Archive for January, 2010

The Mis-Information Age? It’s Here To Stay!

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Musing through yesterday’s news, I read:
1. Johnny Depp was the victim of a fatal traffic accident.
2. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie split up.
Sir Richard Burton (Liz Taylor’s Ex) was also mentioned – twice (in actress Jean Simmons’ obituary and a review of the late-night wars.)

Of course, the problem with this breathless reportage is that all of it was wrong!

Johnny Depp is alive and well, and is only the victim of a story that re-surfaces regularly (and wrongly.) Brad and Angelina swear they’ve never been happier (which is too bad for Jennifer Aniston, who – according to many of the same online sources that reported the split-up – still pines breathlessly for Brad’s return.) And “Sir” Richard Burton properly refers to the English explorer who died in 1890, not the Welsh actor who twice married and divorced Elizabeth Taylor. Burton the actor was awarded an MBE in 1970, but was never knighted.

I for one am not going to spend a lot of time lamenting the “good old days,” when reporting was more accurate. Indeed, I am perfectly thrilled to live in an age when each of us can share our thoughts instantly with the whole world. That is the beauty and power of today’s Information Age – anybody can write anything. Unfortunately, that is also the reason why our current epoch might better be called the “Dis-Information” or “Mis-Information” Age – anybody can write anything (and usually will.)

I’m also not going to propose tougher standards on who should be allowed to write, or what erroneous crap they can foist upon the reading public. That horse has left the barn; Pandora’s box has been opened. We will never return to a time (indeed, such a time never existed) when only “responsible” parties can write “the truth.” Along with all the wonderful facts and opinion now available to us at the speed of light will be lies, half-truths, rumors, and innuendo which are equally accessible and – at first glance – perhaps even plausible.

So – if the writing is not going to be censored – how are we going to avoid ever more incidents of false information being disseminated? The answer – we aren’t. Therefore it behooves us as readers to evolve from our “it must be true – I read it somewhere!” mentality, to filtering data and considering its source. (This is going to be a challenge when one of the most accurate news organizations of late is The National Enquirer.) We’ll have to actually evaluate what we are reading and viewing online, and – of necessity – take into account the vast potential of Photoshop in assessing the believability of every picture we see.

In sum, we are going to have to… (dare I say it?) …THINK! (Please excuse the all-caps. I’m not morphing into Kanye West – really.)

We will decide what is correct from data promoted by multiple and conflicting “news” sources. (Has Obama created “millions” of jobs, “thousands” of jobs, or no jobs? Is the globe warming or cooling?) Our future, and that of our children, will depend on how well We The People sort through the noise. And only one thing is certain: it won’t be easy.

Aldous Huxley introduced us to the term, Brave New World. Well Bunky – we’d better be brave! ‘Cause whatever we choose to call this Age (Information, Dis-Information, etc.), it’s not going to be a place for sissies!

The Prickly Issue Of “Overtime”

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Cinderella had to leave the ball at midnight. But what if the time comes when your party is scheduled to end, and your guests are having too much fun to quit? What should you do?

Bands, deejays, decor, and even the venue where you hold your event are usually booked by the hour (or in 4-hour blocks.) Overtime may be included in your contracts with them. Thus, if the party is rocking and you don’t want to stop at the appointed hour, you already know how much the additional time is going to cost you. The band plays on, and everybody’s happy.

But what if you haven’t made arrangements in advance, and you wish to continue? What is the right way to handle the issue of overtime? Here are my thoughts:

1. Consult your music provider before they start tearing down. If you stop paying for music at midnight, and haven’t told them otherwise, by 5 minutes after the hour your band may have already unplugged speakers, amps, and instruments and be coiling their cords. It could take 15 long, boring minutes to plug everything back in its rightful place. During that brief period, the energy from your guests that made you want to continue will have dissipated, and the dance floor will be empty. If you are the host (and/or decision maker), it is your responsibility to keep track of the clock and keep the music going – not re-start it after it has already stopped.

2. Offer your band or deejay a specified bonus for staying late. Veteran bands have learned – the “hard way” – that offering to pass the hat among the crowd rarely results in enough money to make it worth the extra time and trouble. Saying “I’ll give you $200 for 15 more minutes” lets everybody know how much they will earn and how long they will have to stay to earn it.

3. Be sure your venue is on board for the overtime. Often, the real hidden cost of overtime comes not from the band, but from venue. Every captain, waiter, bus boy, and bartender also has to be paid. There may be fees from the decor-provider and florist, who have sent crews to pick up the room decorations. And – of course – there is the price of any extra liquor consumed to be factored in. It can get expensive in a hurry.

