Archive for the 'Parties' Category

Speaking With One Voice To Your Vendors – Preferably A Professional One

Monday, May 24th, 2010

When planning a major social event, committees are great! The work load is divided among multiple individuals, meaning that – in theory – more folks are spending more time paying more attention to all the myriad details that ensure a great party.

But two problems arise with alarming frequency when semi-autonomous worker bees are engaged in largely independent planning.

First, one group may adversely impact another without either being aware of it (until it’s too late.) For instance, a venue has only so many power outlets and total amperes of power. Often, by the time the band or deejay arrives to set up the music for the evening, every single outlet and all the available power have been used by the caterer and the decorators. Even if we all agree that dramatic lighting is wonderful – you can’t dance to it. So it is much easier on all concerned when – before any other steps are taken – a survey is made of how much power, space, and set-up time are needed for the various vendors. Priorities and schedules can then be laid out. (For instance, those decorating the stage can know that they need to leave 4 power outlets for the band and be finished dressing the stage 2 hours before the event so that the band can then come in to set up.)

Secondly, diverse department heads commonly issue conflicting instructions to their vendors. For example, to keep the flowers from wilting, one chairman may have the venue lower the thermostat to a meat locker chill. Then, when another chair arrives, she will immediately chastise the banquets captain for having the room so cold. With no single person in overall command, the venue has no choice but to follow each and every order, no matter how contradictory they may be.

What’s the solution for these problems? Well, one answer is to rely on an experienced party chairperson who will not only coordinate between the different committee heads, but will be the one – and only – person designated to be the “voice” of the committee to vendors. If and when such a person is not to be found (or when committee heads refuse to recognize their superiority), a party professional is the best idea of all. Not only have they “been there and done that” with regard to the many details of organizing a successful event, but they are also a neutral 3rd party, removed from the internal politics of the hosts.

Party professionals are sometimes perceived as an unnecessary or added expense to an event. In truth, their experience often saves moneys wasted through overlaps and duplication. And – for the headaches, heartaches, and hard feelings they prevent – they are a priceless investment. So if you are lacking a qualified amateur volunteer-leader, ask a few good friends for recommendations of pros they have worked well with, who stayed within their budgets, and with whom they would be glad to work again. Both your vendors and you will be glad you did.

Parties go smoothest with a veteran hand at the helm. If your organization doesn’t have one – rent one!

Does Your Venue Have A Piano? If So, Do You Really WANT It?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

There was a time when virtually every venue, even the banquet room of your neighborhood restaurant, had a piano. It may have been a spinet with a less-than Steinway tone. It may have been too fragile to move to the place where you really needed it. And it may not have been tuned since it left the factory. But – if you asked – you would be told, “Why yes! Of course we have a piano!”

Those days are – for the most part – gone. I travel to every engagement with a full 88-note Yamaha keyboard in the van with me. As long as I have electricity, I’m in business. If the venue has a decent piano, so much the better. But I never assume that they will. (And neither should you.)

A good piano, baby grand or bigger, adds the look of class to your party. Whether it adds anything musically is another matter entirely. To be useful, it needs to be in tune with itself, somewhere near the industry standard of A-440. (Otherwise, even if it sounds fine alone, other instruments may not be able to tune up with it.) It also needs to be where it will work best for your needs, and able to be pointed in the right direction. Many venues that have pianos point them so that their keyboards face the room. This is great for watching the pianist’s hands at work, but inevitably means that his back will be to you.

To facilitate moving their pianos without damaging them, thoughtful venues place them on Y-shaped steel frames with oversized, easy-rolling wheels. These wheels aren’t pretty, but they are extremely functional. (They can also be hidden by placing a little greenery around the base of the piano.)

But – if you want a real piano at your event – you need to run through a checklist with your catering executive.

1. Is there a piano? 2. Is there a charge for using it or moving it to where you need it? (And – if so – how much?) 3. Is it tuned regularly? (Otherwise, you may need to add $200 to your budget to be sure it sounds as good as it looks.) 4. Can it be pointed a different direction, if necessary? (For instance, I like to face my audiences, not have my back to them.) 5. Can it be placed on a stage for better visibility? (And – if so – are there charges for this?)

