September 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 1998 Current Issue
September 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Name That Tune

How to choose the right music for your event

The fact that music soothes the savage beast is often overlooked in meeting details. The right tunes can provide harmony to the various elements of an event. Live and recorded music can maximize a theme, provide a bridge from one function to another, serve as an ice breaker, entertain and provide a social break from serious business.

There's more to proper music selection than just convincing your guitar-playing cousin to do you a favor or dusting off your personal stack of CDs and hauling them to your event. To provide adequate music the planner must understand:

  • The personal tastes of the group;
  • The objective of the event;
  • The location of the event, related acoustics of the site and any musical or union restrictions;
  • The number of people in attendance to determine the number of musicians needed, and
  • How to vary the music to orchestrate the event.

    Selecting the style of music may seem as daunting as trying to land a man on the moon. But the event itself determines which songs are right for the occasion. For a reception or a cocktail hour, background music is required -- and it should remain just in the background. If guests notice the music, then it's being played incorrectly. At a party, entertainment plays a greater part, serving as an ice breaker, so selection and volume are paramount.

    At an awards program the selection can follow several different approaches -- state or city songs can reflect where the recipients are from, or the playlist can reflect a winner's occupation, character or disposition.

    Include fanfares to add excitement and walk music to fill the voids. Such choices are typically played at awards events, but they can also be used to liven up opening sessions and keynote addresses. If the event has a theme, extend it with the music. For example, a M*A*S*H party should be accompanied by songs from the '50s; a Dixieland band livens up a party with Southern roots.


    After you've determined the reason for using music and narrowed the selections, the next step is deciding whether to use a live band or recorded music. Your budget may be the deciding factor, but it need not hamper the quality of your choice. Fanfares and walk music may require only a little research at a music store, where you can buy the right CD to hand over to the A/V technician along with instructions on how and when to incorporate the music into the program. A deejay spinning a collection of good records may be enough of a spark for your final night party.

    If want to hire live talent, first gather recommendations. Ask for suggestions from other planners, the convention and visitors bureau or a university's school of music. You can also ask for suggestions from your contacts at the venue where the event will be held. Many bands play regularly at these facilities and know the layout of the facility and its special requirements or restrictions.

    When you've made a list of possible candidates, see and hear the group or deejay in person at an event similar to yours. If that's not possible, view a videotape of an actual performance. Once you've narrowed the field further, ask the performers for references, and check to see if the talent arrived on time and performed according to the contract. Finally, discuss payment terms and cancellation policies, and uncover any special requirements or fees.


    As with all other vendor contracts, planners will want to put the basics in writing -- the date, time, place, style of music and budget. Ask for a proposal that lists the number of personnel, style of music, fees, setup and rehearsal (if any) requirements and any special needs.

    You should also discuss the appropriate attire for the evening, when and if breaks are to be taken, what the event's schedule is, and who sets up and when. Now is also the time to outline the song list in greater detail; use the expertise of your chosen musicians or deejay when making your final music selections.

    To avoid pre-event jitters of "will-they-or-won't-they-show-up," put in the contract that the performers should arrive an hour prior to show time. Designate a special area for changing, breaks, etc., and stock it with beverages and snacks. Determine when overtime charges apply and how much they will be. If your band hits the right note and your attendees want to dance until dawn, you'll want to have money in the budget to let the revelry last.

    Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner in Atlanta.

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