But there is an alternative to any of these extra costs you might consider. And it is one which should be familiar to every concert-goer. It is the famous “fake exit” all entertainers make, before coming back for their encores. I suggest that instead of hiring your band until midnight (for example), you engage them from 8:15 to 12:15. As midnight approaches, let them announce the “last dance.” If everybody is then ready to go home, then your band gets a 15 minute bonus. But – if the crowd demands more – you have a 15-minute window built into your budget. There will be time for 3 to 5 additional songs. The crowd will leave happy (because they got “extra” dance time), the band will be happy (because they didn’t have to go through the uncertainty and hassles of last-minute negotiations), and you will be happy (because what seems like “extra” time to your guests was already factored into your budget.)

“Priming The Pump” On Your Dance Floor

Monday, January 18th, 2010

When you go to the trouble of having a dance floor and band or deejay at your party, you naturally hope that your guests will dance. But hoping alone won’t make it so. A few extra steps may be required.

1. Set the mood. A big dance floor effectively tells your guests that you expect them to dance. Keeping the lighting lower in that area adds to the comfort of those who would like to dance, but don’t want to feel like they are on display.

2. Provide “social lubrication.” Alcohol relaxes inhibitions. Typical guests who have had a glass or two of wine are more likely to venture onto the dance floor than those who are stone cold sober.

3. Play the right tunes. Older guests tend to dance first. Starting out the evening with some of their favorite songs (played at a comfortable volume) will help get things going. Don’t panic if your youngest guests won’t dance until the last hour of the party. They need lots of lubrication.

4. “Prime the pump.” Guests tend to run the spectrum. At one end are those who don’t mind being first on the dance floor, and at the opposite – those who will never in a million years set foot out there. Most of your guests lie somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, and are categorized simply by how many others must be dancing before they will take part. Arranging in advance to have a few couples made up of your key friends dance early and often will lead – in turn – to additional dancers who only need a few other bodies on the floor joining in. Their presence will provide enough cover for the moderately shy to feel safe. And ultimately, a full dance floor will encourage even the most severely inhibited to hide out in the middle of the pack.

5. Play “Follow The Leader.” All parties follow the example of the hosts and guests of honor. If the host and hostess are dancing, friends and family naturally join in. (Conversely – when their hosts sit – guests do too.)

To recap, create a mood that encourages dancing, play what your guests what to hear, and – especially early in the evening – lead by example. And you’ll have a full dance floor all night long!

Making A List, And Checking It Twice

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Despite its title, today’s entry has nothing to do with Santa Claus. It’s about wedding receptions, and – specifically – the first big moment of the reception: the introduction of the wedding party.

In some cases, only the bride and groom are announced. But often, everybody from the Flower Girl to the Grandparents of the Bride are introduced by name – and these are names you really want to hear pronounced correctly. If the emcee is your deejay or band leader, he or she may have never met your family. This means you will have to help them master any tricky names, through the list you provide. I recommend phonetic spelling, with accents capitalized. (My name would be DAY-vid TANN-ner, for example.) Your emcee won’t care how the name is really spelled, only how to say it properly.

E-mail the list to your emcee in advance. Have them read the names back to you over the phone. Correct any errors and have them read it again. Also, have Mom or Sis go through the list for any omitted names. (I once introduced an entire wedding party, except for the bride’s parents – whose names were not on my list, and who were standing out in the hall through half of the First Dance. Talk about your “Woops!” moment – the very unhappy Dad still had my check!)

Give a copy of this list to your wedding coordinator (or to whomever is helping you line up for your big entrance.) Be sure everyone is in line, in the same order as their names appear on the list.

A “Woops!” moment probably won’t ruin your entire reception. But a smooth and successful introduction goes a very long way to putting your guests in the right spirit and to lowering your stress level (at least a little.)

To that end, maybe you should check that list three times.

Is It Live? (Or Is It Memorex?)

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Years ago, naive concert goers actually thought that the music they were hearing at a “Live! In Person!” event was… “live.” (Silly people.) The discovery that Electric Light Orchestra was “sweetening” – or augmenting – their concert sound with sequenced (pre-recorded) tracks created a minor scandal. But soon, the practice became common, and had the benefit of allowing the Bee Gees, for example, to re-create the multi-tracked vocals of their hit recordings before live audiences.

Nowadays, through a reverse Darwinian process called “De-volution,” arena artists don’t even pretend to be “live.” Britney and Beyonce lip-synch openly, if not so brazenly as Miley Cyrus – whose voice continues to be heard on-stage, even as she changes costumes in her dressing room (replaced by a dance double.)

