Archive for October, 2008

Logical (But Erroneous) Assumptions

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I wrote recently about the need to be very specific when requesting special songs of your band or deejay (for the simple reason that there are multiple – and very different – tunes with the same titles.) It’s always a mistake to assume that the version of “The Best Of Times,” “Baby I Love You,” or even “I Saw The Light” which you have in mind is automatically the same one which will come to your music provider’s mind.

Another erroneous assumption involves your venue. Our town has 3 – count ‘em, three – Westin Hotels, within 8 miles, on the same road! Telling someone to meet you at the “Westin on LBJ” practically guarantees a missed connection. Plus, like a lot of major metropolitan areas, we have 2 airports – each of which has a nearby flight museum. My band recently played for a corporate party at one of them. But – as I was going over last-minute details with my musicians – I discovered that one of them had assumed we were at the other one from where we’d really been hired. That could have been bad.

Coincidentally, at one of those 3 Westins on LBJ, we were playing for a Hollywood-themed party. Outside our ballroom, reasonable facsimiles of both Elvis and Marilyn Monroe were posing for photos with the guests. All was fine, until the hostess told “Elvis” that she was ready for him to put on his show with our band. Fortunately for her, he was a Presley sound-alike (as well as look-alike), and we were of the right vintage to know the Elvis repertoire. Marilyn’s show-time, when it came, was dicier. I couldn’t remember any Monroe song except “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” and I was unsure where the middle part of that went. Marilyn was ready. At the right time, she simply called up “Happy Birthday in C.” That one we knew.

A disaster was averted, thanks to a pair of outstanding, talented, and flexible performers. But the client was luckier than she knew. She had assumed that hiring Elvis and Marilyn for the evening included musical performances. She was wrong. And the look-alikes would have had every right to turn her down flat. That would have led to one hostess with major egg-on-face.

You can easily avoid that same situation. How? Just don’t assume that your vendors are mind readers – spell out the Who, What, When, and Where of your event. That way, when unexpected stuff still happens, you can take heart that it won’t be boo-boos of the preventable kind.

We’re Playing Your Song (We Hope!)

Monday, October 27th, 2008

After his retirement from professional football, former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier became a very popular motivational speaker. A dozen years or so ago, my band was asked to give him a little walk-up music at a convention. Thinking that I had come up with something really original and clever, I led the band in playing the theme from “Rocky.” (I was really proud of myself for that brilliant idea, too.) Or – I was – until Rocky walked past me on his way to the podium. He stopped, put his hand on my shoulder, and muttered, “I get so sick of hearing that *&^% song.” One lesson learned – the hard way: don’t assume you’re playing someone’s special song – ask.

At least – I thought I had learned my lesson, until this past week. This time, the band and I were to play something appropriate for T. Boone Pickens to take the stage. I had 3 different songs in mind – “Amarillo By Morning” (to reflect his Mesa Petroleum background), the theme from “Giant” (a classic film about Texas oil wildcatters), and “Wind Beneath My Wings” (because he is now a huge wind-power advocate.) When I ran the choices past my boss – a long-time Pickens associate – I was told, “Yeah, he hates all those. What he really likes to hear is the Oklahoma State University Fight Song.” Oops – again!

When honoring an individual (whether it be for a birthday or for their record of achievement), a couple (be it for their wedding, or for a significant anniversary), or an entire group of people, special songs are often appropriate and always appreciated. At least, the right tunes are certainly appreciated. Even if you are trying to keep the song selection secret from the honoree, and thus don’t want to ask them personally, a close family member or business associate will usually know if there is one tune they particularly love.

By asking, you avoid the trap I fell into of mistakenly assuming that an honoree will automatically love a particular melody, only to belatedly discover that you have missed the mark (and possibly even given offense.) So I stress again – ask first, before you strike up the band.

Back to my recent Boone Pickens experience: I had never heard the OSU Fight Song, but offered to learn it for the occasion. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. In appreciation for the 400 million dollars Pickens has donated to his alma mater, the school sent down their entire Cowboys Marching Band to escort Boone into the room. And yes – they were playing his song!

