No Surprises When the Band Plays: Finding the Right Entertainment for Your Event

June 1, 2008


By Sylvia Duncan

We have all been entertained somewhere, at a corporate event, team building weekend, company picnic, wedding, birthday, family celebration, reunion or organized civic event. We remember many paid performers who amused, distracted and relaxed us.

We also remember terrible mismatches between guests and entertainers, like the raucous rock group when sedate guests wanted background music for talking. Or the string quartet that played delicately when the guests wanted to laugh uproariously and sing. What does it take to correctly match the entertainment to the event?

Do the guests or participants at an event want to sing along with the band, act as a prop for the comedian, dress in funny hats or talk spontaneously into the microphone? Or do they want to be lulled into a relaxed state by something in the background? How is it decided?

Experts spoke and agreed. The guidelines are the same whether you are planning the entertainment for 20 or 800 guests, indoors or out, small or large budget. Entertainment must be the springboard to the event, tailored to the tastes of the group with no surprise elements. Be patient and realistic about costs and availability of talented performers.

No Cookie Cutter Mode

David Sandy, a former child magician who produced a magician’s convention when he was only eighteen, now has the resources to put together events himself. He is president of David Sandy Productions. He said entertainment should be one of the first things considered before beginning a party or project. It all has to be integrated in a close and personal way, custom tailored to the event. Each event has completely different goals. The ages and interests of all members of the group must be considered. If, for example, it is a family affair, plan a variety of ongoing events such as magic, storytelling and a scavenger hunt for those who like to wander about outdoors. Ongoing integration of the entertainment part of the event is vital.

There are times when an event’s theme may need to change, even very subtly, to suit the entertainment.

“There is no sense in planning a Hawaiian event when there are no hula dancers to be had for that date. Maybe the availability of a good mariachi band in the area could persuade the client to switch to a Mexican theme,” Sandy says.

When Sandy first sits down with a client, he likes to be asked, “What have you seen that really works?” And if the client doesn’t ask, he tells them anyway. A good planner is willing to explore many different directions. Sandy then discusses the demographics and goals of the group, and then good matches are made.

Seek Flexibility Within  a Range of Talents

While it is important that the performer be flexible, don’t ask the impossible of them. Sandy was once asked to perform as a magician at a party with an Egyptian theme. He was prepared to perform illusionary magic with the guest of honor, but drew the line when asked to dress as an Egyptian slave boy.

Flexibility is not a quality easily assessed by viewing a performer’s demo DVD. Ask a few easy questions in an initial interview with the performer, such as, “Can you play bluegrass for the father of the bride as well as the rock music chosen by the bride and groom?” Entertainers must be able to assess the “temperature” of the crowd and know when a change in performance is needed. Modification is often needed as an event progresses.

Be Exacting

Ed Woll, Director of Corporate Services for Ag Processing Inc., contacted Sandy about entertainment for his group of 800 stockholders and their guests. His audience was more than delighted with a family group, The Haygoods.

What made this a great match? Woll was adamant about two things. First, he wanted exactly what he asked for from the performers with no additions that had not been previously planned.

Second, Woll didn’t want CDs or promotional items sold during the show. The performers were allowed a table for sales afterwards, but no sales during their paid performance. The Haygoods were able to accommodate his likes and dislikes and tailor their music to fit his “over 40” group. The program was custom made for his exact requirements with no surprises.

Be Patient With the Popular

Mike Kociela, Managing Director of Entertainment St. Louis Inc., generally books national act concerts. When asked what one piece of advice he would give to an event planner about selecting entertainment, he responded, “Don’t book what you like, book what everyone else likes and it will draw the most people.”

The biggest problem event planners face when selecting entertainment is that bands are always more expensive than clients think. Kociela advises patience in the selection and booking process. “It’s not like ordering pizza. It takes a while to get things done and sometimes you will go through several offers before you confirm an act,” says Kociela.

No Surprises for the Wedding Music

Chasley Bradbury, Director of Sales and Events for Cosmopolitan Events, says that for weddings, reputable and proven musicians must be used. The band has to be chameleon-like and flexible with “must play” and “do not play” lists. She also stresses that the services must all be within the pre-planned guidelines with no surprises.

At the Hollywood Holiday Party, a corporate holiday party for St. John’s Mercy Hospital, impressionists of such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx mingled with the guests, who were invited to dress as their favorite screen stars. Pianist Eddie Carr played movie and TV themes. Bradbury felt the entertainment was a good match for the hundred-plus guests needing fun and cheer.

What Atmosphere is Needed?

Gary Bartlett, President of Midwest Concerts and Events Inc., believes matching clients to entertainers is something of an art form. He is a certified event planner and producer who deals with well-known performers such as John Tesh. Bartlett auditions 40 to 50 acts twice a year at the Branson Landing. His tips for the selection process are about goals.

“Ask the purpose of the entertainment,” says Bartlett. Is it a reward after a long day of meetings? Does the party or event need an atmosphere of merriment and relaxation? That might call for entertainment such as a clown, like the one on the Branson Landing who creates unique balloon animals upon request. It is instant fun and crowds gather to watch the artistry and laugh together.

Does the group need mood music playing softly while they talk? Bartlett once recommended a three-piece jazz band for a group of neurologists. It was the perfect background for the discussion of their work.

Bartlett confirms whether the entertainment is available before getting his clients excited about an idea. The date they have in mind may be a holiday when specialized performers are booked. Bartlett usually gives three options to start with and may go as high as five. He always asks early on if the client is willing to use a relative newcomer in the field of entertainment. MM&E

(Sylvia Duncan is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)


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