Avoid Sending Mixed Messages To Your Band

Posted by Dave

A few years ago, I got a call from a gentleman who would soon be celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. He had a very specific vision of how he wanted my band to look and sound at his party. Essentially, he wanted “Dave Tanner: Unplugged,” with grand piano, upright bass, drums, and sax. Could we – he asked – do an all-acoustic, un-amplified evening of romantic songs of the 40s and 50s? The answer was a delighted yes (it sounded like a lot of fun to me). So he and I sealed the bargain.

But a few weeks later, his wife and daughter phoned me with their personal song requests. I had to tell them that – honestly – what they wanted to hear (which included a lot of Rock), and what their husband and father had explicitly hired me to do (no amps, no PA, no guitar), weren’t compatible. And, since I had been hired by Dad, he was my boss. I answered to him.

Within 15 minutes, he called back to say, “Do whatever they want.” So – from that point – I answered to them, and the plug was pulled on “Dave Tanner: Unplugged.”

Something similar occurred last Friday night. My full band had been engaged for a dinner and dance club’s Fall party. By full band, I mean 2 horns, a female vocalist, and 3 rhythm musicians/vocalists. But, just as the guests sat down to dinner, the party co-chair told me that – for volume reasons – he wanted piano only during the meal. My problem was, the other co-chair had already indicated that she wanted the full band playing during this same time.

Since neither person outranked the other, I made an executive decision which I hoped would please both parties. As each new course of the meal was served, I sent the band out on break. For that 15 minutes or so, the guests could talk at a reasonable level, without having to shout over the band. Then, about the time they were through with their salads – and later, their entrees – I brought the band back in for several dances between courses.

I guess it worked. Neither co-chair fussed at me, and the guests seemed to have a good time. But sometimes, the results of mixed messages are not quite so pleasant. The tempo and volume goes up and down like a roller coaster as multiple bosses issue competing instructions. In such cases, the party takes on a split-personality, with too much Rock and Roll for one chairperson, and too much “elevator music” for the other.

Instead of co-chairs having overlapping responsibilities, it is far better for them to each have separate and distinct areas of authority. Have the band answer to one boss, and let all suggestions or criticisms be filtered through that person. Directing the band by committee only guarantees a musically confusing, and – ultimately – unsatisfying experience for all concerned. The old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” also applies to having too many (and 2 can be too many) competing bosses for your band.

For what it’s worth – I’d still like to try that “Unplugged” evening some time.


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