Always Have A Plan “B” (And “C” And “D”…)- Because (Stuff) Happens

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Tomorrow night, my band is booked to play an outdoor barbecue for a convention group. The date has been on the books for months. But – according to tomorrow’s weather forecast – the outside temperature as the party begins will be in the low 50s and falling fast. Looks like we may have to go to our fallback (or Plan “B”) option – a climate-controlled, indoor ballroom.

No problem, right? Wrong. You see, I’ve also had an afternoon event scheduled for months, emceeing a charity golf tournament. My evening client knew this when they booked me, and made arrangements for me to do an early set-up at the barbecue site. Problem solved – right?

Wrong again! Today, the agent responsible for the evening job was told by the hotel that a luncheon in the ballroom (Plan “B” – remember?) won’t end in time for me to complete my early set-up. I can’t be at the golf tournament and the ballroom (or any other 2 places) at the same time. So we now have a new problem.

Enter Plan “C”. In the event the barbecue is moved indoors, one of my friendly competitors in the local variety band business will set up his PA in the ballroom. (Just as I would do for him.) It won’t be exactly the same as if we were using our regular equipment, but it will work just fine.

The show will go on, as scheduled. But – as you can see – not only a back-up plan, but a back-up for that plan will have been necessary. As you plan your next event, be prepared to deal with similar last-minute contingencies that can de-rail your party. It is the rare event that actually goes off without a Plan “B” somewhere.

An axiom of military planning says that battles aren’t won by the armies with the best plan – the victories go to whichever side adapts best after the plans fall apart. As the commanding general of your party, you can adapt quicker if (1.) you have experienced and trustworthy vendors working with you (ready – and able – to adjust to new realities), and (2.) you expect a surprise or two before the night is over.

Charge, General!

Do You Really Want THIS Table Next To The Band?

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Last Friday, my band played for an upscale 89-year old organization which hosts 4 elegant events each social season.

Over the past few years, several younger couples (ie. in their 40s and 50s) have joined the club’s members of long-standing. Their presence has caused both the repertoire and – later in the evening – the volume of the music to move in a more contemporary direction than has been customary in the past.

And therein lies the dilemma for both the party chairpersons and the musicians. Older members of the club would be perfectly happy for the music and volume to stay in the pre-electric (acoustic) style. But to keep bringing in and pleasing the newer members who will be the future of this and other similar organizations, their music – played at “their” volume – has to be part of the mix.

So I was astonished this past Friday to see that a table for 8 had been set, literally, 3 feet from the edge of our stage (and directly in the line of fire of our PA speakers). And – at that table – had been placed some of the most volume-sensitive members of the club.

In order for us not to offend this one table all night long, we would have had to play at dinner music volume for all 4 hours of the party. And – if we had done that – our presentation would have been wrong for the rest of the room (especially for the younger members.)

So, we had 3 options: move this one table further from the band; let those people dictate the volume and repertoire for the whole room, all night long; or know in advance that they were going to be unhappy campers as the tempo and volume climbed throughout the evening.

The decision seemed obvious to me, but it wasn’t my choice to make. And, apparently, the folks at that table had specifically requested to be seated there. Much consultation followed. Ultimately, the table was moved, and no complaints about volume were registered.

But a valuable lesson was – I hope – learned. The tables closest to the band should always be reserved for those who are most comfortable with volume. Muzak is great in elevators, but it doesn’t inspire folks to leap out of their seats and fill the dance floor. The sound level doesn’t have to be blaring or deafening, but – for anybody born after 1960 – a successful dance requires something more than “background” music.

What ELSE Can Your Band Do?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Although there are certain similar elements at most parties, each – in its own way – can be unique. One way to accomplish this is to hire a band who can not only do all the standard things you expect of your musical entertainment, but can bring something extra to the party.

In my town, guitarist/band leader Thad Bondouris sings in Greek, and even plays the bouzouki. Vicho Vicencio is fluent in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian – and Danish!

