Music & Simchas: The Jewish War On Music

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  11/15/18)
By Gershon Veroba

Music holds a very odd position with the Jewish community. Both feared and worshipped in the more orthodox and chassidic circles, Jews often maintain a strange relationship with music. On one hand it is considered a holy conduit at the shabbos table or in Shul, bestowing what you would think is a respectable position in Jewish life. However, many of those same people consider it a waste of time to create a dedicated music program in school, other than teaching a song or two to the children for differing reasons. They also fear its power, criticizing and even prohibiting musical styles and audiences seemingly not within the proper sphere.

Music In schools: Not for us? Why?
In yeshiva, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders may need a song for a play or assembly, the 4th and 5th graders learn the song either to perform in a choir or simply to kill a half hour while their regular teachers take a break. 6th, 7th and 8th graders? Well, if you can get their attention, you better have something exciting ready to keep them engaged. 

As a teacher, I shared cartoons with my students, discussing how Carl Stalling of Warner Brothers or Scott Bradley of MGM used their genius to tell a story and maximize emotion in a 7-10 minute span of entertainment. They learned the history of how those cartoons preceded the big movie in theaters, how Stalling invented the “click-track” and how he used rhythm as a grid to the movie action. Fascination, discussion and engagement followed, the time flew and they wondered why they wasted so much time previously learning useless songs they didn’t like.  So did I.

Meanwhile, after hours, the yeshiva’s custodians kept on ripping down the decorative music notes and instrument posters I hung up for atmosphere and discussion. State testing ejected us from my larger classroom to a different room downstairs with a broken piano, no electrical outlets, uncomfortable bench seating and an echo seemingly imported from the Swiss Alps. I didn’t even need the piano since the kids and myself were expecting to watch the Houston Symphony Young People’s Concert video we were looking forward to. Kids loved those videos and we talked about them afterward, discussing the colors and moods of the classical music or even movie soundtracks they heard.

In short, the yeshiva saw the music teacher as a glorified baby sitter, but the kids got the opportunity, for instance, to be assigned one or two Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoons for the week to discuss what you heard in the music. How cool is that?

Meanwhile, public schools go on trips to musical events, learn basic music reading and have band practice for parades and the big game. It’s how so many of the musicians I know learned their instrument. For the Salute to Israel parade, we hire non-Jewish schools or professionals for bands, instead of our own.  The few yeshiva parents that saw value in it, often came to me for private lesson referrals, but those were the few. It just wasn’t a “thing.”  Music wasn’t much more than the radio in the car or MP3’s and free downloads. No involvement or understanding. Those days are not gone and we still suffer today.

The religious road block
Not long ago, the tragic and permanent damage of the “takanas”, edicts and teachings from rabbis who mostly knew little about the culture they were condemning, approached music like gun control. They declared bans on bands of a certain size, music of certain styles (which they were entirely unqualified to define) and yet left it allowable to hire singers for thousands more, badchanim (chassidish comedians) and extra musicians for mitzvah dances that went on for hours, inviting guest lists of hundreds, without any regard to family or friendship. The ripple effect changed the band business permanently, depriving musicians, Jewish and not, of making a living that had previously worked fine. The music was the bad guy.

The shocking irony is when people with that outlook say “the music makes the wedding.” Suddenly, music has value, unless they really believe that shouting out passages of tehillim and gemara will make people dance even without musical notes or instruments. Over time, I came to understand that music contained so much volatility, that it was either “you’re with us or you’re against us.” 

If the music didn’t serve a specifically holy purpose, it was wrong. Songs about life and feelings were a waste of time, unless it reflected a mitzvah or talmudic parable. Happiness was also rarely conveyed without contrasting it to tragedy and suffering.

Only recently have we seen more religious people of all ages opening their minds to broad styles of music and seriously learning an instrument. The bandstand that has long been the home of less-religious Jews and non-Jews because most orthodox simply didn’t have those priorities. Facing the fear has resulted in new revolutions in Jewish music. Yarmulkas, beards and peyus are becoming regular sights on serious bandstands and these musicians are not slouches by any means. Still, a rare sight outside of weddings and Jewish videos.

