Music & Simchas – Hiring A Band, Part II: 7 Big Myths & One Big Truth

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  10/18/18)
By Gershon Veroba

Last time I mentioned some realities and misconceptions people have when shopping for a band. Many of these perspectives apply to hiring just about any wedding professional since, as I say constantly, your event is different and it should be.

Finding the perfect comparison of musical quality from band to band can be a waste of time, since most bands are good and most people don’t really know why. The style, experience and service behind the music are what serve you, so it can make or break the entire music program at your event. Hiring the wrong people and ignoring the right ones happens more than you realize. I’ve heard them for years from people who said, “if I knew better, I would have hired that photographer or that band or that caterer.” The myths are the first stages in long term mistakes, certainly in the music business. These are just a few:

Myth #1: “All bands are the same”
Yes and no. One overall thing to remember…

Most of the major bands you’ve seen and heard of over the years, recently or otherwise, are all good. All of them.

From one to the other, they may not have the same sound, the same customer service or priorities, broader or narrower repertoires, or they may have a more or less consistent group of musicians, but they have the ability and New York area musician-power to make quality music. So, you probably don’t need to know whether they’re “good” or not. They probably are. The question is how well the musicians are matched to each other and how well that band is prepared and matched to the event. That goes beyond just musical talent.

Orchestras can sound similarly good or bad to the average non-musician, but each has their own sound, often intentionally.  Consistency makes a difference, though. You’d like to know the band you heard is the band you hired, and that’s not simply that exact group of musicians, but how it’s operated. The drummer or guitarist may differ, but the product should be similar each time.

Bands put together hastily for each gig with little or no previously-developed team method will not have defined a particular sound, so if you liked them last night, you may be wondering why they sounded so horrible 3 months ago.

This inconsistency frequently shows up in other things like sound control, preparation, repertoire, appearance and certainly in excitement. Major bands aren’t impervious to these, but at least they have the personal and experience to avoid it, if they wish to. That’s where trust is required, but I’ll get to that in a moment…

Myth #2: “First ask how much they charge.”
All bands have the same basic expenses for the same booking, so any price differences between bands are usually adjustable. Simply put, there is no price yet until you determine the many factors involved in your event: Musicians, singer, sound system, etc. My personal advice to prospective clients is always to determine first if it’s the band you want, then you can invest time with them about your event and determining an acceptable price. If that price doesn’t work for you, changing bands is probably not the best solution. You have the band you want, so ask them to restructure a few things to create further savings and coming closer to your budget. Chances are, starting over with another with Band-Y would result in a different configuration you could have gotten with Band-X, if you only asked. Be honest with them and they’ll probably work with you until your happy.

Myth #3-A: “YouTube is the way to shop for a band.”
Fact is, video is a way to hear how a band sounds on a video. Videos taken with smartphones, for example, have a tiny, one-microphone sound of a band and the room it’s in, echo, dancing feet, crowd noises and all. This can give you a quick snapshot of the fun, the jam & the dance at that moment, but not an accurate idea of what that band will do for you in the big picture. It simply doesn’t capture enough of the true sound and excitement experienced in-person for you to judge their value to your event. Smartphone posts get some great response, but they rarely generate new clients. I love the ones I have, but it doesn’t present us properly to strangers without their seeing other more structured videos we made or having actually been there.

Many of my videos and my band’s videos are professionally shot and edited. There…I said it. 

Polished, professional videos are created with the sound taken directly from the sound equipment, edited professionally, repairing mistakes in the playing or singing and adding accurate-but-simulated echo (or “reverb”), to make it sound live and natural. Let’s understand one thing here…If the band isn’t good, all that studio work is going to make the video less natural because they had to add so much artificial.

The questions are, can you tell the difference and have you really gotten a true idea of how they will sound at your event?  The hall, the crowd, the bandleader, the sound company (if there is one), the musical preferences of the client, the particular musicians, the general “vibe” of that evening, etc. Duplicating it may be difficult, if not impossible. You may not even know if there was a written arrangement and a rehearsal in preparation for the video you watched.

Speaking for my band and most of the major bands out there, if the video truly sounds natural and good, it’s because we were good to begin with and we just polished it up for you, but it’s still may not be what the band will realistically sound like at your particular event. It’s like judging an actor’s personality by his performance on a TV show. You can say you like that actor and would like to see him again, but you don’t really know him. 

Myth #4: “The band can invite you to one of their gigs.”
Visiting a stranger’s event to hear a band is usually a bad idea. The parties and music are rarely similar enough to compare, people are never welcome to show up a stranger’s event and I would never invite a client to yours. If I’m doing my job, I would be too busy to go out and consult with that client in any effective way and, even if we played any of the music they’re interested in, they’d have to wait for it, it may never happen, listening from a lobby or entrance won’t help and the awkwardness of being at a stranger’s event ruins it further.

There’s no doubt that the live experience is the best, but for a wedding band there is so much more context you need in order to judge.  Even if you were one of the party’s invited guests, in the room, eating and dancing with that music, you still may have a limited understanding of how that band served the hosts, but at least you can ask them later. 

