Archive for July, 2008

“You Can’t Please Everyone, So You’ve Got To Please Yourself.”

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

The title of today’s entry comes from Rick Nelson’s 1972 hit “Garden Party,” composed after he was booed at a Madison Square Garden “Oldies” show for daring to include some of his newer tunes. As a philosopher, Rick may never be in the same league as Confucius or Lao Tse, but I think his point is well taken and well worth considering: parties (the “garden” variety and otherwise) go best when the host or honorees are themselves having fun.

Accomplishing this requires a specific point of view. The music at a silver or golden anniversary should – generally – reflect the tastes of the guests of honor. The timing, food, and decor at a quinceanera or bat mitzvah ought to be in line with the preferences of early teens. And everything about a wedding and reception needs to glorify the bride.

But this doesn’t mean that – all night long – no one else has any fun. Many multi-generational events please their guests sequentially, starting out with songs the older guests enjoy, played at a volume with which they are comfortable. As the evening progresses, the chronology of the music moves forward, while the volume moves up. (Coincidentally, this occurs at about the same time the senior guests are saying their “goodnights.”)

By advocating that you “please yourself,” I certainly don’t mean doing anything which will intentionally alienate your guests. (In fact, it was this very topic that got me up on my soapbox in my last column.)

I’m only saying that, when you are paying for the party, feel free to plan one that you would personally enjoy attending. When honoring others, do the same for them. Just know, as you begin, that it is impossible to thrill every guest at every moment, all night long. You will drive yourself crazy trying, and you will always fail.

Where you will succeed, however, is when you are having the time of your life (ie. when you are pleasing yourself). When you are happy, most of your guests will have fun as well.

That Rick Nelson was a smart guy. (Ozzie and Harriet must have been so proud!)

An Open “Dear Jon” Letter

Monday, July 28th, 2008

(Note: Jonathan Edwards recorded the 1972 hit “Sunshine”. He continues to perform regularly for his fans, and – this past week – he had a spectacular opportunity to add to his fan base. In my opinion, it was an opportunity he squandered. How? Read on.)

Dear Jonathan,

I saw you July 20th when the “Hippiefest” Tour came to our town. Both the tour’s name and its website suggest a “Summer of Love” vibe, conjuring up images of those whom Scott McKenzie called “gentle people with flowers in their hair.” Fond memories of that Aquarian Age, plus the opportunity to see a number of name acts of the era, attracted thousands of us who were united by our appreciation of late-sixties music.

At least, we were united until you opened the show. Five minutes into the four-hour evening, you honed in with laser accuracy on an issue guaranteed to divide us. Introducing your hit “Sunshine,” you described it as having been written in response to “another war” built on “lies.”

A few dozen audience members shouted their agreement with you, and – doubtless – many more in a crowd that size silently concurred. But statistically, about 30% of Americans think our nation’s current war effort is necessary. (In Texas, and with hundreds of veterans in the audience, our percentage may have been significantly higher). Still, using the lower figure as a benchmark, your remark – mere moments into the concert – essentially said that 1 out of every 3 persons present (who shelled out $60 each to be there) are either aiding and abetting “lies,” or are just too stupid to realize they’ve been duped.

Whether they are evil or simply fools, you made it clear that – while you’re perfectly willing to take their money – those of the 30% will never be enlightened like you.

Congratulations, Jonathan. The fragile golden thread of audience unity was severed so fast that it may be a world’s record (though not one most entertainers would aspire to hold.)

When I wrote you via your website last week to express these same thoughts, I mentioned that Eric Burdon of The Animals urged us to “Pray for Peace” without offending anyone, while Flo and Eddie of The Turtles encouraged all of us to vote, again without dividing the audience into “us” and “them.” Unlike you, they used their talents to build bridges, instead of burn them.

Hippiefest draws thousands of Americans each night, each with their own solutions to the problems facing our nation. Either you’ve forgotten how to entertain a broad demographic without alienating a significant portion of the crowd, or – even worse – you knew you were being divisive and yet you spoke anyway.

And therein lies the tragedy of your ill-chosen words, Jonathan. Hippiefest was your opportunity to re-introduce yourself to audiences who would otherwise never see you. This was a perfect place to remind them of just what an extraordinary talent you have, and to add them to your legion of admirers. But it was an opportunity wasted, because of your polarizing invective.

If your goal is to open hearts and minds, use your gift of song. Name-calling won’t get you there.

Sincerely, Dave Tanner

Surviving The Party Planning Committee (And Bertha Bulldozer)

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

My wife Gina served a 2-year sentence as President of our son’s elementary school PTA (and some of you know exactly what I mean.)

During that time, she became aware of the “90/10 Rule,” which states that – in any organization or committee – 10% of the people do 90% of all the work.

Committees that plan gala events often see a similar ratio of actual workers to members. But over the years, I’ve also identified a few specific personality types you are likely to encounter.