Lyrics! We’ve never been allowed by religious leaders to compose lyrics in Hebrew, know as holy language. I was threatened and had plates thrown at me for singing at some weddings without the right accent. Hebrew? Don’t even think about it. The lyrics that were accepted could only be from prayer and Torah. Since the phrases are fixed and done, you needed to find whatever natural rhythm they suggested to create a melody. Fitting it into decent melodies or vice-versa often required mis-pronunciation and repetition. The word “oy” changed its role from emotional expression to syllabic filler, used to make it fit by force, rather than by artistic lyrical flow.

Now, relatively open minds have allowed composed Hebrew lyrics, though the audience still unconsciously keeps their minds only slightly ajar because they want to  check first who sings them. Famous Chassidism or yeshivish singers still get the advantage, providing more acceptable pronunciation and context, but we’re making progress.

The band business: Getting a better rap?
Of course, I’m in the band business and I try to pour as much of my musical life as I can into each gig I play. As I’ve explained here before, my experience is what makes my product and that has taken a lot of work to perfect. The life of a Jewish musician implied lower income, bad influences from “da goyim,” music that that had no value if not connected directly to holiness by involving Torah or prayer, not worth distracting from “better” priorities in life. 

This added to a disrespect all musicians have experienced. A quick version of an old joke: Arriving at the gates of heaven, a bunch of musicians individually approach to request entry. The jazz trumpet player admits a dark past but uncompromised dedication to his instrument and creativity…”Welcome, sir, right this way.” The concert pianist walks up, cites his many performances to royalty and fine audiences around the world… “Honored to have you, come in.” The wedding musician approaches and begins to describe his life, but gets interrupted, “I’m sorry…you’re with the band?”  “Yes, I am…” “OK…The kitchen entrance is around that corner. Move away from the door, please. Next…?”

My best clients are those who respect music, even love it, seeing it as an all-important source of expression, celebration, inspiration, emotion of all extremes, able to convey it all, often in ways you can never duplicate through any other method. You can benefit by listening or playing. Even if you don’t consider yourself able to play an instrument, you can respond to music in ways many musicians may admire. The possibilities are endless.

My message I ask you to revisit you love for music and in encouraging your family to do the same. Whether you already love music or don’t care, music has an infinite amount of love to return. If you listen to the radio and enjoy certain kinds of music, then you are already on your way and should to pay attention to its potential value in your life.  If you see it as dangerous tool, which many religious people do, that does not mean you should avoid it, like so many have.  Find a way for it to serve you, your family and your world in your own way. Like gun control, it’s not the instrument, it’s what you do with it.

Please post comments on this article at facebook.com/gmajorevents or at www.blog.veroba.net.
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Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for most of his life. A producer, songwriter, musician and singer since childhood,  Gershon has been featured by most major wedding bands since the 1970’s. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with virtually all the top Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own and in stage appearances around the world.

GV’s company, G-Major Events, provides full event planning and music services for personal & corporate occasions. It is a division of his production company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp, providing audio and video production and performance training.

He served as owner & editor-in-chief of the 5 Towns’ first 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.

Music & Simchas – “Why Is It So Loud?”

(As featured in the 5 Towns Jewish Times,  11/1/18)
By Gershon Veroba

Unlike much of the music business, this question has unfortunately not changed at all over the years. Very often, impatience and anger is the reaction to loud and noisy sounds, which has actual scientific support, since sounds above certain levels can physically result in accelerated heart rate, raised blood pressure and other biological changes.

Accomplishing good sound is not always simple, so both guests and performers need to acquire some understanding from each other. I have watched many bandleaders try their best to please people, but I’ve also seen some that didn’t care enough. Since people tend to jump on the negative more than the positive, many treat the band as an opponent before they even hear them.

