A little while back, one of my bands was hired to perform at a family reunion. People from all over the country gathered at a hotel banquet hall to celebrate. There was food made right there by the families, games for all ages, and us, a 6-piece live, dance/party band complete with full sound and lighting!
Well, that was the plan.
Unbeknownst to anyone, the hotel’s power grid wasn’t equipped to handle the party, and the room’s circuit breaker broke every few minutes. It was embarrassing, but my little band wasn’t able to get our mixer turned-on without tripping the breaker. On the family’s side, they couldn’t even charge their phones. The hotel’s engineer wasn’t being much help either.
Imagine planning a massive family gathering, preparing a ton of food, hiring a live band, and decorating a hotel banquet room … only to not be able to cook the food, have the band play, and not have any music in the background.
So what the heck were we supposed to do? The only acoustic instrument available was drums. The clients were very understanding and were encouraging us to simply treat ourselves to the food that was prepared, even going so far as to tell us, “It’s okay. There’s nothing we can do about it. You’ll still get paid. Just enjoy the party with us.” Then I remembered! I just happened to have these with me:
No! Not my wife’s bass from her days of playing in a metal band. Those little speakers behind it.
They are a pair of Sunburst Gear speakers (http://www.sunburstgear.com/). Battery-powered PA speakers/studio monitors complete with a mixer, bluetooth input, and speaker stand ports. I ran to my car, grabbed, them, and in no time, there was finally music at the party! The batteries were already depleted from a prior show where I was using them, but they managed to hold out a couple of hours until some very creative cabling helped us get band-level sound going (musicians: we had the entire band–5 vocalists, 2 keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums–going out of a keyboard amp! Hahaha!)
Got another story I’d like to share, but before that, I wanted to talk about …
My story with Sunburst Gear
In February of 2015, I was performing at Folk Alliance International and demoing for John Pearse Strings and scouting talent for Stonebridge Guitars. I quickly made friends with David, Nina, and Julie from a new company called Sunburst Gear/Elite Acoustics. They invited me to come try out their products.
I immediately recognized that they were on to something very different from your standard fair of battery-powered guitar amps. First, the sound able to cut through the bustle and racket of the convention floor by highlighting the upper-mid frequencies. Second, the speakers had an actual mixer built into the chassis placed where it’d be easy to reach for a performer. Third, the battery system JUST. MAKES. SENSE.
A lot of battery-powered amps force you to use an inordinate amount of AA or D batteries, more than you’d care to carry with you out on gigs. Sunburst Gear forgoes the need for carrying batteries by placing a rechargeable battery inside the speaker (with battery meter). They also include a cable that allows you to, get this, charge the speaker in your car.
And wow, doesn’t that make a ton of sense for the touring musician who spends hours in … well … a car!
The outer casing is a beautiful, black carbon fiber, and there’s a very sturdy metal handle on top to facilitate easy carrying. On the bottom, there are robust rubber feet so that you can place these puppies on the ground without scratching-up the unit.
I’ve used these daily for the past 2 years. They are my go-to studio monitors. I use them any time I need sound reinforcement but don’t have access to electricity. I used them to provide music for my daughter’s baby shower. I used them when I was driving a big tour van that didn’t have a stereo. I used them as monitors when sound guys didn’t have one for me. I used them for busking. I used them when I was recording artists on location on a laptop. The list goes on and on and on.
This summer has been my most successful wedding season yet, and I owe a large part of that to my Sunburst Gear speakers. On several instances, I’ve had clients who were worried during our consultation because their perfect wedding was an outdoors wedding with no access to electricity.
For me, it was no sweat. I could not only amplify my guitar but also provide a microphone so that guests could hear the ceremony and play background music via bluetooth while I packed away my gear.
If you have questions about the speakers, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I’ve been very happy to see this company of wonderful people grow and expand their product line.
I want to thank David, Nina, and Ahn for supporting artists like me and creating amazing products that help us do our jobs! I also want to thank Todd and Julie without whom, I never would’ve met the folks at Sunburst Gear. Looking forward to seeing where everything goes an being a part of the movement!
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It’s not your responsibility to consider all of the needs of your musicians. THEY are the professionals and should be able to advocate for their needs. That said, these are crucial items that can lead to disaster if not addressed. I make it a habit to talk about these with my clients. However, if you’d like to be pro-active, here’s a list of the top 5 things you’ll want to discuss with your ceremony musician to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
#1. Access to electricity
More than likely, your musician is going to need some sort of amplification. Once you have an idea of where you want your musician to go, you’ll want to have the following discussion with the venue. Feel free to copy & paste the following into an email and see if the musician has anything to add before sending it out to your vendor/planner:
- How far are the nearest outlets to where my musician will be?
- If extension cables are needed to get power to my musician, are there any safety considerations that might get in the way?
- Are the outlets 3-pronged or 2-pronged?
- Are the restrictions on how much power can be drawn?
- Is there a way to position cables and amplifiers to make sure that they don’t show-up in pictures?
#2. Food & water
Be clear to the musician whether or not you’ll be feeding them. The last thing you want is your musician treating him/herself to your expensive buffet or asking the venue staff about where they can get food (believe me, I’ve seen it happen). However, this will allow him/her to plan ahead of time. If you are going to provide food, ask them when the best time would be to eat based on your schedule of events. At the very least, it’s advisable to provide them with a bottle of water, especially for the hot, summer weddings.
#3. Suitable playing conditions & load-in
Musicians usually have expensive equipment to carry, so make sure that they can setup at a flat, clean, stable surface. Heat and water are the enemy of instruments like guitars, violins, cellos, and electrical equipment and can cause them to go out of tune, malfunction, or even break. Try to avoid having your musician positioned in direct sunlight or anywhere rain, running water (fountains, waterfalls, rivers, etc), or spilling (bar, refreshments, etc) could ruin their gear.