Myth #5 “I want the same wedding they had.”
No you don’t. Your nephew had a great wedding with great food, a great location, great band and the photos came out beautiful, so why not just do that for your daughter’s wedding? You can certainly contact the vendors you saw that night, caterer, band, etc. If they did a great job for them, they could probably do it for you, but that’s where the similarities may end. Different lives, friends, camps, schools and worlds lead to different budgets, tastes and guest lists. If it comes out similar, that’s a cool story, but the party should be all yours.

Differences are a good thing. Tastes in music, color, food, or even flowers will make it unique.

After thousands of weddings, I’ve seen plenty of customers begin with someone else’s ideas and end up disappointed those ideas won’t work for them.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but by then it’s too late. 

If you feel the wedding was great, then consult with any or all of the professionals that you think made it work. Better yet, ask the hosts.  They may tell you that guy was great but they wouldn’t hire that other guy again. Good pros know other good pros, so ask them for referrals and ask them to justify them. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Myth #6: “I want to know which musicians I’m getting.”
It’s a band, not a buffet. You don’t know the names of some of the finest musicians in bands today. You hired this band for a reason, so why question them? A truly great wedding orchestra is assembled using criteria most clients will not understand, even those who understand music.  For many bands, some musicians are the best choices, even when others may seem more skilled in some way. Also, if the drummer comes down with the flu, you don’t need to be involved in replacing him. That’s what your band is paid for, simply to keep the music as planned. A well-chosen band that you can trust will know to replace that drummer with someone similarly impressive, reliable, and familiar with the their way of doing things.

One strong factor you want maintained is the musicians’ compatibility with the musical team, knowing the leader’s style and signals, any unique arrangements they’ve gathered over time, camaraderie on the bandstand, familiarity with the repertoire, ability to switch styles, etc. Otherwise, why else are you hiring them? If you can’t trust the band to assemble the most compatible set of musicians and perform precisely for what your event needs, you shouldn’t be hiring them.

Of course, if there’s a particular violin player or guitarist you’ve seen and liked in a different band, then I encourage you to inquire about that player. Even if he isn’t a regular member of the band you’re hiring, you’ve given them an understanding of what you like. They now have a choice of hiring that musician for you or getting one with similar or even better abilities that will give you what you want and maybe more.

Myth #7: “The singer should be hired before anybody, even the band.”
This is a fairly new trend that was almost unheard of just a decade or two ago. I find it fascinating and usually unnecessary. It is, however, what people are doing, like a Jewish tradition that somehow caught on centuries ago but we don’t remember why. This trend has actually cost people more money and cut the budgets for the band, because they thought they had to grab the famous singers before someone else did and the money it cost forced them to cut the size of the band.  

There are more talented singers on the wedding circuit today than ever before. It’s a buyer’s market, so why are people giving me lists of singers they want unconditionally, while most of those singers have no similarity in style or sound? Are they right for the event or for just a few exciting moments? Is this a concert or a wedding? Also, if you make a big deal out of the superstar, where will your guests be during the dancing?

Don’t get me wrong. Most great singers, superstar or not, know exactly how to keep a party moving and make the most for the host, but the question is why do they focus the wedding plans on the singer so much if there’s a broad choice?

Very often, the bride and groom are people who can’t fathom that they can be the center of attention without having a backup celebrity to amuse their guests. Or, sometimes the wedding is simply not enough and they want something special. Make sure you know if and why this is priority for you.

Many amazing young singers who have decided not to invest 10’s or 100’s of thousands into albums and PR, yet they rival the best and most famous. Many are simply developing their larger careers, so catch them while they’re cheap! 

If you can afford the superstar, of course, go ahead, but don’t sacrifice important portions of your music budget to do so.  A great singer with a great band is also a crucial requirement, so find your band first and let them help you choose the best singer.  Most performers are independent, so matching them with your band shouldn’t be a problem if the band is established and experienced.

TRUTH: Trust experience, reputation and comfort, not trends.
Many people don’t realize that some of the hardest work an orchestra does for it’s client happens way before the event itself. Preparing lists and schedules, hand-in-hand with the clients, then compiling them into eye-friendly materials the bandleader uses as his guide for the evening.

It’s an entire skill not only answer clients’ questions, but to help them to ask the right ones. so the most accurate request lists can be compiled, discussing not only songs and artists, but additional styles to cover dinner and ceremony plus to be compatible with the instrumentation they’ve hired. 

I almost beg my customers to call me whenever they need answers and that there’s no such thing as a silly question. That’s not just a cliché, by the way. I constantly hear “I have a silly question…”  Then, when I hear the question, it’s usually not silly at all.

When deciding on a band, remember to follow your heart, n: There are enough highly-qualified and reputable people out there, so trust your instincts when it comes to whether they care enough about you and whether they instill confidence in you, that you feel they are truly the experts at what they do and you can rely on them completely. 

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Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for over 30 years. A composer, producer, musician and singer since childhood,  Gershon has been featured by most most major wedding bands since 1980. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with the most popular Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own, in concerts and festivals in around the world.  His company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp., provides music and video production services worldwide, now featuring G-Major Events, a music and event planning company for weddings and other personal occasions.

He was the owner & editor-in-chief of the original Jewish Community Magazine until 1995 and is now a contributing writer for 5TJT.   Visit gmajorevents.com for information, videos & social media. For more on Gershon, visit www.veroba.net.

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