It was only a matter of time before similar practices were adopted by club and party bands. Which is why today you can hire an all-male trio whose sound includes female voices (along with horns and strings.) Indeed, you can hire groups whose pre-recorded sound is so full, that your “live” musicians seem to be doing little more than just playing along with the track. There’s a name for this “new” form of musical entertainment. And that name is KARAOKE!

Now – if you know what you are hiring and are happy with the sequenced sounds of Milli Vanilli, then that is exactly what you should have. My only complaint is with any band whose demos and promo material fail to make clear what is “real” and what is “reel to reel.” One quartet of my acquaintance advertises their “Phat Trax,” letting potential buyers know that – yes – it is (at least partially) Memorex. But another track-using local band’s website simply refers to their “big sound,” and I find that deceptive.

If this trend continues to its logical conclusion, ever fewer live band members will show up. Soon, the music will all be canned. And there’s a name for that form of party entertainment, too: it’s called a DEEJAY!

Happy Birthday Elvis (And Thank Yew – Thank Yew Vurrah Much!!!)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

This Friday (January 8th) marks the Diamond Jubilee of Elvis Presley’s birth. He would have been 75, which is the age his arteries and heart already were when he died at 42 from all those fried banana sandwiches, uppers, downers, and laxatives.

There are so many bad Elvis impersonators (85,000 according to one report – of which about 3 are really good), and so many bad Elvis movies re-running constantly on TV (he made 31 as an actor – of which ditto), that it is easy to forget how wonderful he could be – especially in concert.

I had the opportunity to see Elvis perform 3 times, and it was a show like no other before or since. Yes, some of his most beautiful and simple songs suffered from over-produced arrangements (I especially grieved at the elephantiasis wreaked upon the hauntingly lovely “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”), and he occasionally lapsed into self-parody with his early rock hits like “Hound Dog,” but over all, it was magic.

Much has been written since Elvis “left the building” in 1977 about his dark side. And yes, he was definitely given to excess. But as I’ve mentioned before in this column, I think what really killed him was the fact that – like his son-in-law Michael Jackson – nobody had the guts to say “no” to him. The hangers-on of his “Memphis Mafia,” his drug-dispensing doctors, his manager, and even his own father failed to utter the one word that might have saved his life.

It’s a shame. The King of Rock and Roll deserved better. The straight-from-the-heart singer who gave us “Love Me Tender,” “Loving You,” “Crying In The Chapel,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” deserved better. The poor boy from Tupelo who defined a decade’s Pop Music in a way that few (Sinatra, The Beatles) ever will certainly deserved better. For all the joy he gave to millions, he had earned happiness and peace.

I hope he’s found it now. I hope he can hear his fans say back to him those words that were such a big part of every concert appearance:

“Thank you,” Elvis. “You’re beautiful.” “Thank you very much!”

“When The Going Gets Tough…”

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Gen. George S. Patton used to say, “When in doubt – ATTACK!”

Closer to home (and to my chosen career) Country Music host Johnnie High told me 15 years ago, “When making a change, UPGRADE!” My band at that time had been a 5-piece group in which everybody sang, allowing us to have some of the hippest harmonies in town. When we lost one of our 2 female vocalists, Johnnie gave me advice that I heeded. Since we still had 4 good singers, I added 2 horns – a sax and trumpet. Suddenly, we were much more than just a vocal band. We had an instrumental fullness that was entirely new (and very marketable.)

But now, it is time for more changes. Wall Street may have recouped its recent financial losses, but the party business – like many others – has not experienced a similar recovery. A number of good bands, including two that I recommended often, have folded. So, how are we surviving? By attacking and upgrading, of course!

While other groups are re-trenching, we have expanded our variety band to include a 9-member option, the biggest group I’ve ever worked with. Because of the current popularity of Swing dance music, we’ve also begun promoting “The Swing Set,” our Jitterbug-Push ensemble. For Baby Boomers like me who treasure the music of those “glory days,” our “Classix Gold” show and dance unit spotlights the music of the 60s and 70s. We’re even upgrading our venerable Country incarnation. Because there are so many C&W groups around, we’ve chosen to focus on Texas music, and thus also include Buddy Holly with our George Strait hits.

I’m happy to report that these changes are being well received, by dancers and party professionals alike (some of whom probably thought we were overdue for a make-over.)

So, if your business, special event, or worthy organization is still lagging behind your goals during these sluggish economic times, let me suggest that you too heed Johnnie High and George Patton’s advice. If nothing else, it will help you stand out from the crowd.

It’s also good to remember another of Gen. Patton’s maxims for success: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”