Also ask the venue for the best path for them to take: sometime venues are particular about where vendor foot traffic is allowed. If the musician has to traverse a grassy field or across gravel or up several flights of stairs, their gear on wheels won’t do them any good and could lead to a delayed performance. On that note, try to find out how early the musician can arrive to setup. Ask the musician how long they generally need for setup to make sure that their load-in doesn’t interfere with your or your venue’s plans.
If you’re doing a city wedding or at a location where parking is either scarce or metered, you’ll need to decide whether or not the musician will have an assigned spot or will need to find parking on their own. Be clear if they should bring quarters, expect street parking, need to run outside to pay a meter every hour, go to a parking garage, get valeted, etc. Also consider when they’ll be arriving and leaving and make sure they’re parking in a location where they won’t block or be blocked by other vendors.
#5. Schedule of events
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s so easy to overlook! How will your musician know when to begin the ceremony music? Will someone cue them? Will there be a clear sign? A lot of musicians will be reading off of sheet music, closing their eyes, or be looking anywhere but where they need to. So make sure they know what to look for. If you have parts of your ceremony that need music, make sure they know exactly when to expect it. Lastly, be sure they know exactly when to start playing the recessional music!
Was this useful? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section and happy planning!
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.
This weekend, I performed as a part of the Phoenixville Firebird Festival which celebrates Phoenixville, PA’s economic turnaround. The day’s festivities were to culminate in the burning of a 30’+ tall, hand-crafted wooden bird as it always has in previous years. It’s a beautiful occasion for people to gather and celebrate.
Unfortunately, arsonists burned down the statue well before the festivities had even begun. In spite of all-day heavy rain, Phoenixville banded together and continued with the festivities. Musicians, artists, performers, and craftsmen all gave their all in celebration. Within hours, people had donated wood and helped reconstruct a scaled-down version of the bird so that the ceremonial burning of the phoenix could go as planned.
My thoughts are two-fold. First is being upset that people would consciously go out of their way to destroy something that not only took months of work but also symbolized something positive for a community. Second is admiration for how Phoenixville lived up to their name and carried the spirit of the festival, even despite the act of vandalism as well as the terrible weather.
On a personal note, this also felt like a revival of sorts for myself. I’ve been making some significant changes to how I’ll be approaching the business side of my music for the coming year, something I’ll be announcing soon as events unfold. However, this weekend’s show was a test run and proving grounds for part of what’s to come, and things felt good to me. Cryptic, I know, but despite trying circumstances, this weekend helped remind me that it’s important for us all to band together to support something we truly believe in, especially when that something is your community.
Wow! The tour is coming to an end in a month! Then I’ll be back in Philly for my homecoming show with my awesome friends Nalani & Sarina! Anyway, here are some snippets of my summer adventure.
Thankfully, my 2009 Subaru Forester passed its yearly PA state inspection. The week prior, I test drove my fully-loaded car to make sure that everything ran fine. Better to work out logistical kinks earlier than later! Here’s a video I shot of the before and after:
The drive to NYC went fairly smoothly with the expected delays. My generous friends and hosts Genai & Jacob put out a cheese and vegetable spread. Then we promptly crashed to be well rested for the day ahead.
After waking up and getting ready, I got some food from a food truck and picnicked at Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
After running some errands, practicing, and more eating, I attended my first rooftop party! The panoramic shot won’t upload, so instead, here’s a weird failed panorama. I assure you that the view was quite pretty:
Edit: Yay! Got the panorama to load!
Panoramic shot from a Brooklyn rooftop
I got together with some old bandmates to jam before eating loads of pizza and attending an Avishai Cohen concert. Avishai Cohen is my favorite touring act at present, and he hardly performs in the US, so it was an honor.
Jam with old friends & bandmates
I got to play at the Hollow Nickel in Brooklyn. Really great crowd, awesome host, and a goofy, light-hearted vibe for the evening. Got a lot of great advice on how to improve my act as well!
No NYC experience would be complete without being given a parking ticket in a residential area without any signs that indicated restrictions. My EZ-Pass also malfunctioned on my way out of the city. Imagine the lovely line of patient NYC drivers who were stuck behind me because the cross bar wouldn’t lift to let me through. Anywhoo, on to Connecticut!
Well, my performance from TEDxStanford is finally up thanks to the hard-working folks behind this massive undertaking. Without further ado, here’s the video of my performance!
It was amazing listening to all the brilliant speakers and getting a chance to spend some time with them. I’ll be sharing their talks on my Facebook page in the coming months. Some non-TEDx highlights from my adventure to California:
- My flight was delayed due to mechanical failure. Glad they caught it while we were still on the ground
- Because of this I got put-up at a really nice hotel suit compliments of Delta Airlines (I give a video tour on my Instagram)
- It was fun driving a Mazda, although the tiptronics are reversed from my Subaru and took getting used to
- Philz Coffee makes absolutely delicious mint coffee. I’m not much of a coffee drinker but wow, never had a more refreshing ice coffee
- My brother and I saw Spiderman 2 after a nice hike through Alum Rock Park. The hike was beautiful, hilly, and included a run-in with a wild turkey. I enjoyed the movie; apparently far more so than the critics. Maybe I’m just easy to please
- I’m super relieved that my Stonebridge made it through traveling safely
Here are the pictures I snapped along the way:
Some pictures from my travels:
An unexpected stop through Salt Lake City, UT
Now I’m a part of the Sky Team!
My guitar got a window seat!
Umami burger with my brother
And TEDxStanford begins!
Brothers and cookies.
Blah blah blah.
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