Creating Ambiance for Life's Celebrations - Instrumental Background Music

How To Choose Live Music For Your Corporate Event

By Rick Iacoboni

"We're having a party" the memo read. The boss has divvied up the responsibilities. Fourth bullet point down, just under "selecting the menu" and above "invitations" is your name next to "booking live entertainment." Your first thought is: "How did I get the short straw?" Don't panic. It's not as daunting of a task as it seems. Listed below is step-by-step approach on making your event one to remember.

Step One: Assess The Guest List
Flip the equation upside down. Rather than starting with the musicians, work it backwards and think of the needs of your guests. It may be your company's event, but it's your guests who are taking time out of their day to attend. The guests can range from employees, board of directors and advisors to clients, prospective clients, your vendors and, let's not forget - the significant others of your guests.

Other factors in determining the right type of live music:
> What is the average age and sex of your guests?
> Is your event for socializing or to discuss business, or both?
> Will your guests dance? Do you want them to dance?
> Determine if you want the musicians stationary,
    strolling or moved around to different locations?
> Is there a particular theme for your event?

Step Two: Background Music
Events start with background entertainment which, by definition, is "under the conversation" music that is played for:

> Meeting and greeting guests
> Networking and cocktails
> Dinner
> Post Dinner (if there is no dancing)

This music needs to be felt more than it is to be listened. 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.

With the exception of post-dinner background music, soloists, duos and trios can certainly meet your needs. Decide if you want strictly instrumental music for these segments or if you want light vocals thrown in for variety. Some companies find vocals distracting for background music and prefer only instrumentals. It's your choice.

For post-dinner background music, it's important to add some pizzazz! It's a pivotal point in your event. Your guests are talked out by now and many who came due to obligations are free to leave. To keep them at your event, create an edge to the music presentation by adding a singer and/or another instrument such as a saxophonist, guitarist or steel percussionist. It's during the latter parts of an event that guests are more inclined to listen to live music if they find it stimulating.

Step Three: Dance Music
Once your guests have been welcomed, have networked, have been fed and have endured hopefully "short" speeches from the management, it's time to party! This is "make or break" time for your event. The right band will create memories. The wrong band will send them home. Assuming you did your homework as previously recommended, here are the factors to consider when choosing a dance band:

Music Type: Do you want rock, big band, Motown, country, ethnic, hip hop or a band that plays a variety? Are you having a themed event? If so, that will make your choices easier assuming the proper band can be found.

Size of Band: There's no secret here that the larger the band, the greater the expense. However, due to technological advances such as digital sequencing, bands can now create a full sound - such as horn, string and percussion parts -- with only a minimal amount of performers.

Specifics: Do you want a female and/or male lead singer? Do you want lots of guitars, horns or strings? Do you want the band to be entertaining, i.e. interacting with your guests? Or do you want the atmosphere more restrained?

Logistics: Your options can be limited due to size and shape of the venue's dance floor and stage area, volume limitations, storage space for the band's equipment, electrical outlets and the venue's closing time. Outdoor events pose even more variables, especially extreme weather conditions.

Step Four: Finding Musicians

It's never too early to start your musician search. 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, 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.

Step Five: 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.


As you can see, choosing the right live music for your corporate function isn't rocket science. Hopefully I was able to take the scare out of it for you by providing some nuts and bolts advice. And just maybe the experience was even a little bit of fun (but don't tell your boss!).   

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About The Author: Rick Iacoboni is an acoustic guitarist who has performed instrumental background music at more than 1,000 personal and corporate events.

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