Hiring a band? You (usually) get what you pay for! A horror story from my freelancing days, and how you can learn from it.
Money, Money, Money, Money! (Money!)
As a musician for hire, I’ve come across lots of different bands some professional, some not so much. I feel like I now have enough distance from a particularly embarrassing event to speak about my experience in hopes of protecting clients from a bad hire.
Price isn’t everything. However, it can be a pretty good indicator as long as things make sense. For example, a band that charges double the rate of other comparable bands might actually be worth the money because they offer much, much more than those comparably-priced bands! However, if they can’t offer you performance samples or don’t even have a website (and I’m not talking a MySpace website … if you even know what that is), RUN! Just the same, someone who’s low on the pricing might be cheap because no one will hire them for more money. Alternatively, you might have an extremely gifted group that’s just getting started. If that’s the case, you’ve got a bargain!
The Gig, The Disaster
I was hired as a keyboardist for a band, and it became clear that I shouldn’t have taken the gig. They had a date for me, but not much else. Since I wasn’t booked, I took the gig. I wasn’t told a time, how much I was being paid (I was doing it as a favor for a friend), what it was for … anything really beyond the fact that I’d be performing their “usual” setlist and that “there might be requests.”
I found out a week before the gig that it was a wedding. That’s also when I was given the list of requests despite my repeatedly asking for them for months prior because, you know, it’s important for me to practice. The night before the event … no, wait, wedding! at 11:30pm, I was asked to learn a couple of more songs because they were “important for the clients!”
The gig was disastrous for me. Despite being promised a set list well in advance, one was never made. The band leader was literally asking the musicians what songs they knew so he could decide what the next song would be! At someone’s wedding! The band was also hired to play the processional and first dance. What songs? I certainly wasn’t told, nor was I until the event coordinator nudged the band leader saying that everyone’s waiting for us to start [names song].
The coordinator had to interrupt us in the middle of songs to say that something needed to happen! We’d take long breaks while the DJ would provide most of the background music. The band manager told us to treat ourselves to the wedding buffet, only for us to be told that we weren’t supposed to be fed or given a table to sit between sets.
The music selection was completely inappropriate for the vibe of the wedding, and it showed in the faces of the guests as they attempted to eat to disco/techno/dance music. This made it extremely difficult to connect with them during the dance numbers after dinner.
With liberty & embarrassment for all!
Additionally, sound was a complete mess. The monitors (how musicians hear themselves on stage) kept causing massive feedback that interrupted the wedding on several instances, so they eventually had to be shut down. In other words, we weren’t able to hear ourselves whatsoever. Imagine being a drummer and not being able to keep the beat for the singer! Imagine being a singer and not being able to hear whether or not the guitarist is finished with his solo!
Most of all, imagine being a couple who paid thousands of dollars for a band that came unprepared, botched songs, interrupted the flow of the special day you’ve been planning for over a year, and embarrassed you in front of all of your friends and family.
I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. I put on a smile and played my parts like it was the best day of my life. Needless to say, I wasn’t paid very much in the end (nearly half of my minimum rate). At that point, I was so humiliated that I would’ve paid to leave .. and suppose I did using my professional reputation as tender.
The aftermath & thoughts
Fortunately, the vast majority of professional bands who’ve hired me have been just that: professional. I don’t think it’s any mistake that the best bands have been the highest paying ones; and boy do they deliver!
I’m not sharing my experience to imply, “Throw a bunch of money at musicians and all of your wildest, musical dreams will come true!” (Seriously, don’t do it.)
Instead, my advice is this: do your research and hire a band that strikes the right balance between price, value, professionalism, and convenience. Musicians can and oftentimes will say anything to get themselves hired. Be sure you call their bluff and see if they can produce evidence for their claims.
Also, be aware that when you ask a vendor for a discounted rate, you’re giving them license to provide discounted services. It’s always worth trying to bargain, but professionals will know their value and turn down gigs that aren’t worth it for them. I made an exception in this case and suffered from it.
My sincere hopes are that you won’t.