Don't Put the Entertainment in a Corner—and Other Tips to Get the Most Bang From Your Band or Musicians!
So many things come into play to make an event have depth, engagement and excitement. And to live on in everyone's minds and Instagram feeds. Any vendor would argue that they are the key to making an event—from catering, decor and florals to lighting, linens and entertainment. Actually, seeing them all come together in an amazing venue is where the magic happens. They're all important—experiencing one without the others could be a very blah experience.
But let's get back to entertainment—that's one of the main touch points where Team Entire comes in. And yes, I feel it's one of the biggest game changers (especially live music) you can have at your event to make it special. If it's exactly the right group for the theme, room size, and demographics of the audience, it can transform the atmosphere.
Let's assume that you now have the absolute right entertainment—whether it's a jazz trio, Ukulele singer/songwriter, dance band or classical ensemble. You assume that if they have the right sound equipment and perform perfectly that you're taken care of, right?
Not so fast. That's just one piece of the puzzle. Have you asked: What surface are they performing on? What's behind them—a blank wall? Pipe and drape? A window? Is there lighting designed for their vignette? The space in which an artist performs is a make-or-break element in event design.
When budgets get tight, the space surrounding the band is often not designed. Don't get me wrong—live entertainment or a DJ spinning in a sterile conference room is better than none at all! But you're missing out on the opportunity to showcase the brilliant choice of talent that you're bringing into the lives of your guests. It's a gift. Present it to them packaged artfully and delight when they discover what's inside. Putting the musicians in a corner, or on the floor with a blank wall behind them, can be damaging to the overall look and feel of the fête.
Designing a "set" for your musicians can be ornate and come with a large price tag, but it can also be simple and inexpensive.
Here are a few things to consider when you book musicians for events:
Stage or Riser: This is typically at your discretion, though larger and more well-known acts have this in their "rider," which is an addendum to their contract with all of their requirements. However, having the band perform on a platform of some height—even just 6"-12" gives guests the anticipation that something meaningful is going to happen.
The size and shape of the platform should ideally be determined by the number of artists and the choreography of the performance. They should be able to move comfortably in the space you've allocated for them. The best way to present a stage is either skirted or with a solid base so you cannot see underneath it. Steps leading up to the stage from the side or back for the musicians' safety (especially the ladies in their high heels) are encouraged. Equally important: if you anticipate someone from the event taking the stage to make remarks, they should have a clear path to the front.
If you are lucky enough to have a venue that features a "natural stage"—either a patio or a raised platform—then no additional staging is needed. However, a nice rug or floor covering might be in order. If you want musicians to perform outdoors, there should be a solid surface underfoot, so they're not standing in grass or dirt. A plywood covering with a rug on top will do the trick.
Backdrop: Placing a band against a wall or to section off space is fine if you have great lighting. However, planning this piece can be as important as selecting the right linens and color scheme for the entire event. A scrim, designed backdrop, stage panels, floral installation or even simple pipe and drape will frame the ensemble and make a statement.
Lighting: Lighting can make an average band seem like they're in line for the next Coachella or Carnegie Hall date. Stage lighting, a spotlight, pin spots—or if you want to get really fancy—moving headlights or lasers can pump up the drama noticeably.
And don't forget this handful of must haves...
Green Room: This doesn't have to be fancy, just functional, but it should feature the following necessities:
1. Chairs for every band member and support staff to sit in to rest and eat.
2. Table surfaces that are clear of clutter. (It can't also be a staging area for catering and a dumping ground for event staff's belongings.)
3. Security. These performers are going to give it their all once they hit the stage. To come back from pouring their hearts out for your event and find their belongings missing is a major buzz kill. This actually happened not too long ago at a Super Bowl performance, and it destroyed the exciting spirit of the big day.
4. Water—either bottles or pitchers with enough glasses to go around before the performance, during breaks and after.
5. Snacks, unless on the rider, are not expected, but they are considered an appreciated extra special touch.
6. A warm, balanced vendor meal, per your contract. With dietary needs requested in advance allocated for. Served at the time that was arranged before the event.
Temperature Control/Cover from Debris and Elements: This is so important, both in the green room and on stage. The green room should be warm if it's cold outside or cool if it's hot. I have seen planners forget this piece and have had bands shivering while they waited for hours after sound check to go on stage.
If musicians are playing outdoors, they should be covered by shade, an umbrella, a tent or an awning, so that they're not in direct sunlight. Not only is it uncomfortable for them, but their instruments can go out of tune quickly if the temperature is not consistent and controlled.
The cover also helps with falling debris from surrounding trees, light mist or rain (which is common in Northern California) and wind. I was once playing my violin at the Legion of Honor lawn, and the wind was so strong it not only blew my music and stand away, but I couldn't keep the bow on the strings! Mother Nature must have been angry she hadn't been invited. 🙂
Which just serves as a reminder that you can't control everything. But by following the steps above, you'll rarely miss a beat.
(Natasha Miller owns the entertainment production company Entire Productions with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She is a recovering classical violinist and jazz vocalist whose passion for presenting live entertainment is overshadowed only by her devotion to her boho-chic writer daughter Bennett.)