The Civil War of Music
The expectation of dangerously loud music is nothing new. Clients continue to hire bands they fully expect to be loud, so much so that they hand out earplugs in pretty little baskets. In my opinion, this is not charming, it’s ludicrous.

I’m always amazed to see a client hire a band they are positive will deliver bad sound, while there are so many great bands that care.

Bands like these foster resentment and distrust from guests and potential clients.  As a result, it makes it harder for me to fully earn trust from a client who is interested in our work.

Even after being hired, innate distrust causes clients to often arm themselves against a perceived “musical abuse,”  questioning musician choices, making conclusive decisions from trends and rumors or by reducing band size, which ironically can increase sound problems, as I will explain shortly.

Recently, a client called me from a large wedding where a large band was apparently performing very loudly, though there was a sound company. Of course, I wasn’t there to see the actual problem, but the bottom line was that he was angry. He said he escaped to the lobby with a headache and he called me to reassure him that this would not happen at his daughter’s upcoming wedding. 

I actually have a cousin who’s so fed up with loud music he enjoys antagonizing the band as soon as he walks in the room by walking up and showing them his earplugs. No “looking forward to hearing you” or anything, just the earplugs. He also has hearing problems, which often include frequency imbalances that make certain instruments and music very irritating to the listener. Unfortunately, some listeners are poised to blame it all on the band, rather than on the sensitivities of their hearing condition.

As a musician, I wear earplugs because I’m always inside the band and on a constant basis. People can benefit from this as well. If you work in the city or around construction, travel mass transit, attend shows, listen to music in the car or on headphones, then your ears deserve a rest, even when the band is within acceptable sound boundaries.

This is an issue that requires understanding on both sides. A band certainly has to bring the skills necessary to operate the sound through the PA (Public Address) system with all today’s digital options that enhance the sound so people can enjoy the music. A PA that is improperly operated can result in sound that irritates or even scares people, since hearing loss is a clear issue. For the most part, the responsibility for proper sound is on the band’s shoulders.

Volume may not be the problem.
Now, wait… Hear me out. This is where the core of the misunderstandings occur. For most events with bands of up to 6 or 7 musicians, the bandleader has most often been the sound engineer. A very hard job, since he’s already playing his instrument, choosing songs, leading the band and helping manage the event. Now he’s running the PA system as well. When a sound complaint comes, I’ve watched less-technically-able bandleaders in the past either tell musicians to play softer (not easily done) or they immediately lower the overall volume slider on the PA, only to find the sound is still not good. Pretty soon the band has been lowered so much, we can hear the guests’ feet hitting the dance floor.

When the sound is “killing” you, it is most likely the tone that is the actual problem, not the volume.

Tone is controlled by an equalizer (“EQ”), which is simply an elaborate tone control. Your stereo has “bass” and “treble” knobs,  which is 2 “bands” of tone control. Others have 3, 10, 15, 31 or more, targeting more precise frequencies (see photo for a quick lesson).  Knowing how to use an EQ and detecting which frequencies are affecting the sound requires certain  listening skills, technical knowledge and experience.

Most people can’t tell why the sound isn’t good, nor should they. It’s what we’re paid to do as professionals, but even some musicians can’t tell what’s making the music sound “off.”  When the violin sounds like a siren, when the vocalist feels like he’s screaming in your ear, when the bass drum hurts your stomach or if the bass notes are making your head hum, lowering the volume may not solve much.

Special effects are not always cool.
Another culprit is often an over-use of the reverb (echo) or delay (repeating) effects. Some instrumentalists, leaders and vocalists insist on it to making them sound more polished and impressive, but if those effects are not customized properly, their sound can often linger too long, causing notes to collide with each other, clouding up the music. This can be very irritating on the brain when a person naturally wants to dance, sing or listen along, but cannot because the song has become audiologically “blurred.” When you hear people say “this isn’t music, it’s noise,” they probably have no idea how technically correct they are.

