and step up to the plate. It may surprise you that the first dance is much more about the meaning than it is about the dance steps. This should give you some piece of mind, but not too much. After all, people are going to be watching you dance.

The importance of the first dance wedding tradition is because it is the very first dance you and your bride get to dance as husband and wife, and you’re also dancing to a song that you both picked out to represent your love and relationship. (As if your vows weren’t enough, right?) You still can’t skip this part, so you might as well prepare for those dancing classes because the first dance comes an abundance of camera lights shooting off in your direction. At least you’ll have tons of photos to captivate the goodwill of it, and your two left feet.

There are many different styles of dance that work amazingly with our swing band. Some are incredibly easy and will ‘get you by’, if you will. These are ideal for the men who are completely sold on the fact that they will never dance well, regardless of the price and amount of dance classes they partake in.

The foxtrot is one of the most popular styles for first wedding dances because it is so easy to learn and flows admirably with slow ballads. The waltz is a more formal style, and has a variety of levels of difficulties. Proceed with caution because you can really get into some heavy stuff with the waltz. The ultimate style of dance for your first wedding dance is going to be a mixture of the two – a formal appeal with easy steps. Swing dance is the epitome of just that, and if you hire a swing band for weddings, then you’re all set. It’s relaxed and cool, but has that youthful, flirty charm. Oh, and it’s easy enough to learn in a short amount of time!

Despite being extremely easy, they’ll make your dance moves look pretty flawless. Your wife will be proud and impressed, and everyone else will definitely be jealous that she landed such an incredible dancer. Yeah, right?

Your first dance doesn’t have to be a dreaded element of your big day. You can fool everyone into thinking you’re an incredible dancer by learning a few simple steps.

I’ve had a number of couples come to me a few minutes before their first dance, panicking because the groom has forgotten his steps. Being a swing dancer myself, and having done the some ballroom here and there, I’m always on hand to reassure the groom, show him how to sway to the left, twirl to the right, then a little dip.

But after all is said and done, it comes down to one thing, and one thing only guys. During the first dance, look into her eyes, hold that gaze and smile lovingly…because that’s the part of the dance that really counts!