Creating Ambiance for Life's Celebrations - Instrumental Background Music

The Art of Booking
Live Background Music For Your Event

By Rick Iacoboni

So you finally set the date for the big event. You remember that the last event that you attended had live background music. Upon arrival, you knew right away that something special was happening. There was electricity in the air. Live music has that effect on people. It's the intangible that ties all the senses together. Now it's your turn to stage an event and, without question, you have decided to have live background music. You want to show your guests that you have stepped to the plate and made a conscious decision to make your event memorable.

Finding the Right Musicians

Once your event has been booked, it's never too early to begin looking for performers that will create the appropriate mood for your guests. Like other event vendors, the good ones get booked early - some over a year in advance. You want musicians whose volume is just below the level of conversation. You don't want rock stars, you want ambiance!

Your first decision is the number and configuration of musicians. Decide if you want strictly instrumental music, or music with some light vocals. Assuming that price and space are factors, the most common options are soloists, duos, trios and quartets. Soloists most commonly include guitarists (electric and acoustic), harpists, steel percussionists and keyboardists. Duos, trios and quartets usually include a combination of the instruments already listed along with percussionists, bassists, strings and brass players. Names of performers can be obtained through a variety of sources:

• Referrals
   (friends, family, co-workers and other vendors: photographers, florists, etc.).
• Musician websites
• Event planners/consultants
• Booking Agents
• Other musicians

Once you have narrowed down your choices to 3 or 4 performers, contact each performer by phone to check availability and pricing. Often first impressions will indicate if your personality is compatible with that of the performer. You'll also get an early indication if the performer has a professional demeanor. Booking fees vary based on a number of factors including number of musicians, number of hours they will perform, load-in/out time, travel, experience, popularity, holidays and the day/time of the event.

Ask each artist if they have a website, printed materials and audio and/or video samples. Reputable and experienced performers will have at least two of the four requested items. Find out if you can see and hear a live performance. Additionally, ask each performer for testimonials and/or letters of recommendation from previous clients.

Selecting Your Music
Make sure you and your performer are on the same page when it comes to musical selections. Review the performer's songlist. Communicate and confirm the styles of music you and your guests prefer. This may include repertoire, artists and musical genres. Identify the songs you do not want played, too. Your selection of music will be key to setting the tone of your event. (For weddings, it is not unreasonable to ask a performer to learn a favorite song of the bride and groom.)

Preparing Space
When making seating arrangements for your guests, identify a comfortable area where your musician(s) can perform. Find out well in advance of your event if the musician(s) has specific requirements such as parking, seating, performance space, equipment storage and access to electricity. Avoid areas with direct sunlight, strong winds and proximity to heaters, standing fans, fireplaces, open windows and doors.

Performance Agreements
Once you have selected your performer and have agreed to terms, it's time to put it into writing in the form of a contract, AKA "performance agreement." This will be supplied by the musician(s) and include all the pertinent information such as date, times, venue, compensation, breaks, set-up/departure time, number of musicians, method of payment, etc. Discuss overtime fees. It is customary to place down a third to a 50% deposit, with the balance due no later than the night of the engagement.

Regarding hospitality, always provide the performer(s) with water, a beverage and/or coffee. For performances over three hours, it is recommended that you offer at least sandwiches to the musicians. It is acceptable to either limit or deny the performer(s) access to alcohol. Tipping the performer(s) is welcome, but not required. Musicians should not display tip jars for private events.

The event type will determine what the musicians should wear. The most formal event is a black-tie affair, followed by business suit and tie. Business casual attire would include a sports jacket with or without tie, and the most casual combination would only require dress shirt and pants. Female musicians should dress accordingly.

It is fair to expect the performer(s) to use good manners, arrive at least 30-60 minutes prior to the designated start time, play what you agreed upon and act professionally at all times. As your event draws closer, establish contact with the performer to review details and re-confirm all pertinent information.

If the performer's fee exceeds your initial budget, it's time to evaluate the situation. Music will make or break your event. Perhaps you can cut back in another area so you can book your first choice performer. Professional musicians deserve to be paid what they are worth. If you want the best, you will need to pay accordingly.   

< Back to the Published Articles page
About The Author: Rick Iacoboni is an acoustic guitarist who has performed instrumental background music at more than 1,000 personal and corporate events.

© Any reproduction or editing of these articles by any means mechanical or electronic without the express written permission of Rick Iacoboni is prohibited.   •   Cell: 440.465.1725
© 2021 Rick Iacoboni