Archive for February, 2008

“And Our Special Guest Vocalist Is…”

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I got an e-mail from a bride-to-be today, asking – in the nicest way – if two of her closest friends could sing and play for her first dance. Of course, my answer was, “Of course!”

Over the years, some of my most memorable wedding moments have occurred as a result of similar requests. What could be more personal and unique than having a cherished friend or family member perform in your honor? Brothers and sisters of the bride or groom, and – occasionally – even the bride herself, have favored their guests with a song. A recent groom serenaded his new wife on the cello. And one proud father-of-the-bride even brought his bag pipes to accompany the couple to their limo at the close of the reception. Each performance, in its own way, was perfect and unforgettable.

But here are a couple of hints to consider before incorporating this idea into your nuptials.

1. Weddings are emotional events. Pick a singer or musician who won’t sob all the way through your “happy” song.
2. Always alert your band or deejay in advance to such “guest” appearances. A rehearsal may be needed to ensure that the song goes well. (And the last thing you want is for it to end badly.)

Finally, you should be sure that your musical provider understands that you want this person to perform, but are not opening the microphone to “all comers.” That is – unless your vision of the evening includes one groomsman after another demonstrating his questionable talents playing such garage band favorites as “Wipe Out” and “Louie Louie” – (sung with the real John Belushi lyrics).

(Which could give an entirely new meaning to “something borrowed, something blue.”)

A Few Words On… Saying A Few Words (As Few As Possible)

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

I have written a number of times already on my aversion to lengthy speeches at parties. This is because, from long experience, I’ve concluded that most guests at most galas didn’t come to hear windy orations, and will neither sit still nor be quiet for them.

But – if you feel you absolutely must make a speech at your party – you might consider the following:

1. Who? If an audience is going to pay attention at all, they are most likely to do so for either the host or the guest of honor. Uncle Herbie’s “famous” impressions of long-dead celebrities will be drowned out by the Joyful Noise of your guests doing exactly what you invited them to do – partying.

2. What? Brief words of welcome, short prayers, and quick toasts (are you detecting a trend, here?) stand a fair chance of being greeted with respectful semi-silence. Letters and lists will actually receive more attention if they are typed up, copied, and then placed on every table. When read aloud by the host, they are either ignored or -worse – they bring the party to a screeching halt.

3. When? Typically, guests expect some form of greeting immediately after they are seated for dinner. This is not only the best time to speak, it may very well be the only time you will have everyone’s attention. Try to get all such business out of the way as early as possible, so that both you and your guests can enjoy the rest of the evening.

4. Where? The best place for any speaker to stand is in the middle of the room, or as close to the middle as sightlines permit. A raised platform not only helps those at the far ends of the room see that you are speaking, it also sends a signal to one and all that an announcement is imminent.

5. How? A fanfare or drum roll is a good attention-getter. Positioning 3 or 4 friends in different parts of the room to “Shhhhh!” loudly at your cue also works well. Under no circumstances should you start “cold” (clearing your throat, or saying “excuse me” 20 times in a vain effort to get everyone to hush. Shut them up – as best as you can – before you say a word.) Once you do start talking, say whatever is most important to you first. Don’t pause, or your guests may think you’ve finished and resume their conversations. (Another tip: if you have to read your speech, it’s too long.)

Finally, try not to fret if your remarks aren’t received with the respect they deserve. Remember – Lincoln was largely ignored at Gettysburg. You’re in very good company!

At Last! EVERYBODY’S Dancing!! (1, 2 – Cha Cha Cha)

Monday, February 18th, 2008

In the 50s, the Jitterbug and Cha Cha were danced by young and old alike. Next, everybody accepted Chubby Checker’s invitation to “Twist” in the early 60′s. Disco ruled the late 70s, while line dances were the rage in the 80s. Since then, however, it has been nearly impossible to unite all ages on the dance floor. Rap and Hip Hop sent parents and grandparents running screaming from the room, while anything resembling organized ballroom dance steps were met with disdain from the under-30 crowd.

That is, until now.

The amazing success of TV’s Dancing With The Stars has stimulated a multi-generational interest in dance instruction not seen since Saturday Night Fever 30 years ago.

Sure, the kids call it “cheesy” – and they’re probably right. But it’s also fun, aerobic, and – done properly – elegantly romantic.

This past week, I conducted a one-afternoon “Crash Course Cotillion” for 30 high schoolers (who actually volunteered for my class). By the end of the day, all of them had mastered the basics of the Waltz, Swing, and Cha Cha. (Okay – “mastered” might be a small exaggeration. A few were still looking at their feet and counting “1-2-3″ out loud.) But they all were doing something recognizable even to old geezers like me as “dancing.”