When technology takes control
Clients and musicians have done their best to benefit financially from newer technologies providing large sound with fewer instruments, but that comes at a price. I’ve used the word “skill” and “experience” a lot and for good reason. We use these attributes the best we can to satisfy our clients and their guests, while their general confidence in technology’s ability to compensate for a band’s shortcomings actually makes the job more difficult, so
if we are good at what we do and we work a little harder, the music survives. 

Clients need to understand a basic fact when planning a band. The size of the hall, the type of music planned and the amount of people in the audience requires a band of a certain size. This provides a natural presence that requires only a little help from technology to enhance the the instruments enough to circulate it through the room. This is why it’s called “sound reinforcement,” since it simply reinforces the sound that’s already there. It’s also why the big bands of the 40’s and 50’s sounded so great even with minimal amplification.

My observation is that problems often begin once the band’s optimal size is reduced.

I understand that we can’t all afford to have the full sized band we wish for, but if the recommended size of your band is eight, you cannot make a 6-piece band sound like 8 without some kind of help. When the band’s proper size is compromised, so is its natural presence and the sound it was originally intending to provide. To compensate for the missing sound, we add artificial amplification with the PA. This increases the need for artificial volume and tone control. The more the sound is amplified, the more crucial that control becomes.  On our bandstand, guitar amps are placed on tilt stands so the sound hits the player ears before the guests’, so if it’s too loud, he’ll be the first to know. Without the tilt stand, the guitar player can’t sense the sound he’s sending to the guests, unless he has ears in his knees.

In the last 50 years, the influence of rock and pop music has brought more originality, expression and excitement to Jewish music, but with that came the growing role of amplification. Before that, acoustic (non-electric) guitars, basses and keyboards didn’t require it and drums were rarely given more than one or two microphones, if any.

Increased control over amplification is why you see more professional sound companies at weddings today. Their engineers are proficient at studio-level parametric equalizers, multi-band compressors, delay, reverb, microphone placement, in-ear monitoring systems for all musicians, multi-track recording, 32 to 50+ channel sound mixers and more, supervised every minute with iPads for remote adjustment as room activities and crowd flow changes. This provides full time control and accurate sound, even at lower volumes. It also has the potential to register on the Richter scale, so with power comes responsibility and that requires experience, consideration and customer preferences..

For a drum set alone, a sound company configures as many as 10 microphones to control and tailor the drums for concert and studio standard sound.

Each horn, violin, voice, keyboard and guitar get a channel. If you pay attention, you may even catch a band that has no amplifiers. This happens when the decision is made to plug everyone into the main sound system, so every instrument can be controlled from one place. This method still has its opponents, like guitarists, who often rely on their favorite amplifier to accurately deliver their performance and the guitar’s unique sound in a way the PA system may not be able to duplicate.

With increased control comes increased chaos.
Skilled sound engineers can only work with they are told and what they are given. Even in a large band with mic’d drums, I have often shut down microphones on the guitar amp and on the trumpets because the natural sound was sufficient.
Using judgement for each instrument is essential. Many pickup devices violinists use for connecting to the PA sound like nails on a chalkboard, so we set up regular microphones. Setup is at least 3 hours before the event, so sound can be tested per instrument.

Some of my best customers were impressed more by well-controlled sound than our musical performance, which is a bit disappointing, but sensible. I’d like my artistry to be appreciated, but “it’s all in the delivery.”

Many people come prepared to hate the band because of a previous band experience, which is a mistake. You are more in control than you may realize. Whether shopping or listening, take the time to discuss their views on music and sound control.  They need to be able to identify with your sensibilities, as well as the concern for your guests, who you know best.

