Lots of corporate events, like happy hours and conferences, have their uses and functions, but do they have to be so stuffy? If you’ve ever been to a corporate function like this, you might have found yourself counting down the minutes until you could leave (though it seemed like somehow time had learned to stand still during that event).
When you are the one planning the event, you want to be sure that you don’t impose that kind of atmosphere on your guests or attendees (supposedly you like these people, but even if you don’t, we know you’ll still show class). You want to create a memorable event where your guests can relax and have a good time. So much pressure!
This is where live background music can gently swoop in to save an event. It lightens the mood, adds interesting visual and audial elements to the event, and helps to create a relaxed ambience. When people feel relaxed, it’s easier for them to socialize, helping you to accomplish your mission.
So then, here are some things to think about when choosing a live band and ways to make sure your background music doesn’t become the center of attention at your next corporate function.
1. Understand the goal of your event.
Is the function a meet and greet organized primarily for networking and conversation? Is it an evening reception with dinner and speeches? Is it a conference with time to socialize between talks or after the day is through? Is it meant to be a time for guests to have fun and relax?
For the most part, those hosting corporate events like to have an air of class and sophistication or maybe even elegance attached to their function. You want the type of background music that will fit in with those goals (for example, a local rock band probably won’t fit the sound and aesthetic you’re going for). That is one of the reasons why next point is so important.
2. Interview the band in person.
If you want to make sure the background musicians match up with your event goals, don’t rely solely on pictures from their website or social media (though they can be helpful). Pictures can’t show you the band’s sound. When speak with the band in person, you can ask for a small sample (live or recorded) and get an idea of their range.
An in-person interview is also so important because it will tell you so many things that a website can’t. Things like:
- Are they willing to commit to your event goals and not just go with their own agenda?
- Will they dress the part and have a look appropriate to the function (you can dress the guys in ZZ Top up in suits but they will still look like the guys from ZZ Top, you know what we mean)? It can make the difference between blending into the background and becoming a focal point for attention (and not necessarily good attention).
- Can they judge a room and know how to play at the right volume? Is the bandleader adept at being able to adjust throughout the event as necessary?
- Do they meet the needs of your budget and if not, are they flexible with the number of musicians playing in order to make the budget work?
3. When do you want the band to play?
Of course, you don’t want the background musicians taking attention away from important speeches or conference talks—it’s a given that you don’t want them playing during those times. It’s best to decide exactly when you want the band to play and go over the schedule with the bandleader beforehand, don’t leave it up to their discretion.
- Do you want the band playing before guests arrive so that they hear music as they enter?
- Should they play light music during dinner or cocktail hour?
- Will they be playing between speakers/talks?
- Is there occasion for after dinner music (later in the evening guests are generally more inclined to relax and listen to the music)?
4. Getting the style right.
Maybe you are super into fusion polka bands, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will enjoy that style of music. It also may not be right for the type of event you are trying to plan. Know your guests and look for background musicians that can play music that will appeal to the majority of your attendees.
For example, if the age range of your guests tends toward the baby boomer generation, they may have an appreciation for more classic types of music. Millennials on the other hand might like hearing light jazz versions of modern songs. With a mixed crowd, it’s hard to go wrong with music from the 70’s and 80’s, popular genres, or generally loved jazz genres (jazz covers a broad spectrum of eras and styles).
5. Vocals or Instrumental.
Ah, the age-old question. Most people think of background music as instruments only. Many might feel that a band with a vocalist will be a flashy attention grabber. A great background band can cut right through those misconceptions.
Depending on what you want, the background music does not have to be instrumental only. Naturally, you don’t want a vocalist to be overpowering the conversations as people mix, mingle, or eat dinner. But a great background vocalist can be just that—a soft voice blended into the background. When searching for the right band, look for a vocalist that has the ability to sing in the background just as well as they can when they are in the lead.
It doesn’t mean that all bands have a vocalist that can fit every event. A band whose singer only does power vocals or operatic arias is going to steal the show, not fit into the background. If you want a vocalist, make sure their style is something that you check out when interviewing the band.
6. Don’t fear percussion.
The moment you see the word drummer, you might conjure up a picture of wildly energetic drummers like Ginger Baker or Keith Moon (who viewed the drums as more of a lead instrument). Not exactly a background sound.
Drums have had a long-standing reputation for being loud and wild (basically the opposite of elegant and sophisticated) and though they definitely have their place in music, many shy away from bands with percussion when planning corporate events. That is a shame—they may be missing out on some amazing background musicians.
Brass bands (who are a good choice for background music) traditionally include percussionists. Jazz drummers can also produce a softer percussion sound by using brush sticks. So, before you totally discount percussion or a band that includes a percussionist, speak with the band leader about how they blend their instruments into the background and can make it conducive to your type of event.
7. Where in the venue will the band be situated?
This can be a bit of a tough one—the shape, size, and layout of venues varies widely. It’s good to take stock of the general layout of your event first and then figure out where the band will work.
If you don’t want the band to be a focal point, positioning could be an important element. If you station them next to a table of guests or right in the faces of front row attendees, they are now very much in the foreground for those unfortunate people. It won’t matter how softly they play, it’s still going to be uncomfortably noisy for anyone sitting too close to the instruments and/or amps.
Proximity to your guests is one factor, but there are others. Where do you want your guests to hear music? Your event may span multiple rooms or even have lobby space available. Do you want your guests greeted by music when they walk in the door or will they only be playing in the main event area? Will the musicians change locations as the event goes on (if the event takes place in different rooms at different times)?
Still not entirely sure where the band should set up shop or feel that there won’t be enough space between band and guests? You can consider having the band roam instead of staying stationary. A background band can still play light music while moving about the venue or from room to room and this can alleviate the problem of some guests being stuck too close to the band for an extended period of time.
Background musicians play acoustically, but depending on the size of the venue, their location in it, and the number of guests attending, they may need some light amplification so that they don’t go from background music to non-existent sound. Especially if your event is split up into different rooms, it’s necessary to take the band’s amplification needs into account--including a location where they have the right resources (outlets, etc.) for playing at a comfortable level.
The thing is, background music requires musicians to create a perfect balance. You don’t want the music to be so light that it’s imperceptible, but you also don’t want the room to turn into a rock concert where every word in a conversation has to be yelled. It’s an art unto itself and not every band has the gift.
While you might have previously thought of a live band as creating a show-stopping exuberant concert-type atmosphere (and those bands do have their place), it doesn’t always have to be so. Even some bands who typically perform lively music are adept and flexible when comes to being able to play in the background at a corporate function.
In the end, it’s all about making the event more memorable for your guests. By picking music that caters to the general tastes of those attending and is a complement to their conversations, you make it an event that is highly enjoyable and hard to forget.