If having a real piano is important to you, but your venue can’t oblige, you can rent a piano for the night. It will be delivered, assembled, tuned, dusted, placed exactly how you want it, and then removed afterward. It will also add significantly to your budget.

So – just in case the price of having an authentic and aesthetically pleasing piano becomes prohibitive – be sure that your ivory tickler has a perhaps not-so elegant (but very portable and always in-tune) keyboard handy. What such instruments lack in beauty, they more than make up for in reliability and economy.

Avoiding Budget-Busting High-Pressure Sales Tactics

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Certain realtors of my acquaintance love for the first house they show prospective buyers to be one which is from $10k to $50k above their clients’ stated price range. Naturally such homes have more architectural features, amenities, and square feet than every subsequent house viewed, making all the rest look seedy in comparison.

Surprise, surprise – certain wedding and party vendors indulge in similar tactics, to sell you more and bigger of everything your event needs. And, if you let them, they’ll have you buying truffles (even if you have a Triskets budget.)

How then can you avoid being bankrupted by unscrupulous salesmen who care only for their bottom line – not yours? Well, it will help if you simply read on.

1. Know the “tricks.” The classic high-pressure sales pitch, whether used by the late Billy Mays or The Music Man‘s phony Professor Harold Hill (“Ya got trouble my friends – right here in River City…”) starts with getting you to believe that you have a problem. Madison Avenue survives by its ability to convince us that “waxy yellow build-up,” “ring around the collar,” hair where we don’t want it (or no hair where we do) is a terrible and embarrassing blight on our good name. Where parties are concerned, this manifests itself in getting the “right” venue (even if it is too big for your needs), music (in which “right” actually means “most expensive”), wardrobe, and more. Without all these “right” touches, the high-pressure agents and sales reps will claim, your party is doomed to failure. Once you are hooked, you are then told that only one miraculous cure exists for this condition, a “cure” that often leads to other problems, of the financial kind. By recognizing that aggressive sales personnel derive their income by getting you to spend ever more – and that such salespeople may not really have your best interests in mind – you are better prepared to counter their pressures.

2. Be prepared to walk. It’s always good to tell your vendors (up front) that you won’t even look at something above your designated budget. It’s something else entirely to actually walk out when they test your resolve with cunning and manipulation. But that’s the only way to protect your purse. Once they know you are serious, some vendors will behave with more restraint. But I wouldn’t trust them, and – if other vendors of similar services are available (who haven’t tried to screw you) – I’d go with them.

Economic hard times create a reduced demand for parties, and that means problems for party professionals. Just don’t let their problems become yours.

The Importance Of An Alert Music Provider

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Great band leaders and DJs are so tuned in to the parties they play that they almost seem – in some mystical, zen-like way – to become “one” with the event. And that’s exactly the kind professional you want at your important celebration.

Because they are usually elevated on a stage and have a commanding view of the venue (and also because they are typically facing into the room), music providers are often the best “life guard” your party can have. When a candle ignites the menu card one of your guests left leaning against a centerpiece, when an older guest faints or falls, or when an unsupervised little tyke is about to help himself to the wedding cake – 2 hours early – a timely word of warning from the bandstand frequently keeps potential problems from becoming major ones.

The stage is also a good vantage point for seeing “Kodak Moments” that your photo and video professional might otherwise miss. One reason I ask my brides for the names of those recording their event for posterity is simply so that I can alert them more quickly when a treasured shot presents itself.

But the biggest and most common way for music pros to help a party is to keep tabs on the mood of the crowd. All too often, the bride or host may be so overwhelmed by well-wishers that they fail to observe the subtle signs that their guests are getting antsy, bored, or just ready to “cut the cake, already.”

At a birthday party my band played last night, we were scheduled from 7 – 11PM, and were expecting an intermission around 10:00 for toasts to the guest of honor. But by 15 before that hour, so many guests were already saying their thank-yous and goodbyes, that I realized taking a break would kill what was left of the party. To keep any momentum happening at all, I had to hang on to as many dancers as possible.