If you’ve enjoyed the band’s sound before, then they certainly have proven the ability to control it. If you didn’t like the sound, you can ask them about it. If the response in unsatisfactory, you can always hire someone else who will give you your money’s worth. 🎶
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Gershon Veroba has lived in the 5 Towns/Far Rockaway area for most of his life. A producer, songwriter, musician and singer since childhood,  Gershon has been featured by most major wedding bands since the 1970’s. As a solo artist, he’s performed on stage and in the studio with virtually all the top Jewish performers. He has produced & appeared on over a hundred albums, including over a dozen of his own and in stage appearances around the world.
GV’s company, Town 6 Entertainment Corp, provides audio and video production worldwide, vocal training and now features G-Major Events, an event planning and music company for personal & corporate occasions.
He served as owner & editor-in-chief of the 5 Towns’ first 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.

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.

Music & Simchas: Hiring A Band: What Are You Doing? Part I

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

By Gershon Veroba

It’s actually a fair question. I’ve watched parents, brides and grooms from all walks of life use all sorts of methods for hiring music for their event. The good, the bad and the confused, everything from do-it-yourself to “here’s the check, I don’t wanna know.”

There has never been a universally correct procedure to follow when planning an event, but the traditions have changed with time.The caterer, the band, the event planner, the hall and others have constantly traded places as the preferred “first stop” and they continue to change, but some that last for years never cease to amaze me. Everyone, it seems, has a better idea but what concerns me is they’re still trying to find a better way.

I found that certain underlying rules have always worked and that experience is the key, whether it’s that of the wedding professionals or the clients themselves. Now most clients are handing the decisions to the young bride and groom, rather than risk waking the conflict of taste and cultures they fear may occur if the parents take charge.

For many of these engaged optimists planning a new, exciting life on their own, high school was just a few years ago.

Of course, the event focuses on the young couple’s lives and they should ultimately be the final judges of how the event happens. The problems often come when they are left alone to a hiring process they know little about, while tempted with the cool possibilities of being given a 400 person capacity venue with their choice of food and music. After all, for many of these engaged optimists planning a new, exciting life on their own, high school was just a few years ago. Even their parents need guidance for this, but their decisions are based on different perspectives that come from a few years more.

If you’re panicking, you’re doing it wrong
No matter how old you are, keeping priorities in perspective is always the best remedy and yields the best events. Paranoia builds as deal with advice from friends, pressure from the future in-laws, general distrust of service providers to other factors that drive clients into a stressful “protective mode.”

Don’t forget…Personal trust is where you are already an expert. It’s where reputation and intuition come together. If you don’t hear it or feel it for yourself, then don’t hire them.

You have more choice and freedom than you may think, but you will need to follow a decisive path by selecting a trustworthy professional to guide your knowledge and decisions. The key word here, however, is “trustworthy,” which is the first thing your friends and family should help you find, before the actual party-specific decisions ever come into play. You need to plan for your event first and only an objective professional can guide you with this. To hire this pro, you need to understand “trust” and let them help you.

Two essential types of trust in hiring a band or any vendor:
1) Personal trust is where you genuinely feel the person you are speaking to respects your feelings, understands your concerns and will guide you with complete honesty. Do they sound like they’re more concerned with selling you something than determining what you genuinely need? Don’t ignore that. Feel free to move on.
2) Professional trust is determined by reputation and by demonstrating they know what they’re doing, even beyond the initial reason they’re hired… the detail behind the scenes behind that require so much more than pressing a button or playing a song, following a schedule as well as dealing with the unexpected. Constant teamwork between the professionals is essential and keeps the event moving forward smoothly. I found established relationships between vendors to be crucial to my entire business, before and after the event. That’s how so many of us know each other and are often good friends as well.

You may not be a big fan of trust,  but these two types should keep each other in check. Once reputation is established, you’ll agree we’re at least halfway there, but don’t forget…Personal trust is where you are already an expert. It’s where reputation and intuition come together. If you don’t hear it or feel it for yourself, then don’t hire them.

