Party Economics, 101

Posted by Dave

Most big decisions at most big parties ultimately come down to money. From how many guests to invite, to where to have your event, and from the decor to the menu itself – few of us are so flush that we can totally escape the cost factor. Sooner or later, we must make hard choices that can take a lot of the fun out of the party – at least for a while.

This is especially true when it comes to your entertainment. Last night, I set up my portable piano in the 5th floor lobby of a high-rise office building. The occasion was a gathering of the board of directors of our local annual film festival. To be honest, I was their second choice – and a distant second at that. What they had really wanted was very classy harp music. But 1st-class harpists who can play 2 straight hours of movie themes are a rare commodity in my town, and thus are able to command a steep price. Pianists – on the other hand, and on a Tuesday night – are plentiful. It’s simply a matter of supply and demand.

Besides, let’s face it: a portable keyboard ain’t a Steinway concert grand. I understand perfectly well that my instrument was something less than my hosts had originally had in mind. But, on this occasion, the financial realities worked in my favor. And, once I started interacting with the audience, my bosses seemed happy things had worked out the way they did.

On a related note – once upon a time, good bands were expensive and deejays were (relatively) cheap. Today, neither of those statements are necessarily true. On Saturday nights, a top deejay (with all the lights and sound gear, plus extra bells and whistles) can now cost as much as a good 4-piece variety band. How can this be?

Again – simple economics. Any town’s top deejays are entertainers, not just song spinners. Like the harpists mentioned above, the cream of the crop are a rare – and therefore expensive – breed. Their weekend evenings tend to book a full year in advance. But all major U.S. cities have tons of musicians – especially, older musicians aged 40 and up.

Because of their age (and age alone), these veteran musicians – no matter how accomplished they are – are going to be in less demand for weddings and other parties where younger folks will be in attendance. Most of their Saturdays will not book a year in advance. Some weeks, they won’t book at all. It makes them do two things, both of which benefit you the buyer: 1.) They will work harder than younger bands would (or even could). And 2.) they will work with you on pricing in a way that the town’s top DJ or hot young band won’t even consider.

This is an opportunity for you to have the financial realities in your favor. Those seasoned bands may strike you at first the same way my portable keyboard did to my employers last night. But, when you consider everything they offer you – dollar for dollar, and in terms of a solidly professional performance – you may make the same decision that my employers did. Like them, you could soon be very glad that you chose to get the most for your money (even if it’s not the newest and shiniest.)


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