I promised the band that they’d either get off early or be paid extra (even if I had to pay them out of my share), but that we were not going to take a break. The event did indeed finish early, but at least slowed down gradually – rather than ending abruptly (which would have occurred, had we stopped playing.)

The band ended the night happily, off a half-hour early. The hostess and honoree were likewise pleased that the band had stayed on stage for an extra-long set. And I was happy because they were all happy.

So – as you plan your next event – try to see your music professional in action, if possible. They should make wonderful music, for sure. But as you evaluate their appropriateness for your party, ask yourself: is this guy or gal “tuned in?” If not, then you should change the channel – immediately.

Musicians At Work: The Economy Must Be Improving!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

As a band leader, for over a year now I have had the pick of all the best musicians – not just in my town, but within a 100 miles in any direction!

Why? Two reasons. First, I’ve been lucky that my phone has kept ringing, even if at a somewhat reduced rate. And the second reason? That would be you. You, and others like you have been the ones calling for musical entertainment.

Throughout the current economic downturn, rarely have I had to call more than one – or, at the most, two – of my favorite players on any particular instrument to fill my bandstand. My clients and their guests have enjoyed the very best drummers, guitarists, vocalists, and horn virtuosos. For me – it’s been a slice of Heaven! These musicians are so professional in every way, and so gifted at their chosen specialties, that they’ve made me a hero to many event planners. Even folks who called at the last minute were always able to count on a superior musical experience.

But, just this past Saturday night, came the first glimmer that things are about to change. It wasn’t New Year’s Eve, but it must have felt like a Happy New Year to every sideman and leader in town. For some reason, everyone was working! I know this because my client made a last minute request for me to add a trombone to our ensemble, and it took me 4 tries to find one who was available. This would have been a shock even in December, but in April?

With trombonists in short supply, other leaders trying to assemble ensembles on short notice were really in a bind. One of them called me repeatedly, picking my brain for any drummer I had ever worked with – ever (because all the usual suspects were already working.)

In most respects, this is good news. When every musician is employed, it means that the economy is improving. But there is one way in which – for both you and me – it marks the end of our “lazy period.” Simply put, it looks like those easy days of finding and hiring a great band virtually any day of the week are coming to an end. You, as the party giver, are going to have to call your favorite music providers sooner to be sure of their availability. And leaders like me will no longer have the luxury of knowing that fantastic players are just sitting by their phones, hoping we will call. Both of us are going to have to get organized and to hustle a bit.

Meanwhile, stunned trombonists across the region celebrate the dawning of a new day!

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!

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!

“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!”

Uh – Does Your BAND Know What To Wear?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Here’s the scenario: You are hosting a formal gala. Your band arrives to set up their equipment. You assume that they are wearing their T-shirts and jeans for load-in purposes only. But – when the event begins – you realize: that’s how they’re gonna dress at your party!

Most bands dress casually for club dates, then bring their tuxes to weddings and other formal occasions. But for you to simply assume that they will upgrade their wardrobe at your party could be a big mistake. You need to make your expectations known, including them in your contract.


Other vendors, too, may have wardrobe malfunctions. Many video and photo crews show up in tux (or at least coat and tie), while some have adopted the all-black Johnny Cash/Emo/Ninja look that is popular today. Occasionally, however, they come to your classy event wearing something less-than-classy.

If it’s your party and you are okay with your vendors being casual, then that is your prerogative. However, if you have a dress code in mind, a phone call is in order.

In fact, checking in with each of your vendors is a good idea, even when their contracts call for a certain style of dress. Mistakes happen. (Indeed, my band once showed up in tuxes for what turned out to be a Country/Western party. It wasn’t a huge problem – we were just an exceptionally well-dressed bunch of boot-scooters. But if the situation had been reversed – and we’d shown up in sequins and cowboy boots for a tea dance – our hostess might have been a lot less forgiving.

So here’s a chance to help your party and ease your mind at the same time. Pick up the phone…