Here’s some money. Go make a wedding.
If spending thousands of dollars or more in one evening makes you nervous, then spending your parents’ money should certainly increase the pressure. The best step for you, if possible, is to include your parents in your support “team,” at least for the first stages, to find the professionals you consult with.  When that’s done, you can take full charge and discuss your wishes with someone who can apply valuable experience and foresight, while keeping you grounded. This can be a planner or even any of the vendors, who can recommend others trustworthy vendors to consult with separately. A planner will take you from the beginning to the end, eliminating many of those burdens and bring it all together by coordinating all involved and completing it with design and supervision.

Jewish music has some wonderfully-talented people, but they may not help your wedding plans if they aren’t hired with care and experience. 

If the experience and trust is there, the professional can lead you to other trustworthy vendors and soon you’ll have made a party completely unique to you. Your choices from then on will be strong and informed.

Brides & Grooms: Decide what it’s really all about.
Jewish music has some wonderfully-talented people, but they may not help your wedding plans if they aren’t hired with care and experience.  I find that many young couples apply their enthusiasm with entertainment to their weddings, inquiring into celebrities, flashy guitar soloists and drummers, all before they’ve even considered their budgets or discussed the band, who will be handling the music for the remaining 90% of the event.

One question they often miss is “where do you expect your guests to be when that person is performing during the dancing?” It is a sobering moment, as the bride and groom realize they will be left sitting in the middle of the dance floor while a large portion of their guests are distracted to the bandstand.  I’ve seen many enjoy this experience, having these artists perform to them as their guests look on, but many of my clients have strongly resisted this, fearing that after paying for this large event it will suddenly become unclear who the guests of honor actually are.

Money is no object, even for you.
My general rule for all event planning and hiring is to decide what you want and need, without regard to budget limitations. That’s right. This way, you’ll be starting off with the first priority, the dream you aspire to. If budget reality doesn’t allow it later, then you can carefully trim it all down, step-by-step, to the bottom line. The bandleader or representative can help you do this while maintaining as much musical quality as possible. Anything you eliminate will now be something you consciously decided on, rather than immediately taking the discount plan and discovering forgotten details later.

It works both ways, in fact. I’ve often planned bands for clients that had, for example, 7 pieces and, when they saw there was still plenty of room in the budget, we added as many as 4 or 5 pieces, ranging from grouping horns or strings to percussion or harp.

No matter how simple or elaborate, our vision is the one we reach for, so that’s the best place to start.

When you plan a personal event that means so much to you personally, you are passionate about getting the most for less. Why? Well, there’s a reason we say it in that order, 1) “most” and 2) “less.”   Those are our priorities. I want my daughter’s wedding to have the “most” of what we want as possible. There’s no question about that, no matter how simple or elaborate, our vision is the one we reach for, so that’s the best place to start.

If you trust the person guiding you, make them your “point man” and run everything by them. Have them explain things to you so you can plan together with more knowledge and less stress. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and I still defer to my event planner and my vendors because they are specialists. Use the privileges you paid for and let them help you.

The Crystal Ball
Working with the right professionals (see my previous article, “Hiring A Pro…”), will always get the job done right plus they’ll help you predict and deal with the unexpected.

From the perspective of a band owner, there’s nothing like the customer who trusts your judgement. We will ask each other questions and never stop until we’re all sure everyone’s happy. Yes, everyone, including the band. A happy and involved band works hard for you, delivers heartfelt performances and will look out for you at every turn. It’s a relationship that the client should fully take advantage of.

Similarly, great relationships between the vendors is a huge advantage for the client. The days of competing purposes, caterer vs. band vs. photographer are long gone. We’re war-torn veterans of the wedding business and, as such, we’ve grown closer and work together for everybody’s benefit.

It makes picking up the phone and talking, for instance, to the caterer, that much easier and it gives us a chance to come up with more solutions for the client. By the time we all arrive and set up, the pros feel welcome and are confident we will have another smooth and successful event together.

Next time, “Hiring A Band: What’re You Doing? Part 2”

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 virtually all 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, an orchestra and personal event planning service.

Gershon is also a public speaker, a former copy editor and now a contributing writer for 5TJT.   Visit gmajorevents.com for information, videos & SM links.

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