My own group offers any or all the following options to every customer: 5 hours of music for the price of 4, non-stop music (I rotate out band members), dance instruction, auctioneer services, and even a 30-minute show – if desired. All of these come at no extra cost, potentially saving every buyer hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unnecessary additional expenses.

At my job last night, I received a last minute request to lead the guests in both The Star Spangled Banner and God Save The Queen. No problem (although I recommend that for your party, you give your musicians a heads-up in advance.)

Other bands in town feature outstanding impressionists, who vocally capture the essence of both current and classic music stars.

So, as you plan your next event, spend a few minutes thinking about what will make your party better? What musical moment – be it a New Orleans-style Dixieland parade, or an aria from your favorite opera – will provide the perfect “extra?” Chances are good that a variety band in your town can provide that exact service, and also knows the standard repertoire for your style of party.

How do you find such bands? A reputable agent or party planner is a good place to start, but – if all else fails – ask a musician. Most of us know many of our fellow players, and may be able to point you toward the perfect band for your needs.

Wouldn’t a few minutes of something totally unexpected make your next party memorable? With just a little creativity on your part, your guests will enjoy a unique musical experience – one they will remember fondly for years to come.

Keep Wedding Toasts Short, Sweet, And Memorable (For All The RIGHT Reasons)

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Fathers of the bride often make brief welcoming remarks at the wedding receptions my band plays. Typically, the proud papas welcome their new son-in-law into the family and invite all guests to have a great time.

Only rarely is such paternal prose memorable. One occasion was when a Dad said that his wife had only given him three duties – to “show up, pay up, and shut up!” After which, he sat down.

If you are offering a toast or a greeting at a reception, your comments shouldn’t be that brief, but here are a few tips regarding what they should be.

1. They should be from your heart – not from your notes. Notes interfere with making eye contact. Eye contact emphasizes sincerity. So – whenever possible – work without a script. Your words will flow better, sound more natural, and – best of all – come across to your audience as more sincere.

2. They should be friendly, rather than funny. Often – especially when we feel stressed – something we intended as a joke winds up falling flat. Or – worse yet – it may actually be offensive to persons in your audience. Why take that chance, when you know that everybody will appreciate a friendly word, warmly delivered?

3. They should direct attention to the bride and groom, not deflect attention from them. Reality check: nobody comes to a wedding reception to hear what the dad or best man have to say. The centers of attention are the bridal couple, so your remarks should be about them, not you.

As a long-time observer of wedding reception toasts (I’ve seen over 2,000 of them), the best ones always seem to me to be those that are short, sweet, and G-rated. Any memorable lines (like “show up… shut up,” etc.) are strictly a bonus.

So – as you ponder what remarks you should make – my best advice is “keep it brief and nice.”

Tell Your Vendors The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly About The Dreaded Load-In

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Some venues make loading in easy for florists, decorators, deejays, and bands.

Many hotel ballrooms are on the ground floor, avoiding any need for dealing with freight elevators. Likewise, even some of those venues with upstairs ballrooms have conveniently-located and easy-to-access loading docks and elevators.

Of course, some don’t. In fact, a surprisingly large number of hotels and clubs almost seem to go out of their way to make getting in and/or out difficult. And it behooves you, as the person responsible for the party starting on time, to know which of these two kinds of venues yours is.

So – one of your most important, yet least-performed duties is to personally check out the load-in. Have your catering executive walk you to the point of entry for all your decor, flowers, and music. Check your watch. Then, trace every step your vendors will have to make in order to be where you need them, when you need them.

How long did it take you? What if you factored in parking the delivery vehicle in a separate place? Is there a security check point? How much time does that add? If a freight elevator is involved, are there times of day when your vendors may have to contend with janitorial service personnel for its use?

Does the entry require going through a parking garage? If so, what is the height of the ceiling? At the extreme end of the difficulty range, is a trip through a service tunnel required, or are multiple elevator trips needed?