First is Bertha Bulldozer. To Bertha, there are two kinds of ideas: her brilliant ones, and everyone else’s stupid ones. Molly Motormouth has strong opinions on every subject – lots and lots of opinions. Agreeable Agnes validates everything you say, as well as everything everyone else says. Silent Sam and Invisible Van add nothing at all to the proceedings. They are so inconspicuous that you may forget they are even there (and they would be okay with that.) Finally, Useless Sue is the committee member who promises the world, then delivers nothing (but always has really creative excuses why she failed to come through for you.) Complicating matters further, some of the personality types listed above combine into cliques – voting blocs that pursue their personal agenda, rather than what is simplest, least expensive, or best for the group.

That leaves the real worker bees – the 10% which will, no doubt, include you. To you will fall the actual business of planning the party. It may seem like a thankless job. At times, you’ll want to quit. But I hope you will take heart in simply knowing that many of those who attend your party, and ALL of the professional vendors who work with you, will know who really made it come together.

And that will be you – one of the few, the proud, the 10%. So let us give praise where it is due. On behalf of all of us who depend on 10 percent-ers like you for our livelihood, thank you! There literally wouldn’t be a party without you.

And you can tell Bertha I said so.

Contracts: The Devil Is In Those Pesky Details

Monday, July 21st, 2008

At its core, a contract is simply a promise made between two or more parties. In my case, I promise to provide a certain number of musicians at a particular time and place. In turn, you promise to pay me. As Emeril would say: “BAM! We have a contract!”

Where we get into trouble is in the details of such agreements. And I want to stress that I’m not talking about “fine print” here – just a few additional (but critical) extra lines of verbage.

For instance, my very simple (less than one page of 12-point type) contract calls for a certain amount of space where I’m to set my equipment, a certain amount of electricity needed to power the band, and a certain amount of time required for the setting up to take place.

When my clients don’t live up to their end of the bargain with regard to space, electricity, and set-up time, it’s awfully hard for me to hold up my end of our agreement.

As a client, you expect your vendors to uphold the commitments made when they signed their names. These may include a W-9 form, invoice, special load-in provisions, proper dress, and even repertoire or volume issues.

When everyone pays attention to their personal share of the details, life is good. But, just in case, it’s always prudent for both parties to review what they’ve promised – one last time – as the event date nears.

You have every right to expect that your vendor will uphold their promises in full. And they have every right to that same expectation from you.

So, where is that contract? Let’s BOTH look at it again, right now!

Themes Like Old Times!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Party planning committees routinely spend inordinate amounts of time arriving at the perfect theme for their gala. (Except at my son’s old high school, where a “Space Ninjas” Homecoming Dance won on the first ballot one year.)

Once chosen, an event theme often suggests directions for decor and cuisine. But there are musical possibilities, as well.

From the band’s standpoint, party themes give us the opportunity to play something other than the standard 4-hour repertoire. For this reason, any theme that offers interesting song selection is something I anticipate with pleasure.

This morning, I visited with an event co-chair whose Fall theme will be “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (just in time for election day.) She wanted me to give her some musical options. I suggested that the cocktail and dinner hours would be a good time to showcase songs about all parts of America (from “Kansas City” to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”) Once the desserts are set, we agreed that a brief “Stories Behind The Songs” program about George M. Cohan and other patriotic composers would be appropriate.

But – after that – she and I both felt that her theme will have been explored fully enough, and that the band should simply play whatever keeps her guests on the dance floor. In my experience, not too many folks really want an entire evening of Frank Sinatra or “The Jersey Boys” (or any other single style of music.) Most of us are perfectly happy to establish the theme, and even return to it from time to time. But a non-stop diet of one musical style is almost always overkill.

So – as you and you committee explore something other than “April In Paris” for next Spring, and “Autumn Leaves” for Fall – give a moment’s thought to the melodic possibilities (or lack thereof) each possible theme suggests. It could be time well spent.

Note: if you select “Space Ninjas,” please hire another band.

She Could Have Danced All Night!

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I always wish that every bride could have the most fun of anyone at her wedding and reception. After all – it’s her party. She’s probably spent most of a year planning it. And what would have been her inheritance is paying for it!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Too many nights of too little sleep leading up to the big day – plus too many complications with the myriad of details – often lead to stressed-out brides. With smile fixed firmly in place, they make it through the big event – but “fun” is not a word they would use to describe it. (Although “torture” occasionally is.)

So what an unmitigated JOY it was this past Saturday to have a bride who was having such a good time, she literally didn’t want it to end.

She danced with almost every guest, joined her sisters at the microphone for a rousing rendition of “Sunny Side Of The Street,” and was the sparkplug of the whole evening. Her spirit of fun guaranteed that this would be a reception fondly remembered by all.

But – 5 hours into the night – I noticed that our crowd was rapidly diminishing. For her to have anyone left to toss rose petals at her and the groom as they departed, I suggested we wind things down. But even then – after being on her feet virtually all day and night – she still wanted 15 more minutes of dancing. (And she got it, too!)

Those who wanted to leave did so, while a small but enthusiastic group of hard-core partiers stayed to the very end.

To ensure a successful party, I usually recommend adjusting the bride’s clock to that of the guests. But one look at our bride’s face, as she spent her wedding evening savoring every second in the presence of her closest family and friends, was success personified.