At a recent wedding reception, I told the father-of-the-bride that I was impressed by how many bridesmaids and groomsmen were doing ballroom steps. He replied that the groom’s parents had provided a dance instructor at the rehearsal dinner, and that – with no urging at all – the young folks (and a few of their parents) had filled the dance floor to learn the moves. Next month, I will be working with a couples class from a local Baptist church who want to join in the fun. Wow – how times have changed! Not so long ago, we Baptists never danced (in front of each other.)

If you are planning a party, and really want to guarantee a full dance floor, consider a pre-event evening of dance instruction. [Important Tip: Afterwards, be sure your band or deejay knows the songs, styles, and speeds your crowd likes.] Then soon, for the first time in a l-o-n-g time, you will see everybody dancing!

And – ironically – it will be the Jitterbug and Cha Cha (those 50s favorites) that pack the floor. As Peter Allen sang, “Everything old is new again.” So – while it’s “in” – Let’s Dance!!

With Agents – “You Better Shop Around”

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Agents are a band’s best friend and occasional worst enemy.

A “good” agent charges a fair, standardized fee (20% is common), and serves as an honest broker who represents the interests of both the buyer and the band. Just as no client ever wants to book the wrong band for their event, no reputable band ever knowingly allows themselves to be sent to a party for which they are hopelessly inappropriate. Good agents rely on word of mouth and repeat business to keep them working steadily.

“Bad” agents will book a $1,000 band for 2K, then pocket 50% of the gross (if they think they can get away with it). They will also send a polka band to a high school prom if there’s a fat commission in it for them. Sure – you’ll be ticked, and will never hire them again. But they’ll have already made a grand off of you and be looking for a new sucker.

So how do you – the buyer – know if you’ve called a “good” agent? Suggestions from friends or business associates are one method for learning who has provided honest and knowledgeable service in the past. Beware of depending on your venue for agency ideas. Too many of them have financial arrangements with a particular agent that benefits them – not you. Warning sign: when your venue recommends someone whose business cards just “happen” to be on their desk.

If you don’t have a friend who can steer you in the right direction, the best way to find a reputable agent is to “shop around.” Anyone you call who immediately tries to steer you toward a more expensive group than your budget permits is a “bad” agent who is looking out for his or her commission – not your best interests. Also, any agent who seems to be promoting only one particular band is not dealing straight with you. No band, no matter how good they are, is right for every occasion.

Once an agent quotes certain prices for individual bands, call a second – or even third – agent. Give them the same specs you gave the first agent. Chances are, you’ll hear back the names of some of the same bands, over and over. (This is a good sign. It probably means that these bands enjoy a good reputation in terms of talent and professionalism.) Get a price quote from each successive agent. Don’t be surprised if one of them offers the exact same band for less than the others. There is your “good” agent. (Why should you pay one penny more for the same product?)

Please note: once an agent has given you the name of a particular band, it is unethical in the extreme for you to then call that band directly and try to bypass the agency commission. Just as you expect integrity from your agent, he – and the bands he represents – should always receive the same from you.

Also please note: If you disregard the previous paragraph, the Laws of Kharma guarantee that a polka band will show up for your prom.

Too Many Notes!!! (Also Too Loud, Fast, And Busy!!!)

Monday, February 11th, 2008

King George II of England was so moved by his first hearing of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah that he spontaneously rose from his seat, thus creating a tradition which continues to this day. (When the king stood – so did everyone else. They still do)

But monarchs can also be critics. Emperor Joseph II told Mozart that his new opera had “too many notes, Mr. Mozart! There are only so many notes that the ear can stand.”

Lots of party veterans know exactly how Joseph felt. During the dinner hour of a gala, when the bulk of conversations are held, a band or deejay can be 3 things which irritate even the most devoted music fan:

1. Too loud. The louder your music is, the more volume is required to carry on conversation. Multiply this times 100 conversations, and you have a decibel level beyond the pain threshold.

2. Too fast. McDonald’s Muzak plays up-tempo tunes to get you in and out quickly. Research proves that the faster the music, the briefer the meal. This may be fine at the Golden Arches, but it is entirely wrong for an elegant reception.

3. Too busy. Often, even when the music is softer and more leisurely paced, soloists will try to cram as many 8th, 16th, and 32nd notes as possible into each chorus. (In my business, such players are said to “think that they are paid by the note.”)

To avoid indigestion, unhappy guests, and a premature end to your carefully orchestrated evening, tell your band leader or deejay that – during dinner – you expect the following:

A. Softer music. Save the volume for after dessert.

B. Slower music. All the songs don’t have to be ballads – light Swing or moderately-paced Latin tunes work great. But reserve the fast stuff until there are dancers on the floor to appreciate it.