Any of these factors cost your vendors precious minutes. A combination of them can literally double the amount of time needed to get your party’s components in place. You need to know what your vendors will be dealing with, so that you can help them anticipate the additional time or personnel needed in order to be at the right place at the perfect time.

Many experienced vendors are already familiar with certain venues. But – have they been there lately? One of our town’s most prominent country clubs is on a street which is now undergoing extensive reconstruction. There is a back door, but your vendors have to know where it is, while also dealing with all the extra traffic which has been re-routed from the primary entrance.

Bottom Line: You want a perfect party. A perfect party requires that every thing be in its proper place at the proper time. And for that, you, as the party planner, have both the duty and the rare opportunity to see your venue as few clients ever will – from your vendors’ point of view.

Validation Is Always Appreciated – Even Belatedly

Monday, October 6th, 2008

As a kid, my every trip to the dentist resulted in the discovery of new cavities, which then required new fillings, which then led to a new guilt trip for me. Mom and Dad were pretty nice about it, but it was clear that they believed I wasn’t brushing and/or flossing properly often enough. In time, I came to believe it too.

Then – when I was in my late 20s – a more sophisticated, “big-city” dentist discovered the real culprit: enamel hypoplasia. My lower teeth, which had normal enamel, were grinding away my uppers – which had none. All the brushing and flossing in the world wouldn’t have made any difference – it was like granite rubbing against chalk (and my chalky uppers lost that battle, every time.)

I can’t tell you what a load off my mind it was to be told – even two decades after the fact – that I’d been a “good brusher” all the time. My childhood dentist simply hadn’t recognized the symptoms. (Of course – in the Gainesville, Texas of the 50s and 60s – enamel hypoplasia was not exactly routine.)

But I wasn’t mad at him, or at anyone. I was just so relieved to learn that I hadn’t been the source of the problem. While it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the number of my dental fillings constituted a major crisis for me, it was still very nice to be validated as a brusher, years later.

My wife Gina had a similar experience today. Without going into a lot of detail (it’s her story – if she wants you to hear it, she’ll tell you), let me just say that she also received a belated vindication regarding problems she had encountered with a co-worker at a former job. And – even though she has long since moved on emotionally from that trying time – I could tell that Gina found the validation to be sweet.

One of my favorite commercials of recent years has the now-middle-aged John McEnroe ringing the doorbell of a retired umpire, who had clashed with the “Bad Boy” of Professional Tennis back in the 70s. Somewhat lamely, Johnny Mac tells the wary ex-ump that “there’s a chance you didn’t blow that call” 30 years before. McEnroe then hugs his startled former-nemesis. It’s a funny spot, but it also catches an essential truth: telling someone “You were right, and I was wrong” confers a blessing on both the receiver and the giver.

What in life ever makes us feel better, than when we validate someone as a good person? It’s good for their soul, and for ours.

What Time’s The Party?

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Earlier this week, I was double-checking details with my client for an upcoming high school 40th class reunion. One of the points I wanted to confirm was the contracted hours for my band: 9:00PM until 12 midnight. I assumed that the committee in charge had decided to start the band so late, so that all the guests could visit with one another in the relative quiet of a music-free environment. So it was quite a surprise when my contact said, “You mean – you can start earlier?”

We can indeed – and now, we will. Quite a bit earlier, in fact (7PM until 11.)

Here’s a secret you should know: unless band members have a previously-booked engagement, or are coming from their day jobs – if any – they are only too happy to start and finish early. We will play until 2AM if that’s what the contract requires, but most of us are accustomed to being home in bed by then.

Depending upon their ages, many party-goers also prefer earlier hours. In fact, had we kept that 40th reunion’s hours where they originally were, the chances are excellent that only a few die-hards would have stayed with us until the last song.

Some venues provide a financial incentive to be finished and packed up before midnight. So it is theoretically in your monetary interest to party hearty, but party early, as well.

Of course, if your group of friends don’t come alive until 11:45, you’ll want to keep the music going into the wee small hours.

(Just don’t expect the 40th reunion bunch to be there with you.)