Archive for May, 2008

Ask Your Vendors The Jimi Hendrix Question: “Are You Experienced?”

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Fact Number 1: Most brides (and many of their moms) have very strong opinions as to what they do and don’t want at their weddings and receptions.
Fact Number 2: Most brides (and many of their moms) have never personally planned any event as big as one of today’s weddings.

It is precisely because the majority of brides and moms are both opinionated and inexperienced (which is a potentially volatile combination) that I posed the question which appears in the title of this entry.

As the two of you sort through venues, musicians, florists, decorators, cake bakers, limo services, calligraphers, photographers, videographers, et al, you will repeatedly be called upon to either (a.) agree with suggestions these wedding and party professionals have made, or (b.) over-rule their ideas.

Either option creates a dilemma for you. If you agree too easily (when – deep down – you don’t really agree), you’ll wind up with a wedding that reflects the pro’s personality more than your own. But – to arbitrarily disagree with a veteran’s suggestions is also risky.

Which is why you should get in the habit of asking everybody about their experience.

Some venues go through employees constantly, while others have the knack of hanging on to their best workers. By asking the chef how long the banquet captains have been at this particular hotel or restaurant, you can quickly get a pretty reliable idea of whether the staff at your event will be made up of “old pros” or “new kids.”

When visiting with a prospective bandleader, inquire how long the various musicians have worked together, how many songs they know, and how many weddings they’ve played as a unit. If your wedding has an ethnic component (like Jewish or Greek, for instance), ask pointed questions to ensure that the combo you choose knows as much of that style of music as you wish to hear.

When interviewing possible vendors, describe in detail your vision of the evening, then solicit their responses to your plans.

In general, I’d say that if a pro can’t give you a specific reason why not to use one of your ideas, then you should feel free to give it a go. But – in general – if your vendor does have a concrete objection (based on previous experience) to one of your preferences, then you should listen to them.

Run your ideas past all the vendors you are considering. Chances are good that you will hear some responses over and over again. If several different party professionals warn against certain ideas you have proposed, that is a very good sign that you might want to re-think your plans.

Surviving your wedding will give you volumes of experience. But for now, your party’s success depends on blending what you think with what your vendors know. Which is all the more reason for you to ask them – up front – what in their work history makes their opinions more valid than your own.

A wise pro always listens to the bride’s ideas. In turn, wise brides heed the experience of their chosen pros.

Touch Base With Your Vendors, One Last Time!

Monday, May 26th, 2008

My first Memorial Day job was a 9:30AM visit to Vickery Towers, a local Senior residence. I’ve played there many times before, and thought I knew my around. I thought wrong.

Since my last visit in December, they’ve done a lot of remodeling. The doorway I always used to use to bring in my equipment no longer exists. So – figuring I had a 50/50 chance of being correct – I rolled my gear to the closest opening east of the old entrance.

Naturally, as Horace Greeley could have told me, I should have gone west, old man. I wound up taking a tour of the facility, which would have been very nice – had I not been rolling a few hundred pounds of keyboard and PA with me.

All of this could have been prevented by a single phone call before I ever left the house. Or – if I’d had the common sense to bring their phone number with me – I could have phoned inside, after seeing the changes to the exterior.

As it was, nobody was hurt but me. The program still started on time, and my employers were not inconvenienced in the slightest. The only person who was put to any extra trouble was yours truly – and I deserved it. It can be reasonably argued that – after surviving almost 4 decades in the music business – I should have known better (which is to say: I should have called ahead to double-check on the details.)

Yes – if you wish to be co-dependent with me – you might argue that my contact at the venue (who was aware of the new load-in) should have called me. And sometimes, when details change, venues and/or employers do phone or e-mail to let me know. But saying that it would have been nice to have received a notification for today’s job does not alter the fact that – as a professional – it was my job to stay on top of the details.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is everybody’s duty – and is in everyone’s direct interest – to keep apprised of the minutiae. I suspect that – if we really made a study of it – we would discover that more job specs change (even if it is only something as minor as a slightly earlier start) than stay the same.

So my New Year’s Resolution – okay, make that New Fiscal Year’s Resolution – is to save myself a world of grief, just by checking in one last time. When a simple phone call can prevent a world of confusion, then that is something I need to do.

And frankly, so do you.

Trust Me – When I Turn Down Work, There’s A Good Reason

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I used to attend church with a sweet lady who – upon learning that I’m an itinerant musician – said: “Oh, I’d love to be like you, and only work when I want to!”

What that dear lady failed to understand is that, every single time the phone rings, I want to work. My wish is that I’ll be available on their date, my hope is that my fee will be within their budget, and – most of all – my fervent prayer is that my talents will be a good fit for their needs.

Alas, it is not always so.

I’m fortunate that usually, when I’m already booked on their date, most clients will accept that fact and allow me to recommend other acts. And – on those occasions when their budget is too low for us to reach an accomodation – the majority of my callers understand if I must decline. Where I run into problems constantly is with the third category – my talents fitting their needs.

It is a wonderful compliment when a potential customer thinks I can do almost anything. Would that it were true. But the sad fact is, no performer is right for every occasion. And – like many of my competitors – I’ve learned (the hard way) exactly how far the outer limits of my ability to please a crowd can be pushed. I know where the boundary line is, and I’m very careful not to cross it. That’s why – if what you are seeking doesn’t sound like me to me – I am going to politely (but firmly) decline your sweet and generous offer.

This is for your sake and mine. You are the immediate beneficiary. When I say no to you, I will try my best to point you toward someone who is as close to perfect for your needs as is within my power to do. So you are a winner in this transaction. But saying “no thanks” to your money is ultimately a good business decision for me, as well. No responsible professional knowingly puts himself into a situation where failure is virtually guaranteed, because it is toxic to future employment.

Unfortunately, even when I am convinced that it is in both the client’s and my best interests to pass up a job offer, the customer frequently fails to agree. I had such a caller today. She was absolutely convinced that I would put on the best of all possible “Oktoberfest” programs. No matter how articulately I pointed out that our town has many fine oom-pah bands (complete with lederhosen and dirndls), she still wanted yours truly. After about 12 negative responses, she did get the message. But I don’t think she ever got the point: if I’d thought I had any chance at all of getting away with being “Herr Dave And His Majik Accordion,” I would have gladly agreed to do the job. I said “no” for the simple reason that I would have been terrible.

So, the next time you call me (or any other entertainer), and the “no” you receive has nothing to do with a prior booking or finances, take it from “Herr Dave:” I’m honored that you called, and I hate like the dickens to have to turn down your beautiful money. I did it to keep me from ruining your party.

Some day – you’ll thank me.

When Your Guests Are Happy, EVERYBODY’