C. Music with some “breathing room.” “Uzi” solos – so called because their rapid-fire rate is reminiscent of an automatic weapon (and has about the same effect on a dining crowd) – horribly violate Emperor Joseph’s rule about how many notes our ears can stand. It is infinitely better to save these showcases of technique (if not of taste) until your guests’ ears aren’t engaged in trying to follow the thread of a conversation.

I also recommend starting out the evening with songs known and loved by your older guests. After dinner, your deejay or bandleader can gradually raise the tempo and work in newer material until a comfortable plateau for your crowd has been reached.

Follow these suggestions, and you may never have to hear a treasured guest complain: “Too many notes!!!”

Do YOU Need A Wedding Planner?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

When I first started playing for wedding receptions, every bride had a wedding planner. Her name was “Mom.”

Your Mom, however, may be hundreds of miles away, or have a full-time job, or otherwise be unavailable (or just not be the right person) to coordinate your wedding. So the question arises, do you need a wedding planner?

To answer that, perhaps we should first ask, “What is a wedding planner?

Wedding planning – as a career – has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. The first semi-professional coordinators were either women who had survived their own daughters’ nuptials and were asked to help out their first-time mother-of-the-bride friends, or were ladies who had gained experience working with brides for churches, florists, country clubs, etc. There were no such things then as associations, accreditation, or a code of professional standards. Now there are. Today’s trained and fully professional wedding planners can keep you from wasting time, effort, and money. Their experience guides you through the maze of vendors, venues, and choices each bride must make.

So – do you need such a person?

If you have a full-time job, if either you or your groom have divorced parents (who might respond better to a neutral 3rd party), or if you are planning a wedding that will be only slightly less complicated than the D-Day Invasion – then yes, you would definitely benefit from having a pro working in your behalf.

Even if you anticipate having only a “small” wedding, are on a tight budget, and know exactly what you do (and don’t) want, a coordinator may still help you – simply by knowing where the best values for your dollar are.

One word of caution, however: while many wedding planners today have undergone a certification process, there is – as far as I know – no union to which coordinators must belong. Virtually anybody can call herself a wedding planner, whether she has any real-world experience or not. So, ask a recently-married friend for a referral. Ask your favorite florist for a referral. Hey – if all else fails, ask me for a referral.

And maybe, keep “Mom” on stand-by, just in case.

Sorting Through What’s Real (And What’s Not) In Band Promo

Monday, February 4th, 2008

The purpose of promo is to make every band seem perfect for your party. Attractive pictures, rave reviews, and professionally recorded song demos showcase each band’s strengths, making it difficult sometimes for clients to choose which group really is the right one for their special occasion.

What’s a potential customer to do? Well – for starters – read on.

1. Understand that promo can both over-hype and under-sell a band. The best promotional packages accurately reflect a band’s personality, style, and repertoire. But not all promo is the “best.” I’ve known some really good bands whose demos were 2nd-class or worse. Conversely, I’ve seen some outstanding promo for very average combos. A few things to look out for: If the group’s photo shows only one female, but their song demo features 3-part, Andrews Sisters-style harmonies, then you have a band who can’t reproduce “live” the sound you are hearing. (The same thing would be true of a combo with one guitarist whose demo features Allman Brothers-type twin leads.) This is unethical, and should serve as a warning sign for you. Which leads us to tip number two:

2. Use promo only to rule out the groups who are a bad fit for you. Your life is too busy already to actually go see every band who might (or might not) be right for you. For this reason, on-line band demos are a great time saver. If you are planning a very classy evening, and a group’s photo makes them look like Hell’s Angels in tuxedos, you can safely move on to the next candidate. Only as a last resort would I ever recommend hiring a band from their demo, but you can frequently eliminate many of the “also-rans” while sitting right at your home computer. Your best bet is to pick 2 or 3 groups who seem promising, then make the arrangements outlined in tip number 3.

3. Whenever possible, audition each band in person. It is only face to face that you can see how a band looks when they are not posing for the camera. Are they bored and chatting among themselves? Or do they stay engaged with their audience? Do they sound like their demo, and is their volume appropriate for the size of the venue and age of the crowd? How much time is spent in between songs or on intermissions? Demos don’t give you this kind of information, and the success of your party may depend on – not just the look and sound of the band – but their professionalism, as well.

I am personally such a believer in having customers audition my band in person, that I all too frequently neglect to update my promo. (An agent took me to task for this sin, just last week.) My philosophy is that you wouldn’t buy an expensive outfit without trying it on, or purchase a car before you test drive it. The same should be true – if at all possible – with your choice of bands. To ensure the best fit for you, “try on” your combo.

You wouldn’t want to get stuck with a lemon, would you?