Did You Plan The Background Noise?
From the moment your guests step through the door, you want them to be completely immersed in your theme. Lobby music sets the tone for the event. Choose something subtle that will not overpower introductions and mingling. If you choose live music, a pianist or classical / jazz guitarist usually a good place to start as they will require little to no amplification. For outdoor events, a meandering barbershop quartet adds charm and nostalgia.
Think classy baby, classy. This is a good time to use a 3-6 piece band, string quartet, etc. Keep the music mellow for visiting. Acoustic music will eliminate the need for audio equipment (depending on the size of the venue). Also, consult with the artist you hire as live vocals may or may not be suitable. A professional will know what you mean if you use the words "mood music" or "background music" and will choose easy listening tunes such as "As Time Goes By" as opposed to power-house solos like "I Will Survive."
Playing music through dinner smooths any conversation lulls. When a room is too quiet, people feel may feel self-conscious about speaking. Dinner music should complement the meal. A small jazz combo is a good standby; piano is also a popular choice; formal dinners beckon the sounds of a string quartet. To truly bring out the creativity of the chef, consider music that follows the culture to which the menu is attributed - for instance, Italian cuisine with lilting Italian violin, dripping candles, etc. Hmmm . . . this is starting to sound like a scene from Lady And The Tramp!
Having worked many dinner theater and dinner show events, I recommend saving your main stage entertainment until after the meal. Dessert and coffee during a show is less distracting than full dinner service. It is also a better time to dim the lights as you will not have waitstaff circulating at this time. Your entertainment or keynote speaker will receive better crowd interaction once the audience's focus is off the meal.
After dinner shows also clear the pathway for an entertainer to work into the audience. For instance you may have a surprise guest planted in the crowd. Perhaps your tap dancer wants to tap dance on the tables or an aerialist drops from the rafters - it is best to have the main course out of the way!
The exception to this rule is if the service of the food is part of the entertainment. My company has staged singing and dancing waiters; comedic waiters; mingling musicians; etc. In this case, dinner is part of the show. You may have a singing chef, a magician who makes dinner magically appear, or a comedian who who makes crazy custom pancakes, flipping them up in the air and catching them precariously before they land on a guest's head! Oh the ideas! If you like to break the mold, this type of event may be just the thing you need to make that CEU training seminar absolutely unforgettable.
At one of our events, we paired a brainy waiter with a table where a mathematician was sitting. Before serving the chocolate pie, the waiter recited 300 digits the mathematical term "Pi." (Yep, as in 3.14...) Completely unexpected, the mathematician was overwhelmed by the unusual, customized service and left a generous tip!
The After Party
This is where the high-energy music comes into play. Food has been digested and people are ready to party. Whether you are using a DJ or a live band, be sure the playlist includes an array of upbeat tunes. It is also common to bring up the volume up a bit (no too much, though).
Don't forget the exit music! This is your last chance to make a lasting impact on your attendees. Choose something peppy that gives the idea "okay, folks gather your belongings . . . " You may have a theme song or a song that enhances your theme - for instance a Heart Research Gala might choose a song about hearts. Your hired musicians might even be willing to work up a jingle for your organization. Write down what you want going through your guests minds as they leave and choose music to finish driving that point home.
A Few Extras
- Parking lot / Garage Music
- Buy a Decimeter (No more arguing with the band leader, set volume at recommended levels)
- Control all music levels - It is often a wise choice to have all instrument levels controlled by the main sound board and engineer. Some musicians prefer to have their own amps that they control - however bands that are used to really rocking out at loud clubs may not have the same hearing sensitivity as your guests.
- Consider the age of you guests when choosing volume levels and music styles
- Ask the band / musician what their performance attire is. Communicate the dress code to all musicians and DJs.
- Provide a secure Green Room for musicians to keep their personal belongings in - unless you want all of their backpacks, water bottles, coats, etc. cluttering your lovely decor.
- Always run a sound check.
- Feed your musicians - this keeps them on site between set-up, soundcheck, and showtime. If they have to go off site to track down dinner they may end up being late.
Lacy Miller is an Events and Entertainment professional with SSL Entertainment and the Gracie & Lacy Show, based in Charleston, SC.