Simply put: when your bride is happy, everybody should be happy!

“I’ve Got A Name”

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Deejays and bands are hired primarily to play music (Duh!). But one important extra service they often provide is that of Master of Ceremonies.

Over the course of your reception, they will announce your grand entrance, first dance, and cutting of the cake, as well as introduce assorted toasts and welcomes. So – which would you prefer – the generic intro or the personalized one?

Generic: “And here’s the father of the bride with some words of welcome.”
Personalized: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the proudest papa in Texas tonight, Mr. Boliver Shagnasty!”

Generic: “The best man will now make a toast to bride and groom.”
Personalized: “Now, to offer the traditional first toast of the evening, here is Sonny and Cher’s best man, Marvin Thudpucker!”

Knowing the names of the key players makes your MC’s introductions sound more like he is a long-time family friend. It also helps get the audience’s attention.

Not only should you phonetically write out the names of everyone you expect to speak (your MC doesn’t care how they spell their names – he just wants to say them correctly), throw in the names of the photographer, videographer, clergyman (if there will be an invocation), and wedding coordinator as well.

Many a Kodak Moment has been saved, just because the bandleader or DJ was able to point the cameras to the appropriate location at the critical time by calling the right names.

So make your list, make it phonetically idiot-proof (“SHAGG-nass-tee”), and – if possible – try not to have a Best Man named “Thudpucker.”

Tell Your DJ Or Band ALL They Need To Know

Monday, July 7th, 2008

To me, “Hang On Sloopy” was, is, and always will be a McCoys/Rick Derringer hit of the 60s. But, to certain football fans in Ohio, it is an unofficial fight song and anthem. Living in Texas, I was not aware of this fact as I went in to play for a wedding reception with an Ohio connection. Fortunately for me, the tune was in my memory bank somewhere. Otherwise, some of the groomsmen would have been really ticked.

It’s always good to give your music provider more – rather than less – information about your audience demographics. This benefits your reception in 2 ways. First, it assures that the right songs will be played. Second – and equally importantly – it lessens the chances of hearing the wrong song.

Here in the Lone Star State, The Aggie War Hymn, The Eyes of Texas, and even Boomer Sooner are frequently requested songs. Consequently, I know those tunes very well. But I’ve learned not to play them without checking with my bride. (You see – they don’t call them “fight songs” for nothing.)

Also good for your music provider to know are specific fraternity and sorority favorites, as well as Golden Oldies that the guests danced to in college. Most bands and DJs will have a selection of these available. But – if you know for sure that you want to hear “Dancing Queen,” “Mambo Number 5,” or the “Cha-Cha Slide” – it’s a good idea to request them in advance.

Another area where your musicians will appreciate input involves regional or ethnic songs. If you have a big group coming from New York or Chicago (or anywhere else), tell your bandleader well ahead of time. Are some of your guests from outside the country? If so – from where? Is your heritage Jewish, Greek, Irish, or Polish? Tell the band. Even if certain of these songs are never played, it is always best if they’ve been prepared.

To avoid the opposite problem (the accidental playing of songs which will offend, alienate, or otherwise upset your guests), it is essential that you alert your musicians to any potential musical landmines. Tunes that you associate with an ex-spouse would be one example. Playing Wagner at a Jewish wedding is another.

Sad though it may be, not having the right song at the perfect moment (or hearing the wrong song at any moment) can adversely affect an otherwise perfect evening. But – with just a little advance planning – it’s one of the easiest reception problems to avoid.

Always Ask If Anyone ELSE Will Be Sharing Your Venue

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

When deciding where to hold my band’s last New Year’s Eve party, one very important consideration was who else would be using our venue that same night?

Most hotels and country clubs have the capacity to handle multiple parties simultaneously. When the party rooms are far enough apart, the noises from one don’t interfere with another. But parking can become an issue, as could restroom capacities. On busy evenings, the size of the kitchen is also a factor. Your venue’s ability to serve your meal when you want it could be adversely impacted by someone else’s dinner schedule.

Another potential problem arises when venues sub-divide their ballrooms to accomodate additional clients. Those movable “air walls” which slide into place look solid, but are usually lousy sound absorbers. Thus, the boom-boom-boom of a teen party DJ next door permeates every corner of your beautifully-planned party for mom and dad’s 50th.

To prevent these and similar problems, I recommend that you:

1. Choose a free-standing venue you can have all to yourself. When you’re the only game in town, you’ll have 100% of the venue’s attention, service, and potties.

2. Pick a ballroom at your venue that can be all yours. You might still have to share certain other facilities, but you wouldn’t be next door to somebody else’s rock concert.

For our New Year’s Eve, we picked a hotel whose ballroom we knew we could fill. That eliminated our biggest issue. Later, the hotel told us that the marching band and several families from one of the Cotton Bowl contenders would be staying there, but that a combination of a pep rally elsewhere and a curfew would prevent any negative impact on our event. We scarcely saw them at all.

Better yet, we didn’t have a single party crasher from the tuba section.